Miami Heat awards: Goran Dragic’s leadership, consistency, grit earn him team MVP

Goran Dragic was the Heat’s most consistent player – and MVP – this season. (AP Photo)

The Miami Heat entered the season with seven new players and several others that had something to prove.

In the end, after coming together at the mid-way point and finishing the season with the second-best record in the league over the final 41 games, many questions were answered and may performances memorable.

So here are our post season individual awards for the 2016-17 Miami Heat:

MVP: Goran Dragic

This was an easy choice and not because Dragic led the team with 20.3 points and 5.8 assists per game, and shot 47.5 percent from the field and 40.5 percent on 3 pointers. But the 30-year-old point guard was the undeniable leader, the rotation player with the most experience and one who set an example by playing hard every night.

Other players had their moments, hit clutch shots, had games with big numbers and even put together long stretches of solid performances, but from the opening night to game No. 82, Dragic was the most consistent player this season. He led the Heat with 33.7 minutes per game and was tops in scoring 30 times and in assists 45 times, both team highs.

Biggest surprise: James Johnson

Johnson’s career will forever be defined by the decision he made to sign a one-year contract with Heat for $4 million, especially after he is rewarded with one that could be close to three times that this summer. The 6-foot-8 forward showed a versatility for his size that, though not at their level, compares to Draymond Green and LeBron James.

In his eighth season, Johnson, 30, established career highs in points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, 3-point field goals and 3-point FG percentage. He legitimately could receive votes for sixth man (he came off the bench for 71 games before starting the final five), most improved and defensive player of the year. Johnson will be Pat Riley’s best recruiting tool when trying to convince free agents how the Heat can make them better players.

Growth spurt: Hassan Whiteside

Although Whiteside was both brilliant and maddening at times this season, the Heat are happy with the 27-year-old center’s growth during his first season as a full-time starter and his first after signing a $98 million max contract. Whiteside is rewriting the team’s rebounding and double-double record book after setting franchise marks with 1,088 rebounds and 58 double-doubles. He is the first Heat player to lead the league in rebounding (14.1).

And even with four games of at least 30 points, seven with at least 20 rebounds and five games of at least 20 points and 20 rebounds, Whiteside still frustrated coach Erik Spoelstra at times with his lack of energy. Spoelstra pulled Whiteside from the game a handful of times, unhappy with his effort, but most of those were in the first half of season. Still, this was a step in the right direction for Whiteside, who appears to be on his way to being the dominant man in the middle the Heat are hoping.

Unfinished business: Dion Waiters

We got a great glimpse of the progress Waiters was making during a two month stretch that coincided with the Heat’s turnaround, but unfortunately Waiters’ second serious injury of the season prevented the 25-year-old shooting guard from showing us if he could have sustained that high level through the final month of the season and led the Heat to the playoffs. Waiters’ start was steady but unspectacular before he tore a muscle in his groin area, forcing him to miss 20 games, including the entire month of December. After a brief period to knock off the rust, Waiters took off, averaging around 19 points and five assists while shooting 46 percent over a 24 games stretch. He became the Heat’s go-to guy in crunch time with memorable 3-point shots in the final second during victories over Golden State, Brooklyn and Cleveland.

But on March 17 Waiters severely sprained his left ankle, an injury that ended his season and became the single biggest reason the Heat did not make the playoffs. Despite the injuries Waiters, who will become a free agent, will hit the lottery this summer with a contract that could start at five times the $3 million signed for last summer. The question now is if it that contract is  with the Heat.

Bench-mark: Tyler Johnson

Johnson entered the season with a lot of pressure on his shoulders after the Heat matched a contract offer he received from New Jersey for $50 million over four years. But Johnson, 24, quickly settled into his role and become one of the top bench players in the league. Johnson set franchise records for points without a start (1,002) and 20-point games off the bench (11). His 13.7 scoring average was the second highest in the league for player with no starts. Now, Johnson must continue to develop his game.

Spoelstra said several times this season that just because he resisted the temptation to start Johnson despite the injuries to Waiters that does not mean Johnson cannot be a starter at some point in his career. Johnson clearly is better suited as a shooting guard right now but he spent last summer learning to play with the ball in his hands. The Heat must decide if he can be a point guard on a more regular basis if needed.

Best supporting role: Rodney McGruder

McGruder is Miami’s latest poster boy for the way the organization develops undrafted/under-the-radar players and turns them into solid NBA contributors. The 25-year-old rookie swing man survived the final cut of training camp, started the season coming off the bench, made his first start Nov. 15 and then 10 days later was asked to start again. With the exception of one game, he never came out of the lineup from that point on, ending the season with 65 starts, fifth most by a rookie in team history.

McGruder averaged 6.4 points and 3.3 rebounds but Spoelstra often praised him for the impact he would make on a game in ways that did not appear in a box score, most notably taking on the difficult assignment of guarding super start like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard and Carmelo Anthony.

Three’s company: Wayne Ellington

The Heat established several records for their 3-point shooting including 808 in a season, 21 in a game and 38 games with double-figure threes. The player who defined this movement to beyond the arc more than any was Wayne Ellington, who has made a career knocking down threes.

Ellington, 30, led the Heat – and established a career-high – with 149 threes (in 24.2 minutes per game) while shooting .378 on 3-pointers. Ellington took his 3-point game to another level. He is a deadly catch-and-shoot shooter with as quick a release as anybody in the game. He entered the season with 36.9 percent of his field goals being 3-pointers in first seven years in the league. This year, a whopping 64.5 percent (149 of 231) of his field goals were threes.

[What wasn’t supposed to happen happened for the Heat this season, then it ended the way it wasn’t supposed to end]

[Heat team, individual accomplishments: Hassan Whiteside rewriting rebounding, double-double record book]

[Miami Heat: Five burning questions entering the offseason]

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