5-on-5: Wade’s Farewell, Emergence of Josh Richardson, All-Star Bids, & Butler Mania

Commentary3 years ago17 min readMiami Heat Beat Staff

The Miami Heat’s season opener tips-off today! Our expert staff at Miami Heat Beat is here to tell you how to think! Exciting right?

We’re borrowing ESPN’s 5-on-5 idea where we take five of our staff writers (against their will)—sometimes a special guest columnist—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?

Leif: James Johnson will regain form this season and get back to looking like the JJ we saw prior to his sports hernia injury. Remember the JJ that was dunking on folks and swallowing up opposing wings on defense? The only time we saw that James Johnson last year was on Opening Night at the AAA when he dunked on Victor Oladipo. I think we see more of that JJ this year rather than the guy that ended last season on fumes.

The player most likely to disappoint Heat fans this season is Dion Waiters. We want to believe he will bounce back, spend a year next to Dwyane Wade and become the player his talent level has always indicated he could be. It seems far more likely he trudges through another season in-and-out of the lineup and ultimately negates his shot-creating ability by untimely, inefficient ISO ball. I hope I am loud wrong, trust me.

Alf: I expect Hassan Whiteside to be a pleasant surprise. We at Heat Beat are known for being hard on the big fella’, but I’ve always stated that I like the guy. I think many of his struggles can be attributed to poor health. When Whiteside burst onto the scene a few years ago, what made him special was his level of athleticism. He was an active, mobile 7-foot shot-blocking monster … not the lumbering oaf that riled up Heat fans in the 2018 playoffs. We’ve already seen some explosion out of him in the preseason, and I expect it to continue all year long.

Tyler Johnson, on the other hand, will finally have the expectations of his contract finally come crashing down upon him. He’s been on a honeymoon with Heat fans, but his new paycheck will come with new criticism, and a lot of it. I expect TJ to have the same solid year that he usually does, it just won’t match the price tag.

Jack Alfonso: I expect Rodney McGruder to surprise me this season. I have a sneaking suspicion that he’s my secret Santa this year, and I’ve been dropping hints about what I want for months now. When you see me in the streets wearing a Miami Heat-themed cardigan, you’ll know I was right.

I think people will be underwhelmed by Goran Dragic’s play this season. He’s at the age where you can expect a pretty steady decline in production, and I just don’t see him thriving in Miami’s mess of a backcourt. Also, it’s more or less impossible to reach the expectations that come with the nickname “Dragon.”

Alex Toledo: I’ve never been too high on him, but I think it’s clear now that Rodney McGruder is a legitimate rotation piece and that, if he gets any type of consistent playing time, Heat fans will like him being out there more than previously might have. We already know he’s gonna be a nice 3-and-D guy who plays bigger than his size, hustling for rebounds, and loose balls.

However, he’s boasted an obviously improved pick-and-roll game in the preseason and seems to be the only non-Wade player to have apparently figured out running the pick-and-roll with Hassan Whiteside. Here’s to hoping he doesn’t get thrown into too many three-guard lineups.

As far as disappointing, I was gonna go with Tyler Johnson, given his lack of a clear role within the rotation and that this season is when his poison-pill deal finally balloons to $19M … that was until I realized there aren’t really high expectations for him. I’m getting sick to my stomach just typing this up, but I think the most disappointing player this season might just end up being Justise Winslow.

After nabbing some nice extension money, it’s not hard to see why, with the roster as currently constructed, he might not stand out as much as so many of us want him to. There are too many players who deserve to be playing when the roster is healthy. Will Justise finally be a featured playmaker? There are three different positions you can legitimately throw in if you try and guess where he’ll be playing the bulk of his minutes.

There is no other point guard in the rotation, so it makes sense for Winslow to get lots of backup point guard reps, until you remember Dion Waiters and D-Wade project to play similar roles too. It’s also hard to peg him as starting power forward because James Johnson and Kelly Olynyk will be spending lots of playing time there. He’ll be a useful, multi-positional player for sure. All of this still feels too murky for this to be the year when Winslow finally takes the leap we saw with Josh Richardson last season.

Ethan Skolnick (5 Reasons Sports): To surprise Heat fans, you need to have disappointed Heat fans – which isn’t that hard these days. So that leaves four choices: Tyler Johnson (because of the contract), James Johnson (same), Dion Waiters (lots of stuff), and Hassan Whiteside (you know). And of those four, it’s clear that Whiteside has the most upside if he’s engaged and can make adjustments to the modern game.

Disappoint? The only one would really be Dwyane Wade, only if fans are expecting Game 2 against Philadelphia all the time. Even he has said that’s not possible.

2. Assuming both Dion Waiters and James Johnson are out of the rotation for the start of the season, what would you like to see Miami do with its starting lineup?

Leif: Give me Whiteside (really Bam, but I digress), Olynyk, Winslow, Richardson and Dragic to start. It feels like the most balanced starting group. A full season of Winslow starting on the wing and J-Rich playing his natural 2-guard position is also a motivating factor in my starting lineup choice.

