Do Heat feel like they still need a backup point guard? ‘Absolutely not’

MIAMI — Don’t tell the Heat that their roster is missing a backup point guard.

“Absolutely not,” team president Pat Riley said earlier this month when asked if Miami still needs a backup for starter Goran Dragic. “This is becoming a combo guard league. Even if you take a look at the point guards of the draft, they’re not just pure point guards.”

Tyler Johnson #8 of the Miami Heat passes around Tobias Harris #34 of the Detroit Pistons during the first half at the Palace of Auburn Hills on March 28, 2017 in Auburn Hills, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

The Heat have a few combo guards they feel comfortable using at the one. 6-foot-4 Tyler Johnson and 6-foot-6 Josh Richardson, who are expected to come off the bench, are options at both guard positions.

Tyler was used as Miami’s primary reserve at point guard last season and finished with a career-best 2.59 assist-to-turnover ratio. That number was tied for 25th best in the NBA ahead of guards like Kemba Walker, John Wall and Kyle Lowry.

Even starting shooting guard Dion Waiters can help initiate offense, as this skill set allowed Dragic to play off the ball in spurts last season. Along with those combo guards, the Heat can also turn to versatile forwards James Johnson and Justise Winslow to assume a point-forward role.

“You’ve got to be a two-way guard now,” Riley said. “You’ve got to be able to score. You’ve got to be able to handle, defend, make threes, take it to the rack. Tyler Johnson is great at it. We use [James] a lot in handling the ball and getting us into offense. Our plan was that that’s probably what we would have done with Gordon [Hayward] and also now with Justise coming back. He was a primary ball handler for us a lot before he got hurt and even before, and Josh Richardson. We don’t need a prototype pure point guard. We have enough ball handlers and I think the game is such today that is the way it’s being played.”

This roster versatility is one of the reasons the Heat were never serious contenders to sign free-agent point guards Derrick Rose or Rajon Rondo with their $4.3 million room exception. Rose took a one-year deal at $2.1 million from the Cavaliers and Rondo signed a one-year deal worth $3.3 million with the Pelicans.

Along with Dragic, Tyler, Richardson and Waiters, the Heat’s roster for next season also includes guards Wayne Ellington and Rodney McGruder. When you consider that these six guards each logged more than 23 minutes of court time per game last season, coach Erik Spoelstra is going to have to get creative to find minutes for them when they are all healthy this season.

Miami did sign shooting guard Matt Williams Jr. and point guard Derrick Walton Jr. this summer, but they are more likely to end up with the team’s G-League affiliate, the Sioux Falls Skyforce, than the Heat this season.

Spoelstra can create playing time for all of his guards with three-guard lineups, and history shows he’s not afraid to use this type of combination. In fact, once Winslow suffered his season-ending shoulder injury last season, Miami used a three-guard starting five in Dragic, Waiters, McGruder, Luke Babbitt and Hassan Whiteside.

When Dragic was off the court last season, the most common combination used was a three-guard lineup that featured Tyler, Ellington and Richardson. This “small-ball” look will be used a lot this season, too.

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