Barry Jackson

Feedback on numerous Heat players heading into preseason opener

Some internal feedback from conversations with Heat people in recent days:

▪ Kentucky coach John Calipari gave a very strong endorsement about Tyler Herro to Heat management before the NBA Draft, and that carried weight, because it confirmed and even enhanced their conviction about him.

A Heat official said Calipari expressed appreciation for Herro’s toughness and competitiveness and drive and work ethic, felt he was so valuable that he needed to be on the court most of the time, and told the Heat he believes Herro has the potential to be an elite shooter.

The Heat knows he doesn’t have “off the chart athleticism” but he’s athletic enough and he’s more versatile than what most people gave him credit for. Plus, as one Heat staffer said, “we felt he had not only the stroke, but a lot of intangibles that were really unique.”

The Heat’s biggest concern is his defense, though Miami believes with age and experience in this system, he will develop into a sound defender. He already gives max effort on that side of the court, and Jimmy Butler made a point to credit his defense last week.

The other concern is how much teams will crowd him on his shot -- “they are going to pressure him on the catch,” as one Heat person noted - and whether that will create challenges getting his shot off at times. That’s why it would help for Herro to be on the court with other skilled shooters. It was encouraging to see Herro make a couple of drives off the dribble during Sunday’s scrimmage, because that might discourage opponents from giving him very little airspace.

▪ The Heat coaching staff very much advocated the decision to acquire a high second-round draft pick for the purpose of selecting forward KZ Okpala.

We’re told Erik Spoelstra loved what he saw in Okpala’s pre-draft workout, in terms of a player with length, versatility and his ability to move his feet on defense.

The coaches believe he can be a really good defender and has a lot of qualities that are hard to teach, including the way he controlled his body and moved laterally in the pre-draft workout. “We thought he’s pretty unique,” one Heat staffer said.

His jump shot is the weakest part of his game, but he shot decently in the workout and the Heat staff believes he can become at least an adequate shooter with repetition.

▪ Though Spoelstra publicly has been non-committal, the Heat expects to see Justise Winslow play a lot of minutes as a ball-handler. But Heat people want to see his handle improve; he’s sometimes a little careless as a ball-handler and must be more refined in that area, as one Heat staffer noted.

▪ One of many areas the Heat believes Jimmy Butler will really help: Clutch shooting. In the final five minutes of close games last season (margin of five or less), Miami shot 39 percent (third-worst in the league) and 21.2 percent on threes (worst).

Over the past four seasons, Butler has shot 43.4 percent in the clutch overall and 33.6 percent on clutch threes.

▪ The Heat loves the idea of having two physical late-game defensive perimeter stoppers with Justise Winslow and Butler. That, combined with Bam Adebayo’s ability to switch out to defend wings, gives Miami an advantage many other teams don’t have.

▪ There’s a belief that with Dion Waiters in better shape, the staff can help him get back close to the efficiency he displayed in the second half of 2016-17. Miami views that exceptional January-March stretch in 2017 as not an anomaly that cannot be repeated, but a level that’s realistic for him to recapture.

▪ With James Johnson, the concern goes beyond the conditioning issues that resulted in his banishment from the start of camp. (Pat Riley said Monday he expects Johnson back soon.)

One staffer said he needs to play with the “fire” he displayed in his first year here but not often enough since. It’s a mystery to some why that fire doesn’t consistently burn, or at least manifest itself more often.

▪ With Goran Dragic, there’s cautious confidence he will return to his pre-knee injury form. Though he was available early in the summer as a chip in a potential Butler sign and trade, the Heat believes his skills have not appreciably diminished and attribute last season’s unevenness to the knee injury and returning from an extended absence.

▪ Everybody internally loves Adebayo and believes he will be a better long-term fit than Hassan Whiteside, whose inconsistent effort resulted in coaches pushing for him to be traded 19 months ago, according to sources with direct knowledge.

But one internal concern expressed is that Whiteside’s volume rebounding will be missed; Heat people know he was a “special” defensive rebounder. Also, Whiteside had elite wingspan, while Bam “doesn’t have nearly Hassan’s length.”

But the Heat believes Adebayo can guard players on the perimeter as well as any big man in the league and there are never lulls in effort.

The Heat believes if he can consistently hit the 17-footer and get defenders to respect the shot, he then will be able to take defenders off the dribble and drive to the basket, a skill they know he possesses.

▪ The Heat knows center Meyers Leonard has “great touch” but that alone won’t be enough to get minutes. “He is going to have to rebound for us,” as one Heat on-court staffer said.

▪ Defense is always the priority with this team, but the sentiment expressed is that it could be the difference this season between being a bottom playoff team or potentially something significantly more.

And Heat people know their young players need to take another step. As one Heat staffer noted, the Heat has good young talent but none of those young players is good enough today to lead this team where it ultimately wants to go. But they believe none have reached their ceilings.

▪ The Heat believes Kendrick Nunn can play either guard spot and there’s a growing belief internally that he’s good enough to be an NBA rotation player. Multiple Heat people have spoken about how excited they are about his potential.

▪ Some feedback on the six players competing for two two-way contracts: The Heat is always on the lookout for skilled shooters and that led to the signing of the last two players added for camp (Davon Reed and Mychal Mulder). Mulder made a very good impression last week, and Spoelstra has praised Reed...

Heat people like Chris Silva’s rebounding and physicality, and Kyle Alexander’s length and mobility and defensive activity (though he needs a lot of work). They like Daryl Macon’s quickness and Jeremiah Martin’s scoring ability but want to see each become better point guards who make other players better.

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