Ethan J. Skolnick

Ethan J. Skolnick: Miami Heat’s depth might be a mirage

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope drives against Gerald Green in the fourth quarter of the Miami Heat's game against the Detroit Pistons at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2015.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope drives against Gerald Green in the fourth quarter of the Miami Heat's game against the Detroit Pistons at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2015.

Say something enough times and you’ll begin to believe it. Regarding this Heat team, few things have been said more frequently than this:

It’s deep.

You may have even read it in this space.

Still, at this stage, the splints, sprains and statistics — a league-worst 75.3 points per 100 possessions — are starting to suggest otherwise. Miami doesn’t seem that far away from deep trouble.

Consider the cast that Erik Spoelstra put on the court with starter Chris Bosh for the first seven minutes of Tuesday’s second quarter: Udonis Haslem, Gerald Green, Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson. That group that allowed a 16-point lead against the Pistons to shrink to four before Spoelstra made mass substitutions.

“I thought our starters came out with the right mentality to start the game, and we just had an awful second quarter,” Dwyane Wade said. “They ended up getting the lead by the end of the half. From there it was just back and forth.”

At the end, it was a 93-92 defeat, dropping the Heat to 6-10 against other teams seeded in the top 12 in the East.

The aforementioned lineup, incidentally, hadn’t played a minute together and may never again, not even as Bosh continues to serve as the one starter on reserve-heavy units. After all, Haslem wasn’t playing much when Josh McRoberts was healthy, and Richardson only got some run because Goran Dragic and Tyler Johnson were out, pushing third-string point guard Beno Udrih to the starting lineup.

So why sweat it?

Well, because it’s highly likely we’ll see even more odd, ill-fitting, offensively challenged combinations as the season progresses. Some ailments and injuries will inevitably occur — consider that Wade has missed only one game after missing 25 percent of the games during the past four seasons. The Heat went 3-3 without Luol Deng but cannot afford many extended absences by its starters, not when bench options are unreliable or unknown.

Start here:

McRoberts does more of his sweating during rehabilitation than as part of the rotation.

It’s become clear, after the first 17 months of his Heat tenure, that he can’t be counted on to remain healthy. The toe. The back. The knee. Now the knee again. Considering how the Heat typically undersells injuries, it shouldn’t be surprising that day-to-day has turned into seven missed games over nearly two weeks, nor would it be surprising if it goes much longer. While McRoberts frustrated many observers with his odd, almost artistic, reluctance to shoot, his collaboration with Bosh was resulting in a solid plus-9.4 per 100 possessions, whereas Bosh and Haslem are a minus-8.4 per 100 possessions.

But, again, when you’ve already missed 72 out of 109 games since signing, you’re not a solution, just an ongoing riddle.

Spoelstra has continued to plug Haslem in for McRoberts ahead of three other potential options: veterans Amar’e Stoudemire and Chris Andersen, and youngster Jarnell Stokes. Those three players have had their moments, whether Stoudemire and Andersen as animated cheerleaders or Stokes as a D-League dominator, but they’ve combined for only 44 actual NBA minutes this season.

Essentially, they’ve been roster dead spots so far.

Stokes, according to scouts, isn’t much more than an energy player at this level, at this time. Andersen, who still might serve a shot-blocking purpose, remains on the trading block, another potential luxury tax casualty.

Stoudemire? His situation is more mysterious. Signed to a one-year minimum deal, he said he feels “really good at this point, I feel strong enough to contribute if needed, but while these guys are playing well I’m just going to continue to get stronger and stronger. So when it’s time, I’ll be ready to go.”

He played on Sept. 30, then 20 days later, then 22 days later.

By that pattern, you’ll need to catch him on Jan. 4 against Indiana.

The backcourt? Well, that’s not looking especially deep now either, even after Udrih — acquired for former starter Mario Chalmers — was effective Tuesday, recording 14 points, six assists and a plus-12 in 34 minutes.

Richardson, however, mostly struggled again and is a minus-48 in 120 minutes; for all his defensive tenacity, he simply isn’t polished enough offensively to contribute consistently.

That matters now that Johnson has missed six full games, and half of another, with an acute flare-up of a college shoulder injury; he’ll see where he stands after Thursday’s practice, but it should be concerning that one of the team’s toughest players was held out even with Dragic sitting. That situation could linger throughout the season.

Dragic’s may pass more quickly — or, at least, the Heat hopes so. He’s been playing with a sore right thumb but couldn’t with swelling in his left wrist. Neither an X-ray nor MRI showed structural damage, and yet …

“Nobody knows how long this will be,” Dragic said.

Can’t be too long. Because, suddenly, that bench is looking short.

Ethan J. Skolnick: 305-376-3483, @ethanjskolnick

Related stories from Miami Herald