5-on-5: Which HEAT Player Will Surprise & Disappoint, Dragic’s Future, Next Face of Franchise

Commentary6 years ago19 min readMiami Heat Beat Staff

Training camp is less than three weeks away. Our expert staff at Miami Heat Beat is here to tell you how to think! Exciting right? We’re borrowing on ESPN’s 5-on-5 idea where we take five of our staff writers (Actually, make that seven! We’re almost at a full rotation) and ask them all the same questions to hear their differentiating opinions (hot takes) on what’s going on with the HEAT. So without further adieu, let’s get started.

1. Who is one player you expect to pleasantly surprise HEAT fans, and one player you expect to disappoint HEAT fans this season?

Nekias Duncan: Despite the fact I have absolutely no faith in his defense until proven otherwise, I think HEAT fans will like Derrick Williams, who had a sneaky solid year off the bench for the Knicks last year. He runs the floor well, has shown flashes of a 3-point shot (which hasn’t materialized yet) and can attack slower bigs off the dribble. If Miami plays faster as expected, Williams could shine with the second unit.

Christian Hernandez: Expectations are the barometer by which storylines are formed around athletes. Tyler Johnson just got paid $50 million despite playing less than 70 games in his career, and the (ridiculously unfair) comparisons to Dwyane Wade’s contract have dominated the summer. That said, Tyler is a highly functional player that has been a lethal shooter his entire collegiate and professional career. I suspect he’ll come into his own this season and prove he’s worth that contract.

Meanwhile, Josh Richardson just finished a rookie campaign where he had the fourth-highest 3-point percentage (46.1 percent) in NBA history for a rookie that took over 100 attempts. He went from a 21 percent 3-point shooter his sophomore year of college to one of the league’s most efficient snipers last season. Although Richardson’s 3-point efficiency has improved every year since his days at Tennessee, I expect a sophomore regression.

Jack Alfonso: I think Hassan Whiteside has the potential to impress a lot of people this season. A lot of fans are expecting him to slow down and rest on his laurels following his major payday, but I’m expecting him to continue the steady development of his game on both sides of the ball.

His chemistry with Goran Dragic improved drastically over the course of the season, and will hopefully continue to improve this year. If Whiteside can stay focused on improving and the players around him can give him support, he’s primed for a spectacular season.

As for the disappointment, I’m going to nominate James Johnson. While Johnson has the potential to make a positive impact next season, his lack of a consistent outside shot (26.6 percent from 3 for his career) on a team that desperately needs spacing, plus his age (turning 30 this season) might stunt a young team looking to rebuild. He seems like a questionable team fit in both the short-term and long-term.

Alex Toledo: I look at this roster, and after I finish sobbing incessantly, I look up and smile because Derrick Williams is the guy who I think has the most potential to surprise people. I was high on Williams when he was coming out of Arizona, and although he’s been somewhat of a ginormous disappointment, I do think there’s room for improvement — enough to warrant it being a pleasant surprise. He’s still only 25 (yes I know, so are a ton of other guys) and he just came off his best season in the NBA (which isn’t exactly saying much). But he did set new career highs in PER, VORP, win shares and true shooting percentage. If this team does decide to run wild on offense, expect him to do some damage.

Outside of Josh McRoberts, who’ll probably three-peat his title of disappointing HEAT fans, I’ll give this one to Wayne Ellington. You just know that after being such an infuriating Random Scrub Heat Killer for so long, he’s gonna’ shoot 29 percent from 3 for the season and not look like an NBA player on the floor.

Leif: Justise Winslow is going to surprise people. That’s happening. But “pleasantly” surprised suggests a name that HEAT fans might not necessarily expect. I’m going to go against the grain and tell you that Dion Waiters is that guy; Derrick Williams as well. As for the disappointment: Josh McRoberts and that boot of his.

Alf: I think Heat fans who weren’t paying attention during Summer League last year—you know the ones with normal social lives—probably don’t know why so many of  us were so excited about the Willie Reed signing. But they’ll soon see why the near seven-foot super athletic big man is going to be such a capable back up to Hassan Whiteside.

While not quite as imposing a shot blocker as Whiteside, Reed is still more than capable of giving Miami a solid paint presence on both sides of the floor while Whiteside gets a breather.

