(Part three can be found here)
Miami offered Josh McRoberts the full midlevel exception to join forces with Chris Bosh and form an undersized, but unique frontcourt with perimeter skills to compliment one another. Unfortunately, Josh suffered a training camp injury that caused him to miss the entire preseason, a telling sign of things to come. Josh was slated to start at power forward, but upon his return in the 2nd game of the season, he came off the bench until December 3rd and was on a minutes cap. In that brief time, Josh showed he is still quite a dunker, can bring the ball up court, and has the perimeter skills that made him so tantalizing. However, his passing wasn't quite in sync with many of Miami's cutters due to missing so much of camp and preseason he seemed hesitant to shoot until his final two games of the season, his two best.
In a loss to Memphis, Josh racked up 14 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists, while nailing a pair of three pointers. Two nights later in Phoenix, Josh tallied 10 points, 4 rebounds, and 7 assists while again hitting a pair of threes, but his season would also come to an end that night due to a hard fall on a rebound late in the 4th quarter when the game was virtually decided. After the loss of Josh, Miami could not sustain anything resembling NBA-level defense with their small lineups and with the emergence of Hassan Whiteside, the era of Bosh playing center in smaller lineups seemed to be over. Next season will allow Josh to remain a key contributor, but he must set his sights on now being a do-it-all sixth man as the two power spots will be manned by the recovered Bosh and Whiteside.
An up-and-down year for a rookie is not to be unexpected. Shabazz at times showed the skill to cross over veterans and other times looked completely overwhelmed by the rigors of the NBA. 'Bazz's size and lack of athleticism was a red flag and it showed in the NBA as he shot just 40% on two point shots and a paltry 40.9% at the rim. He had a turnover percentage of 24.3, which is entirely too high for a player touted as a "pure point guard." Many of those turnovers came due to ill-timed passing rather than ball-handling, so you hope that can be corrected. His slight build also led to many defensive mismatches, though he did show active hands (most notably against Kemba Walker). He fell in and out of the rotation with his minutes fluctuating wildly and eventually saw his season end due to a sports hernia. Prior to that, he also was sent down to the D-League (where he played well).
However, despite all of these flaws, Napier showed plenty of positives in his game. His jumper, which some scouts worried wouldn't translate well to the next level, was Napier's biggest strength. He shot a very solid 36.4% from beyond the arc and that number jumps to 39.2% if we only include "catch-and-shoot" threes. Among qualifying players, only Chris Bosh (40.1%) ranked higher. Napier was also decent from midrange, shooting 41.4% from there. If he can knock down open jumpers, he already has an 8+ year career locked up in the NBA as a backup. Napier's ball-handling might also be among the best on the team, showing a "ball on a string" style that honestly reminded me a bit of Stephen Curry. This, coupled with his natural feel for the game is why so many saw him as the "pure point guard" among the three Miami started the season with. At times, he showed true flashes of brilliant passing.
Napier will have to work hard on his game this offseason, as more minutes aren't necessarily promised. The team acquired Goran Dragic and he's slated to be the point guard of the future assuming he re-signs. Mario Chalmers is currently the first guard off the bench, so if Napier is to play, he'd better hope Chalmers spends more time at shooting guard than point guard. The hope is that Napier makes improvements, primarily on his decision making (his size is his size and there are only so many weights he can lift), and can become a more consistent contributor next year.
I honestly don't have much to say about the greatest athlete in the history of South Florida sports (sorry Dan Marino). His season played out more or less exactly the way I anticipated. Higher usage, better counting stats, worse efficiency, and stretches of missed games. The biggest crime of the season is Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh only played 28 of 82 games this season together so it's hard to gauge what could have been with both of them at their peaks. Wade definitely showed he can still carry an offense with a steady mix of midrange jumpers, crafty footwork in the post, and drives, but after a sterling month of March where he won a Player of the Week award, Wade faded in April, shooting just 41.5% in seven important games.
While Wade's free throws attempted per 36 minutes shot up, his free throw rate was actually quite stagnant (33.9% last season compared to 34.1% this year), his assist percentage skyrocketed to it's highest totals since the 2009-2010 season, and his overall usage rate was tied for third highest in his NBA career. If I have to mention a new wrinkle to Dwyane's game without any of the statistical jargon, I can say this: D-Wade clearly loved throwing lobs to Hassan Whiteside while slithering around his screens and it was one of the most enjoyable things to watch when #Hassanity was in full swing (basically when opposing teams had no idea who this giant leaping man-child was and did not guard him on the roll). Wade showed huge trust in Whiteside and it is truly delightful to watch him play with a big man like this. Clearly the early days of lobbing to Shaq have remained embedded in Wade's skull.
Wade's game has aged pretty gracefully despite the missed games and having a guard who can ease his perimeter load in Dragic, and a big man who more and more looks like someone you can dump the ball off to should allow an even smoother transition next season.
