“I found that interesting already this year. People on the outside, at times, have questioned our depth. We’ve always felt that it was one our biggest strengths. We look at it totally differently than everyone else.”
That was said by Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra — who’s repeatedly mentioned how the organization’s considered their depth as a strength instead of a weakness — after the Heat’s 129-103 win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Oct. 30, when Miami had 58 bench points, including 22 from Tyler Herro.
With the current state of the Heat, they’ve been forced to use their depth. All-NBA forward Jimmy Butler has missed seven of the last eight games due to injuring, and then re-injuring, his tailbone; All-Star center Bam Adebayo has missed the entire month of December after tearing his ulnar collateral ligament in his thumb; Tyler Herro has sat the last two games to nurse a quadriceps injury; Victor Oladipo, who’s making progress in his return, has missed the entire season and is still recovering from quad surgery.
That’s four impact players; that’s not even mentioning Markieff Morris, who has missed the last 20 games with a neck injury after the Nikola Jokic incident, P.J. Tucker, who left Sunday’s game with a left knee injury, and Caleb Martin, who just recently entered health and safety protocols after a 28-point outing against the Milwaukee Bucks on national television earlier this month.
Butler, Adebayo and Herro, their top three scorers, account for nearly 40 percent of the team’s scoring and field goal production alone. Regardless of how deep a team is, that’s a lot to be without in it of itself.
Spoelstra’s mad-scientist creativity has been put to the test over the last several games in regards to rotations, matchups and schematics. It’s paid off, so far. Three of Miami’s last four wins have come against the Milwaukee Bucks, a COVID-riddled Chicago Bulls squad plus the Philadelphia 76ers.
But I don’t think any Heat players have benefitted as much from the roster chaos than the undrafted duo of Max Strus and Gabe Vincent, who’s been recently thrusted into the starting lineup in Butler’s absence.
Strus strung together a career-high 32 points — 20 coming in the second half — in their 115-105 win over the Orlando Magic Friday. He sunk a career-high 8 3-pointers (on 11 attempts), going 11-of-15 from the floor with seven rebounds. Strus has continued hunting shots around the arc while picking his spots to cut and find chinks in the defense’s armor.
“His confidence never wanes,” Spoelstra said of Strus after Friday’s game. “Very rarely do we have to tell Max to shoot it when he’s open. He’s assertive with his catches and he works at it constantly. He’s like a few of our guys — Duncan [Robinson], Tyler and even Gabe, to an extent — they’re ignitable, They hit two (3-pointers) and immediately they’re thinking three, four, five. They all can get in a roll and that’s what you saw with Max.”
Against the Detroit Pistons on Sunday, Strus was one of Miami’s bright spots, recording 24 points on 7-of-16 shooting and 4-of-11 shooting from 3-point range.
Vincent followed up his previous career-best of 26 points, set on Wednesday against the Sixers, with a 27-point performance on 10-of-20 shooting on Friday.
The 6-foot-3 guard has found a consistent shooting stroke. Over his last 12 games, he’s averaging 12.9 points on 46.9 percent shooting from the floor and 41.5 percent from distance. He’s hit four 3-pointers in five separate games since Nov. 23 after zero beforehand.
Needless to say, Vincent’s shooting was his forte entering the league, but he’s also continuing to develop every other part of his game. He’s added 3.8 assists and 1.2 steals per game, being one of Miami’s pesky point-of-attack defenders at the forefront of its 2-2-1 press and 2-3 zone while making solid reads as a secondary ballhandler during Miami’s injury-riddled stretch.
“[The organization] has put a lot of trust in me,” Vincent said Friday. “Especially during this stretch when we’re down guys, we’re just trying to find ways to win, impact winning and play free.”
They aren’t the only ones to be contributing during this stretch. Martin, prior to entering the protocols, was a jolt of two-way energy whenever played; Duncan Robinson’s found his shot; P.J. Tucker has done anything and everything; Dewayne Dedmon has continually held the fort down in Adebayo’s absence.
That’s just a list of a few names, but we can’t forget that not too long ago, Strus and Vincent were getting spot opportunities on the court as two-way contract players.
Their spots in the rotation, when everyone was healthy, was erratic and, frankly, unpredictable. They couldn’t exceed the 50-game maximum threshold for two-way guys, which complicated things for Spoelstra on a game-to-game basis — especially after it was wrecked with COVID-19 at the beginning of 2020-21.
Now, both are on standard contracts and instead of frothing at the mouth for any sort of opportunity to prove themselves, they’re are receiving regular rotation minutes — though it’s at the expense of a few injuries. But both are making the most of every opportunity, seemingly knocking down every big shot and competing at both ends, showcasing what #HEATCulture™ is all about.
“[Strus and Vincent] have been the lifeblood of our player development program,” Spoelstra said. “This is not something that’s just happened over night. Neither one of them were selected during draft night. It takes an incredible amount of perseverance, belief in yourself and a crazy work ethic to keep on working every single day because you have a lot more days of adversity when things are not necessarily going your way or you’re not getting playing time or you’re not really seeing progress. But these guys show up every single day and commit to that process of developing and getting better and earning everybody’s trust.”
While their depth concerns might have been somewhat fair at the time, the narrative about their depth has shifted. Spoelstra and his staff has breathed life into this particular undrafted duo during their Heat tenures, and now, they’re breathing confidence and production as part as Miami’s saving grace.
If you want to see more of Matt’s Heat takes and more incessant sports-centric tweets, follow him on Twitter @mph_824_.