The Miami HEAT have just about wrapped up their training camp in The Bahamas and are headed home with a Red, White and Pink game ahead of them followed closely by the start of preseason. Here’s what we’ve been noting and noticing.
THE TOUGHEST JOB AT TRAINING CAMP
Did you watch Top Gun: Maverick?
If not, you should. It’s great. There’s a scene where, paying homage to the volleyball from the original film, Tom Cruise’s character calls off training for the day and sets his team of pilots up on the beach to play what he calls Dogfight Football. Two balls. Offense and defense at the same time.
Chances are that you, like everyone else, thought to yourself after watching that scene and thought, ‘So, how exactly does that work?’
Watching HEAT training camp isn’t all too dissimilar.
There may be no two words shouted more often on a given day at camp than, “Hey, Dan.” The Dan in question is video coordinator Dan Bisaccio, who holds the role of trying to keep score as the team runs through the many variations on its Hunger Games drill. That’s not hard, you might think. Thousands upon thousands of people around the world run a scoreboard without much of a problem.
But all those scoreboard operators are doing their job by the book. Bisaccio has to adhere to Spo Rules – on any given day a layup might be worth one, two or three points, an offensive rebound might be negative two and teams are rewarded based on whether or not the ball ever touches the paint. The rules don’t just change by the day, they might change by the minute.
“A lot of it is me walking into the middle of a conversation and hearing, ‘Oh, we’re doing four points for that? Hold on, I got to make sure I remember,” Bisaccio says with a laugh. “But you have to just go with it because you’re going to have one of the coaches saying it was this, one of the players saying it was for sure not that and then one of the guys in the stands saying, ‘Actually, it *was* that.’
“Sometimes I have to raise my hand and say I don’t know what the call is . . . knowing full well, and Spo loves this, they’re going to yell at me regardless. Whether it’s right or wrong, you just laugh with them and go with it.”
What we haven’t mentioned yet is that this isn’t a regular scrimmage. There are 15 players in the drill. Three teams rotating in and out of play. Five-on-five-on-five. Now think for a moment about what a normal scoreboard looks like. There’s HOME and GUEST, or some variation. Those are the teams wearing white and black jerseys. The red team? Their points go in the FOULS box, but those boxes don’t go into double digits, so Bisaccio has to combine the two FOULS boxes. Black might have 14. White might have 11. But Red has 10+2.
Unless one team has 99.
“Everybody says, ’99???’ But no, it’s just minus one if you’re at zero,” Bisaccio says.
There is a method to the madness. It’s not Calvinball. Each set of rules has a purpose. If Spoelstra is trying to emphasize efficiency, then three and layups are both worth three points while mid-range two-pointers are going to be worth one.
“If you just tell them, ‘Hey, be efficient’ but you don’t change the scale or change the way you score it, they’re just going to do the same thing,” says Bisaccio. “But if all the sudden you give more points for the shots we want, like a layup or a three, all the sudden their best competitive edge comes out because they want all those points.”
“The players all just think it’s me making stuff up. But we all meet as a staff and talk about it.”
Things don’t always go perfectly. On a particularly defensive-oriented day at Training Camp, paint touches are the emphasis. Last year Miami was one of the best teams in the league at keeping the ball out of the paint despite regularly playing undersized, and on this day you score with stops. If you get a stop while keeping the ball out of the paint the entire time, that’s three points. Otherwise, stops are only worth one. Problem is, half the team thought you scored by getting the ball into the paint on offense. Yelling ensues. Play continues. Bisaccio looks to assistant coaches Anthony Carter and Chris Quinn. They’ve been doing this for so long that can communicate non-verbally. One thumbs up from Bisaccio later, after a couple digits change on the board, and everything is back on track.
“It always goes back to the fact that we want to put some points of emphasis out there so that the players know, regardless of how they’re competing, we’re working towards getting better for what we want to do in a game. It’s not just about [winning the drill],” Bisaccio said.
In the end, someone does win. The horn sounds. Winners get water. The losing teams head to the baseline to run. Everyone, even if just for half an hour, has had their brain rewired just enough to get across Spoelstra’s points for the day, all done in typical Spoelstra fashion – through competition.
And Bisaccio gets to look forward to the “regular” days when only threes are threes and all twos count the same.
UP TO SPEED
First-round picks are always fun for the fanbase. They’re young. They’re new. They’re exciting. And Nikola Jović, selected No. 27 out of Serbia last June, is no exception. He’s 6-foot-10. He can shoot. He can handle. He’s athletic. The skillset is all there, on paper, and he might be the most natural, modern power forward on a roster that is trying to fill the power forward spot.
He also just turned 19 years old a couple weeks before the draft, and he’s trying to learn the HEAT’s many schemes and systems while getting to know a team that has been together for years. No easy task for a young player in any workplace, much less one where you have to prove yourself physically.