James Johnson, on the other hand, will continue to disappoint and fail to live up to his athletic potential. Spoelstra will fall in love with his defensive acumen as the HEAT fanbase suffers from his ill-fated 3-point attempts. This feels like Danny Granger all over again …


2. Between Wayne Ellington, Dion Waiters, Josh Richardson, and Tyler Johnson, there seems to be somewhat of a logjam at the shooting guard position. Who do you expect to claim the starting spot, and who do you expect to be possibly bumped from the rotation?

Nekias Duncan: If I had to guess, Josh Richardson will get the starting nod at the 2. Richardson needs as many reps as possible. I expect Tyler Johnson to play whichever guard spot Dion Waiters doesn’t off the bench. Waiters needs reps to, at the very least, to garner some trade interest. That leaves Ellington—a signing I actually liked a lot—as the break-glass-in-case-of-emergency guard.

Christian Hernandez: This situation was already going to be complicated before Dion Waiters decided to sign a very team-friendly deal after Riley had already rounded out the roster. The Wayne Ellington signing looks like a mistake. While he is a reliable threat for perimeter shooting, he has historically been a sieve on defense. Unless Spoelstra is able to find some magic similar to what he did for Gerald Green’s defense last season, I think Ellington will be the odd man out.

The starting shooting guard spot is fascinating because you could make a good argument for Waiters (Starters?), J-Rich, and TJ. Waiters might have taken such a team-friendly deal because of assurances he will be starting. I’m of the belief that neither J-Rich nor TJ is meant to play point guard, but if Spoelstra determines one of them needs to play the backup point, then the other will probably be the starting shooting guard.

Jack Alfonso: I’m putting my money on Josh Richardson becoming the starting shooting guard of the Miami HEAT for years to come. His length, athleticism, jump shot and developing playmaking ability should help him put together a season that cements his status as a key part of Miami’s future. I expect Dion Waiters and Tyler Johnson to compete for the sixth man spot while Wayne Ellington fails to find consistent minutes throughout the season.

Alex Toledo: Listen, anyone who claims they know who will start at shooting guard on opening night is lying out of their teeth. None of us know. Sure, I’d love to see Josh Richardson start there, where he’d get the necessary reps to continue improving, but nothing is guaranteed, especially given that he’s the youngest and least-experienced of the options.

Johnson just got paid (thankfully) and he was solid when healthy last season, so he shouldn’t be out of the question. Dion Waiters (Kobe Wade) has the incentive to outplay his minimum deal for a much larger contract next summer, plus his prior experience as a starter could give him the nod too. I don’t necessarily expect to see too much of Wayne Ellington (who will be a different type of #RSHK this season).

If I had to take a guess, I’d probably still go with Richardson starting there and Johnson/Waiters both coming off the bench together as combo guards/playmakers.

Leif: I expect Dion Waiters to claim the starting shooting guard position, playing for a payday surrounded by HEAT culture. We all know how this story goes: he produces, he gets paid. I think Waiters shoots just well enough to work alongside Dragic. Ellington will be used as a specialist when they are cold from long range. Richardson will see time defending wings in 3-guard lineups, which will be fun (Think Goran-TJ-JRich).

Alf: In a just and fair world, Josh Richardson or Tyler Johnson would claim the starting shooting guard position. But the world isn’t fair and just, it’s cruel and it hurts. That’s why Dion Waiters will probably take on Dwyane Wade’s role and – I just threw up in my mouth a little … Next question!


3. Assuming that Chris Bosh is out, what would you like to see Miami do with the starting lineup and the hole in the frontcourt?

Nekias: Justise Winslow, when talking about his role and expectations going forward in Barry Jackson’s column from Monday night, said the Heat “want to make the game as ugly as possible” — which runs counter to my expectations of Miami running all the time, but I suppose that isn’t mutually exclusive. With that said, if Winslow’s jumper has improved a good deal, starting James Johnson at the 4 would allow Miami to be a physical team while also being versatile on offense, and switchy on defense.

If they do elect to run, or if Winslow’s still a liability from deep, throwing Williams in at the 4 makes the most sense. Having Hassan Whiteside behind him could help cover for his woeful pick-and-roll defense, 5.2 percentile guarding the ball-handler, 16.2 percentile guarding the roll-man, via Synergy Sports. Williams is also a better shooter than Johnson, which isn’t saying too much.

Christian: Taking Bosh out of the equation should make Spoelstra’s lineup decisions easier. This would allow Spo to more easily showcase his five best players: Dragic, Richardson, Johnson, Winslow and Whiteside. While this lineup would be slightly undersized on defense, there would not be a single defensive liability on the court (assuming Josh doesn’t get bullied defending the 3).

