The Miami Heat are saddled with a blessing and a curse: having too many rotation players.
If you placed the name of every Miami Heat player in a hat, shuffled them around and picked one at random, there’s a 99.9 percent chance that the name you selected could make any of the remaining 29 full-time NBA rosters.
Justise Winslow and James Johnson fill the point-forward roles that players like Draymond Green have popularized, while Josh Richardson continues to prove his rubberband-man limbs provide the perfect mix of offensive and defensive efficiency.
Even Udonis Haslem, who doesn’t see much floor action, is the quintessential glue-guy or veteran leader, that every team wishes would stick around for the better part of two decades.
Really, anyone on the Heat roster has at least one quality that could serve an organization looking to upgrade its roster. What the team lacks in All-Star recognition, it makes up for with the sheer depth of talent that can fill gaps like reverse Jenga.
Unfortunately for Miami, that’s proving to be a huge problem.
Take Sunday’s loss to the Toronto Raptors; Miami started Hassan Whiteside as usual.
The center is typically the preferred option against opponents who run paint-anchored bigs like Jonas Valanciunas. A big bruiser himself, Whiteside can keep up in these matchups, in a way that might put a smaller player through the ringer.
But that wasn’t the case on Sunday.
Whiteside was limited to just 12 minutes of play, swapped out for Bam Adebayo, who filled his role in a big way. Adebayo spent a season-high 36.5 minutes on the court, and posted his first 20-rebound game in the process.
Better suited to Toronto’s small ball lineup when Valanciunas was plucked from the game, Adebayo helped Miami keep pace in what was at times, nearly a blowout defeat.
His four offensive rebounds either led directly to him scoring, getting fouled, or opening the floor for a teammate to score.
He also proved capable of covering one of the league’s best players in Kawhi Leonard.
Head coach Erik Spoesltra couldn’t talk highly enough of being able to play Adebayo up to his potential.
“You just feel his energy,” Spoelstra said of Adebayo. “He asked to come out a couple of times tonight [against the Raptors] and we couldn’t afford to take him out. He was making too many things happen. That’s what you want to do as a player. But that force is something we can definitely build on.”
But for as much as the Toronto game was Adebayo’s coming out party, it effectively illustrated Miami’s dire lineup situation. Though Whiteside has started all 18 games in which he’s played, Adebayo clearly has the upper hand following his call to duty in Canada.
This situation has happened earlier this season as well.
Ellington missed time to injury, so Rodney McGruder saw a bump in play time. McGruder was shooting 50 percent on five 3’s per game with Ellington out, a number that fell to 30 percent on closer to four triples, in the 12 games since Ellington returned.
Ellington might have the better track record from beyond the arc, but McGruder’s defensive abilities make him the favored candidate in certain matchups.
Again, that leaves Spoelstra with the tough decision of managing a rotation littered with variables, created by his roster full of specialists. For now, both players are getting run, but upon Dion Waiters‘ return, one of Miami’s shooting guards will be pressed to find minutes.
Unless Miami decides to commit to a certain core and pitch the rest of the team as trade bait, the Heat will remain between players and rotations all year long.
And at this rate, Miami is doomed for a fate like the one the team suffered in the 2018 Playoffs. Having too many guys who can play, forces Spoelstra to make too many decisions on the fly that ultimately lose out to teams, that can effectively shorten their roster to a handful of names.
With 63 games left and a roster loaded in both talent and salaries, Miami still has time to feel out which players belong in a tighter rotation, and which players are better off flipped for cap space.
That approach might not breed playoff births in the short-run, but having a repeat of the 2018 Playoffs should be the last item on Miami’s to-do list.