Miami Heat 2017 training camp preview: Who will be the starting small forward?

Justise Winslow #20 of the Miami Heat looks on during a game against the Indiana Pacers at American Airlines Arena on December 14, 2016 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

With the Heat starting training camp on Tuesday, we are ramping up our coverage with our position-by-position breakdowns. Today we bring you a closer look at where Miami stands at the small forward position. Check back later this week for a look at the Heat’s power forwards and centers.

SMALL FORWARDS

Projected starter
Justise Winslow, 6-7, 225.

Backups
Josh Richardson, 6-6, 200; Rodney McGruder, 6-4, 205; Wayne Ellington, 6-4, 200.

Who’s new?

Does Justise Winslow count? Winslow, who was used as Miami’s starting small forward when healthy last season, played in just 18 games in 2016-17 due to a torn labrum in his right shoulder that required season-ending surgery in January. But don’t worry, the 21-year-old expects to be fully recovered and ready to go for the start of Heat training camp next week, and he’s already started to participate in full-contact work now that his six-month rehabilitation schedule from shoulder surgery is complete. Aside from Justise’s return, there’s nothing really new when it comes to the Heat’s small forward group. Josh Richardson, who has played the point guard, shooting guard and small forward positions over his first two NBA seasons, could see more time at the three this year. Richardson logged heavy playing time at the position last season, as he spent 80 percent of his minutes at small forward, according to Basketball Reference. As for the 6-foot-4 McGruder, he’s proven he can be effective at the three. After Winslow went down with a shoulder injury, McGruder played as the Heat’s starting small forward in every game of their incredible 30-11 run over the second half of the season. Wayne Ellington should be used primarily as a shooting guard, but he’s a small forward option should Miami need more shooting on the court or the added depth due to an injury.

What to watch for

The competition for the starting job at small forward. Who are the candidates? Winslow, Richardson and McGruder are the top candidates for the starting spot. Winslow seems like the favorite, as he held the starting job when healthy last season. The only problem is the Heat posted a 3-12 record in the games Winslow started in. Once Winslow’s season was cut short after shoulder surgery in January, McGruder stepped in as the starting small forward and Miami went on to post a 30-11 record over the second half of the season. But even though the Heat did have success with McGruder in the starting lineup, they believe he could be more effective coming off the bench. Still, McGruder is expected to have an opportunity to prove he deserves the starting job. Richardson is the wildcard in the group. The 6-foot-6 wing has been thought of more as a guard over his first two NBA seasons, but he definitely has the length and skill set to play at the three. With the Heat’s starting backcourt of Goran Dragic and Dion Waiters known for their drive-and-kick style, it would benefit Miami to surround them with shooters. Well, Richardson is definitely the best shooter in this group of three, as he’s made 37.4 percent of his 3-pointers over two NBA seasons. With Dragic, Waiters and Hassan Whiteside already locked in as starters, this battle at small forward will be one of the few competitions to watch in the preseason.

Breakout potential

Let’s go with the 21-year-old. We never really got to see a healthy Winslow last season, as a sprained left (shooting) wrist forced him to miss 16 games early on and then his year was cut short after 18 games due to a torn labrum in his right shoulder. It’s easy to forget that Winslow is still the second youngest player on the Heat roster and has played in just 96 games over his NBA career. Outside shooting has been the biggest hole in Winslow’s game. He’s made 25.8 percent of his 3-pointers over his first two seasons, but the potential to contribute in other areas is obvious. Winslow has already shown the ability to play as a point forward who can help initiate offense and present matchup problems and is already one of the best young defenders in the NBA. Will this be Winslow’s breakout season?

Key question

Do the Heat have enough small forwards on their roster? Winslow (6-7, 225) is really the only true small forward on the team, as McGruder and Ellington look more like guards at 6-foot-4. At 6-foot-6, Richardson has the height to play the position, but his 200-pound frame makes him look like a tall guard. But one thing Erik Spoelstra has proven is that he’s not worried about the traditional view on positions. The Heat won with McGruder at small forward last season, and they should be able to survive with this group.

[Miami Heat 2017 training camp preview: Centers]

[Miami Heat 2017 training camp preview: Power forwards]

[Miami Heat 2017 training camp preview: Small forwards]

[Miami Heat 2017 training camp preview: Shooting guards]

[Miami Heat 2017 training camp preview: Point guards]

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