Some really deep thinking
G League’s Smith: Robust rotation ‘an extension of the Heat’
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.”