Position Battles: Miami HEAT Training Camp Preview – Forwards

Insight4 years ago15 min readNekias Duncan

It took a little longer than expected, but the Miami Heat finally have their 20. With training camp on the horizon, I’ll be taking a quick look (stop laughing) at Miami’s three position groups – guards, forwards, and bigs – as a bit of a primer. Nothing is really set in stone in terms of the rotation, obviously, but that doesn’t mean we can’t guess.

We kicked things off with the guards; now let’s look at the forwards.

James Johnson Height: 6-9 | Weight: 250 | Age: 31 | Power Forward

Season in Review:

Johnson’s effectiveness changed about as often as his hair.

At some points, he looked like “30-11 Heat” JJ — filling the highlight reel with weak-side blocks, grab-and-go sequences, pick-and-roll dishes, and contested finishes at the rim. But for the majority of the season, he floated between pressing too hard (13 games with more turnovers than assists), and not being aggressive enough (20 games with 25+ minutes and under ten shot attempts).

It just didn’t feel like Johnson had that athletic “pop” that made him one of the more unique players in the game. With the revelation of the hernia injury, his uneven play makes a little more sense in hindsight.

To be fair, there were still positives about Johnson’s year. He was among 11 players to rack up at least 700 points, 350 rebounds, 250 assists, 70 steals, and 50 blocks last season. The others on the list: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Draymond Green, DeMarcus Cousins, LeBron James, Ben Simmons, Jrue Holiday, Nikola Jokic, James Harden, Victor Oladipo, and, surprisingly, Will Barton.

Johnson fully embraced Miami’s shift to more dribble hand-offs. His sense of pace, combined with his physicality opened up plenty of triples for Miami’s snipers. Dion Waiters (45.5 percent), Wayne Ellington (44 percent), Goran Dragic (41.5 percent), and Tyler Johnson (39.5 percent) all shot well above their average from three after receiving a pass from Johnson.

Causes for Concern:

Our own Christian Hernandez reported that Johnson is close to 100%, and should be completely over the hernia by the time the regular season starts. Still, Johnson will be another year older. A slight dip in athleticism wouldn’t be a shock.

With more ball-handlers projected to be in the fold (hi, Dion and Dwyane) and hopefully more playing time for Bam Adebayo, there may be more of an emphasis on spacing the floor. Johnson shot a shade under 33 percent from the corners last year; that’s no bueno.

Projected Role: Secondary initiator

We’ll still see Point-Johnson with the second unit, presumably doing his two-man dance with the other Johnson and Ellington. It’ll be interesting to see just how often he closes games this year.

Derrick Jones Jr. Height: 6-7 | Weight: 190 | Age: 21 | Small Forward

Season in Review:

“Airplane Mode” only appeared in 14 games for the Heat last year. He didn’t do much statistically, averaging 3.7 points (39/19/61 shooting split) and 2.4 rebounds in 15.2 minutes. He made 19 shots during the regular season. According to NBA.com tracking data, here were the shot distances (by feet) on those makes: 0, 6, 23, 0, 0, 6, 0, 0, 8, 0, 0, 1, 6, 22, 0, 0, 8, 25.

The breakdown:

11 makes at the rim (six dunks, five layups)
Five shots in the paint (mostly floaters)
Three three-pointers

To say there needs to be some diversity in Jones Jr’s repertoire would be an understatement.

For what it’s worth, it appears he’s put in work to improve. You always have to take summer league play with a few grains of salt, but Jones Jr showed off an improved handle, a quicker and more reliable outside shot, an ability to get to the rim and free throw line (because he overwhelmed guys athletically).

Causes for Concern:

The shot looked better in the summer, but more needs to be seen before it’s safe to declare the progress as real. Jones Jr. has the tools to be a plus defender across all three perimeter positions, but he needs to become more disciplined on that end. He struggled navigating screens. If he can’t be a plus on defense, it’s hard to envision him cracking the rotation.

Projected Role: “Break glass in case of emergency”

The fact that Dion Waiters isn’t expected to be ready for the opener helps Jones Jr’s prospects of getting playing time. With a strong training camp, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him as a part-time rotation player until Waiters is back.

Yante Maten Height: 6-8 | Weight: 243 | Age: 22 | Power Forward

Season in Review:

Maten capped off a four-year career at Georgia with an impressive campaign. He was one of five players in the country last year to average at least 19 points, eight rebounds, and knock down 25 threes. His inside-out style gave other SEC trouble on a nightly basis.

A strong Summer League stint with the Heat earned Maten a two-way contract

Causes for Concern:

Size. Size. Size. Size. Size.

At 6’8 248, Maten has the size of a 3, but the game of a versatile 4. He flashed some ball skills against slower bigs during Summer League play, but it’s hard to predict how well that translates against NBA talent and athleticism.

He’s not big enough to operate as a true deterrent at the rim, and his defense in space is a little iffy.

Projected Role: Sioux Falls

Maten is an intriguing prospect, but his NBA potential will mostly depend on his ability to shoot. That’s his swing-skill. If he becomes a reliable spot-up shooter, he can make a living as a backup 4 somewhere down the road.

Josh Richardson Height: 6-6 | Weight: 200 | Age: 25 | Small Forward

Season in Review:

We know about the defense.

Richardson took the leap from “good-but-sporadic” to elite by just about any measure you can think of. The ability to read passing lanes was always there; the Wadeian shot-blocking instincts were always there. Once Richardson stopped taking the road less traveled around screens, he became an absolute menace. This remains my favorite sequence from him:

He. Was. Everywhere.

