Miami Heat forward Rodney McGruder diagnosed with stress fracture in left leg

MIAMI — The Miami Heat lost more player games to injury/illness than anybody last season and that trend may be continuing already this year.

Wing man Rodney McGruder has been diagnosed with a stress fracture in his left tibia, according to a Heat spokesperson. The 6-foot-5 McGruder still is being evaluated and the Heat have yet to announce how long he will be out, although the Vertical is reporting McGruder will “likely undergo surgery” and miss three to six months.

Miami Heat guard Rodney McGruder (17) shoot free throws with Miami Heat guard Dion Waiters (11) at Miami Heat training camp at FAU in Boca Raton, Florida on September 26, 2017. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

McGruder, 26, started 65 games as a rookie last season and had started all five preseason games. If McGruder is forced to miss an extended period of time, he will still count as part of the Heat’s 15-man roster but will be listed as inactive on game nights.

The injury likely opens the door for Josh Richardson to move into the starting lineup. Coach Erik Spoelstra has used both players at small forward and Richardson has had as strong a preseason as any Heat player.

It is not known when the injury occurred, but McGruder played 25 minutes in Wednesday’s victory over Washington, scoring nine points on 4-of-8 shooting with five rebounds and two assists. He did not appear to be in any kind of discomfort during or following the game

Richardson, 6-6, leads the Heat with 68 points in five games this preseason. He provides more versatility as a player who can play three positions.

“That goes without even saying,” Spoelstra said this week when asked if Richardson’s play warrants a major role this season. “I just want him to continue to gain more confidence. It would have been really interesting coming off his rookie year if he was healthy last year. Our expectations were pretty high last year. If he would have been able to put together several months of playing game experience, where he would have been at the end of the year. And where he ended up being anyway was pretty darn good. So he’s gaining confidence as he goes and he can really impact the game in a lot of different areas.”

Justise Winslow is another option Spoelstra can call on to begin the season as the Heat’s starting small forward. Winslow was the Heat’s starting three last season before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury in late December.

Winslow has struggled with his shot this preseason. He’s averaging 5.2 points on 32 percent shooting, 4.6 rebounds and 3.0 assists in five preseason games, but he thrived in a point-forward role in Wednesday’s win over the Wizards as he finished with seven points, seven rebounds and nine assists.

“He did a little bit of everything,” Spoelstra said of Winslow after Wednesday’s game. “He handled the ball, played up the court, posted up a couple of times and then defensively he was guarding virtually everybody on the court. That’s the kind of multi-faceted game that he’s capable of. Once he gets more minutes, games under his belt I think you’re just going to see more and more of those kind of plays.”

With a starting backcourt of Goran Dragic and Dion Waiters, Winslow could have a tough time finding space to play that facilitator role as part of the starting lineup. But one could also argue Richardson’s versatility is better suited for the bench, where he can enter games in different roles based on foul trouble and matchups.

Either way, the Heat will miss McGruder. After making the Heat’s regular-season roster on the final cut down day last year, he ended up playing in a team-high 78 games — including 65 starts — and averaged 6.4 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.6 assists.

McGruder, who had never made an NBA roster after two years in the developmental league and year in Hungry, stepped in for the injured Winslow as the starting small forward. The Heat relied on him to guard some the best scoring wings in the league, including Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Paul George and Jimmy Butler.

“He started 65 games, he was one of the toughest, most competitive, detailed, defenders in the league,” Spoelstra said this summer. “He took on the challenge every single night as one of the best wing defenders. Forget about being just a rookie, an impactful pro. What we did during the second half of the season was as much about the mentality and toughness Rodney McGruder gave us as it was anybody else.”

[Miami Heat waive Larry Drew II, add developmental-league veteran Tony Mitchell to roster]

[Jordan Mickey showing Heat there’s more to his game than defense and rebounding]

[TNT’s Reggie Miller: Miami Heat are on the ‘fringe of that fourth seed’ in the Eastern Conference]

[Want more Heat news sent directly to your Facebook feed? Make sure to like our Heat Facebook page]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s