At 18 wins and 11 losses, the Miami Heat have been a pleasant surprise to their fans in a very competitive Eastern Conference. While the starters are firmly set, for now, the second unit has lost the efficiency it had before the Mario Chalmers trade. As the most difficult part of the schedule begins, the reserve players need to establish their dominance once again.
With Josh McRoberts playing only 37 games in his two seasons with the Heat, he has not proved to be someone to be counted on when the going gets tough. Appearing in only 20 of the team's first 40 games, and shooting 14% from 3-point range this season at a $5.5 million price tag, his presence, along with seldom-used Chris Andersen's $5.0 million contract, seem hard to justify at this stage of the season.
10-day contracts can be signed beginning Jan. 5, 2016, that is, in only a week. They give the team a chance to take quick looks at prospects for the final adjustments to the team, but only if a player is cut to free up space on the roster. The Miami Heat could have a very special season for themselves and their fans once all the pieces are in place.
Gerald Green, Justise Winslow, and Beno Udrih are reliable spark plugs off the bench. Tyler Johnson has shown considerable promise, but has less than a full-year's experience in the NBA to judge his staying power. Amar'e Stoudemire needs playing time to get the cobwebs out of his system, so he will be ready when needed. Udonis Haslem can always be counted on for hustle plays and team spirit.
That leaves Josh Richardson and Jarnell Stokes in limbo as borderline D-League players. The Skyforce won again on Dec. 27, 2015 for their ninth win with seven players scoring in double digits. They have an impressive 9-3 record, good for second place in the NBDL, just behind the Austin Spurs 10-3 record. Heat fans recall the promise that Keith Benson and Greg Whittington showed during summer league.
A video clip, at the 1-minute mark, shows what Stokes can offer the Heat: a big man in the paint who is quadrupled-teamed and manages to throw an outlet pass to an open shooter, and then puts back a missed shot.
Stokes is not athletic, but his court vision and ability to spot open shooters out of the post position is a valuable commodity in today's NBA. His sheer strength on the offensive boards compares to Tristan Thompson.
Rotation players do not have be to All-Stars, but only better than the other team's bench players. With injuries piling up on a daily basis across the league, a healthy Heat can take advantage of depleted opponents. Players missing time throughout the NBA include Kyrie Irving, Tiago Splitter, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Chris McCullough, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Joakim Noah, Deron Williams, Emmanuel Mudiay, Wilson Chandler, Jodie Meeks, Harrison Barnes, Sam Dekker, Myles Turner, Blake Griffin, Nikola Pekovic, Greivis Vasquez, Jahlil Okafor, Eric Bledsoe, Damian Lillard, Willie Cauley-Stein, Derrick Favors, Dante Exum, Bradley Beal. Just having a healthy second unit to relieve pressure on the starters, would give the Heat a huge advantage going forward.
Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade have carried the team for the first thirty games. The rest of the squad now has to take shape via trades, cuts and/or call-ups in January to give the team time to gel as a smoothly-functioning machine. The longer the Miami Heat wait to make the necessary roster adjustments, the more difficult the road to the Finals becomes. This season can become special, but the clock is ticking to put all the pieces together for the final product.