The 6-6 Richardson leads the Heat with 68 points in five games this preseason. He can play three positions.
“That goes without even saying,” Spoelstra said this week when asked if Richardson’s play warrants a major role this season. “I just want him to continue to gain more confidence. It would have been really interesting coming off his rookie year if he was healthy last year. Our expectations were pretty high last year. If he would have been able to put together several months of playing game experience, where he would have been at the end of the year. And where he ended up being anyway was pretty darn good.”
Justise Winslow is another option to begin the season as the Heat’s starting small forward. That was his spot before he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in late December.
Winslow is averaging 5.2 points on 32 percent shooting, 4.6 rebounds and 3.0 assists in five preseason games, but he thrived in a point forward role Wednesday and had seven points, seven rebounds and nine assists.
“He did a little bit of everything,” Spoelstra said. “He handled the ball, played up the court, posted up a couple of times and then defensively he was guarding virtually everybody on the court. That’s the kind of multifaceted game that he’s capable of. Once he gets more minutes, games under his belt, I think you’re just going to see more and more of those kind of plays.”
The Heat have a starting backcourt of Goran Dragic and Dion Waiters, so Winslow could have a tough time finding space as a facilitator in the starting lineup. But Richardson’s versatility is better suited for the bench, enabling him to enter games in roles based on foul trouble and matchups.
Either way, the Heat will miss McGruder. After making the Heat’s roster on the final cut-down day last year, he ended up playing in a team-high 78 games and averaging 6.4 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.6 assists.
McGruder, who had never made an NBA roster after two years in the developmental league and a year in Hungary, stepped in for the injured Winslow as the starting small forward. The Heat relied on him to guard some of the best scoring wings in the league during their closing 30-11 surge, including Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Paul George and Jimmy Butler.
“He started 65 games, he was one of the toughest, most competitive, detailed defenders in the league,” Spoelstra said this summer. “He took on the challenge every single night as one of the best wing defenders . ...
“What we did during the second half of the season was as much about the mentality and toughness Rodney McGruder gave us as it was anybody else.”