When covering the Miami Heat’s scrimmage during training camp, there were two names that I walked away from that game with that were clearly playing at another level.
Gabe Vincent and Caleb Martin.
One guy fresh off a two-way contract, and the other brand new to it.
Martin came as a surprise for many, as this athletic kid, that recently played for Charlotte, was showcasing to be much more than just a simple “athlete.”
He showed that his jumper was becoming more consistent, and wasn’t just some isolation player that some seemed to perceive him as coming in.
More than anything, he was a legitimate defensive piece that showed flashes of being a real rotation piece.
Then the month of January hit in the year 2022. His name was already getting more buzz after an electric performance against the Bucks mid-way through December, where his 28 points without Jimmy Butler or Bam Adebayo led to a much needed win over the defending champs.
But well, the calendar flip was pretty much a defensive tour.
He made De’Aaron Fox’s night uneven with a 5 of 12 night, but it was clear that they had something aside from the Adebayo and Tucker switches. Martin followed the Fox night up with the assignment of Steph Curry, which he bothered enough to shoot 3 of 17 from the field at home.
Yes, they ended up dropping both of those games, but something was brewing.
Shortly after that two-game stretch, he held Chris Paul to a 3 of 9 night, Trae Young to a 4 of 15 game, and Fred VanVleet went 6 of 16 from deep with only one 2 attempted.
The point guard tour was real, but it was the true understanding of what he could be on this team, combined with the overall improvements in his offensive game.
Rewinding back to Gabe Vincent, there weren’t a ton of expectations coming into the season. He was a situational piece when guys went down, leaving many saying that a back-up point guard may be a neccessity.
People were right, they did need a back-up 1. But that guy was Vincent himself.
When he first signed with Miami, he appeared to be an undersized shooter who would play mainly off the catch, which he showed flashes of. But last season, he had an uneven year shooting the ball from deep due to some mechanical shifts.
Yet while some focused on those numbers, he was rapidly excelling at the all around parts of his game.
He became the staple of Miami’s 2-2-1 press that debuted last year next to Andre Iguodala, just due to the fact that his perimeter lateral quickness was for real, and he had a clear knack for the ball.
Coming into this season, he just bounced off that two-way contract, and the next step would be could he make minor improvements on the ball.
Well, the improvements weren’t minor.
He was pretty much thrown into the fire of point guard reps, and he proved that the off-season did a lot for his game. The pick and roll savviness was really something, the catch and shoot numbers jumped up from under 30% last season to 39% this year, and his mid-range/driving game had surged.
His mid-range pull-up stalled out at 29% last year, which spiked to 43% this season. That isn’t gradual improvement. That’s turning the whole page.
Plus, speaking of big games mid-way through December, Vincent led Miami to back-to-back wins with a 26 point performance in Philly, then a 27 point night against the Magic. As the top guys kept dropping out of the lineup, these guys were ready to step up.
Not only are they great fillers, but they’re now potentially in a playoff rotation.
And when talking about certain guys stepping up, Vincent’s two-way companion Max Strus is the perfect example of that.
I wouldn’t exactly say Strus’ scenario was completely aligned with the other two, since it was more about situation and opportunity for him. He constantly would get the same looks no matter if it was last year or this year, but the sample size being greater this time around allowed for a true evaluation period.
Among the top 50 players in 3 point attempts a game this season, which includes around 50 players, only one player shot a better percentage from deep than Strus, with the stipulation of playing at least half of the regular season games.
Desmond Bane edged him out, but Max Strus trailed him with a 41% shooting season from beyond the arc.
It’s not easy to be that spark shooter who has to consistently perform as a guy with zero rhythm prior to entering, but he proved himself. Now he finds himself sitting in the starting lineup less than a week away from the start of the playoffs.
These 3 guys are extreme success stories for this Miami Heat developmental program, but they’re also examples of putting in the work, and performing at the highest level.
From fillers to playoff rotation.
It isn’t everyday that you see that, but from the Heat’s perspective, they aren’t surprised when it happens.
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