With the 2017 NBA Draft fast approaching, we take a step back and look at some of the best draft picks in Miami Heat franchise history.
In its somewhat brief history as a franchise, the Miami Heat haven’t had much success in the NBA Draft. That’s not an opinion, but an unfortunate fact.
Thankfully (for Heat fans, at least), they haven’t needed it to excel. Pat Riley has created an organization that prides itself in finding diamonds in the rough and turning them into bonafide contributors.
What’s more, on the rare occasion a season is clearly lost early on and Miami would be best served tanking, they refuse to do so. They play to win and attack free agency instead — either chasing superstars or high-value options.
And it’s hard to argue with the results: Three championships and countless other accolades adorn the rafters of AmericanAirlines Arena (along with that oddly-placed Dan Marino jersey).
However, just because Miami hasn’t been great in the draft doesn’t mean there aren’t a few notable exceptions. So with the 2017 NBA draft quickly approaching, let’s look back through history and rank the 10 best draft picks in franchise history.
NOTE: We aren’t counting Mario Chalmers because he was technically drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves and not the Heat. Had we included him, he probably would have placed around…10th. Yeah, that sounds right.
To be fair, we did warn you the Heat haven’t been all that great at drafting. As such, we lead off our list of best draft picks in franchise history with Harold Miner.
The former USC Trojan had a brief NBA career; four seasons were all Miner was able to give before constant knee trouble forced him to prematurely retire in 1996. Though his numbers as a member of the Heat were modest (at best), he did show some flashes before injuries got the best of him.
Nonetheless, he cracks our list thanks to two major career honors. In 1993 and 1995, Miner was the NBA’s Slam Dunk Competition champion! Feel the excitement!
In fact, the left-handed gunner’s ability to throw down monster dunks during his prep career even earned him the moniker “Baby Jordan.” In hindsight, kind of a hilarious nickname to give a guy who went on to average 9.0 points during his professional career, but we’re not here to judge.
Miner was fun. And who knows, maybe if it not for those knee problems, he could have become a serviceable scorer off the bench. Or not. We’ll never know.
After spending one season dominating at Kansas State, Michael Beasley declared for the 2008 NBA Draft. The Heat, after finishing that year’s campaign 15-67, were ready to land the top overall pick through the lottery. Sadly, that didn’t happen — they ended up with the second selection, behind the Chicago Bulls.
But the pick was celebrated anyway in South Florida. Sure, a chance at Derrick Rose was out the window, but Beasley was gonna be great, too! He averaged 26.2 points, 12.4 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1.6 blocks in college! There was no way he wouldn’t excel at the next level!
As it would turn out, he didn’t. His ability to rebound did not translate. And his laissez-faire attitude toward defense didn’t help, either. All in all, the two seasons he spent with the Heat (along with the two other short stints in Miami later on in his career) were forgettable.
Oh well. In a weird way, the fact that he disappointed so immensely (and so quickly) sort of opened the doors for the Big Three to come together. But yeah, I agree with what you’re thinking right now: We’re definitely grasping at straws here.
Coming in at No. 8 on our list, we have former Duke Blue Devil Justise Winslow. Admittedly, his career has gotten off to a bit of a slow start, but he hasn’t been that bad, either. And for a Heat draftee, “not that bad” may as well be a Hall-of-Fame trajectory.
As a rookie, Winslow participated in 78 games, averaging 6.4 points and 5.2 rebounds along the way. He was an important contributor on a 48-win team, an impressive feat considering he was 19 years old at the time. The left-handed combo forward even netted a start at center in the Eastern Conference semifinals that year, after Hassan Whiteside went down with injury.
His sophomore season was supposed to be a coming out party, but alas, it wasn’t to be. After struggling through shoulder and wrist ailments, he was finally shut down on Jan. 4.
Winslow’s raw stats took a jump in his second year, but his efficiency took a huge hit. He went from shooting 42.2 percent to 35.6 percent. And among players who partook in at least 15 games, Winslow’s effective field goal percentage (37.1) was ninth-worst in the entire NBA.
