A trio of signings by the Miami Heat earlier this month could signal a step forward in completing the roster for the upcoming 2014-15 season.
Reggie Williams, Shawn Jones and Tyler Johnson have clearly shown enough potential for the Heat to take notice of them, but the reality is that roster spots will be hard to come by — especially if the team continues their long-standing preference to stick with proven veterans at the minimum to fill out the final roster.
Indeed, with the team reportedly interested in the likes of free agents Leandro Barbosa, Emeka Okafor and Jordan Crawford, these three will have to make a lasting impression on coach Erik Spoelstra and his staff in order to avoid becoming training camp cuts.
So what exactly do each of these relatively unknown players bring to the table?
Williams has prior NBA experience so there’s a clearer picture as to the kind of skill set that he can bring to the Heat. Though he played only a few games last season with the Oklahoma City Thunder — mostly in garbage time during blowouts — he’s had more meaningful stints with the Golden State Warriors (2009-11), who took full advantage of his offensive skills in his rookie season in which he averaged 15.2 points, and the Charlotte Bobcats (2011-13).
Though no other team can help inflate scoring stats quite like playing for the Warriors, his respectable career NBA averages of 8.5 points and 2.6 rebounds in 19.7 minutes a game indicate he is a capable scorer off the bench. Putting aside his brief time with the Thunder, his last full season with the Bobcats in 2012-13 showed a clear preference as a spot-up shooter, according to Synergy Sports. Out of 132 field-goal attempts that season, 55 were spot-up attempts with just 19 in transition, 12 as a pick-and-roll handler and only seven attempts off an isolation play. Of his 71 three-point attempts, 43 were also spot-up jumpers.
Williams, 27, is an adequate ball handler but he obviously won’t be the kind of player the Heat can rely on to consistently create his own shot. However, a lot of the Heat’s offense in the Big 3 era relied on penetration to free up outside shooters waiting on the wings. Williams is clearly comfortable in that role and can score plenty of buckets with his feet set and ready for the ball to swing his way. Then again, he’s also proven in the past to be a reliable scorer off of screens and cuts, so he shouldn’t get too comfortable waiting around either and should work on moving with or without the ball if he wants to show off different facets of his game.
The hometown product out of Hialeah, Florida, is a strong 6-foot-7 forward who played for Middle Tennessee as a power forward, but may have to make the transition to small forward in the NBA. Jones was the CUSA Player of the Year and averaged 14.1 points and 8.4 rebounds as a senior. He played for the Los Angeles Clippers in the Summer League, averaging 5 points and 5 rebounds.
Jones can block or alter shots thanks to his long 7-foot-3 wingspan and displays a willingness to crash the offensive boards and do some of the dirty work necessary to get his points. He has a bit of a slow, deliberate shooting form but can knock down the mid-range shot as well.
Above all else, he seems right at home around the basket. And while the Heat have shown an affinity in the past for scrappy players, he faces long odds to make the team with Danny Granger and (potentially) Shawne Williams already in place to back up Luol Deng.
Of the three, Johnson appears to be the player with the most upside, primarily as a result of his flashy, athletic play that has wowed Fresno State fans and those attending Summer League games. Though far from being a complete player just yet, the Heat could certainly use some of that athleticism off the bench in support of Dwyane Wade. And the 6-foot-4 guard has the tools to be a player that can quickly score in bunches.
In another Summer League play against the Houston Rockets, he started a fast break opportunity by applying just the right amount of pressure at the top of the key to dislodge the ball from his man. It’s a skill that even NBA veterans Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole have yet to perfect — too much pressure and it’s a near-certain foul if the ball handler gets touched or rises up for a jump shot.
Johnson will have to expend energy not just on alley-oop dunks but on both ends of the floor, as is the case for any player who is trying to earn a roster spot with the Heat. Consider how Michael Beasley’s role on the team diminished over the course of last season despite his unquestioned scoring ability. Now more than ever without LeBron James, the Heat must make a collective effort on defense to force turnovers and give themselves the opportunity to score much-needed baskets in transition. Johnson has a shot at making the team with Wade as their lone shooting guard, but must put it all together quickly and display all of his skills at training camp.