Erik Spoelstra Sounds Off on Heat’s Key Strength: ‘It’s Not Cookie Cutter’

Erik Spoelstra Pat Riley Heat

Getty Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and team president Pat Riley talk during a press conference.

The Miami Heat are in rarefied air; not only because they lead their conference and bear the look of a legitimate title contender, but also because they have done it all with a bunch of guys who were either drafted outside of the high lottery or weren’t drafted at all.

As noted by the Miami Herald, the Heat have only made selections in the top 10 of the draft on four occasions since 2000. Sure, they’ve plucked stars through trades and free agency — Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry immediately come to mind — but for every one of those guys, there’s another that the team had to build up.

Like Duncan Robinson, Max Strus, Caleb Martin, Gabe Vincent and on down the line, all the way back to Udonis Haslem, who went from getting passed over by every club in the NBA on draft night in 2002 to starting games for two championship teams.

According to Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, there’s a lot of credit to go around for that player development success, however, it all begins at the top.

Coach Spo: Pat Riley Is the Mastermind

While he shouted out multiple people for their respective roles in Miami’s vaunted player development program, the Heat coach made a point to say that everything comes down from the top via team president Pat Riley.

“It starts with an overall philosophy that Pat has,” Spoelstra said, as relayed by the Herald.

As Spoelstra sees it, the workmanlike approach that Riley had throughout his playing career with the Rockets, Lakers and Suns has continued to guide him.

“Pat was a lottery pick, but in many ways he was a guy that really had to grind and work to stay in the league. I think that always just stuck with him that when he started putting together teams that he understood how important those kind of role players were.”

The Heat’s top decision-maker played in 528 games over nine seasons during the 1960s and ’70s before he became a legend of the coaching and basketball ops ranks. However, he was hardly a star player in the pros, averaging just 7.4 points and 1.7 assists per game.

Again, though, Riley hasn’t been alone in building the program.

“Our scouting department, obviously, is just outstanding. They understand exactly what we’re looking for. They’ve adjusted to how we play and what fits best with our current team,” Spoelstra said.

“That’s from the top. [Senior advisor of basketball operations] Chet Kammerer led it for many years, but [assistant general manager] Adam Simon and his staff have just been amazing in finding the right kind of guys that would fit in here that can handle our program. We’re not for everybody and they understand that.”

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Every Player Is Different

Although the Heat have a clear track record of identifying talent and helping it blossom, the team isn’t taking exactly the same approach with every player. It’s all about finding the right formula for the individual on a case-by-case basis.

“There’s a lot to it,” Spoelstra said of developing undrafted players. “It’s not necessarily analytics. I’m not really a math guy, so that sometimes confuses me. It’s usually just putting together a plan and starting fresh. It’s not cookie-cutter. It’s not what we’ve done for one player is automatically what we’re going to do with another player. It’s being open to the possibilities and having discussions with the player and having a discussion with the staff.”


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