Heat Check

Miami Heat using NBA Combine to find next batch of Rodney McGruders

Former Kansas State forward Wesley Iwundu has interviewed with eight NBA teams since arriving in Chicago Wednesday for the NBA Draft Combine. He’s been asked a lot of questions, but one which stood out Thursday came from Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra.

“Coach Spoelstra asked me if he were to roll the ball under the table who would get it – me or Rodney McGruder?” said Iwundu, a 6-7, 205-pound shooting guard projected to go in the second round of next month’s draft. “I said, ‘Coach, Rod is my guy. But for sure I’ll get it.’ ”

The Heat, armed with a lottery pick in next month’s draft but not a second rounder, will find out Tuesday night if their lottery balls have any luck in them.

Miami has a 1.8 percent chance of finishing with a top three pick and a potential franchise-changing player. If not, the Heat will pick 14th, a spot which could still net them a solid rotation player moving forward.

This week’s combine-related events in Chicago are not so much about getting a better look at the guys at the top of the Heat’s wish list (most aren’t here). It’s more about identifying the next McGruder, a new group of potential overachievers the franchise believes it can develop and acquire either by trading for a second round pick or signing that player as an undrafted free agent.

Next season will mark the first time NBA teams can sign players to two-way contracts, which allow them to be assigned to the developmental league team and for the NBA team to still own that player’s full rights.

Last year, the Heat lost talented point guard Briante Weber, the No. 1-ranked player in the D-League at the time, when he was signed off Sioux Falls’ roster by the Golden State Warriors to a 10-day contract. The days of losing top minor leaguers, however, are now over.

So, as much as the Heat has scouted and prepared all season to use its first round pick wisely, this week’s work at the combine has been about making the best of the opportunity to speak to players who could become those future two-way players.

Chet Kammerer, who has been with the organization for 21 years and is the vice president of player personnel, said the Heat submitted the names of 30 players the organization wanted 25-minute private interviews with at the combine.

None of them included players the Heat will be looking at with its lottery pick. Those guys, Kammerer said, will be invited to Miami for private workouts beginning next week.

By the start of Thursday’s workouts, Kammerer said the Heat’s front office and scouting department – team president Pat Riley and Spoelstra included – had already spoken to all but five of the alloted 20 players they had been granted interviews with. The rest of the interviews are scheduled for Friday.

“We sent in three lists of 10 guys: As, Bs, Cs,” Kammerer said. “We got seven from the top 10 and 13 from the B’s and C’s.”

“We have a group of questions we ask to try and find out as much as we can about that player in those 25 minutes,” Kammerer continued. “It’s very interesting and very helpful just to get a feel for each guy and how they communicate, their backgrounds and their families. Just a battery of questions we like to ask.

In the end, Kammerer added, “we’re still looking for somebody who can make a jump shot. We’re not working on a debate team. We keep it all in perspective.”

Those interviewed by the Heat Wednesday and Thursday included: South Carolina guards Sindarius Thornwell (6-5, 214) and P.J. Dozier (6-6, 200), Gonzaga point guard Nigel Williams-Goss (6-4, 182), Villanova shooting guard Josh Hart (6-6, 204), North Carolina power forward Isaiah Hicks (6-9, 242), SMU forward Semi Ojeleye (6-7, 235), Oregon power forward Jordan Bell (6-9, 227), Iowa guard Peter Jok (6-6, 202) and Iwundu.

Former Florida Gators forward Devin Robinson (6-8, 200) said he has a meeting with the Heat scheduled for Friday morning. FSU shooting guard Dwayne Bacon (6-7, 220) doesn’t have a meeting with the Heat, but said he has a scheduled workout with the team next week.

“To be honest, the thing this week is best about, is the half hour we get with the 20 guys [we interview], and the medical [testing] they’re going to have over the course of this weekend,” Kammerer said. “So we’ll get a very good read on his body with doctors and so forth. A guy would be more apt to get a red flag [with a medical test] that would maybe make you maybe hesitate based on something you find out. The other thing that is helpful – are the official measurements. Each guy, we’re very interested in wing span and things like that.”

Last year, without a draft pick, the Heat didn’t have any players come in for workouts.

This year, Kammerer said, Miami expects to bring about 30 players. UCLA forward T.J. Leaf (6-10, 225) and North Carolina forward Justin Jackson (6-8, 209) said while they haven’t interviewed with the Heat, both expect to meet with them soon for workouts.

“We haven’t finalized it,” Kammerer said of a potential private workout list. “We’re waiting to see what happens with the lottery. We’ll focus in on who we think is kind of in our wheelhouse if it ends up being the 14th pick.”

 
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