Barry Jackson

The emerging reason to be more encouraged about the Heat’s future

Erik Spoelstra speaks about Justise Winslow’s growth

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra speaks about Justise Winslow’s growth.
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Heat coach Erik Spoelstra speaks about Justise Winslow’s growth.

When Heat President Pat Riley was speaking of reasons for optimism in a recent interview with Fox Sports Sun’s Jason Jackson, he made this clear:

“We know the guys we really value — our young guys in Justise [Winslow] and Josh [Richardson], and Bam [Adebayo].” (He then mentioned Derrick Jones Jr., too.)

Not only is that Winslow/Richardson/Adebayo trio playing a lot together (450 minutes for the season, the sixth-most among Heat three-man units), but they’re starting games together over an extended period for the first time — giving the Heat an even better gauge of their potential as a group. And the results have been very good.

Tuesday’s 108-74 win over Detroit — Miami’s most-lopsided win since 2012 — moved the Heat to 8-2 when Winslow, Richardson, and Adebayo start together.

But to consider their effectiveness as a troika, consider:

Miami has outscored teams by 42 points with the three of them on the floor this season. That included an 8-0 run to start Wednesday’s first quarter and a 21-0 run to start the third quarter.

Since Adebayo moved into the starting lineup after Hassan Whiteside’s hip injury eight games ago, the Heat has shot 52.9 percent from the field and 42.5 percent on three-pointers in the 134 minutes that they’ve played together. (Others, including Kelly Olynyk, have played a role in that, too.)

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When they have all been on the floor during those eight games, Miami is averaging 113.5 points per 48 minutes, compared with 106.1 overall this season.

“It’s great the way we’re playing,” Winslow said Thursday of those three in particular as Miami looks ahead to Friday’s home game against Milwaukee. “We seem to really enjoy playing with each other. It brings out the best in us. We’re talented and we’re all two-way guys. That’s unique, guys that can compete on both ends. The future is great. We’re playing with a lot of joy and passion on the court. We’re happy. We’re excited about the future, but we’re also excited about right now.”

The upshot of those three playing more together, Richardson said Thursday, is “we’re learning each other’s tendencies. We’re figuring out that chemistry a lot better. Kelly and Dion [Waiters] complement it well. Looking forward to the future.”

All three have grown offensively this season. Richardson’s scoring average has jumped from 12.9 to 17.2, even though his field-goal percentage has dropped from 45.1 to 42.1.

Winslow’s scoring has risen from 7.8 to 12.6, and his 86 three-pointers (on 38 percent shooting) are just two fewer than the 88 threes converted in his first three seasons combined.

And Abebayo has been hitting his jump hook (which he calls his go-to move), has shown improvement on his jumper facing the basket, and has improved his field-goal percentage from 51.2 percent last season to 57.8 percent this season, while boosting his scoring average from 6.9 to 8.3.

“We’re not running plays for him,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “But it’s a function of our offense running efficiently. He’ll be a recipient often times of ball movement, of pick-and-roll basketball, things at the rim. But while that’s all happening, you can see that his offensive skill set is growing each month.

“He’s becoming a better free-throw shooter, a better shooter, a better finisher, a better decision-maker. He has the most assists of all of our bigs and the most games of all our frontcourt players with over five assists. That was not a skill set he had coming into this league.”

Adebayo said he needed to develop his offensive game not only to become a more well-rounded player but “to keep defenses honest.”

So why the offensive improvement? Beyond drill work with Juwan Howard and the other assistant coaches, “just being more aggressive is numero uno on the list. You can have all the moves in the world, but if you’re not aggressive, you can’t use it.”

Spoelstra also entrusts Adebayo in guarding every position.

“We’re asking him to guard more players, and that’s a compliment to his skill set,” Spoelstra said. “His improvement all across the board has been 10 [times] and it’s because of the commitment level of what he puts into it. Typically first one in the building, one of the last ones to leave. Good things tend to happen with that level of obsession.”

In a season in which Miami has often hovered below .500 (32-35 now), the growth displayed by Winslow, Richardson, and Adebayo ranks at or near the top of the positives.

“They look much different now than in October, and they’re bringing out the best out of each other as well, which is a good sign,” Spoelstra said.

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