Victor Oladipo, who is traveling with the Miami Heat during their current four-game road trip, has appeared to move well in practice. It’s an encouraging sign for a team that is still so depleted with injuries and COVID health-and-safety protocols — aside from Oladipo, Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, Markieff Morris and Caleb Martin all remain out.
Victor Oladipo upping the work at practice today pic.twitter.com/829Jio1tXN— Ira Winderman (@IraHeatBeat) December 17, 2021
It was also encouraging to see Gabe Vincent and Max Strus, who were both on two-way contracts last season, explode for 59 points last night to notch a road win against the Orlando Magic. They have each dramatically improved from uneven seasons last year. Strus, who shot just 34 percent from 3 in 2020-21, is shooting 42 percent now — on a higher volume of attempts. Vincent’s 3-point percentage has risen from 31 percent to 39 percent, also on higher volume.
*10 hours earlier*— Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) December 18, 2021
Friends who practice together set career-highs together pic.twitter.com/wI3JIzqtQW
That brings a question, though. How will Erik Spoelstra divide minutes when Butler, Martin and Herro return, and later, when Oladipo comes back?
Early in the season, Vincent wasn’t in the rotation. Aside from Miami’s Oct. 23 overtime loss to the Indiana Pacers when Kyle Lowry was injured, Vincent only played garbage time through the Heat’s first 10 games. Last month, Strus was a “Did Not Play — Coach’s Decision” in back-to-back road games at the Detroit Pistons and Minnesota Timberwolves. (I wondered then if Vincent had taken Strus’ spot in the rotation.)
Before the season, many thought the Heat would have a starting lineup of Lowry, Duncan Robinson, Butler, P.J. Tucker and Adebayo. Herro, Oladipo, Morris and Dewayne Dedmon would get significant minutes off the bench. But that leaves few minutes for Vincent, Strus or Martin.
Huge for the Heat if Dipo on a tiny deal can be great. Looked fantastic defensively before he went down, the burst was there— Kyle Lowry Lifer (@gnavas103) August 4, 2021
Jimmy Bam Lowry PJ Duncan, your likely starters
Dipo Herro Morris Dedmon, your guys off the bench you trust. That’s a legit playoff rotation https://t.co/dXTQaAY7w4
With COVID-19 spreading throughout NBA rosters, perhaps the Heat will always have a few players unavailable. If some players get healthy, Spoelstra may decide to go small, cutting minutes from Omer Yurtseven and KZ Okpala to allow Strus and Caleb Martin to play the 4 at times. (Morris’ timetable for a return remains a mystery.)
Maybe when Butler returns, the Heat can load-manage Lowry, opening minutes for Vincent and Strus. If Duncan Robinson isn’t hitting his shots one night, Erik Spoelstra can turn to Strus to fill that role. (Robinson has shot well recently, though.)
Duncan Robinson's last 7 games: 41.2% on 7.3 attempts per game— Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) December 17, 2021
Shooters keep shooting
Vincent and Strus have presented the Heat with a good problem — they’ve looked like elite role players instead of fringe NBA players when injuries have forced Spoelstra to rely on them. But with Martin, Herro and Butler all dealing with short-term absences, what happens when they come back?