MIAMI — Erik Spoelstra is always open to new ideas.
But early this season, it seemed like Spoelstra wasn’t open to the idea of playing 7-footers Hassan Whiteside and Kelly Olynyk together.
Whiteside and Olynyk started together in Miami’s season-opening loss to the Magic on Oct. 18. The Heat were outscored by eight points in the 10 minutes they were on the court at the same time in that game.
Those are the only 10 minutes Whiteside and Olynyk have played together this season, as Spoelstra has instead opted to play smaller power forwards like James Johnson or Justise Winslow instead of using a two-big look.
However, a lineup Spoelstra used in Wednesday’s loss to the Trail Blazers could indicate that he’s open to giving the Whiteside-Olynyk pairing another try once Whiteside returns from injury. Whiteside has missed the Heat’s past seven games with a bone bruise on his left knee.
Spoelstra played centers Bam Adebayo and Olynyk together for 10 minutes against Portland. The results weren’t great, as the Heat were outscored by five points and posted a poor defensive rating of 119.0 in that small sample size.
But Spoelstra believes this lineup can work.
“They’re both skilled. That helps,” Spoelstra said of the Adebayo-Olynyk frontcourt. “Kelly can play beyond the 3-point line and play off the elbow and hand-offs and pick and rolls, and Bam can do the same. Might not stretch to the 3-point line, but we feel very comfortable throwing the ball in the elbow area or in the post and that Bam can make a play for the team.”
When Whiteside returns from injury, this two-big look will be necessary to make room in the rotation for all three centers. And it could push Spoelstra to playing Whiteside and Olynyk together again.
“It’s good,” Olynyk said of playing next to Adebayo. “He’s definitely a roll threat to the rim, kind of similar to Hassan where you try to roll off each other’s strengths.”
The Heat’s decision to go away from a big lineup featuring Whiteside and Olynyk is not unusual. In an NBA full of small-ball , the Bulls are the only team in the league starting two 7-footers together on a consistent basis with a frontcourt of Robin Lopez and Lauri Markkanen.
Olynyk can stretch the floor with his outside shooting and perimeter game to make life easier for Whiteside, but there are some concerns when it comes to defending athletic power forwards. But Olynyk has made it clear he thinks the pairing can work.
“Hopefully,” Olynyk said Thursday when asked if he believes Wednesday’s two-center approach is a sign that he will get minutes next to Whiteside moving forward.