Going into the Miami Heat’s Wednesday night game against the Milwaukee Bucks, Erik Spoelstra moved Meyers Leonard back to the bench. Leonard sat out Miami’s first game and then started their next two — though he played just the first two minutes of their 47-point shellacking at the hands of the Bucks Tuesday night.
He didn’t get off the bench Wednesday, reduced to a cheerleader during the Heat’s impressive second-half comeback. Kendrick Nunn, who started alongside Meyers Leonard for most of last season, didn’t play the entire second half of that game. Though he had a great breakaway dunk, Nunn continued his struggles that date back to the NBA bubble.
HIS LEFT STROKE JUST WENT VIRAL pic.twitter.com/nFyxvIcFpD— Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) December 31, 2020
Both Nunn and Leonard lost their starting jobs and even places in the rotation in the bubble. It was only after Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic suffered injuries in Game 1 of the NBA Finals that Spoelstra went back to them out of necessity. When the Heat re-signed Leonard at the start of free agency, it appeared that Miami looked to re-establish Leonard as at least a regular season rotation piece.
That hasn’t worked out. And even though Tyler Herro has had his struggles as a full-time starter in his second year, Nunn hasn’t made a strong case for getting that job back.
It’s not that Spoelstra has only gone to veterans like Kelly Olynyk and Avery Bradley to supplant Leonard and Nunn in the rotation. Spoelstra also turned to Precious Achiuwa, the Heat’s 2020 first-round draft pick, and Gabe Vincent, who is on a two-way contract with Miami this season, as replacements. (Moe Harkless has also struggled mightily thus far, but that’s a discussion for another day.)
Achiuwa had probably his worst NBA game Wednesday night, going 0-for-2 from the field and committing three turnovers in 12 minutes. But he’s shown enough potential as a high-motor big that he deserves to keep his spot in the rotation until proven otherwise. And Vincent made two 3-pointers off the bench. He was a +10 in his 15 minutes, while Nunn was a -7 in nine minutes.
What do we make of this? It’s too easy to write off the bad production from Leonard and Nunn as early-season kinks because they’ve struggled for the past five months. Maybe the games will get easier for them when Jimmy Butler returns from his injury. Or maybe not.
Spoelstra will continue to mix lineups throughout the season. Nunn and Leonard will get other chances, just due to injuries or a possible coronavirus exposure in the locker room. But if they don’t turn around their play soon, they could find themselves as the 11th and 12th men on the roster.