The Miami HEAT’s Summer League team is a little different this year.
In recent visits to Orlando and Las Vegas, the squad has served as a continual developmental ground for current, former and future members of the Sioux Falls Skyforce with players like Tyler Johnson, Rodney McGruder and Briantè Weber among many others. While there are clearly opportunities for earning those future spots, the current roster is a bit of a reset with many of those former players now with the HEAT full-time or with other NBA teams.
The one player who does still fit the mold is Okaro White. Signed midway through the summer schedule last year, White immediately stood out as a long, 6-foot-8 forward who screamed potential as a defensively-versatile stretch-four. Sure enough, White would play a half season with the Skyforce before joining the HEAT and playing just under 500 minutes with the big club.
Now he’s back to work in Orlando, trying to expand his game.
While White certainly had some big moments last year, most notably a pair of game-saving threes against Brooklyn in the midst of Miami’s 13-game winning streak, his role was clearly defined. Play hard, play with energy, defend multiple positions and stretch the floor from the four spot just as Luke Babbitt and James Johnson were expected to do.
In words used quite often by the team, the HEAT don’t like to keep players in a box. So White isn’t spending his summer being just a shoot-and-defend energy guy. Since the season ended he’s worked on expanding his dribble and playmaking game, even using Johnson as a model to follow. In a tight game on Tuesday evening, White got the chance to explore new skills.
“We’re always challenging guys to get better, to get out of their comfort zone,” Chris Quinn said.
Few will remember the results of most of these offseason games, but when the clock is ticking a high-leverage situation is still a high-leverage situation all the same. Players and coaches still want to win. With Miami playing behind Detroit for most of the game, unable to get over the hump and with Bam Adebayo sitting out, they went to White on multiple possessions and were rewarded with a tie game.
“He came out aggressive,” Quinn said. “[The] second half especially. He helped lead us back. That’s what we expect out of him. He’s been working really hard for two months now, since the season ended, in the gym every day, trying to get better, trying to work on his game, and it showed.”
Those aren’t the type of opportunities White is going to get very often with the big-league club, but it’s nevertheless a positive to see him taking advantage. Even in a role similar to last season, working on attacking and finishing in isolation situations can translate into other types of possessions.
Simply put, even if White is never asked to go one-on-one in an NBA game, improving in those areas can help elsewhere. What happens when White gets a pick-and-pop three…
…but the closeout is on point and the shot isn’t there? Great defenders can force you into putting the ball on the floor. The more comfortable White is doing that, the more that hard closeout can be a positive outcome.
The team kept going to White as the game went into single and double overtime, and the shots eventually didn’t drop as the team lost in a sudden-death period, but reps are reps.
“At the same time I want it to come through the offense,” White said. “I felt good putting the ball on the ground today and felt confident. Had some drop for me, some didn’t drop for me, but I felt confident.
“I got a little bit of that in my game still.”
White isn’t an established NBA player with a multi-year contract. He could become that just by maximizing the role he had last year. He doesn’t need to attack the rim or be capable of hitting a pull-up jumper to play in the league. Shooting and defending like this…
…can earn him minutes. That will be the expectation.
“At the same time we’re going to keep reminding them that they have to do the little things that got them where they are,” Quinn said of White’s expanded summer role. “Ro will have no time adjusting back to the other way.”
But why settle? Every small thing a player can add to their skillset can make them exponentially more valuable in the long run. When you have time to develop, without taking away from the core game, then develop.
It’s summer league. There is no box.