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Miami Heat’s dire need for a backup point guard remains unfilled

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Will Miami spend elite money on guards or forwards this summer? NBA MVP Awards favor backcourt stars lately.

Michigan v Oregon Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The drafting of 20 year-old Bam Adebayo added depth to Miami Heat’s already impressive frontcourt talent. However that choice didn’t address the need for a true backup point guard under Goran Dragic, which role Beno Udrih (who won a ring with the San Antonio Spurs) filled so well a while back.

The presence of Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh overshadowed Mario Chalmers’ effective reign at the point position, as exemplified by his quick outlet pass to James Ennis for the NBA Dunk of the Year.

The Heat possess many competent ball-handlers in Dion Waiters, James Johnson, Tyler Johnson, Josh Richardson, Josh McRoberts, Justise Winslow, Rodney McGruder, but no guard dedicated exclusively to run the point, i.e. combo guards like Wade are rare indeed.

All the best AAU point guards were snapped up in last week’s draft. Some undrafted prospects remain who could serve as serviceable PGs (not Paul George) for the second unit, when Dragic needs a breather. One such candidate, Derrick Walton, Jr., remains a free agent on Orlando Magic’s Summer League team. At 6’1” he knows his only job is to be a floor general for his team.

In his senior year Walton averaged 16.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.9 assists and shot 43-for-101 (42.6 percent) from three-point range in conference games. In the four Big Ten Tournament wins, he averaged 20.5 points, 6.3 assists, 4.8 rebounds and was 22-for-23 (95.7 percent) from the free-throw line. He wasn’t a gracious loser, as SI recalls,

Soon after Michigan was routed by Illinois on Jan. 11, senior point guard Derrick Walton Jr. walked into the office of Michigan executive associate athletic director Greg Harden. The loss dropped Michigan to 11–6, 1–3 in the Big Ten and on the outside of the NCAA tournament conversation. “He was pissed to the highest level of pissivity,” Harden says with a laugh.

Walton ranted and raved about what Michigan needed to do to save its season: “This is totally unacceptable, he told Harden. “I’m going to call a team meeting.” Harden took Walton’s desire to lead singular focus on change as a harbinger of good things for Michigan.

A couple of other candidates on the Heat Summer League team, i.e. Justin Robinson and London Perrantes, have been highlighted before. Several dozen hopefuls will try to impress in Orlando and Las Vegas, but none have the large upside of the players snatched during the draft.

A single decent backup, who shows potential to guide the team in case of fatigue or an unexpected injury to Goran, would suffice as a victory. The two-way contracts provide an ideal way to keep needed reserves because they do not count against the salary cap. 10-day contracts require Miami to cut a person from 15-man roster to accommodate him.

The contracts for Bosh, McRoberts and T. Johnson haunted the Heat for several years after the event. This summer Nick Arison and company may be more cautious before making committing large sums of money on any one player, which takes the Heat out of the running for great talent next season and thereafter.

Four-year contracts signed in 2017 expire in 2021, which by then, Dragic will be 35 years old and ready to hand over the point duties to his successor. Since Miami lacks high draft picks until 2022 to get top talent for Goran to mentor, another path has to be found to keep Heat championship aspirations alive.

Whether the primary facilitator is Stephen Curry or James, current contending teams have an elite player running the show, usually at the point guard position. The last three NBA MVP Awards have gone to point guards, showing how much great ones are prized in the league for their star drawing power. Decisions made this summer will reveal how much, or little, money the Miami Heat will spend on having top-notch guards.