Babbitt had missed his first three shots, all 3-point attempts, and now the ball was in his hands, 24-feet from the basket on a pass from Rodney McGruder.
“Everyone on the bench is starting to lean forward, when he gets the next open one is he going to shot fake or is he going to let it rip,” coach Erik Spoelstra said.
“And we want him to keep on going.”
So, Babbitt let it rip. As did the next one and the next one and the next one, all in the first quarter. The result was four consecutive 3-pointers as the Heat started to pull away from Phoenix and a snapshot of exactly what Miami wanted when they reacquired Babbitt from the Hawks on Feb. 8.
“We encourage him to shoot it,” Goran Dragic said. “He’s really a deadly shooter. When he’s making those shots, it makes it so much easier on us. We don’t want him to pass the ball. When he’s open he needs to shoot it.”
It didn’t take long for Babbitt – who scored 12 points Monday by making four of his 11 shots, all threes – to know his role, not after spending the entire 2016-17 season with the Heat and starting 55 of his 68 games. Among players with more than 35 attempts, Babbitt led the team by making 41.4 percent of his threes (87 of 210). Babbitt launched a three every 5.1 minutes he was on the court, which was second on the Heat to Wayne Ellington, who got off a 3-pointer every 3.8 minutes.
“It definitely feels similar, just because the group is the same,” Babbitt said. “It’s a very similar starting lineup to last year. … so it’s familiar. That’s what’s helped me step in and the guys are making it easy on me.”
Babbitt, who signed a one-year deal for just less than $2 million with the Hawks last summer, was not thrust into the lineup immediately like that other guy reacquired hours before the trade deadline – Dwyane Wade.
Babbitt did not play his first two games back, then came off the bench in the four of the next five (not playing the other) and scoring a total of six points.
Spoelstra then decided to shake up his starting lineup Saturday against Detroit for two reasons: injuries and the Pistons’ size. He inserted the interchangeable 6-foot-9 Babbitt and 6-8 James Johnson at the two forward spots. Since, Babbitt is averaging 10.5 points and is 7 of 19 on threes.
“There aren’t many guys in the league that are stable enough mentally that they can handle that type of responsibility, where you are essentially a spot starter to allow other guys to be able to play and be who they are,” Spoelstra said. “And then be able to adapt and have the flexibility to play a different role, which sometimes you don’t play for a week or two weeks and not to get down about it, but just to stay prepared.”
Babbitt may have had the green light a year ago, but Spoelstra has turned those green lights neon, and they are flashing, in case his players do not get the message.
Spoelstra has said many times this season he would love to see his shooters jacking up as many threes as possible, including Ellington and Kelly Olynyk. Spoelstra once said he hoped they could get to 20. Ellington’s season high in attempts is 16. He is averaging a career-high 7.5 per game.
Babbitt, who has been in the league for eight seasons, was asked if he believes Spoelstra is over the top about promoting his players to jack up threes.
“Yeah, at first I thought so, but he’s serious about it,” he said. “And it’s his point since day one. I hope (Monday) made him happy.”
What would have really made him happy was if Babbitt took about nine more.
“We want him to keep on going,” Spoelstra said. “It’s a matter of percentages with him. He is an exceptional shooter. Exceptional. We want to maximize that as much as possible and then eventually teams start to adjust and spacing becomes a big positive for us just because it will open up driving lanes.
“You have to let it fly to be able to do that. If he gets enough of them up there it’s like Wayne. You play the odds, you play the percentages, it’s going to be above 40 percent.”