So if it seems odd that you might not have heard much about Jović yet, it’s because this is just the beginning of his process.
“He just needs to continue to embrace the routine,” Spoelstra said when asked about the potential of Jović earning minutes down the road this season. “That’s all it is right now. I’m not even evaluating him because he is being fed through a firehose. Everything he’s trying to learn, all the workouts he’s doing, the film study, the chalk talks. It can be overwhelming for a young player, particularly someone who hasn’t played in this league.
“You want to have some patience with the process. He is making progress. I can see it. His capacity for work is getting better. His ability to understand schematics is improving. Skillset is improving. He’s unique because of his size. He’s extremely versatile. He has a lot of good offensive skills that we’ll be able to apply. Defensively he’s learning our system. As you can imagine that is probably taking up a lot of his mental space, that stress of accountability to our defense.”
It doesn’t sound like we should expect Jović to be in the rotation early on, but nobody should have been expecting that regardless. The talent is there. The opportunities will come.
NEXT IN LINE?
It is extremely early to be talking about this. Earlier than early. But every year a player or two pops in training camp. Not in the way that they’re going to suddenly be playing 20 minutes a game – in the way that you might just be hearing their name a little more often months down the road. That’s how things often start for Miami’s future undrafted success stories. A few nice plays here and there. Steady hands. Solid days. Enough to make a coach see you.
When asked in The Bahamas who among the younger players had popped in his eyes, Spoelstra – who missed the first day of camp to be at the birth of his daughter – had one name in mind.
“Dru Smith is significantly improved over the last 12 months,” he said. “That’s enjoyable to see. He’s a different player right now, he’s mature, he feels more confident, he feels more poised in how to play in our program. And now you’re starting to see how he can impact winning.”
Spoelstra mentions 12 months because Smith was actually in camp last season. He even played for the Sioux Falls Skyforce, though – in a story somewhat similar to what Gabe Vincent went through the past two seasons – Smith says he felt a step slower wearing a large knee brace. Now, with the brace off and a surgical procedure behind him, he finally feels healthy.
“I think [I’m] just getting more comfortable honestly,” Smith said. “Having been in it for a year, having a better feel for how things work. Not trying to do anything spectacular, just trying to play within myself. Just be a solid guy.
“The way I played coming up through college is very similar to the way that they play. Defensive oriented, gritty, tough, nothing too flashy just get the job done. I don’t think I have to change much about my game.”
In just eight games with Sioux Falls, Smith, a 6-foot-3 guard, had quite a balanced line. In 32 minutes, he averaged 14.5 points, 4.1 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.9 steals and 1.3 blocks, posting a true-shooting percentage of 57.1 on a 20 percent usage rate. As he puts it, he’s a “jack of all trades”.
For now, we just have to wait. Wait for Monday’s Red, White and Pink game. Wait for the preseason. Wait for minutes. You would expect Smith to be back with Sioux Falls this season with the roster as loaded as it currently is, but pay attention when you hear his name in the coming weeks. He caught Spoelstra’s eye. Maybe he’ll catch yours, too.
You never know, he could be the next man up.
“There are so many guys on this roster, undrafted guys, guys that they developed,” Smith said. “I’m very thankful to be in this spot with this organization because they have a track record of developing guys like that.”
-Duncan Robinson feels a bit like the forgotten man at the moment when it comes to the battle for a starting spot, but it’s worth reminding everyone that he has a couple of the best high-volume shooting seasons under his belt and from December 3 on was back to his regular 40 percent from three – still taking some of the toughest threes in the league, as measured by Second Spectrum’s Shot Quality, because of how often he shoots off movement. This was an interesting quote from this week about how he’s put that early season slump behind him:
“[With my] mechanics there’s some little things, especially when you’re in those moments where the ball not feeling quite right and ways to deal with that. Now it’s easy to say this, but it’s a good thing having gone through it because it prepares you going forward.”
-While the starting lineup is easily the biggest question mark with this team right now, none of the incumbent starters – Lowry, Butler and Adebayo – shared much of an opinion in any direction with regards to what players or even what skillsets might be the best fit. Expect Spoelstra to be in full experimentation mode for the next couple of weeks:
“You have to take a look at different combinations just to see what they look like against competition,” Spoelstra said. “I like the fact that we have these different lineups we can get to, the big lineup, the speed lineup, the shooting lineup. You’ll see a decent amount of those.”
-When Coolio passed away on September 28, the HEAT ran their warmup laps with Gangsta’s Paradise blaring through speakers at practice the next morning.
-Victor Oladipo’s newest single, Symphony, was released on Friday. You can find it streaming on both Apple Music and Spotify.