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3 low cost free agents the Heat can target

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The Miami Heat have some work to do in free agency. Here’s the clearance section.

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Orlando Magic Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

Without a pick in the upcoming 2018 NBA draft, or cap space for free agency, the Miami Heat need to be thrifty this offseason. Big name players are likely out of reach. Now, it’s possible Pat Riley pulls off a splashy trade or two, but he’s unlikely to bring in much more talent than he ships out, given the onerous contracts Miami would need to move.

Given this, the Heat project to be cash strapped for the near future, and will be looking for near minimum, or mid-level exception tier players to add upside to their roster. That may sound disappointing, but the Heat have proven adept at finding overlooked or underutilized players on the scrap heap. You don’t have to look very far to find them: James Johnson, Dion Waiters, Tyler Johnson (undrafted FA), among others. Pat even sounds like he already has his eye on someone:

We hope one of the guys we really like that we can sign on July 1 might be tantamount to a first round pick this year.

Who that might be is anyone’s guess, but here are a few a players the Heat might want to keep tabs on as they plumb the depths of the free agent market.

1. Mario Hezonja - SF

9.6 pts 3.7 reb 1.4 ast 1.1 stl - 44.2/33.7/81.9

Those numbers might not look all that impressive, but if you pump up Hezonja’s averages to a per-36 minutes basis, they start to look better: 15.7 pts 6.1 reb 2.3 ast. Those shooting percentages also belie Hezonja’s efficiency. He took close to half of his attempts (44%) from behind the three point line, which drags down his overall field goal percentage. He shot a sterling 52.3% on his two point attempts.

For comparison, James Harden shot 53.1% from inside the three point line this year. With a little improvement on his three point shot, Hezonja could become a versatile offensive weapon. Not to mention the defensive metrics didn’t hate him for once: ( .2 DPM, 1.8 defensive win shares). Coming into the NBA as a No. 5 pick, Hezonja was touted to have an intriguing mix of ball handling, shooting, and athleticism, and those tools haven’t disappeared. The Orlando Magic unsurprisingly bungled his development, but his game still hints at plenty of latent potential. Erik Spoelstra could be just the coach to bring it out.

Currently overloaded at shooting guard, the Heat roster may need some reshuffling to make room for him, but he has shown the ability to play as a small ball 4, an archetype Spoelstra seems to be fond of. Hezonja’s potential won't be lost on other teams, so he may price himself out of the Heat’s spending range. But, if he’s looking to improve his value and re-enter free agency next offseason, something James Johnson and Dion Waiters successfully accomplished, Miami would be the place to do it.

2. Marco Belinelli - SG

12.1 pts 1.9 reb 1.9 ast - 44.2/37.7/90.8

A soon to be 32-year-old shooting guard may not sound like the splashiest signing, and that’s because well... it isn’t. However, the Heat are at risk of losing Wayne Ellington if they don’t shed salary. Micky Arison has proven wary of paying the luxury in the past (see the jettisoning of Mike Miller), and Ellington’s salary would likely push them over that threshold. A Hassan Whiteside trade in which the Heat take back less salary could solve this, but that’s far from a certainty. Ellington was a key cog in the Heat offense the past two years, and his spacing and decoy routes influenced much of the action they ran.

Should Ellington bolt in free agency, the Heat will need someone to pick up that slack. Belinelli would be a capable replacement. He connected on 37.7% of his 4.8 attempts from three this year. Coincidentally, his career average from three is also 37.7%. Wayne Ellington’s career average from three before joining the Heat: 37.6%. The Heat and Ellington seem to have a mutual interest in staying together, but should he leave, they could shift focus to Belinelli, who they even attempted to acquire at the deadline last year. Not to mention this would prevent Belinelli from scorching the Heat in the playoffs again.

3. Jahlil Okafor - C

6.3 pts 2.9 reb 0.4 ast 0.6 blk - 55.8/25.0/72.4

This would be a risky signing for the Heat, and perhaps a signal that they are planning on having a developmental season in 2018-2019. Should the Heat move Hassan Whiteside and not receive a center in return, that would open up a third string center spot. Now the Heat might choose to eschew this and simply shift down their forwards into the center role when needed, but if the Heat are looking for upside players, they could do worse than Okafor.

The 76ers gave up on him almost immediately, and the Nets don’t seem to have a burning desire to re-sign him, but he’s only going to be 23 next season, and has plenty of offensive potential. His true shooting percentage, 58.4%, is already respectable, and he has always profiled as an expert post player. The NBA is shifting away from that archetype, but if the Heat can improve Okafor’s conditioning like they did James Johnson, and make him passable on defense, he could become a bench weapon.

A lot of Okafor’s weaknesses seem to stem from that lacking conditioning. The Bryan Colangelo saga even outed that he nixed a trade by failing a physical. The Heat, for their part, specialize in conditioning, even taking before and after photos. If they could improve Okafor’s conditioning, then maybe they could unlock his obvious offensive potential.

The 2018 offseason isn’t shaping up to the be especially exciting for the Heat, but they could take advantage of teams distracted by the robust trade market, and swoop in and nab some undervalued free agents. With some capable player development, and a little bit of Heat conditioning magic, they could end up with a younger, better, team in 2018-19.