A six-pack of Miami Heat notes on a Wednesday:
▪ You thought Erik Spoelstra had difficult rotation decisions last season before Wayne Ellington and Tyler Johnson were jettisoned? His choices are even tougher this year with a more skilled, more smartly-constructed roster.
Thirteen players, including two-way contract forward Chris Silva, can make a reasonable case for playing time.
But here’s one thing Spoelstra needs to do: Reincorporate Dion Waiters.
Waiters has served his punishment for unprofessional behavior and even though his conditioning hasn’t been completely up to Heat standards, his offseason work - losing 15 pounds and coming back quicker - shouldn’t be glossed over.
Waiters remains one of the Heat’s most gifted offensive players, particularly in taking defenders off the dribble. His 19-point, four-assist first half performance in Charlotte in preseason was as dynamic an offensive display as we’ve seen from this team, along with Tyler Herro’s 19 point quarter against Atlanta.
At the very least, Waiters could offer 10 to 15 minutes a night of offense off the bench, potentially more on nights that rookies Kendrick Nunn and Herro are struggling.
It was odd that Spoelstra opted to keep Silva and Udonis Haslem - two players with similar skill sets - active over Waiters on Tuesday in Denver.
Perhaps Waiters is still not in optimal Heat shape after being away from the team for a week; that would explain why he worked on conditioning on the Heat’s practice court while the Heat was playing Houston on Sunday.
Perhaps he’s still on double secret probation after his social media posts taking shots at Spoelstra and Herro.
But all parties must move past Waiters’ behavior and give this a fresh start. He’s too skilled to marginalize, and even though the roster is too deep for Waiters to warrant starter’s minutes, a meaningful role - at least on many nights - is justified.
One person in touch with the Heat said no palatable trade scenario had emerged for Waiters as of early this week. And it’s not worth Miami packaging an asset with Waiters to receive a lesser player in return. Waiters is due $25 million combined over the next two seasons.
▪ Even though Portland’s Hassan Whiteside routinely ranked among the league leaders in blocks as a member of the Heat, the Heat didn’t believe its defense would diminish without him.
And this is notable: So far this season, Bam Adebayo has allowed the player he’s guarding to shoot just 37.5 percent (36 for 96).
Conversely, the player guarded by Whiteside is shooting 52.9 percent (46 for 87).
What’s more, Adebayo has 12 blocks, Whiteside eight.
▪ The defensive metrics of the Heat’s two rookie guards aren’t pretty in terms of shooting percentage against: The player guarded by Herro has shot 57.1 percent (36 for 63). Those same players are shooting 41.1 percent overall.
Meanwhile, the player defended by Kendrick Nunn has shot 50 percent (36 for 72), compared with 44.7 overall. But Nunn has defended well in other ways; he has 12 steals and a block.
Incidentally, players defended by Waiters shot 45.4 percent last season.
▪ I’ll be interested to see how this starting lineup evolves with two on-the-ball facilitators - Jimmy Butler and Justise Winslow.
It’s far too soon to judge anything from five-man lineup plus-minuses, but with that caveat, it’s interesting that with Winslow as the fifth starter with Butler, Adebayo, Meyers Leonard and Nunn, Miami has outscored teams by one point in 24 minutes while shooting 37.8 percent.
But replace Winslow with Duncan Robinson, and that group has outscored teams by 31 points in 29 minutes. And replace Winslow with Herro, and that group is plus 15 in eight minutes.
Again, no conclusions should be made off that; the sample size is too small. And a lineup with Butler and Winslow has a chance to be exceptional defensively, especially against teams with highly-skilled wings.
But the Butler/Winslow lineup’s offensive metrics will be interesting to monitor.
▪ Leonard not only leads the league in three-point shooting percentage at 64.3 (9 for 14), but he’s best among centers in three-point percentage since the start of last season, having made 59 of 125 (47.2 percent).
▪ Quick stuff: This is a testament to the help the Heat gets from South Beach, especially on a Saturday night. Per ESPN’s The Jump, Miami is 39-16 in Sunday home games the past decade. The Rockets had a free Saturday night on South Beach last Saturday, then fell behind 40-14 early in Sunday’s 6 p.m. game…. ESPN analyst and former Nets front office executive Bobby Marks: “Six-months ago we labeled the Miami Heat vanilla, in cap purgatory, stuck on the treadmill of mediocrity and in a holding pattern until the summer of 2021. Now? A roster transformed that has the early makings of a top 4 team in the East.”