With the Miami Heat playing well without him, what becomes of Dion Waiters when he returns from his groin injury?
Dion Waiters won’t be back for at least another week and a half, but it’s not as if the Miami Heat missed him on their recent three-game road trip.
The Heat went 2-1 in what has been the team’s best stretch of the season, and Goran Dragic has been playing the best basketball of his time in Miami. Without Waiters in the lineup for the last three games, Dragic averaged 20.3 points and seven assists per game. The ball is in his hands more than ever, and he has more space to operate.
But taking the long view, with Goran Dragic thriving in a ball-dominant role, it only makes sense for Dion to transition back to his anticipated role, as a reserve guard, where the touches will be more plentiful. Keeping Dragic in rhythm is much more important than getting Dion back into a comfort zone. But if you do play Waiters off the bench, minutes still will be an issue, with the need to also find time for Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson, let alone Wayne Ellington. What the past week showed is that players play well in extended minutes, be it Ellington, Josh McRoberts or even Rodney McGruder. At some point, Spoelstra is going to have to tighten his rotation. And that leaves Waiters’ role a question mark.
So what should be his role?
The obvious thing is to move Waiters to bench. Because of injuries to both Josh Richardson and Ellington to start the season, Waiters had been elevated to the starting lineup. He was originally expected to come off the bench for the Heat. Waiters had one of the highest usage ratings on the team, but was largely an inefficient scorer.
However, he does thrive as a shot creator for others, posting the second highest assist percentage on the team behind only Dragic. With no true backup point guard and Tyler Johnson more adept at playing shooting guard, Waiters could find a role as the backup point guard when Dragic is out. That way, the Heat always have one of its best creators on the floor.
Waiters is also a strong perimeter defender, and should help out the reserve unit on that end.
Who is the odd man out?
When (and if) everyone gets healthy, there won’t be enough minutes to go around. Someone will be left out. If we assume that Dragic, Richardson and Johnson will get the most minutes in the backcourt, that leaves Waiters, Ellington and Rodney McGruder (who has started at the 2 during this road trip) battling for the last few minutes.
The Heat have played three-guard lineups for most of the season, so one of them may still get slotted into the starting lineup depending on if Erik Spoelstra is willing to play Justise Winslow at the 4 once he returns.
If that’s the case, I’d expect Ellington to get the nod there. That means that Waiters could be the backup point guard, Johnson the backup 2 and McGruder the backup 3.
With Winslow, James Johnson and McRoberts splitting time at the 4, that likely means the end of Luke Babbitt’s and Derrick Williams’ minutes.