Before the season started, one NBA writer from CBS ranked the Miami Heat bench 24th out of 30 and that included Dion Waiters (!). By January, the Johnson Brothers duo of James and Tyler Johnson had catapulted the Heat bench into 8th on another writer's rankings from Fox. That was right before Miami went on a 13-game winning streak and won 17 out of the next 20.
Since then, injuries and a few roster moves have re-shaped the bench to its current form. Losing Justise Winslow and Josh McRoberts to season-ending injuries have made Rodney McGruder and Luke Babbitt permanent starters. Waiters' strong play combined with Josh Richardson's injuries has made him a permanent starter as well. Derrick Williams was cut mid-season and he's been replaced by Okaro White. Everyone's roles are more clearly defined now compared to the first half of the season.
I believe the Heat bench is now one of the best in the NBA and the Heat, overall, are one of the deepest teams. Because of that depth, the Heat have been able to survive several key injuries and still be in the hunt for a postseason berth. Every time a man has gone down, another man has stepped up in his place to help keep pushing the team forward. First Chris Bosh, then Richardson, then Waiters, then McRoberts, then Justise Winslow, then Richardson again, then Tyler Johnson. Now, it is Willie Reed and maybe Rodney McGruder. Despite all the injuries and missed games, the Heat have been finding ways to win and the bench has been a huge part of it.
Playing every single game off the bench this season, Tyler Johnson is Miami's 4th leading scorer. Also coming off the bench in every appearance, James Johnson is the team's 5th leading scorer. JJ is 2nd on the team in rebounds, 3rd in assists and 2nd in steals if you exclude Justise Winslow's season averages since he's out for the season. Tyler is 4th in rebounds, 4th in assists, 1st in steals and 3rd in blocks (also excluding Winslow). They are the team's 4th and 5th best players this season, in my opinion. They are the heart of the Heat bench and usually play together in the "Johnson & Johnson" lineup which is like two spark plugs and a shot of nitrous in a car analogy.
All season, Tyler has come off the bench in the role of 6th man. But, James Johnson's production off the bench has him as 6(b) to Tyler's 6(a). Tyler and James are two of the most versatile players on the team. Tyler is a combo guard who can jump out of the gym. James is a point-forward who can guard almost anyone including guards and centers when needed. They can both run the offense with any combination of players out there and can come in for any of the starters at any point in the game.
Wayne Ellington is a different kind of beast. His offensive game compared to the Johnsons is pretty much one-dimensional. It consists of him getting open on the perimeter, catching a pass and then immediately shooting it. His ability to get open, combined with his quick release, makes him devastating on the perimeter. Many times, he'll catch the ball and shoot it in what appears to be one quick motion. He leads the Heat in 3-point attempts (260) and 3-point makes (95) despite coming off the bench in all but 13 of his 41 appearances this season. Almost 70% of his shot attempts are from downtown. Almost all of the rest of his shot attempts are at least 16 feet or further from the hoop. He's a sharpshooter. He knows what he's good at, he sticks to it and he does it well; and what he does well is what I like to call the "catch and swish". Of his 95 made 3-pointers this season, 91% were assisted and 80% of his made 2-pointers were assisted. "Catch and shoot" when describing his offensive game is an understatement. He's to this season's Heat team what Ray Allen was to the 2012-14 Heat teams.
After those three, there are four more integral players that make up the Heat bench as it has been during the last 20 games. Willie Reed, Okaro White, Josh Richardson, and, of course, Udonis Haslem, the veteran team captain and Miami native. While, lately, they haven't been putting up the flashy stats that the Johnsons and Ellington have been, they are very important parts of the team.
When Whiteside is not having a great game against an opposing big man, Reed will step up and pick up his slack. He's done it a few times this season. When Miami needs a shot of adrenaline, Spo calls on Okaro to get stops and do the little things that don't show up in the box score to get the team going. With Reed out, he's been filling in as a backup center showing his versatility. When Richardson is at his best, he's another offensive threat off this deep Miami bench who can also play multiple positions. On the season, he's also averaging double digits per game in scoring at 10.2.
While UD hasn't seen the court in what seems forever, he's still a big part of the bench and the team in general. Without his influence, I don't think guys like James Johnson, Dion Waiters, Hassan Whiteside and Tyler Johnson would be having career years. Without him, Willie Reed might not be the excellent backup center who is probably getting a pay raise next season. I'm still hoping to see UD tear it up on the court with some blue-collar minutes while Reed is out but I'll be just as fine with him doing nothing more than mentoring the guys who are backing up Whiteside ahead of him in JJ and Okaro.
In the last 20 games, Miami's bench has been phenomenal. Led by the "Big 3" off the bench, Tyler Johnson (14 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 3.5 apg, 1.3 spg), James Johnson (12.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 4.3 apg, 1.2 spg, 1.3 bpg) and Wayne Ellington (10.9 ppg, 2.5 apg, 1.0 apg .411 3P%), the bench has consistently outscored opposing benches and even occasionally the Heat's starters. In those 20 games, Miami's bench has outscored opposing benches 812 to 700 for averages of 40.6 to 35.0. Miami's bench outscored or tied the opposing bench in 15 of those games. In the other five games, the bench was only outscored by a single point vs the opposing bench. In two of those games, Tyler was the Heat's leading scorer including the last game against Philadelphia. In the previous game against Philly, James was the Heat's leading scorer. In seven of those 20 games, either James, Tyler or Wayne Ellington were the Heat's 2nd leading scorer.
Members of the Heat bench are also consistently among the team leaders in all the other statistical categories during this span. Not many team's benches match up well against this new-look versatile and deep Heat bench.
If the bench was a tool box or better yet a workbench, Tyler would be Coach Spoelstra's Swiss Army knife for the multitude of little things he can do all over the court. James would be his Leatherman for the multitude of more heavy-duty things he can do all over the court. Wayne Ellington is Coach Spo's tape measure. He does one job, but it is an important job and he does it well with precision and consistency. Okaro is emerging as another multi-tool. He's like one of those screwdrivers that you can change the top out of. Same with swingman J. Rich. Right now, he's that rusty wrench with two sizes on each end but they are the most used sizes and you know you'll be needing it for just about everything. Rounding out the workbench are your more traditional hammers and saws in Reed and UD. They aren't as versatile but they are vital.
Together, they can do any job and get it done right.