A longtime, respected NBA scout for another playoff team was assessing the Heat roster by phone this week when he pointed out how “strange it is seeing” Heat president Pat Riley — a man who has built an extraordinary coaching and front-office career around star players — “being in this spot,” now essentially stuck with a roster without an in-his-prime whale, to borrow a Riley term.
“Let’s put it this way,” the scout said. “Goran Dragic is their best player, but if you had a really good team that would contend for a championship, you would want him to be your fourth-best player, maybe [third if you had two superstars].
“They’ve had injuries that have hurt them, but they have so few core guys to build around. They can be a sixth, seventh or eighth seed. I would be surprised if Detroit beats them out. But they have a bunch of average players you can’t win big with.
“You can play all the defense you want, but you need to score 105, 110 to win now. [Miami is 28th in scoring at 100.5 per game.] That’s an ongoing issue for them. In my opinion, you have to clean house. But some of these players will be difficult to move.”
The scout — who spoke on condition of anonymity because he’s not authorized by his organization to comment publicly — made clear he has great respect for Riley and Erik Spoelstra.
“Great franchise, so well run,” he said. “But they have a lot of work to do to rebuild their franchise back to where they were.”
Beyond Dragic, here’s how the scout — who has watched the Heat this season — assesses Miami’s roster:
▪ Hassan Whiteside: “Of course he can rebound and block shots and he’s a decent scorer. But he can’t ask for 35 minutes when he’s taking plays off. You have to be engaged all the time. He has mental lapses. Doesn’t play hard every play. I think Miami would move on without him if they could and play a different way.”
▪ Dwyane Wade: “In Cleveland, he was still getting a lot of calls. Plays very smart, pump faking, making guys fall on him. But I see the age; he doesn’t move like he used to. He will help the Heat some, but I don’t think he helps them a lot.”
▪ James Johnson: The scout said he wishes he would attack the basket more, as he did in two games this week, and be more consistent overall.
“He can play three positions, he can guard smaller players, bigger players, and you can switch [defensively] with him because of his versatility. He’s not great at anything but good at a lot of things.”
▪ Josh Richardson: “I like him a lot. Clearly a piece you can win with. Clearly an NBA starter. Would have a lot of value if Miami ever moved him.”
▪ Bam Adebayo: “A lot of potential, a lot of potential. Good size, athletic, skilled. Richardson and Adebayo are the pieces you hold onto.”
▪ Kelly Olynyk: “He’s a good piece, but a below-average defender. I don’t know if starting him with Whiteside is going to work. That’s too slow; Olynyk has a hard time with stretch fours.”
▪ Justise Winslow: “He’s a good defender, can handle, but I don’t see improvement with the shot. If he was back in the draft, to me, he’s a second-round pick. Not an NBA starter.”
After showing some growth offensively earlier this season, he’s now 12 for his last 46 from the field and 2 for his last 11 on threes.
▪ Wayne Ellington: “I would like him on my team, but someone might pay him $10 million this summer. The Clippers stole Lou Williams at $8 million [in an extension], and Ellington fits in that range, $7 million to $9 million. But if you keep locking in guys like that, you don’t have the cap space to get really good ones.”
▪ Tyler Johnson: “You are not going to see much more than what you see now. This is who he is. I can get a player like that for half of what he’s going to make next year [$19.2 million]. I can’t see another team taking him. He plays hard all the time, very athletic and not a bad shooter, but he’s not taking you anywhere [deep in the playoffs]. He’s not a starter in this league.”
▪ Dion Waiters: “Not a starter on a good team. Can go 10 for 10 or 0 for 10. There’s no consistency there.”
The Heat hopes the ankle surgery will make it more likely he returns to his January/February form of last year.
Here’s my Friday post with lots of chatter about Marlins position players and their lineup.