His poor play could be partially attributed to lack of health, though. Additionally, he’s shown great maturity through it all. As a sophomore, he had an eye-opening 2.1 assist-to-turnover ratio, which points to a potential future as a distributing wing on the offensive end.
In just the Heat’s second offseason as a franchise, Sherman Douglas became Miami’s eighth draft pick ever in 1989.
His time in South Florida didn’t last long (barely over two seasons before an ugly holdout, and subsequent trade to the Boston Celtics), but the diminutive point guard was a key part of the transition that pushed the organization towards respectability.
During his two-year stint with the Heat, Douglas led the team in win shares. It’s not difficult to see why, either; his 16.3-point, 8.1-assist and 1.7-steal per game averages are still among the most impressive for a Heat point guard ever.
Although “the General” had no outside shot to speak of, he was still able to enjoy a long 12-year career thanks to his quickness and savviness as a playmaker. He also became known around the league for his absurd ability to create baskets out of thin air.
In all, even despite the fact that Douglas didn’t spend much time in Miami, he’s still an important piece of the team’s history. His group changed the foundation and set up the next batch of Heat stars (like Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway) for success, proving the franchise would not be a laughingstock forever.
Eastern Michigan’s Grant Long was a member of the Heat’s inaugural six-man draft class in 1988. Unlike his former teammate Douglas, though, he was able to see the franchise’s transformation all the way through. (Maybe not all the way through, but at least until the organization became perennial postseason participants. Work with me here.)
Long was around during Miami’s first year — when the team finished with a paltry 15-67 record — and by the time he left in 1994, the young, upstart outfit from South Florida had already made the playoffs twice.
The undersized big man spent the first six years of his career in Miami, and didn’t depart of his own volition. He was actually traded midseason — as part of a package that yielded Kevin Willis in return.
Despite being listed at merely 6-foot-8, Long started 373 games for the Heat at power forward. He was a plus-rebounder and a tough-nosed defender, who often outmuscled his much larger counterparts in the paint.
Ironically, this original Heat member embodied the culture Riley would go on to create after his departure. In a way, he was like an early prototype for guys like Brian Grant and Udonis Haslem, two other undersized big men who went on to enjoy successful careers in South Florida years after Long’s time in Miami had come to an end.
And for that reason alone, he merits his ranking on this list.
If there’s one thing Caron Butler deserves credit for regarding his two-year stint in Miami, it’s that he was one of the main pieces in the package that landed the Heat Shaquille O’Neal in the now-infamous 2004 trade with the Los Angeles Lakers.
But it’d be unfair to belittle his legacy in South Florida to just that one event. After all, the 2003-04 Heat team was one of most memorable in the franchise’s entire history and Butler played a huge role for those guys.
Wait, you remember which team I’m referring to…right?
If you don’t, here’s a quick refresher: They were young, for starters, and coming off a terrible 25-57 campaign. They were very much expected to be bad in 2003-04 too.
Turns out, they weren’t. The Heat bounced back the following season, finishing the year 42-40 and taking down a tough Charlotte Hornets team in a grueling seven-game first round playoff series.
In that opening round bout, Butler averaged 14.7 points, 9.1 rebounds, 2.9 steals and 2.1 assists per game while boasting a +39 plus/minus over the seven contests. We probably remember the matchup best for how it ended…
…but Butler’s contributors should not be forgotten, either. He was every bit as responsible for the final outcome. And that, coupled with the long, successful career he enjoyed after his time in Miami (two-time All-Star and eventual NBA champion), helps him land the fifth spot on our list.
(Plus, the whole trading him for Shaq’ thing was pretty cool, too.)
Remember that Grant Long trade I mentioned a few slides ago? That package deal for Kevin Willis? Well, the other part of that “package” was a young shooting guard by the name of Steve Smith. And although he’s best known now as an analyst on NBA TV, don’t be fooled…Smitty could play.
Unfortunately, much like most of the other guys on our list, his career in Miami didn’t last that long. He spent a little more than two seasons calling South Florida home before getting shipped to Atlanta.
