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The impact of Dion Waiters returning to the Heat

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If Dion Waiters is truly healthy, his return will be a boost for the Heat in more ways than one.

NBA: Miami Heat at Charlotte Hornets Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

It was an unsurprisingly quiet offseason for the Miami Heat, a team that did not have a selection in this year’s NBA Draft and did not possess the cap room necessary to be players in free-agency.

With the lack of moves made by the Heat, it is hard to imagine the team will appear much different than last season’s. Though, one factor that could separate the 2018-19 team from last year’s is the return of Dion Waiters.

Waiters missed the majority of last season, being sidelined for 52 games plus the postseason due to ankle surgery. When Waiters was playing, he was banged up and his numbers did not quite match up to the career year he had with the Heat in 2016-17, however his metrics in the clutch were among the best in the league.

Of the NBA players that have played in at least ten “clutch” situations, which is defined by the NBA as a five-point game in the final five minutes, Waiters ranked 12th in PPG. Of the 11 players ahead of Waiters, the only two with a better plus-minus in close games were Victor Oladipo and LeBron James.

Having a go-to clutch player is important on any team, but for Miami it is vital. The Heat played in a league-high 53 close or “clutch” games, three more than the Brooklyn Nets. Among Heat players, none come within shouting distance of 3.4 PPG in the clutch, the next closest being Goran Dragic and James Johnson at 2.0 PPG; albeit, the latter two have a much larger sample size.

The return of Dion Waiters presents a minutes issue for the Heat’s backcourt which already features Tyler Johnson, Josh Richardson, Rodney McGruder, Wayne Ellington, and potentially Dwyane Wade. Of the aforementioned group, only Richardson and Waiters are truly NBA caliber starters at this point.

Tyler Johnson was forced to start in a career-high 39 games last season, after coming off the bench in all but seven games in his career. Johnson could benefit from being moved back to the bench, a spot where the then 24-year-old thrived in 2016-17, posting career-highs across the board.

As a starter, Johnson tended to be a bit of a ball-stopper on offense for the Heat last season; for every 100 possessions, the Fresno State graduate averaged 1.4 less assists, while taking two more three pointers and reaching the free-throw line roughly half as much.

When the Heat is at its best properly spacing the floor, it’s something head coach Erik Spoelstra is as successful as any coach in the league at achieving. Waiters’ ability to create his own shots and slash commands the attention of defenses opening up the floor; which is shown in the video below.

Tyus Jones was forced to think about the switch as Dragic appeared to set a screen on Andrew Wiggins, who was guarding Waiters tightly from roughly ten feet beyond the three point line. The hesitation from Jones gave Dragic an opening and Waiters found him for an open three.

Waiters has posted career highs in assists both seasons with the Heat not because of a vastly improved passing ability, but rather Spoelstra’s ability to use Waiters’ skill set to open up the floor.

While Waiters is nowhere near All-Star status, the 26-year-old has the ability to take a game over, which is something the Heat lacks as a team, especially if Dwyane Wade decides to retire. Other than Dragic, the Heat is missing a scorer that can salvage a stagnant possession. The intangibles Waiters brings to the table would have given the Heat the boost they needed down the stretch last season. Will it come to fruition this season?