What should Miami Heat fans make of Keith Benson's training camp invitation?
The Miami Heat organization is familiar with Benson since he played 20 games for their D-League affiliate, the Sioux Falls Skyforce in 2011-12 after being cut by the Golden State Warriors, according to DraftExpress.
In his first D-League stint he averaged 20 points on 50% shooting, 8 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, and 4 personal fouls per 30 minutes. He had an impressive 2015 Summer League outing with 12 points on 51% shooting, 5 rebounds, 2 blocks per 20 minutes for the Orlando Magic, featuring a highlight block. (To be fair Bismack Biyombo rejected Benson four years ago as a rookie.)
The only Heat player on their current roster of 15 without a guaranteed contract is James Ennis, so Keith "Kito" Benson would seem to be competing with Ennis for the final spot on the team. The Heat have six guards in Goran Dragic, Dwyane Wade, Mario Chalmers, Gerald Green, Tyler Johnson, and Josh Richardson. With eight front-court men they might have Josh McRoberts and Justise Winslow become point forwards, much as LeBron James was for the Heat during their four consecutive trips to the Finals.
Since other teams know Dragic will be the primary ball-handler, they will double and maybe even triple team him during games when he has the ball. To fight that tactic the Heat need skilled secondary ball-handlers such as Wade, Chalmers, McRoberts, Winslow, Johnson, Richardson as to receive outlet passes from Dragic. Heat may want Ennis to join McRoberts and Winslow as a swing man, but Ennis needs to improve his handle to make that happen.
The Heat found success with a forward running half-court plays: they might be looking to replicate it using McRoberts, Bosh and Winslow as forwards who are capable of dishing out assists. While nobody can replace the skill set LeBron James possesses, the team has an established playbook on that strategy, when the situation calls for it. The additional flexibility of having a forward call the plays takes some of the pressure off Dragic, so he can run the transition offense more smoothly.
When forwards are occupied running plays, skilled rim-protectors should be ready to defend the basket at a second's notice after missed shots or turnovers. Currently their only true centers are Whiteside and Andersen. Should either, or both, get in foul trouble or injured, Miami's defense would become a small-ball group effort relying on athleticism and basketball smarts like the Warriors executed to perfection against the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals.
James Ennis impressed the Heat with his athleticism, energy and intensity. This season they are looking for him to upgrade his ball-handling skills to the NBA level. If he fails, the Heat could look at Benson as insurance for the times Whiteside and Andersen are not available. Benson seems like a version 2.0 of Willie Reed, who the Heat may have regretted not signing before he defected to the Brooklyn Nets.