The expectations have been muted.
Depth that had been considered a Miami Heat strength entering the season largely has proven to be something considerably less.
Part of it has been injuries. Part of it has been the shift of 2021-22 NBA Sixth Man of the Year Tyler Herro into the starting lineup, with energetic former reserve Caleb Martin now also a starter.
So these days, even the small steps are celebrated, such as Monday night’s 87-82 victory over the Indiana Pacers, when the Heat’s three-man bench of Max Strus, Dewayne Dedmon and Victor Oladipo combined for 20 points.
While hardly overwhelming, it was a step forward, considering it provided the Heat with nearly a quarter of the team’s scoring and that the trio outscored Indiana’s bench.
“They were good,” coach Erik Spoelstra said, with the Heat turning their attention to Wednesday night’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on the second stop of this four-game trip. “They gave our group a boost of life and I thought they defended well at times.”
After leading the league at 40.5 points per game, the Heat’s bench has plummeted to bottom of the league (again with the perspective that Herro’s 20.7 average last season is now a 19.5 average with the starting unit).
Even with Monday’s bench boost, the Heat’s bench exited the game at Gainbridge Fieldhouse, ranked:
— 21st among NBA benches in win percentage.
— Last in minutes, reserves averaging only 14.3 per game (Herro averaged 32.6 minutes last season, mostly as a reserve).
— 29th of the 30 teams in field-goal percentage.
— 29th in 3-point percentage.
— 28th in rebounds per game.
— 30th in assists.
— 29th in blocks.
— 27th in plus/minus, outscored by 2.1 points per game.
— 27th in net rating.
— 30th in offensive rating (but, to their credit, second in defensive rating).
That’s why Monday was embraced by Spoelstra, with Strus back from his second-half benching Saturday against the San Antonio Spurs and with Oladipo looking better in his fourth appearance of the season, after previously being sidelined since training camp by knee pain.
“They definitely got organized much better offensively,” Spoelstra said. “Look, we weren’t making shots for most of the night. These games are important to find different ways to win. And the second unit, I thought they were able to be able to defend well enough just to make it a positive on the scoreboard.”
So, yes, a small step. But at this point any step by the bench is a plus, with Gabe Vincent away from the team due to knee pain and with Omer Yurtseven recovering from ankle surgery.
“Hopefully,” Spoelstra said, “they’ll continue to gain confidence on, No. 1, what their identity is, and, No. 2, how they can inspire the rest of the group.”
Center Bam Adebayo said his 22-point, 17-rebound effort against the Pacers was a way of making a statement about recent games when the Heat had been badly beaten on the boards.
“A lot of times we get beat on boards and it’s frustrating seeing at the end of the game we get beat by 15 rebounds,” Adebayo said, with the Heat closing with a 48-45 edge against the Pacers.
Adebayo said there could have been more.
“First of all, T stole two of mine,” Adebayo said as he turned toward Herro. “He didn’t want me to get 20 and 20.”
Having spent the past week with the Heat’s G League affiliate, the Sioux Falls Skyforce, veteran NBA guard Stanley Johnson is moving on to the San Antonio Spurs.
Solely under a G League contract with the Skyforce, Johnson was free to sign with any NBA team.
Johnson struggled with the Skyforce, shooting 2 of 16 in his three appearances, 1 of 11 on 3-pointers.
Heat first-round pick Nikola Jovic, who has played the past three games with the Skyforce, struggled in Sioux Falls’ Monday victory in Grand Rapids, Mich., closing 4 of 19 from the field (including 1 of 10 on 3-pointers), with seven rebounds and three assists in his 39:17.