Barry Jackson

Riley will push for more from Waiters and opines on Bam, Ellington’s value and more

Miami Heat Dion Waiters shoots over Toronto Raptors Pascal Siakam at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Florida, March 11, 2017.
Miami Heat Dion Waiters shoots over Toronto Raptors Pascal Siakam at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Florida, March 11, 2017.

A six-pack of Heat notes on a Tuesday:

• Pat Riley gambled on Dion Waiters last summer, investing modest money with the hope he would transform from an erratic backup shooting guard to something far more.

Riley’s faith was rewarded, and he believes Waiters’ excellence after the All-Star break was enough to warrant a longterm investment. But Riley made clear this week that he will push for more from the fourth overall pick of the 2012 draft.

“He needs to get his free throw percentage up,” Riley said in his office on Monday. “I can't believe he's not an 80-percent free-throw shooter. He shot 66 percent on the year. So we just want to make him more efficient. And what he need to do during the summer is realize it isn't just running sprints or running steps to get cardio shape. That he needs to go from his knees to his core in a rehab-type of conditioning, which our guys are good for. So I think he'll train a little bit differently. We know his body now.”

Waiters played in just 46 games last season and Riley said “the goal is - I said to him - is 70, 80 games is what you want to play. It used to be a badge of honor to play 82. Guys would be celebrated for playing 82. I mean, I coached A.C. Green in 587 games straight. He played with broken fingers and everything. But that can't happen anymore today, because coaches will just rest players now. But getting your players to play 70 games a year healthy, that's the goal for Dion and I think that he'll be more consistent."

I asked Riley if he concluded that Waiters’ superior play after the All-Star break was a better indication of who he is than the unevenness in his game before that.

Early on, "I thought he was playing hard, he was playing well,” Riley said. “He wasn't making shots. He wasn't finishing at the rim. He had some minor injuries. We call them offseason injuries. And so, when he came in for training camp, he simply was not ready for what we're about. And I think he had some groin issues and some hamstring issues in training camp, just soreness.

“And then he had a minor sprain and missed a couple of games and then he tore the groin that put him out a long time. And it took him a long time to come back from that. And then from I think it was January the 17th to March the 17th, he had the run. And inside of that run we won 13 in a row, where he was healthy, he was in shape and he was playing very confidently. He averaged 18 points, shot 48 percent from the field and over 40 percent from three.

“Dion, I'd like to see him play 70 to 75 games. If he does, I think -- and I believe this -- we have one of the most talented two guards, two-way guards at not only attacking the basket, but raising on threes. He had one of the top defensive percentages in the league defending. He's an end of the game, end-of-the-shot-clock player. A lot of times you can't find those kind of guys.”

Riley believes motivation won’t be an issue for Waiters or James Johnson even after they got lucrative new deals.

“If they don’t try to get to another level, then they themselves will be taking a step back,” Riley said. “So we expect more from them. Just being the one-hit wonder by getting an opportunity, I think the thing that was most important to me is both of them really wanted to be here. They really wanted to be here. Kelly [Olynyk] wanted to be here. He had other opportunities out there and he wanted to be here. It didn’t take long to come to an agreement with him. When you have guys that want to be here and make the commitment to be here, then just because they get a contract should not stop their want to be even better. These guys believe in themselves. They believe in the 30-11 record in the second half of the season. We’ll see if that was smoke and mirrors or if it’s reality.”

• I asked Riley if he’s comfortable with what he has at small forward with Justise Winslow, Rodney McGruder and Josh Richardson.

“Yes, absolutely … and JJ,” he said. “Wherever coach Spo wants to take this positionless game.”

Riley said last July that Justise Winslow was ready to be an NBA starter. Does he still believe that, after injuries limited Winslow to 18 games last season?

“It’s up to him,” Riley said. “It’s really up to him. He was short circuited obviously by the wrist and then the shoulder.”

Winslow averaged 10.9 points, 5.2 rebounds and shot 35.6 percent in those 18 games, starting 15 of them.

• Riley likes what he has seen of Bam Adebayo in Summer League, with the Heat scheduled to play again at 8 p.m. Tuesday against Dallas from Las Vegas, on NBA TV.

“We have seen exactly what we saw and why we drafted him,” Riley said. “He’s super athletic. He’s an above the rim player. We’ve seen that part of his game. We’ve seen his coast-to-coast game that he can handle. Sets great screens. I think he can be an excellent defender. He blocks shot. So we’ve seen all of that.

“The whole concept of feeling comfortable shooting the ball in any situation that will come with trust. My suggestion and I think what the coaching staff has done is they’ve given him somewhat of a canvas to paint his game on a canvas in the summer league. He has shown a number of things that we knew he could do but he’s never been exposed to.

“But as he starts to feel more and more comfortable when he’s open on a shot, when he’s ready to put the ball on the floor and go to the basket, wants to take it off the board and go coach to coast and make a play, he’s feeling confidence right now in doing that. We love the pick. There’s a real upside there.”

• Riley made clear how important it was to keep Wayne Ellington, whose $6.3 million contract was guaranteed on Friday.

"It would have killed me to see him go,” Riley said. “He committed himself unlike anybody else. And just like James Johnson and Dion, changed everything about how he played. I look at Wayne as a Udonis Haslem type of person, J.J. type of personality. And he's so in, so committed, and he can see what did for himself with our help, and how it improved his game. He's one of the best catch-and-shoot players in the league.

“Forget about just standstill threes. I'm talking about a guy who can run off screens at 100 mph and raise from three feet behind the line and he's such a great person. He just had a baby. He's looking for a house. I'm so happy that we can have him back, just from that standpoint. Now we get the chance to negotiate with him. He'll be here basically for two years, and so we've got Early-Bird Rights on him. And, so, I'm glad he's going to have that opportunity and I just want us to have a great shot at it. He's relatively young still, 29. But, actually, went back. When these guys get in that kind of shape they go back to maybe 25, 24. He lost 20 pounds. And he saw the benefits of it. But he's just a great leader, great guy. So, crucial for us."

• The NBA is allowing sponsor name on jerseys, and Heat plans to do it.

Of team executives Eric Woolworth and Michael McCullough, Riley said: “I do think they’re planning something, they’re out planning to take advantage of that. some markets probably will get more for that logo than other markets but it is a form or revenue that is needed.”

• Riley said Olynyk "was in pretty good shape when he weighed in. He's not in our kind of shape, but that's a whole other world."

Riley mentioned losing 25 pounds after his daughter’s wedding, and cracked: “since I did it, I'm going to make everybody else do it. Not really. But he's in very good shape. We’ll just get him in better shape."

Related stories from Miami Herald