It was a bit of a surprise that the Heat, in setting the team’s roster for the upcoming NBA season, decided to give the 14th standard spot to point guard Dru Smith rather than forward Jamal Cain, who appeared to be the best of the hopefuls for the back end of the Miami roster during training camp. In fact, according to team insider Ira Winderman, the moves flies in the face of the team’s stated culture.
Cain averaged 11.3 points in four games with the Heat in the preseason. He shot 54.0% from the field and 66.7% from the 3-point line. But it was his intensity of defense that stood out as one of his big improvements and one of the factors that had him seemingly at the front of the line for the final roster spot.
Instead, it went to Smith, despite having been outplayed by Cain.
Winderman explained in the Sun-Sentinel: “The Heat often speak of being a meritocracy. The only way it could have been a meritocracy is if Dru Smith significantly outplayed Jamal Cain during practice. Because in the preseason, Cain was the better player – by far. Or perhaps it’s all about insurance at point guard.”
Point Guard Filled Need for 14th Roster Spot
That was, ultimately, the issue for the Heat and the 14th roster spot. The team has Kyle Lowry at point guard, and though he has had a good training camp and is in good shape, he had a good training camp and was in good shape last year, too. Then Lowry went out and averaged 11.2 points on 40.4% shooting during the season, and missed 27 games with injuries.
The backup point guards entering the season are not actual point guards but, rather, shooting guards who can handle point duties—Tyler Herro and Josh Richardson. The Heat were not comfortable with that situation.
The Heat lost point guard Gabe Vincent in free agency this summer, and did not make a move to replace him. There was the persistence of Damian Lillard chatter, and perhaps the Heat thought they’d eventually land him. But Miami did not make a hard push for Lillard and there was really no Plan B for the team’s point-guard spot beyond Lowry.
So Smith is on the roster and Jamal Cain returns to two-way status, where he was last year. The Heat also are filling out the roster by keeping shooter Cole Swider on a two-way deal, and former first-round pick R.J. Hampton. They waived Chieck Diallo and Justin Champagnie.
Spoelstra Liked Jamal Cain’s Development
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra had praise for the work done by Cain during training camp.
“To be able to play in our defensive system, you have to have a level of discipline and focus,” Spoelstra said, per SI.com. “He has the effort. He has the intensity. He has the quickness, the quick twitch, all the stuff that stands out. He’s been committed to the process … I give him a lot of credit for that.”
The Heat have a long history of nudging undrafted players like Cain to success, and Spoelstra seemed to think Cain would be one of those guys. He could, eventually, but he will have to do it from a two-way perch.
“It’s gratifying to see improvement from a young player, particularly when it’s not easy,” Spoelstra said. “It’s just not easy for undrafted guys. You have probably more tough days than you have breakthrough days. He’s stayed the course.”