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How good is Haywood Highsmith, actually?

He’s made strides this year. But is he good enough to be a backup four on a contending team?

Boston Celtics v Miami Heat Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images

Caleb Martin had the job of defending Jayson Tatum last night. He couldn’t catch a break from the referees, who whistled him for five fouls in just 11 minutes of playing time. Jimmy Butler was out, so Erik Spoelstra couldn’t play him.

Spoelstra said after the game that Haywood Highsmith played so well, he couldn’t take him out.

Highsmith played strong defense against Tatum, something he also did during the Dec. 2 Miami Heat overtime road win over the Boston Celtics.

Highsmith also hit all four of his 3-pointers, two of which came during the fourth-quarter comeback. And since Tyler Herro and Kyle Lowry combined to go 1-for-11 from distance, Highsmith’s 3s were vital.

The Baltimore native is shooting 36.7 percent from 3 on the season. Given the departure of P.J. Tucker, the Heat hoped for Highsmith to offer solid backup minutes. And though it hasn’t always been pretty — a blown defensive assignment here, a bad 3-point shooting night there — Highsmith has made strides this year.

Of course, the problem is that those strides haven’t been large enough. Highsmith isn’t good enough to be a backup power forward on a championship team. (And with a healthy Butler, Spoelstra has gone small and kept Highsmith to more of a fringe rotation player.)

Highsmith is more of someone who can play spot minutes if foul trouble or injuries push him on the court. That’s the role he had last year. Highsmith played in eight of the Heat’s 2022 playoff games and averaged just shy of four minutes per game.

Caleb Martin’s ideal role is as a backup wing, not a starting four. The Heat’s lack of viable front court options next to Bam Adebayo has miscast both Martin and Highsmith in roles that exceed their abilities.