After starting in each of his first 44 games this regular reason, Heat guard Rodney McGruder’s role was cut short. By the end of January 2019, it was clear something was off with him. He was not making as many threes as he had early in the season; many of his wide open looks missed badly; he was easily getting beat on defense. McGruder was just not showing the same hustle and effort that made him stand out in his previous two seasons.
Ever since he lost his starting job, McGruder has accumulated five DNP-CDs. His minutes also decreased to just 15.1 per contest. This past week, however, the Scavenger has shown flashes of his early season self. His improved play has concurred with Miami’s latest push to make the playoffs after falling as low as the 11th seed in the Eastern Conference. McGruder is yet to settle into his former role, but he is certainly showing progress.
We Need His Three-Point Shooting
Making an honest assessment, the Heat do not have enough talent to shoot threes at a high volume. Yes, we have some shooters that go from average to really good, but nobody really stands out. Justise Winslow currently leads the team in three-point percentage at 37.5 – which is a huge improvement over the 31.4% he shot in his previous three seasons – with Josh Richardson at second with a 37.1% accuracy mark from deep range.
From there, all of the rotation players can be found within 36.1 and 32.4 percent, excluding Hassan Whiteside and Bam Adebayo; most are below league average. We are not dreadful by any means. Our 35.7% team mark ranks 16th in the league, per Cleaning the Glass. But for a team that desperately needs additional sources of offense, getting back a consistent long-range shooter in McGruder is huge.
Rodney has shot a combined 7-for-12 in our last four games. The sample size is obviously a reason not to overreact, but just looking at the shots he is taking you can notice his revamped confidence. He has not hesitated in most of his threes this week, which was a big concern with him during his earlier slump. If McGruder can get back to the 40 percent three-point shooting split he sustained for some time this year, he will be a lock for 25+ minutes moving forward.
Having a Positive Impact
As much as Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra loves what McGruder brings to the table, he had to make a business decision. It was clear McGruder was not feeling like himself, and so Spoelstra demoted him to a bench role. But bad shooting splits was not the only reason why Spoelstra changed his role. McGruder was having a big negative impact overall, and the advanced statistics started to show it.
As much hustle and energy as he spends on defense, McGruder will always have a tough time. Standing at just 6-foot-4, he is fairly undersized for a shooting guard. His job is much easier when he plays alongside Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson, as McGruder can hide by guarding the shorter of the opposition’s wings or the weakest offensive match-up. But he can only do so good when playing with one or both of Dwyane Wade and Goran Dragic. Having Hassan Whiteside on the court at the same time does not help either.
His plus-minus plummeted. His net rating fell with every passing game. He was a big negative and Miami could just not afford it with their intentions still settled in late-April basketball. But McGruder has turned it around this past week.
Opportunity & Cast
A lot of it has to do with the teammates that he shares the court with; with him being a liability against certain guys, he does better when he knows his teammates can handle the tougher match-ups and help him when needed. But the Heat is yet to be outscored with McGruder on the court during this four-game stretch, and that makes a big difference. When he can make threes and play good team defense, there is not much Miami can complain about. At the end of the day, that has been his exact same role for three seasons now.
With Wayne Ellington and Tyler Johnson long gone, McGruder getting minutes is a given moving forward. Dion Waiters’ inconsistency and Dwyane Wade’s mileage leave McGruder as one of the key backups for the moment. The only thing we need him is for him to remain active on both ends. By the look of things lately, it seems like he is ready to help Miami make their way back to Playoff picture.