Miami Heat’s bench brigade has fun running, gunning, sharing ball

Heat guard Josh Richardson drives against Hawks center Miles Plumlee during Sunday’s preseason in Miami. (David Santiago/Miami Herald/TNS)

MIAMI – Whether it was point-center Kelly Olynyk leading the break or Josh Richardson hustling to block a shot or Wayne Ellington with a quick-trigger three, the Miami Heat’s second unit made its presence known Sunday.

Coach Erik Spoelstra is onto something with this five of Tyler Johnson, Ellington, Richardson, Justise Winslow and Olynyk. This hybrid group made its debut during Miami’s victory over Atlanta in the preseason opener and the most common word used to describe the experience:


“It’s really, really tough to defend and it’s fun to play,” said Olynyk, who made his Heat preseason debut in the game.

“Everybody can handle it. Everybody can move, pass, shoot, dribble. Everybody is touching the ball. Everybody is in a flow and into the game. It’s super tough to guard because you don’t know who is doing what. It’s unscripted. You can’t scout it.”

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The Heat are one week into the preseason and the plan is coming together. With Rodney McGruder returning to his spot in the starting lineup, that gives Spoelstra a second unit that could be a matchup nightmare.

The lineup has two players who have played the point (Johnson, Richardson), three who have seen time at shooting guard (Johnson, Ellington, Richardson), three with minutes at small forwards (Ellington, Richardson, Winslow), two power forward types (Winslow, Olynyk) and a center in Olynyk who had nine points, eight rebounds, five assists and took two 3 pointers in the win.

“That’s really what the league is about, finding mismatches and versatility, having different options,” Winslow said. “Just the uniqueness of having two really different lineups can help us.”

Winslow then added: “That second group can be special for this team.”

Ellington, who launched six 3-pointers, making two, described Olynyk as the “trigger.” The 7-footer was signed in July to do just that, display a versatility that gives the Heat the option of using him as a change-of-pace center behind Hassan Whiteside or a stretch four alongside Whiteside.

“Guys were enjoying making plays for other people,” Olynyk said. “That’s not always the case in this league. Guys want to score. But out there you’re trying to find shooters, find other guys, put guys in position to succeed. I think that’s what that second unit does really well.”

Ellington compared the style to the Warriors when they go small and stick 6-7 Draymond Green at center.

“But (Green) doesn’t shoot it as well as Kelly,” Ellington said.

The group played together for eight minutes during the first half and about two minutes at the end of the third quarter.

The second half stint was entertaining with Olynyk feeding Ellington and Richardson for layups. Miami ended the quarter on a 10-3 run.

Johnson and Richardson led the Heat in scoring with 14 and 12 points, respectively. The unit shot 19-of-36, including Ellington’s 3-of-10.

“There are some good things we want to build on that we saw,” Spoelstra said.

Starting point guard Goran Dragic said having a reliable second unit is “a luxury” in the NBA.

“The second unit is a little bit different,” he said. “It gives you a different side. They are more aggressive, they spread the floor, they run. We can do that, too, but they really can do it. You have a lot of options.”

And Spoelstra can go even deeper if he wants. Rookie Bam Adebayo and second-year man Okaro White are the next two men on the bench and both are versatile bigs who can run the floor.

Of course, the depth also will come in handy when injuries occur and the Heat know how that can be after leading the league with 328 games lost to injuries and illness last season.

“I think it’s really going to keep us fresh,” Ellington said. “I think it’s really going to be an advantage. It’s a long season. So to be able to be that deep, (be) that versatile and that dynamic, that just makes us a different team.”

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