It was a strange deal at the time, and even more confusing looking back. Smith made the NBA All-Rookie First team as a member of the Heat and was coming off an exceptional playoff performance against the Hawks — one that proved to be his arrival as a borderline elite 2-guard.
Clearly, his showing was impressive enough to convince Atlanta to make Miami an offer for Smith just two games into the following season. For whatever inexplicable reason, the Heat accepted.
As a member of the Peach State franchise, Smitty averaged 19.3 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game while shooting 84.4 percent from the foul line. He was an All-Star in 1998, and won a gold medal with the Olympic men’s basketball team in 2000 at the Sydney games.
Not a bad career, especially for a Heat draftee. And when compared to some of the other guys on our list, his pedigree stands out even more.
Rony Seikaly was the Heat’s first draft pick ever back in 1988. And even though he never blossomed into a true game-changer, he still enjoyed a long and successful career playing for four franchises over the span of 11 seasons.
The big man went to Syracuse, where he was actually teammates with another guy on our list — Sherman Douglas. In college, he was best known for his vicious spin move, which earned him the moniker “The Spin Doctor.” (Gotta love cheesy ’80s basketball nicknames.)
If you take a gander at some of Miami’s all-time leaderboards for statistical contributions, you’ll see Seikaly’s name pop up all over the place. To this day, he ranks favorably in multiple categories: No. 9 in games played, No. 7 in made field goals, No. 3 in offensive and defensive rebounds, and No. 3 in blocks.
Additionally, in his basketball afterlife, he has transitioned into a life of music. Seikaly is now a sorta well-known…DJ. Not even kidding. Here’s a two-minute highlight video of his, set to one of his own songs:
It doesn’t get much more Miami than that. Nothing but respect for the Spin Doctor, who’s easily the third or fourth best center in the Heat’s history. (Unless we’re consider Chris Bosh a center, in which case he’s actually fourth or fifth best. But hey, who’s counting?)
The first unquestionably great player on our list (and it took all the way until the No. 2 spot) is the incomparable Glen Rice. The Michigan alum wound up being a three-time All-Star (even earning an All-Star Game MVP trophy in 1997), a two-time All-NBA Team member (Second Team in 1997 and Third Team in 1998) and an NBA champion with the Lakers in 2000.
Younger Heat fans who have grown up watching Eric Reid and Tony Fiorentino broadcasts probably remember Rice best as the long-time holder of Miami’s single-game scoring record.
In a regular season matchup against the Orlando Magic in 1995, the unabashed gunner scored 56 points on 20-of-27 shooting, nailing seven of his eight three-pointers along the way. (He also had zero assists, steals or blocks in that game, which is kinda funny.)
His record was ultimately broken by LeBron James in 2014, when he scored 61 against Charlotte.
Rice’s time in Miami came to an end days before the 1995-96 season, when he was packaged in a trade for Alonzo Mourning. He went on to become an even better player as a member of the Hornets, but we can’t really complain about the eventual payoff from that deal.
Historically, Rice ranks third for points scored scored in a Heat jersey, third for three-pointers made and fourth in steals. And if we were to create an All-Time team for the South Florida franchise, he’d play the role of sixth man. He was that good.
Yeah, I think the top spot on our list was kinda obvious from the jump. Dwyane Wade isn’t just the best player in Miami’s history, but a surefire Hall-of-Famer and easily one of the three or four best 2-guards ever.
Wade leads all Heat players in games played, field goals made (and missed), points scored, assists, free throws, free throw attempts and steals. His longevity as a superstar allowed him to experience two eras of dominance with the franchise: The first title team back in 2006 and the Big Three era just a few years after.
The Flash is a three-time NBA champ, has a Finals MVP trophy on his mantle at home (I mean, at least that’s where I think he’d put such a valuable piece of hardware), won gold with the 2008 Olympic men’s basketball team and was a 12-time All-Star. Throughout his time in South Florida, he made an astounding eight All-NBA teams, including the First Team twice (2009 and 2010).
His accolades go on and on, and his charitable contributions around the community were probably even more important. Though it’s unfortunate (and kinda sad) how it all ended, at least we got to experience one of the greatest careers for a player ever firsthand as Heat fans.