“Having Gabe, Duncan, Max. Same type of guys that went un-drafted, same type of guys that went through the G-League, same process that I’m going through,” Javonte Smart told me after Friday’s practice, about 48 hours before the Heat kick off their first round series in the 2022 playoffs.
It isn’t a coincidence that so many Miami Heat projects have the same story. Vincent and Strus as the two-ways of last season, and now one is battling in the playoff rotation and the other is a starter.
Caleb Martin entered this season as a two-way flier, who is now considered a post-season rotation lock off the bench.
Duncan Robinson was one of the bigger success stories, as he emerged from an end of bench roster filler to one of the league’s premier three-point shooters in the span of a season.
Javonte Smart, may be up next in that grouping of names.
“Learning from those guys,” Smart continued on that grouping that started where he currently stands, “watching those guys get at it everyday pushes me more everyday.”
Smart may be a two-way who isn’t eligible for any playoff playing time, but let’s take a look back at one guy who was watching from the sideline in the bubble, as Miami made a run to the finals: Gabe Vincent.
Learning, mirroring, studying.
Now, it’s Smart’s turn.
The last time we saw a larger sample size of his game traces back to the Summer League and pre-season, but obviously he has impressed enough behind the scenes for him to stick.
I asked him what the biggest differences in his game are from October to now, which he immediately responded, “Overall, the speed of the game. I think that’s one of the biggest keys, slowing down my game, my pace. Slowing down using my speed.”
“Just keep being consistent at what I’m good at.”
One of the things about Smart every practice, is that he’s always in the mix with Jimmy Butler and Udonis Haslem on the opposite side of the practice court, battling it out in a 1v1 session.
It’s one thing to try and stop high level players like Butler, but it’s another beast to be able to handle the mental side of things with the amount of trash talk that both Butler and UD provide.
When I asked him about those runs specifically, he said, “Just being able to guard those guys. I think I can score the ball against anybody, but being able to guard those guys. It’s one of the big things that I’m willing to work on, because I know I need that for my future.”
“Everyday, I’m gonna try and get it in whenever I can with those guys whenever I see them playing 1’s.”
I asked Jimmy Butler the day before about Smart’s potential overall, where he gave the typical Jimmy Butler response. A lot of love, but that one quick shot that had to be thrown in the mix.
“He’s a really good player, he works incredibly hard,” Butler said. “He can’t guard me 1-on-1, but I love the way he competes.”
On that topic, I asked Smart jokingly about his response to that comment about not being able to guard him. He responded, “Man, I want him to keep saying that. I’m gonna keep that in my head, so watch when I start beating him, I’m gonna put it all over social media.”
As we’ve seen in the past with players like himself, all that is needed is a single opportunity. The work put in behind closed doors transitions them into immediate readiness when their number is called, just as UD says, “Stay ready so you don’t have to get ready.”
But for the time being, this is a team that currently sits in the 1 seed, and is edging closer and closer to the beginning of the post-season.
Finally, I had to ask Smart about the potential of this Heat team, after battling it out with them day in and day out.
“I think we’re gonna win it all, actually. It’s gonna be tough for a team to beat us 4 games. We keep gelling with each other, and keep having the confidence that we’re gonna win it all, and I think we’re gonna do it.”
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