Pat Riley is known as The Godfather not only because he always structures the unbelievable blockbuster deal that no one saw coming but also because he has a keen eye towards finding diamonds in the rough, diamonds that become immensely valuable in helping the Heat achieve greatness. This season, above all, is an impactful reminder of this. Serving as the stabilizing factor in a season destabilized by the offseason moves, numerous injuries, and unexpected illnesses [#GetWellCB], Riley has once again put together a group of fresh faces that have all but jumpstarted a defiant yet vastly fatigued Heat team. Let’s get to know them a little better, shall we?
1. The Dragon Breathes Fire
Undoubtedly, the biggest deal struck by the February 19th trade deadline (and a not too bad birthday present for your writer here) was the Heat’s acquisition of Goran Dragic. The natural shooting guard who is equally as comfortable being a point guard possesses an innate ability to spread the floor either through his no holds barred slashing to the rim or his threading the needle passes and ball-handling skills. Dragic, recipient of the 2014 NBA Most Improved Player and member of the 2014 All-NBA Third Team, was also a star in his native Slovenia winning Rookie of the Year and MVP honors as well as a Slovenian League Championship and gold medal with the Slovenian National under 20 Team. Dragic relishes his role as a gifted floor general providing the scoring, quickness, and tactical structure the Heat sorely lacked. The numbers speak for themselves: 71% average when scoring at the rim (better than LeGone), 50% from the field, and 36% from three. And when you get an endorsement from D-Wade saying, “he’s the best guard I’ve played with,” then you know Dragic is the real deal.
2. Tyler “Now You Know” Johnson
Once the need for a dominant big man was taken care of, the Heat’s other Achilles heel was the position of point guard. Obviously, Mario Chalmers and the now-departed Norris Cole provided outbursts of greatness here and there, but their consistency was always questioned. With the addition of Dragic, it was all but settled that the Heat had no need to keep another guard, right? WRONG! Tyler Johnson has proved extremely resilient both on the court and off. Coming into the league undrafted from Fresno State, Johnson joined the Heat in the Orlando Summer League. His numbers in college were somewhat mediocre, yet he still earned All-Mountain West Second Team Honors and his 43.2% from beyond the arc is sixth-best at Fresno State. In the D-League, Johnson racked up points averaging 24 a game over a seven game stretch. There is no doubt Johnson is a sharpshooter and a scorer at heart evident when he dropped 26 unanswered points on the Suns.
3. The Rise of Walker
Yet another example of resiliency, Henry Walker has proven his worth as a versatile player able to play as a small forward or shooting guard. In college, his numbers increased every year he played ending his career by averaging 16.1 points per game with 6.3 rebounds. Drafted alongside his Kansas State running mate, Michael Beasley, in the 2008 draft, Walker has drifted in and out of the NBA and its D-League, even acquired by the Heat’s D-League counterpart, the Sioux Falls Skyforce three different times. Walker has not squandered his opportunity with the Heat signing a second 10-day contract with the team averaging 9.4 points in five games alongside 3.2 rebounds and that fantastic finish against the Magic.
4. Return of the Beas
Returning faces are nothing new for the Heat and in Michael Beasley’s case, the third time might just be the charm. Albeit a tumultuous NBA career, people fail to realize that Beasley was the second overall pick in the 2008 Draft for a reason, namely, he’s a talented forward able to work the paint as well as shoot the three ball with ease. At Kansas State, he averaged 26.2 points a game shooting 37.9% from 3. In his stint with the Shanghai Sharks, he averaged 28.9 points a game shooting 55.5% from the field. He has more mileage under his belt than what he had in college and knows his role now more than ever, “My game is a lot slower…I’m focused on trying to make the whole group better, whoever is on the floor. On both sides.” And given he has been teammates with most of the guys on this Heat squad, his transition into it will be quick and B-Easy (pun definitely intended).
5. Coming to the Whiteside
Most of what we already said about Hassan Whiteside is coming to pass. The kid is a beast on the boards, his ability to survey the floor and post up for big-time blocks is impeccable, and he can just flat out score. Do we need to say more?
As the hunt for a playoff spot becomes much more intense, it appears the Heat are well situated to make a run at it with these new pieces.