In preparation for tonight’s matchup versus the Miami Heat, I spoke with Azam Masood who writes for the Miami Heat’s official Tipoff Magazine and contributes to SB Nation’s Hot Hot Hoops.
We spoke about a few of the new names on Miami’s roster, the development of Hassan Whiteside and Justise Winslow, and expectations for tonight’s game.
John Diaz: First off, Miami’s roster obviously isn’t the same without Chris Bosh or Dwyane Wade. Who are some of the younger guys that have you excited for this season that Spurs fans might not know about?
Azam Masood: The first player that comes to mind is Tyler Johnson. It feels like fans of the 29 other teams first learned of him when he re-signed in Miami, but he’s, in my opinion, a perfect ‘Moreyball’ kind of guy for the modern NBA. He’s efficient, both as a three-point shooter and at the rim, where he can explode and finish despite his small frame. Now he’s entrenched as Miami’s 6th man combo guard and said himself he studied a lot of Manu Ginobili in the offseason. I don’t think he (or anyone for that matter) can replicate Ginobili’s rhythm, but in terms of how Manu affects the game once he checks in, Tyler wants to be in that same vein and I can see him pulling it off.
If you want an even deeper pick, rookie shooting guard Rodney McGruder was a long shot to make the team, but landed on the roster and is getting some playing time with Josh Richardson and Wayne Ellington sidelined. He can shoot and defend, sort of like Jonathon Simmons.
JD: I remember catching a few glimpses of McGruder last year during the D-League playoffs and came away impressed with his skill set. The Simmons comparison is spot on even in terms of his path to the NBA. Another sneaky addition for me is Willie Reed, who’s an excellent rim protector coming off the bench behind Hassan Whiteside.
AM: Yes. Reed is similar to Whiteside in terms of what they bring to the table. Though Reed lacks Whiteside’s insane measurables, he has sure hands, above-average athleticism and has impressed fans with his effort.
JD: With Miami’s young core of Winslow, Whiteside, Johnson and Richardson, what can you say about Head Coach Erik Spoelstra’s ability to develop the younger players?
AM: Miami’s talent scouting and development has been exceptional the past few years. Chet Kammerer is the unsung hero of the Heat organization. And Miami’s D-League affiliate, the Sioux Falls Skyforce, reigns as the current NBDL champions. Dan Craig (now an assistant with the Heat) ran much of the same stuff the Heat ran so when players like Josh Richardson would go back and forth, the transition was a bit smoother. And Richardson in particular went from struggling and playing sporadically to taking the league by storm with three-point shooting and multiple poster dunks.
As for Winslow, Kawhi Leonard is the guy Heat fans want to see him most develop into. Defensively, I can see it. Leonard has the edge in the “go-go gadget arm” department, but Winslow may have him in strength. The path is there for Winslow to one day reach the high-level play Leonard has been providing since Heat fans became familiar with him during the legendary 2013 NBA Finals, but keep in mind he’s only 20 years old. Leonard going from terrible shooter in college to top 5 three-point shooter while still in his early 20s is entirely unprecedented. Hopefully fans are a bit more patient with Winslow because the flashes are there with him.
Whiteside’s development has been more with the ancillary things. He’s always been athletic, he’s always had a surprisingly soft touch. What Miami, particularly assistant coach Juwan Howard, has helped him with is his post footwork and screen setting. As long as he stays healthy, he will put up gargantuan numbers this season. His blocks get the attention, but he may hold even more value on the offensive end just as a lob, pick and roll, and post threat.
JD: Now you don’t have to make a prediction for tonight’s game, but what is your expectation for the matchup? The Spurs are coming off defeating the New Orleans Pelicans last night without Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili, but even after an easy win on the front end of a back-to-back, I’m wary of how the team will respond with such a quick turnaround and a slightly earlier than normal tip-off.
Kawhi’s been on a roll to start the season and the Spurs’ frontcourt has survived the gauntlet of Draymond Green, DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis. I think San Antonio still manages to prevail, but if I was a betting man, this game is a stay away.
AM: Against the Heat, I expect Aldridge to attack Miami’s frontline and lead his team in field goal attempts. Miami’s 4s are of the PF/SF variety while the Spurs play two PF/Cs in Gasol and Aldridge. It will be interesting to see if Miami opts for a bigger group or tries to keep the floor spaced. From Miami’s point of view, Whiteside should have an advantage versus Gasol (remember Whiteside’s nationally televised triple-double came against Gasol and the Bulls), but will need plenty of help from his guards to both get him the ball and hit outside shots. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Spurs unleash Leonard on Dragic to swallow up Miami’s pick and roll attack.
I don’t want to take much stock in preseason, but Miami did seem to have success out-athleticing (that’s a word right?) a Spurs team that started and played everyone their regular minutes besides Aldridge.