He didn’t win the award, Philadelphia’s Dario Saric did, but the Heat’s Rodney McGruder said it was nice to see he was nominated for the Eastern Conference’s Rookie of the Month honors for February.
“It is nice to be mentioned,” said McGruder, who averaged 8.0 points (12th among rookies), shot 45 percent from the field, 40.5 percent from three and held the players he defended to 41.7 percent shooting (3.5 percent below their normal field goal percentage) in the month of February.
“But I’ve just got to thank my teammates and the coaching staff for putting me in a nice situation.”
McGruder, 25, is in a much different situation than now than most anticipated coming into the season. He’s played himself into becoming a contender to earn a spots on one of the NBA’s two All-Rookie Teams.
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Undrafted out of Kansas State in 2013, McGruder toiled around in the D-League and overseas in Hungary for three years before he earned the Heat’s final roster spot over Briante Weber and veteran Beno Udrih back in October.
He’s gone from being on the end of the Heat bench to making the third-most starts in the league this season among rookies. Only the Lakers Brandon Ingram, the No. 2 overall pick, has averaged more minutes (28.2) than McGruder (25.9).
Although his overall statistics for the season (6.8 points, 3.4 rebounds, 40.7% field goal percentage) aren’t overwhelming, what McGruder has provided the Heat as a defender has been invaluable this season. And when it comes to win shares, only Milwaukee’s Malcolm Brogdon (2.7) has more than McGruder (2.3) among rookies.
Last week, McGruder had arguably his best defensive moment yet when he got under the skin of Pacers All-Star Paul George, who was ejected after picking up a second technical foul.
“Forget All-Rookie team, I think he should be one of the rookies looked at for Rookie of the Year,” Heat center Hassan Whiteside said. “I feel like we praise losing too much. If you’re a rookie and you’re losing why are we praising you so much?
“This guy comes in and guards everybody. He guards [Giannis] Antetokounmpo to Kevin Durant to anybody, bro. He guards every team’s best player every night. I feel like we rewarding losing rookies too much. This guy is a winner.”
There’s been an ongoing debate in the league as to whether or not Sixers center Joel Embiid has played enough games this season to be worthy of the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award. Statistically, no rookie comes close to the 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks Embiid averaged in 31 games before he was shut down for the season with a torn meniscus in his left knee.
In fact, Saric is the only other rookie averaging double digits when it comes to scoring (11.3). McGruder ranks 12th in scoring among rookies, but in a season with so many underwhelming performances by rookies, his teammates and coaches believe he has a legitimate case to be honored among the league’s best first-year players.
“Certainly all rookie team,” Spoelstra said of whether or not McGruder has a case to be the league’s Rookie of the Year. “I would put him there with any other name.”
Saturday: Cavaliers at Heat
When/where: 8 p.m.; AmericanAirlines Arena.
TV/radio: SUN; WAXY 790, WAQI 710 (Spanish).
Series: Heat leads 59-43
Scouting report: The Cavaliers crushed an eight-man Heat team in Cleveland 114-84 back on Dec. 9. The Heat has won 11 in a row vs. Cleveland in Miami. Like the Heat, Cleveland will be playing on the second night of a back-to-back.