Alf: I’d like to see something similar to what they were rolling out in the preseason. Goran Dragic, Josh Richardson, Whiteside, Justise Winslow, and Kelly Olynyk. In the long run, I would rather James Johnson start and Winslow come off the bench as the back-up point guard, but this unit should be able to hold down the fort for right now.

I really don’t see where Waiters is going to fit in when he comes back, which makes some of the trade rumors in the offseason make even more sense. Are you going to play him over Dwyane Wade, Tyler Johnson, Wayne Ellington, or Rodney McGruder? I wouldn’t. Given the circumstances, I don’t see Miami rushing Waiters back from his injury.

Jack: My ideal starting lineup is five Justise Winslows locking down the perimeter on defense and taking turns playing point guard on offense. With his driving ability and newly-developed jump shot, Winslow should have a field day driving into the paint and kicking the ball out to one of the other Justises for a wide-open 3.

Alex: I think James Johnson and Waiters being out early on will end up being a blessing in disguise. The Heat should run Dragic-McGruder-J-Rich-Winslow-Whiteside as their starting lineup meanwhile. That lineup gives you enough passers who can help feed Whiteside early, decent enough shooting all across the floor (Whiteside Kabooms coming soon), switchable players on the wing positions, and it helps feature some of the younger guys who we want taking more leaps this season.

Ethan: What would I like? For Josh Richardson to start at the 2. The only way to get there is to get Justise Winslow or Rodney McGruder in the lineup with him. McGruder will likely be one of those weird Erik Spoelstra cases, in which Spoelstra either starts a player or hardly plays him at all. I’d lean McGruder here so Winslow can be the primary playmaker off the bench, helping Wade (spacing issues, I know, but maybe Wayne Ellington is always out there with them). At the four, it’s Kelly Olynyk by default next to Whiteside for as long as it’s working.

Photo Illustration by Giancarlo Navas // Miami Heat Beat

3. Early predictions! Who on the roster has the greatest chance of being an All-Star? 

Leif: Whiteside and Dragic are the obvious choices. Although, I think if you pressed me for the most likely member of the Heat to be named an Eastern Conference All-Star this year, I would still say Dwyane Wade. One Last Dance all the way up to Charlotte for the 2019 NBA All-Star festivities would be a captivating way to finish his illustrious career. He gets my vote (literally).

Alf: For nostalgic purposes, I could see Wade getting voted in by the fans. With Demar Derozan in the West, there aren’t really too many other shooting guards in the East more popular than Wade. The emergence of Victor Oladipo could very well kill those chances, though.

The only other option I see is Richardson. If J-Rich continues the defensive dominance of last season, we could see him getting voted in as a reserve. The issue with a team this deep and lacking a true star is that the numbers are going to be spread pretty evenly throughout the roster. Coach Spo’s penchant for giving Richardson heavy minutes might be what makes him the standout.

Jack: Several players on this team have a chance to be an All-Star if they get their game on and go play. However, I’d say Josh Richardson has the best chance of anyone to represent Miami on All-Star Weekend. He’s a shooting star, and I wouldn’t be shocked if he broke the mold.

Alex: My wishful answer is Josh Richardson if he isn’t a part of a Jimmy Butler trade. He’s looked even more confident thus far than he did last year when he became the clear-cut best player of the three young guys and was probably the team’s second-best player all season. He’s improved at controlling the offense whenever the ball gets into his hands while being aggressive whenever he drives to the rim, and he is starting to launch more open threes off the dribble. He was already an NBA All-Defensive Team talent last season.

But my real answer is Dwyane Wade, and I’m not very mad about it. He’s will be voted in as the starting shooting guard. And he damn well better be! This is his Kobe Bryant season, guys. What will we do if he ISN’T voted in as an All-Star starter and doesn’t drop more than 60 points in his final game? It’s outrageous to even think about!

Ethan: Josh Richardson, if Richardson is still here, and if he is as aggressive as he was in December 2017. It won’t take much to be an All-Star in the East: 17 points per game on efficient shooting with quality defense may be enough.

4. What’s been the most surprising/positive development so far through training camp/preseason?

Leif: The play of Bam Adebayo. He looks ready to be a major contributor and a possible breakout candidate soon. Franchise-changing potential and the proper attitude to match, Adebayo is undoubtedly the player to be most excited for moving forward on this Miami Heat team.

Alf: I’m gonna go with McGruder’s emergence as a playmaker and Winslow’s comfort as a ball handler.  I don’t know if it will translate to the regular season, but McGruder’s ability to manufacture points in the half court was a pleasant surprise. For all their depth, the Heat lack aggressive playmaking outside of Wade and Dragic, but McGruder showed signs of being able to take some of the burden in spot minutes. Winslow’s emergence as a point guard option has been one of the more fun things to watch over the last 18 months. Would love to see him take a page from McGruder’s book and work the pick-and-roll more with the second unit.

