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Heat sign Zylan Cheatham to 10-day contract; what could he provide?

Cheatham is a player that immediately fits the defensive-minded, gritty, rebounding mold that Miami covets.

2021 G League Winter Showcase Photo by David Becker/NBAE via Getty Images

The Miami Heat inked Zylan Cheatham to a 10-day contract Tuesday morning, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Needless to say, the Heat are in need of more bodies. They are missing seven players — most of them defensive-minded — in Jimmy Butler (tailbone), P.J. Tucker (leg), Bam Adebayo (torn UCL), Caleb Martin (health and safety protocols), Tyler Herro (quad), Markieff Morris (neck) and Victor Oladipo, who has yet to play this season after recovering from right quadriceps surgery.

On the surface, Cheatham, who went undrafted in the 2019 NBA Draft, is a player that immediately fits the defensive-minded, gritty, rebounding mold that Miami covets. In 13 games this season with the Birmingham Squadron — the G-League affiliate of the New Orleans Pelicans — Cheatham averaged 14.2 points, 10.4 rebounds (2.2 offensive), 1.8 assists, 1.2 steals and 0.6 blocks per game. He shot 49.1 percent from the floor, 42.9 percent from 3-point range and 80.6 percent from the free-throw line.

In 62 career games at the G-League level, he averaged 14.4 points, 10.6 boards (2.7 offensive), 2.4 assists, 0.9 steals and 0.6 blocks — knocking down 51.5 percent of his shots, 34.0 percent of his 3-pointers and 73.4 percent of his free-throw attempts.

Cheatham’s only had four career games at the NBA level, coming in 2019-20, where he’s tallied just 12 points, nine rebounds, three assists, a block and a steal in 51 minutes.

Since he is a COVID-19 replacement player, Cheatham won’t count count towards the Heat’s salary cap or luxury tax, per the Miami Herald’s Anthony Chiang.

With the Heat down so many players, it will be interesting to see the role that Cheatham’s put in. In my view, Cheatham is an ultra-athletic wing with a high motor — which could spark Miami and potentially change the momentum in games.

He’s a very effective rebounder on either end with a much-improved shooting stroke and can immediately turn into one of the Heat’s glue guys over the next week-and-a-half. He’s very physical, which the Heat love, with a true passion for the defensive end, which the Heat also love.

Here’s what Draft Express’ Jonathan Givony tweeted about Cheatham after the Heat’s signing:

“Definitely fits their style of play and I think will have a chance to stick if he can show that his 3-ball is for real because he does everything else.”

The Heat have lacked a true rebounding edge since the start of December, when it was announced that Adebayo would miss the following four-to-six weeks with a tear in his ulnar collateral ligament (UCL). Over that span, the Heat rank in the bottom-half in offensive rebounding rate (26.2 percent; 20st) and total rebounding rate (48.7 percent; 20th); beforehand, they placed No. 6 in offensive rebounding rate (29.3 percent) and second — behind the Utah Jazz — in total rebounding rate (52.6 percent).

Not all of that is attributed to Adebayo’s absence, but with Heat players — and seemingly everyone across the league — dropping like flies, Adebayo’s rebounding presence certainly would’ve helped mitigate the damage over that time.

Cheatham will stem that gap. Will he be as effective as Adebayo, or Tucker or any one of Miami’s top rebounders? Potentially, but by looking at the film, he’s going to be overzealous on the glass in particular.

It’s unclear what his shooting will be like at the NBA level. He’s significantly improved his 3-point percentage in three seasons in the G-League; he went from 33.0 percent (2.6 attempts) down to 21.7 percent (1.5 attempts) back up to 42.9 percent (on 3.2 attempts) this season. In three collegiate seasons at San Diego State and Arizona State, the 6-foot-8 forward shot a combined 29.6 percent (on 0.5 attempts) from distance, including 44.0 percent (0.7 attempts) in his lone season with the Sun Devils in 2018-19.

So, in short: He’s shown 3-point shooting capability. I presume the Heat won’t just stash him in the corner because that’s not traditionally what they would like to do with most of their players. The most realistic role the Heat might use him in is the P.J. Tucker role, where they will use him as a screen-and-role threat — especially in hand-offs — at the elbows and wings with potential pop ability.

The high-flying wing is going to get his opportunity to shine over the next ten days. The Heat’s next six games read as follows:

Though there’s more variance with multiple players out (for both sides, potentially), the Heat should go at least .500 over this next six-game stretch. It might sound a little crazy now, but Cheatham’s presence and energy could potentially help swing — and win — a couple of those games. But that is just my projection — time will tell what really happens.

Oh, and don’t be surprised if he tries to put someone in a poster, either.

Here’s more Zylan Cheatham highlights below:

If you want to see more of Matt’s Heat takes and more incessant sports-centric tweets, follow him on Twitter @mph_824_.