On offense, that lineup would cause all kinds of problems for opposing defenses. Goran Dragic would finally have the space he’s desired since arriving in Miami, with the spacing provided from knockdown shooters in Richardson and Johnson.

The other side effect of all this spacing is that Whiteside will often be faced with an open paint area, which should make it even easier for him to dominate the offensive boards. This lineup’s ceiling will be determined by Winslow’s growth as a scorer.

Jack: In the absence of Bosh, I expect Miami to play small and fast as much as possible. I’d like to see Justise Winslow and Derrick Williams take up most of the minutes at the 4 as the team tries to push the pace and make a living off quick buckets. I expect Bosh and the HEAT to figure out a way for him to play at least temporarily, but in the case that he doesn’t, the team should be prepared to compete without him.

Alex: This is really tough. With no Bosh, what I see happening is Derrick Williams starting at power forward to round out a starting lineup of Dragic/Richardson/Winslow/Williams/Whiteside. Guys like Willie Reed, James Johnson, Luke Babbit and yes, Josh McRoberts, will vie for playing time in the big man rotation.

I can eventually envision Winslow being moved to starting power forward, where Richardson then moves up to the 3 and Tyler Johnson starts at shooting guard. That  starting lineup would feature all of Miami’s most promising players and also allows the team to play a more uptempo style while still emphasizing defense. That has the potential to be so much fun.

Leif: Assuming no Bosh, I think Derrick Williams has the inside track to start at the 4. So Williams, Whiteside, Winslow, Waiters & Dragic round out my projected starting lineup. Prepare for Winslow playing quality minutes as a small ball 4. He will be encouraged to grab it off the glass and go. By season’s end, I wouldn’t be surprised if Richardson replaced Williams in the starting five.

Alf: I’d love to see Whiteside, Justise Winslow and Derrick Williams as the starting front court. We can call them the “Three Dubs” … or we won’t. If Winslow and Williams can be even remotely accurate from the perimeter, this lineup should give Goran Dragic plenty of room to work and is athletic enough to play the frenetic defense that Spo loves to deploy. I can see this lineup running other teams ragged, and playing well in the open court as Williams is a good finisher and Winslow should be much improved around the rim this year.

bosh retirement

4. There has been some debate about Goran Dragic’s role on the team going forward. How do you see him fitting in with Miami long-term?

Nekias Duncan: I think this depends on the Bosh situation, oddly enough. Without Wade, and with more players on the roster equipped to run, I think Dragic could have a very good statistical season. If Bosh is out, and, in turn, the Heat are terrible, Dragic becomes very valuable — and expendable for two reasons.

First, next year’s draft class is absurdly deep at point guard. If Miami is in a hole by December, trying to tank would probably be the smart course of action. Secondly, the cap is expected to jump again for next summer, making Dragic’s contract even more of a bargain. If Dragic were dealt in February or even on draft night for more picks, that team would have, at worse, a top 12-15 point guard for another three years at roughly $18 million a year (starting from the 2017-18 season). For comparison’s sake, Mike Conley—who isn’t much better—will be making roughly $30.5 million a year in that time frame.

Christian Hernandez: This confuses me a little, as Dragic has the most clearly defined role on the team. Dragic is the only reliable ball handler on the team now following the departure of Dwyane Wade. Beno Udrih is also a good handler, but I suspect that he will not be a part of the regular rotation. This season is about seeing what you have in the talent on the roster, and playing Beno over Briante doesn’t make much sense in that respect. That means it is going to be up to Richardson, Johnson, and Weber to handle the load while Dragic is on the bench.

In the long-term, I don’t think there’s much debate that Dragic’s long-term future with the team is very much in the air, as he is the team’s best trade asset at the moment. However, I don’t see how the Heat can part with their only ball handler until one of the other young guards proves that they can direct and lead an offense at a winning level.

Jack Alfonso: I expect Goran to thrive with the young players going forward in a high-tempo system with a lot of athleticism. One could definitely argue that trading him for future assets and embracing a full rebuild would be the best decision for the team going forward, I think having an experienced floor general on the team takes pressure off the young guys, gives them more opportunities, and allows the team to bring the youth along slowly instead of overloading them with responsibilities and expectations. Without Dragic, Miami doesn’t have a reliable primary playmaker, and a team with no order or on court leadership isn’t conducive to youth development.

