When Meyers Leonard didn’t play in the Miami Heat’s opening win over the Denver Nuggets last Saturday, Erik Spoelstra said that, “I have not forgotten about Meyers. He is fully in our mix. It’s just the way the game went tonight.”
Erik Spoelstra on Meyers Leonard not playing today: "This is one game. I have not forgotten about Meyers. He is fully in our mix. It's the just the way the game went tonight."— Anthony Chiang (@Anthony_Chiang) August 1, 2020
In the two games since, Leonard — who started every game he appeared in for the Heat this season — still hasn’t played. Even with Jimmy Butler out last night and Spoelstra starting Kelly Olynyk and Bam Adebayo together, Leonard couldn’t find any playing time. Spoelstra staggered the minutes of Adebayo and Olynyk so at least one of them was on the floor at all times.
What happened? It’s not like Miami has played the Houston Rockets in the bubble. Even when Enes Kanter grabbed five offensive rebounds against the Heat last night, Spoelstra didn’t counter with Leonard.
A few trends are at play here. Number one, Jae Crowder has somehow continued to shoot lights-out since he put on a Heat jersey. After shooting 29 percent on six 3-point attempts per game with the Grizzlies this season, Crowder has shot 41 percent from deep on nearly seven attempts per game with Miami. Crowder can get his shot off much quicker than Leonard can, so starting him makes sense.
Another player who has shot lights-out since February is Kelly Olynyk, who saw his minutes fluctuate earlier in the season. Since the All-Star break, Olynyk has shot 29-for-53 from deep. The former Gonzaga player has also shown that he offers more than 3-point shooting on offense — his ability to handle the ball and make nice passes keep Miami’s offense humming. He had a team-high eight assists in Miami’s win over Boston last night.
Great pass, great cut, great finish pic.twitter.com/5ueaK8kUvw— Joseph Beguiristain (@JoeBeguiristain) August 5, 2020
Moreover, Crowder has the versatility to defend rangy fours like Pascal Siakam. And Leonard has proven to be slow-footed on defense. Crowder’s defense has helped push Miami to the sixth-best defensive rating in the bubble.
Back in June, Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald said that, “there’s support on the Heat coaching staff to re-sign Meyers Leonard.” But now Crowder and Olynyk have pushed Leonard out of the rotation. If he can’t even get playing time with Butler out, why should the Heat re-sign him?