There are numbers to back up what we saw. Richardson being one of four players to record over 100 steals and 75 blocks — Anthony Davis, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Andre Drummond were the others — certainly qualifies as a “wait, really?” stat. Among 95 players that defended at least 700 shot attempts, Richardson ranked tied for fourth in field goal percentage allowed via Second Spectrum tracking data.

Then, there’s this:

Richardson being left off an All-Defensive team was slightly unfair — Dejounte Murray, while elite in his own right, just didn’t have the workload Richardson had — but that at least gives him something tangible to strive for this year.

The most important leap Richardson made last year was as a creator. His per-game numbers were serviceable — 12.9 points with a 45/38/85 shooting split, 3.5 rebounds, and 2.9 assists. Dig a little deeper, and you’d see the makings of a secondary creator — an idea that would’ve gotten you laughed out of a room had you suggested it after his rookie year.

He looked much more comfortable with the ball in his hands. He made better reads in pick-and-roll, developed a consistent pull-up jumper to keep defenders off balance, and showcased an improved ability to finish at the basket.

This graph shows just how much Richardson improved with the ball in his hands. He didn’t grade out as elite or anything, but this much growth in a year is encouraging.

Causes for Concern:

Richardson’s ability to shoot and defend give him the highest floor among Miami’s wings. If he doesn’t improve at all, he’ll be a valuable two-way piece for his team.

There are two things to watch for here. One, there’s a very slight chance that he may not even be here if Miami can pull off a trade for Jimmy Butler.

The second thing boils down to his usage. The reason Richardson has become a somewhat reliable creator is because Miami gave him room to make mistakes in year two. He got his fair share of pick-and-roll reps during the 2016-17 season and was, statistically, awful at it.

Richardson isn’t awful now, of course, but Miami needs him to make him another leap to raise their collective ceiling. Being able to attack bent defenses is one thing; for him to become a star, the offense needs to be able to run through him sometimes. He’ll need to be given more of a workload from last year, but it’s hard to see how that happens with this…roster.

Projected Role: Secondary initiator with room for more

Give J-Rich the ball. Please.

Duncan RobinsonHeight: 6-8 | Weight: 215 | Age: 24 | Small Forward

Season in Review:

Robinson operated as Michigan’s Wayne Ellington last year. 73.3 percent of his shots came from downtown last year. He knocked down 38.4 percent of his triples, and finished his college career as a 41.9 percent shooter from downtown.

Robinson proved he was worth that rep during Summer League, where he operated as Miami’s premier shooting threat. You can read more about his play here.

Causes for Concern:

How often can he do this?

And can his shooting ability, and the gravitational pull he can have because of it, outweigh instances like this?

I, uh, have my doubts.

Projected Role: Sioux Falls

Robinson has one NBA-level skill: shooting. He already has a keen understanding of spacing, and relocates based on how the action is flowing. He’s just so limited in everything else, it’s hard to see him log minutes for the Heat this year unless the bubonic plague hits the main roster.

This year will be about improving his body and, hopefully, becoming a little quicker laterally. That’ll raise his floor a little bit.

Justise Winslow Height: 6-7 | Weight: 220 | Age: 22 | Small Forward

Season in Review:

We can start right here.

  • Pre-ASB (44 games): 6.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.0 assists; 40/40/69 shooting split
  • Post-ASB (24 games): 10.7 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.5 assists; 46/36/58 shooting split
  • Playoffs (5 games): 9.8 points, 6.6 rebounds, 2.6 assists; 36/37/71 shooting split

Winslow became a different player during the second half of the season. He was handed more on-ball responsibility, and he responded with an assertiveness — and a nastiness — that many (read: I) were surprised by. Things came to a head during the postseason, where Winslow became a villain almost out of nowhere.

Where were you when Justise called Ben Simmons a BAN?


(If you don’t know what a BAN is, ask Alf, because I’m not telling you.)

After a slightly down (but still good) year defensively in ’16-’17, Winslow returned to form. When he wasn’t stuck defending 4s, he showed he could still hound guys into submission on the perimeter. His unique blend of strength of quickness make him nearly impossible to screen.

On offense, he improved as a spot-up shooter, arguably the biggest hole in his game. Though the volume wasn’t there, Winslow shooting over 42 percent from the right corner, and nearly 40 percent on above-the-break threes loosened up the offense some, especially during the second half of the year.

I won’t make the case for #PointJustise for the 7,000,000th time, but I would like to remind the masses that he did stuff like this when he got the opportunity:

Causes for Concern:

We’ve reached the point where Winslow’s shooting ability isn’t the most questionable part of his game.

It’s his finishing ability.

There’s no good explanation for it. Winslow typically can get downhill and to his spots whenever he feels like it. He has a relatively quick first step, changes pace, and is wiry strong. But too often, he finds himself flipping up awkward shots at the rim. His touch is questionable, which makes routine layups turn into games of pinball.

Winslow shot an abysmal 54.5 percent at the rim during the regular season. During the playoffs, where he was good at just about everything, he finished at an even worse rate (46.2 percent).

It is very unlikely Winslow becomes any sort of three-level scorer. That’s fine. But he has to be able to score at two. It appears he is, or at least will be, a good enough spot-up shooter to be a non-liability — maybe even a slight positive. But if he can’t finish at the rim, his ceiling will be limited. At best case, he’ll be a bigger Marcus Smart; a smart (I had to) player that bends defenses regardless because of his aggressiveness and vision, but a guy that needs a perfect cast of teammates to maximize his talents.

Projected Role: ???????????

Your guess is as good as mine, man.

**Editors note: #JustiseBetter