Barry Jackson

Encouraging signs from Waiters, and Spoelstra’s response about whether he will start

Five takeaways from the Heat’s 108-94 preseason road victory over the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday, a game in which Miami rested Jimmy Butler, Goran Dragic and Justise Winslow while remaining without James Johnson and injured Kelly Olynyk:

This was vintage Dion Waiters, in all his glory. Operating off the bench for the second night in a row, Waiters played in a pseudo point-guard role at times and erupted for 19 points and four assists, all in 16 first-half minutes.

Displaying a quicker first step after losing 15 pounds, Waiters successfully took defenders off the dribble on at least four of his first-half baskets, including one nifty reverse layup that left Marvin Williams in his tracks.

After attempting too many threes last season, Waiters so far has struck the ideal balance between threes (made four of five attempts) and drives to the hoop.

He also delivered a couple of pinpoint passes to streaking teammates for layups. And most importantly, he was efficient, shooting 7 for 12 with just one turnover.

“Spo lets me play my game,” Waiters said of coach Erik Spoelstra, in postgame comments to Fox Sports Sun’s Jason Jackson. “It’s about opportunity, being able to make plays for myself and others. The basketball is easy for me…. But having the opportunity to play my game is the most important thing.”

Spoelstra said afterward that “he has that ability if you switch, he can get in the paint and make plays from there. He’s unique. We want to get him in Miami Heat shape. He’s getting there, getting his legs under him, can give us that kind of boost when his body is feeling right.”

The question now is whether Spoelstra will use him as a starter (a role Waiters said last year that he prefers) or off the bench. Spoelstra was non-committal about that after the game.

But Waiters has consistently made clear that he wants to be a starter and reiterated that again after Wednesday’s game.

“That kind of scoring punch lends itself to either lineup,” Spoelstra said after the game. “We have quality guys who can start, quality guys who can give you a boost off the bench. The majority of his career he’s been off the bench. The main thing now is to get Dion progressing, get him in world class shape. He’s committed to that process. He’s not there yet. That’s encouraging what we saw.”

Perhaps Spoelstra is withholding a starting job as a carrot to get Waiters to take the final step in his conditioning program. That’s Waiters’ theory.

Winslow and Butler started at guard Tuesday against San Antonio, with Tyler Herro and Kendrick Nunn opening the game against Charlotte.

Meyers Leonard looks like the ideal placeholder starter in Olynyk’s absence at power forward, and a helpful rotation piece under any circumstances.

The Heat knew Leonard could shoot threes, something he did at a higher percentage than any other NBA center last season. But Leonard also has rebounded with verve, securing 11 against San Antonio and seven in 15 minutes against Charlotte.

On Wednesday, in route to nine points, he swished a three, hit a nice hook shot and rose for a follow dunk on a Waiters miss. And he was competent defensively.

It appears Spoelstra prefers a floor spacer playing alongside Bam Adebayo in his starting lineup, and Leonard has opened in that role the first two games of preseason, while Olynyk continues to recover from a bone bruise on his knee. Even when Olynyk eventually regains his spot alongside Adebayo, Leonard has proven worthy of regular minutes.

The Herro/Nunn backcourt was reunited in the starting lineup, three months after they flourished on the Heat’s Summer League team.

A night after scoring 18 against the Spurs, Herro had a quiet night by comparison, hitting only two shots from the field - a three to open the game and a layup off a steal in the third quarter.

He closed two for six from the field, with eight points, in 25 minutes, but chipped in six rebounds, three assists and a steal. There will be learning moments, including a first half sequence when Dwayne Bacon twice took Herro off the dribble for baskets.

Nunn continues to impress, playing an excellent floor games (seven assists, one turnover) and again displaying a diverse offensive game that features the three ball, a nifty turnaround and a feathery pull up jumper. Nunn (13 points, 6 for 12 shooting on Wednesday) also can play effectively off the ball, cutting to the basket for a layup off an Adebayo pass. And he chipped in three steals.

“All Kendrick Nunn needs is an opportunity and minutes, which is not easy to come with our roster,” Spoelstra said. “He is an efficient player, does play well off the ball. He knows how to make an impact. When you put the ball in his hands, I feel very comfortable he’s going to make a solid play. His assist to turnover ratio has always been good with us. If you play him off the ball, he’s not going to stand around.”

Davon Reed made a strong case in his bid for a two-way contract.

Reed got early minutes Wednesday and made the most of them, hitting two threes in the first half en route to finishing with 14 points and nine rebounds in 19 minutes.

Reed, who has by far the most NBA experience of the six players competing for two-way contracts, shot five for six overall and four for five on threes.

Chris Silva - who has exceptional Tuesday against San Antonio (16 points, 9 rebounds in 14 minutes) - started the second half and was active defensively (two steals), but committed four turnovers and had one rebound and four points in 12 minutes.

“Chris has done it for two nights, where his energy was felt,” Spoelstra said.

Of the four others competing for those two-way contracts, point guard Daryl Macon (eight points, two assists) was the only other to play in the first three quarters. Forward Kyle Alexander and guards Mychal Mulder and Jeremiah Martin got work in the fourth quarter, with the Heat well ahead.

“These guys are deserving of this to be able to get out here and compete,” Spoelstra said. “It got a little sloppy in the second half.”

Duncan Robinson started for the second consecutive night, and came alive in the second half.

After shooting 1 for 7 (all on threes) on Tuesday, Robinson regained his touch Wednesday, shaking off a slow start to score 14, shooting 5 for 11 overall and 4 for 9 on threes.

“He’s a threat, somebody now you have to scheme for,” Spoelstra said. “Now you are extending your defense three, four feet beyond the three-point line. That’s the respect he’s earned. He’s out there for a reason.

“He stayed with it and he’s too good of a shooter for that not to turn for him. I want him to be aggressive and hunt open threes, and I don’t say that to everyone in that locker room.

“He’s becoming a much more complete player,.... plays your team defensive schemes well. His body is different, with the 15 extra pounds. As long as he continues along this path, he can help us.”

COUPLE OTHER NOTES

Miami moved to 2-0 in preseason and next plays Atlanta on Monday at AmericanAirlines Arena.... The Wizards director of pro personnel Antawn Jamison was again in attendance at a Heat game, interesting considering Miami’s interest in Bradley Beal. But the Wizards, at this point, have not made Beal available in trade talks. An associate has said Beal will strongly consider the Heat, and a few other teams, if he opts for free agency in 2021 instead of signing an extension with Washington before that.

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