Heat Check

Has Rodney McGruder already won the Heat’s starting small forward job?

Miami Heat guard Rodney McGruder shoots free throws with Miami Heat guard Dion Waiters at Miami Heat training camp at FAU in Boca Raton, Florida on September 26, 2017.
Miami Heat guard Rodney McGruder shoots free throws with Miami Heat guard Dion Waiters at Miami Heat training camp at FAU in Boca Raton, Florida on September 26, 2017. The Palm Beach Post

The Miami Heat plays its second preseason game tonight in Brooklyn and before the team takes the court its time to debut the new Heat Check Mailbag.

Q: By the way Justise Winslow is talking it seems as though Rodney McGruder has already won the starting job. Is there still a battle for the starting small forward job? If Justise does come off the bench, how does that affect his contract extension? – Derrick Wyatt, Jupiter

Nothing is set in stone and there are still five preseason games left for Erik Spoelstra to decide what he wants to do with his lineups and rotations, but it’s looking more and more like McGruder and not Winslow or Josh Richardson will be in the starting lineup alongside Goran Dragic, Dion Waiters, James Johnson and Hassan Whiteside. And the reason has nothing to do with McGruder’s performance and everything to do with the fact somebody in the starting rotation has to be OK with not touching the ball very often.

McGruder is a selfless player, a gritty defender and an improving three-point shooter. He’s basically what Udonis Haslem was in his prime with the ability to hit corner threes. Spoelstra loves to have those kind of players in his starting lineup because it sets a team-first mentality and rewards hard work. It also allows him to bring more talent off the bench, which could ultimately be where the Heat win a lot of games this season.

We saw in Sunday’s preseason-opening win over the Hawks how good that second unit of Winslow, Richardson, Tyler Johnson, Wayne Ellington and Kelly Olynyk looked together, spreading the floor and attacking driving lanes. Spoelstra likes that unit and he also has a need to find something special off the bench considering James Johnson – last year’s revelation – is now in the starting lineup. That said, if the Heat’s starting lineup struggles there’s no reason to believe Spoelstra won’t turn to Richardson as his starter at small forward. He may even be tempted to put James Johnson back on the bench and start Winslow instead. We’ll see.

The second-year guard started 65 games for the Heat last season and is working on becoming a "knock down shooter" this summer. June 13, 2017.

As for Winslow and his contract, he has one more year on his rookie contract at roughly $3.4 million. If the Heat see him develop into the kind of player they want long term they can make a commitment to him next summer.

Q: Do you believe in Winslow? Norris Cole was a hard worker as well, had heat DNA. He just could not learn to shoot. – Ahmad (@vickegilaf)

I know it seems insane to write this in today’s NBA, but not every player needs to be a shooter to be successful. I think one thing a lot of us have done in our minds with Justise is tie his future to being a small forward that has to be able to knock down three-pointers to have keep a job. While that’s still the hope internally with the Heat, he can very much be a quality starting power forward in this league who defends the other team’s best player, averages 12 to 15 points a game driving to the basket and getting to the foul line, and creates offense for others with his ballhandling skills and vision.

As I wrote earlier this week, Winslow is working hard to improve his shot and the Heat are helping him at every turn. But ultimately Spoelstra simply wants him to be someone who fills the boxscore in multiple ways like James Johnson. If Winslow can simply improve enough where he’s knocking down open shots – he doesn’t need to be an elite three-point shooter – the Heat see it as a victory because it will help the offense as a whole. He has to be capable of that in my opinion and is definitely putting in the work to improve.

Q: Was Justise Winslow shooting with his right hand in the video you tweeted out following Tuesday’s practice? – @Heatlifer

My apologies for the poor video quality, but no he wasn’t. Those were left-handed shots. Winslow was on the far end of the practice court. I just happened to catch a run where he missed five shots in a row. There were many other instances when he buried five or six in a row. He puts up close to 1,000 shots a day and doesn’t leave the court until he’s made at least 500.

Q: What do you think of Udonis Haslem saying he really considered joining the Cavs? I think he and Dwyane Wade are so ungrateful. – @CubanMofo2

Look, all Haslem did was provide a peek behind the scenes of what really happens in the NBA. As much as Haslem is the ambassador and leader of Heat Nation, he’s someone who very much believes he can still help an NBA team as he told our Barry Jackson in the story you are referring to. Even though the Heat put up banners at his house and both he and the team knew there was going to be a continuation of the marriage for a 15th season, you might remember what Pat Riley said back in April about the Heat’s captain and how he was going to have to earn a spot on this roster and not just be given a spot.

Ultimately in this league you never know what might happen with a roster. What if the Heat had signed Gordon Hayward to a max deal? What if Riley thought Miami needed to add another point guard to this roster like Derrick Rose? Haslem never had a 100 percent guarantee back in July he had a roster spot. He explored his options and ultimately he chose Miami over Cleveland. Because it sounds like he could have gone to the Cavs had he wanted to.

Q: Will rookie Bam Adebayo see a lot of minutes at the start of the season or will coach Spo ease him into it? – MoBuckets (@1AzharMoe)

Honestly, I’m starting to wonder if Bam will see any minutes at all barring injury. For as much as we’ve heard great things about Adebayo from the Heat, there really isn’t a need right now to play him with a roster this deep. I’m sure Spoelstra will find ways to get him into games this preseason and on nights in the regular season when Hassan Whiteside gets into foul trouble. But until we see a lineup this preseason where Adebayo is running with rotation players we have to assume he’s just not in the plans to see any significant minutes once the regular season begins. That’s not to say the Heat are not high on him or don’t plan to play him this season. But I think the priority right now is to play the guys Spoelstra wants and needs on the floor. That’s just how deep this team is.

If you have a question for the Heat Check blog email me at mnavarro@miamiherald.com or send it to me on Twitter @Manny_Navarro

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