Some re­ally deep think­ing

G League’s Smith: Ro­bust ro­ta­tion ‘an ex­ten­sion of the Heat’

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Sports - Ira Win­der­man iwin­der­man@sunsen­ Fol­low him at twit­­heat­beat or face­­der­man

MI­AMI — Ne­vada Smith knew what he was leav­ing be­hind: a Mi­ami Heat team with the type of depth that would chal­lenge Erik Spoel­stra’s cre­ativ­ity when it came to sat­ing de­sires for play­ing time.

Smith also knew where he was headed: a Mi­ami Heat G League af­fil­i­ate with the type of depth that would chal­lenge his own cre­ativ­ity when it came to sat­ing de­sire for play­ing time.

Af­ter as­sist­ing the Heat dur­ing train­ing camp in South Florida, Smith has moved on to his pri­mary re­spon­si­bil­ity, as coach of the Sioux Falls Sky­force.

There, like here, the de­vel­op­men­tal pro­gram has cre­ated a glut of op­tions, even with Dun­can Robin­son back with the Heat as part of his two-way con­tract.

“We’re try­ing to get guys min­utes but also make sure the guys that need big min­utes are get­ting those big min­utes,” Smith said from South Dakota, chan­nel­ing his in­ner Spoel­stra. “So it’s been tough try­ing to get ev­ery­one the time that they de­serve to play.

“With Dun­can leav­ing, it stinks he’s not here, but it also al­le­vi­ates some of those time con­straints. So it’s a bless­ing in dis­guise, I guess you would say. It’s good when they go back and forth, to be able to carry some over and use it against some­body else.”

But there still is the man­date to im­merse Yante Maten, the other un­drafted Heat for­ward on a two-way con­tract, into the pro­fes­sional game. Plus there is the youth of Ma­lik New­man and Mar­cus Lee, two other young play­ers who spent time in Heat camp, and the on­go­ing prom­ise of Bri­ante We­ber and DeAn­dre Lig­gins, prospects caught in the pur­ga­tory be­tween G League star and NBA con­trib­u­tor.

“It def­i­nitely is an ex­ten­sion of the Heat,” said Smith, whose team took a league-best 4-0 record into the week­end. “We’ve had so many guys come through Mi­ami and then the summer league. So, re­ally, it’s been a seam­less tran­si­tion.”

Also seam­less has been the tran­si­tion be­tween the NBA game Smith wit­nessed at its new pace dur­ing pre­sea­son to the one he has ex­pe­ri­enced these past three sea­sons as coach of the Heat’s G League af­fil­i­ate.

“I think the NBA kind of looks like the G League looks like,” he said. “Our league is tra­di­tion­ally faster, smaller. Now you’re see­ing it in their games.”

As al­ways, the dic­tate is more about de­vel­op­ment than vic­tory, but with the Heat’s phi­los­o­phy that both max­i­mize progress. That cer­tainly has taken hold with Maten, who went into the week­end av­er­ag­ing 28 points and 11.5 re­bounds as ar­guably the league’s best new­comer to this point.

“He’s a mon­ster,” Smith said of the for­ward out of Ge­or­gia. “He dom­i­nates the game. He’s elite right now at be­ing able to score on switches. I think the way the league is go­ing and his abil­ity to shoot it well enough, he can hound any team that tries to switch on him. And he’s re­ally smart about of­fen­sive fouls, smart about his body. I think there’s a place for him.

“He’s def­i­nitely a throw­back guy, al­most like a Paul Mill­sap-type hy­brid guy, which, with all these teams switch­ing and ev­ery­one try­ing to fig­ure out what the best way to at­tack it is. The best way is still to throw to a guy that has the mis­match and let him score. And he’s re­ally good at it, and there’s not many guys left that you can do that with.”

Smith of­fered sim­i­lar praise for We­ber, who re­mains a steals ma­chine and also has im­proved his fin­ish­ing, and Lig­gins, who has raised his 3-point game to an en­tire new level.

He also praised the G League con­tin­ued ex­per­i­men­ta­tion with rules, this sea­son pe­nal­iz­ing teams for “take” fouls that pre­vent scor­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties, with the penalty of an ad­di­tional free throw.

“I like the Eu­ro­pean take foul,” he said. “It makes the game play less chopped up. There’s less stop­pages. There was a time last year, when you get these guys who were used to play­ing in Europe, they’d just stop you ev­ery break. It made the game for me mis­er­able. This year has been great. I think once play­ers re­al­ize it’s go­ing to be a shot and the ball, the game will be a lot more free flow­ing.”

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