The Miami Heat’s roster turnover has led to a strong start this season, but it has also led to new roles for some returning players.
Guard Dion Waiters has yet to play this season as he continues to serve a 10-game suspension for conduct detrimental to the team, and forward James Johnson has played in just five games entering Saturday’s matchup against the 76ers.
Center Kelly Olynyk is in a much different situation than Waiters and Johnson in his third season with the Heat. Olynyk has remained a consistent part of the Heat’s rotation and has played in each of the Heat’s first 14 games, but he says his job is just different this season as he entered Saturday averaging eight points on 40.2 percent shooting, 4.8 rebounds and 1.6 assists in 22.4 minutes.
“When I first got here, obviously Bam [Adebayo] wasn’t as involved,” Olynyk said in advance of Saturday’s game in Philadelphia. “It was more Hassan [Whiteside] and more James Johnson. Justise [Winslow] might have even been playing the four when I first got here. For me when I first got here, I was in a lot of the actions in the second unit, whether it’s setting screens or in handoffs or flashing.
“Over the last couple years because of Bam’s emergence and what he can do, and Jimmy [Butler], and now with Goran [Dragic] in the second unit and Tyler [Herro] and stuff and using their abilities, I’m more just spacing the floor now. Kind of give everybody space. ... For me, it’s more spacing the floor and trying to knock down threes when they overhelp.”
In other words, Olynyk feels like he’s being used in more spot-up situations this season.
According to NBA.com’s Advanced Stats, spot-up situations represented 31.9 percent of the possessions that end with a Olynyk shot, foul or turnover entering Saturday. That’s the second-highest percentage on the team, only behind Duncan Robinson (43.7 percent).
“More spot-up situations than being in actions, which is a little different than it has been in the last couple years,” Olynyk said. “But obviously, if that’s what this team needs then that’s what you got to do to help.”
Playing off the bench is not necessarily what the 28-year-old Olynyk expected entering the season either. He started in the final 31 games last season, with most of those starts coming next to Adebayo.
The Olynyk-Adebayo combo was a plus-114 together in 1,038 minutes last season. Center Meyers Leonard, who was acquired from the Trail Blazers this past summer, has started alongside Adebayo this season, and Olynyk has been used as a reserve in each of the first 14 games.
“The way last year ended, my hopes were that I would start and be a big part of this unit,” Olynyk said. “I still think I’m a big part of it. It’s just a different look and feel than I anticipated at the end of last year.”
Then throw in the bone bruise on Olynyk’s right knee that he sustained playing for Team Canada in August, forcing him to miss training camp and the Heat’s first three preseason games. The start of the season has been full of unexpected twists and turns for Olynyk.
“It has been up and down,” he said of his knee. “It has definitely been more up lately, which has been awesome. There are games, and I’m sure you can tell with an outside eye, where I just don’t feel the same. I’m not moving the same, I’m not moving as well, and it affects you.
“For me, it’s the last few days and having this little mini break has been nice. The start of the year was tough. After we had those three games in four nights on the West, we had like a little three-day break and I felt pretty good after that going into that Detroit game. Then we played in Cleveland and then played at home, then we had another three-day break. I think [Monday] in practice was probably the best I felt all year. It’s coming along, it’s getting better.”
Olynyk is in the third season of a four-year, $50 million free agent deal he signed with the Heat in the summer of 2017. He holds a $13.2 million player option for 2020-21 (the final season of his contract).
“I think for me, it’s about doing whatever you can to help this team reach its full potential and help this team win,” he said. “If that’s coming off the bench, then that’s what it is. You can tell in this short sample that it’s a different role every night. Sometimes it’s 12 minutes and just kind of feeding into whatever is out there. Other times, it’s 30 minutes and 20 in the second half.”