Jack: I’ve loved seeing Josh Richardson play more at the 2. That’s clearly the position where he thrives and feels most comfortable. I was worried he would be once again forced to play more small forward this year due to Miami having several thousand shooting guards on the roster.

Alex: Since I already talked about McGruder’s significantly improved pick-and-roll game, I’m going with Derrick Jones, Jr. here. He dunks on three guys seemingly any time he’s gotten consistent playing time, has looked comfy coming off screens, and taking open threes (I really am a fan of his form), but mostly, he is all over the place on the defensive end, a block machine relative to wings, uses his springiness for snatching rebounds directly out of the air, and has shown that he can get in the passing lanes with his length and athleticism. I wish he’d put on a little more weight so that he can finish more easily at the rim against bigger guys. If he does, I’m expecting five posters from him each game, and you should too.

Ethan: That all the news about Jimmy Butler got out (I know we had something to do with that, but still). This is not how the Heat operate, and it had to be a distraction.

5. With this being Dwyane Wade’s farewell season, what’s your favorite Wade moment?

Leif: The 2006 NBA Finals was a series of moments that all live in high regard. However, if pressed for one moment, I choose June 20th, 2006. The very moment Dwyane Wade rebounded the Jason Terry missed three-pointer and hurled the ball as high as he could, as the Miami Heat celebrated becoming the World Champions for the very first time.

Alf: This may sound weird, but my favorite Wade moment is going to have to be Purple Shirt Guy. I wrote about this game in the past, but what makes it special is because it’s a moment I shared with my son that will forever be etched in my memory. Second place goes to when he ended Anderson Varejeo’s career and had the bottom of his shoes facing the ceiling of the AAA.

Jack: My favorite part of Dwyane Wade’s career is all the dumb nicknames he tried out. Remember when he asked to be called “WoW” or “Way of Wade”? What a silly nickname!

Alex: This is way too hard, and I will be suing Miami Heat Beat for forcing me to answer this question. After some hard thinking, I’m going with when Wade grabbed Jason Terry’s missed attempt at a game winner at the end of Game 6 of the 2006 Finals. After suffering an 0-2 deficit, without home-court advantage, with Shaq averaging 13 points per game, and being led by a 23 year-old, the only option was to play like his idol, and he did. We all know about the Jordan-esque 34 points per game he put up. I was 10-years old at the time, and that was the ultimate symbol for overcoming obstacles and busting all the way through in my eyes. This is also probably my favorite sports moment from my lifetime. Just perfect.

Ethan: Will refer you to this story I wrote. But I’ll add one more. My favorite moment with Wade was a quiet one. During the 2015-16 season in the locker room in Brooklyn, after he’d played his first aggressive game in a while, Dwyane called me over to show me a text message string from his son Zaire, pleading with him to remember how great he is. That’s the Dwyane I know.

Photo by Brian Goins // MIami Heat Beat

Bonus: When is Jimmy Butler getting traded? Will Miami end up being the acquiring team for one #BiscayneBuckets?

Leif: Jimmy Butler will be traded in November. He will be traded to the Miami Heat. He will lead #HeatCulture back to the promised land. It will be magical.

Alf: I’m going to say he’s never getting traded so that he gets traded to Miami right before this column posts.

Jack: After growing weary of the softness and laziness of Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, Jimmy Butler will retire from the NBA and begin a career in the NHL, a league for true competitors. He may lose a few teeth here and there, but ultimately I think he can lead the Florida Panthers to the Stanley Cup.

Alex: I think Jimmy Butler, one way or another, will end up on the Heat, and my best guess is it will go down after a couple more weeks of the timeless Timberwolves’ dumpster fire. I expect Minnesota to play worse than the sum of their parts, and I don’t believe their chemistry issues will just be solved through more adversity. I really, really, really, hope J-Rich isn’t a part of the deal, especially not when you have him locked in through his age-29 season for such a good price. The vision should be pairing Richardson and Bam with Jimmy, then building from there.

Butler has already said he wants to be here, which tells me him and his camp knows he’d get the full five-years, $190 million contract he’s hoping for next summer. We knows he’s boys with Wade. We know he very much respects Erik Spoelstra and the Heat’s collective work ethic and philosophy. We’ve yet to see another suitor put multiple valuable assets up for trade (e.g., Tobias Harris with the Clippers, P.J. Tucker with the Rockets, and not even Caris LeVert with the Brooklyn Nets!) because they all would rather hold onto their stuff and chase him with cap space in free agency next summer. The Heat don’t have that option. It makes too much sense. #BiscayneBuckets will happen.

Ethan: No clue at this point, because Minnesota is such a hopeless mess. But if he’s traded anywhere this season, I still believe it will be Miami. Just wait for the Wolves to implode.

Photo Illustration by Giancarlo Navas // Miami Heat Beat

Want more Miami Heat Beat commentary and insight? Follow our writers and special guest columnists on Twitter:

Leif (@Lefty_Leif), Alf (@Alf954), Jack Alfonso (@alfonsohoops), Alex Toledo (@TropicalBlanket), and Ethan Skolnick (@5ReasonsSports).