Alex Toledo: Anyone who knows me (or reads my tweets) knows I’m a huge fan of Goran “Gogi” Dragic and his game. I still contend that he is vastly underrated, and in the supposed uptempo style that the HEAT are seeking to play, he could be dangerous. Like, 2013-2014 All-NBA Third Team dangerous.

With that being said, if Bosh never gets cleared and the Heat play to the level of their talent (sub-par), I can already see Pat Riley dangling around a missing tooth Dragic doll to other GM’s from December through February, and then again next summer. As much as I appreciate his game, I’d be lying to you if I told you I was sure he’d remain in a HEAT uniform for more than another season.

Leif: This upcoming season, I don’t think it’s too big of a secret what Dragic’s role will be. He will be looked to carry a significant load in scoring and playmaking. He will be asked to direct traffic and get these young players in the right spots. He must be a calming force down the stretch. The Dragon has the keys to the kingdom.

Alf: Long-term? Riley would include Dragic in a trade for a “whale” without blinking. Which is why I don’t believe that Dragic will survive another summer in a HEAT uniform unless he revisits his production of three years ago. But that will probably just make him more attractive to the rest of the league and the sweet Slovenian will be losing teeth on another team’s home floor.


5. With Wade’s departure, Miami lost the face of their franchise. Going forward, who do you see taking the reigns and becoming the next face of the Miami HEAT. Is that player even on the team yet?

Nekias Duncan: In terms of talent, Whiteside will likely be Miami’s best player for the next two or three years barring Pat Riley swinging another home run via trade or free agency. In terms of the face of a franchise, I think of guys who embody the Heat culture — the toughness, work ethic, intelligence, and winning. Nobody seems to fit that part better than Winslow, but that’s a lofty goal for him. He’s so far away from becoming a major offensive contributor, but we’ll have a better idea of how good he can be this season.

Christian Hernandez: Take your pick of the litter between Whiteside, Winslow, Richardson and Johnson. All of them are either before or entering their prime, all of them have the capability to make another leap, and all of them aren’t proven enough to be sure in what you have. I’d say the safest choice is Whiteside, as he can easily fill up the stat sheet. But if he continues to improve his pick-and-roll defense and willingness to leave the paint on defense like he showed towards the end of last season, he could be in the running for Defensive Player of the Year.

If you asked me which player has the highest ceiling, it’s gotta be Josh Richardson. He has the natural gifts you want in a guard at 6’6” with a 6’10” wingspan. He showed off elite shooting touch last season at age 22, while also showing a fearlessness in driving to the basket and on multiple occasions putting some poor big men on Josh Richardson posters. If Richardson can put on a little weight and improve his handles, he could quickly become a star in this league.

Jack Alfonso: I think this season we are going to see Justise Winslow grow into a young but capable leader that’s desperately missing in this team in the wake of Dwyane Wade’s departure. That said, I expect Hassan Whiteside to be the public face of the team while Winslow and Josh Richardson (hopefully) slowly develop into an all-star duo that will form the core of the HEAT’s future.

Alex Toledo: I really, really, really hope Justise Winslow can be that guy for the HEAT. I love his game and see the upside, and it’s definitely in the realm of possibility. Also, if we’re still going by the assumption that Bosh doesn’t play, Whiteside is the most impactful player and the face.

But, given the context of this organization and how they like to do things, I would be surprised if there isn’t somebody else soon enough who usurps both of those guys as the face of the franchise. Whether that someone is acquired via trade or is swayed by rings dropped on tables is yet to be seen.

Leif: Hassan Whiteside is primed to become the most marketable HEAT player. The 2016-17 Defensive Player of the Year award would cement his status league-wide. That’s the goal. But I think Justise Winslow can be the HEAT’s Draymond Green. But in reality, the long-term, clear-cut face of the franchise likely isn’t wearing a HEAT uniform yet.

Alf: In three years? I hope Justise Winslow’s play has earned him the premier spot on promotional material. But until then, I don’t see that guy on the roster. Seven-footers make for poor pitch men, so Whiteside is out and the rest of the roster stacks up like a “whos who” of quality role players. There will almost assuredly be a trade in the next 12 months–a big one–and that’s the name that will be on the marquee until Winslow is ready. Or maybe we finally see the realized potential of Dion Waiters as he – I’m going to be sick again …


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Nekias Duncan (@NekiasNBA), Christian Hernandez (@cch1125), Jack Alfonso (@alfonsohoops), Alex Toledo (@TropicalBlanket), Leif (@Lefty_Leif), & (@Alf954).