The Walker signing came out of nowhere in the midst of the Goran Dragic acquisition, but it basically boiled down to finding a cheap player to replace what Shawne Williams brought to the table, namely high-volume three point shooting. Boy did Henry show volume. 78.5% of his attempts were threes which is good, but the bad is he shot 34.1% (and that number was 32% until the bizarre final game of the season) from there while also being really bad from inside the arc, shooting just 36.1% on two point attempts.
Walker still seemed to flash some athleticism (mostly on a high-flying jam in his Heat debut) and was a decent rebounder at his position, but the issue was he never played his position while a member of the Heat. The 6'6" Walker, a natural small forward, played in Miami almost exclusively at power forward when starting or coming off the bench and Miami's injury situation at one point got so dire that the perimeter-oriented Walker played center.
Miami needed emergency help to rebuild their rotation and their shooting and Walker played hard and admirably when called upon, but despite high arcing stroke that was a beauty when the ball would rain in the hoop, he's not good enough to be your Kyle Korver, taking 5.5 threes a game, and his offensive game is too limited elsewhere. A smaller role would much better suit Walker, but it's unknown at this point if he'll be brought back to the team next season.
I'm not going to talk too much about Hassan's journey or past in other basketball leagues. I implore everyone to instead read this article by Brian Kotloff on the NBA D-League's official website that truly captures what makes his story great.
So, the biggest eye test "thing" I took from Hassan Whiteside is that he is legitimately great in the post. The lob dunks and putbacks are already a treat, but to find this sort of refinement in his offensive game, the touch on the jump hooks, the spin moves, is astounding. A great stat from Tom Haberstroh of ESPN.com that affirms what I saw is this.
"Whiteside scored 0.85 points every time he touched the ball in the halfcourt (excludes defensive rebounds), which was far and away the best rate in the league. Jonas Valanciunas finished second at 0.71 points."
Digging into some more fun numbers, Whiteside shot 54.2% on hook shots, 41.3% from midrange (46 shots so it's not some low number of attempts), led the entire Eastern Conference in Player Efficiency Rating at 26.26, and had a block percentage of 9.2% which would rank 7th all-time for a single season if he qualified. Remember when he obliterated Alonzo Mourning's single-game block record while scraping Pau Gasol off of his shoe? In short, he's given us a reason to be excited, a young, talented, behemoth of a player who seemed unbelievably polished once he got playing time, yet has huge room for growth.
There are of course, some negatives to Whiteside's game. He had a whopping 6 assists on the season (watch them here!) and showed no shortage of confidence trying to score when swarmed by three or even four defenders in the paint. Whiteside, while being a feared shot blocker who has an amazing knack for keeping the ball inbounds, did have his overall rim protection numbers slip as the season wore on (still solid overall) and has room for growth as an overall defender. A lacerated hand injury suffered on March 24th also hindered Whiteside's offensive game and his foul shooting, previously mediocre, but not awful, plummeted due to a heavily bandaged right hand. Hassan shot just 38.2% on foul shots post-injury and ended an even 50% on the season.
His temperament, a big reason for his wayward journey in, out, and back in the NBA finally surfaced in an ugly way towards March, culminating in a one game suspension for a hard, unnecessary knockdown on Kelly Olynyk of the Boston Celtics. Hassan, to his credit apologized profusely to Olynyk who accepted (Hassan was blown away by how nice Olynyk was about the incident) and since that moment showed far better composure on the court, finishing the season strong by averaging 16.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per game, with a heavily bandaged hand no less, in April.
Hassan is awesome. He should be even better next season. Be excited.
Not exactly the player I wanted to end with, but hey, we're going alphabetical. Shawne Williams was brought in as a questionable training camp body who had previously flamed out of the NBA, but impressed the staff well enough with his weight loss and shooting that he made the team and was thrust into an early starting role with McRoberts hurt. What happened next is a cautionary tale in regards to the all powerful "Law of Averages."
- Shawne in November: 53.8% from three. 10.7 points per game
- Shawne in December: 35.3% from three. 5.8 points per game
- Shawne in January: 24.1% from three. 3.4 points per game.
The former starter's rotation spot was all but lost in 2015 and he was soon traded in the Goran Dragic deal. After landing in Detroit, Shawne shot a ghastly 15.4% from three, bringing his season three point percentage to an even 36%. For his career, Shawne is a 34% three point shooter, so that seems about right no? I don't have much else to add. Shawne had a quick, high release that was accurate for about 20 games, but his deficiencies in other areas led to him losing his starting spot and eventually his spot in the rotation altogether. He performed so poorly in Detroit, his climb back into the league will again be an uphill battle.
Whew. That took long. Thanks for bearing with me and I hope you enjoyed reading. Feel free to comment if you agree or disagree with anything.
(Footnote: I used stats from both basketball-reference and NBA.com. Sometimes there are discrepancies between the two on similar stats so I apologize if there's any confusion there.)