After the first two months of the NBA season, the Miami Heat are where many basketball pundits thought they’d be. Currently, head coach Erik Spoelstra has this squad at 18-16, and in the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. That’s encouraging with all their youth, along with some new pieces in their rotation from last season. What has been less than ideal is the dip in production from guard Dion Waiters. The Heat need to make a decision soon about what they’re going to do with the banged up shot-maker, who is in the first year of a four-year, $52 million contract (as per Spotrac.com).
Last season, Waiters had a career year with averages of 15.8 points and 4.3 assists per game, while shooting 39.5 percent from the three-point line. This season, he’s shooting the most threes of his career, but he’s only making 30.6 percent of those, according to Basketball Reference. He’s not been a real three-point assassin in the Association, so this is not all that surprising. Waiters currently has the lowest offensive rating of his tenure in the league, according to NBA.com. What could be a major reason for that inefficiency has been a nagging ankle injury. Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press noted that in a report on Tuesday.
“Dion Waiters will consider having surgery this offseason to repair his problematic left ankle, conceding Tuesday that it probably won’t be fully healed until such a procedure takes place,” Reynolds said.
He’s been fighting through that, and it’s clear that Waiters has not been nearly as effective on both ends this year. Waiters has career lows in box plus-minus and win shares per 48 minutes, according to Basketball Reference. He’s not been active during the last two nights due to the hampering ankle. The Heat have to be smart with their cash in this situation and avoid further injury. Reynolds touched on how it’s hurt him considerably.
“The ankle never fully healed, and Waiters has been dealing with it all season.”
It’s admirable that the veteran guard is playing through this tough ailment because he’s one of the key players on that roster. Waiters has had his critics throughout the years, but one thing that nobody can doubt is his toughness. He’s not been healthy this year, and he opened up about that to Reynolds.
“I’ve played through it, though,” Waiters said. “I’ve got to. I’m not making any excuses. It is what it is. It’s something I don’t like to talk about because there’s something we really can do right now but try to take care of it, get it stronger, things like that. I don’t want to be in this predicament where it’s a little tweak you’ve got to miss a decent amount just off a little tweak. That sucks.”
That being said, the Heat invested a hefty sum in the 26-year-old, and they don’t want anything worse to happen to hamper that investment long-term. Waiters insists that will not do the surgery mid-season, but that needs to happen for his long-term health. He didn’t have surgery this past summer on it, and it’s not been healthy since. The surgery is inevitable, and the time should be now, Reynolds explained.
“Until I take care of it and do what I was supposed to do with it, even if I have a little sprain it’s going to be severe,” Waiters said. “I didn’t even do anything when I twisted it. I just twisted it.”
The Heat’s Hassan Whiteside, Justise Winslow, Goran Dragic, Rodney McGruder, and James Johnson all are dealing with the injury bug. Nonetheless, they’ve found a way to thrive without Waiters before and have other pieces, such as sharpshooter Wayne Ellington. Miami is a quality organization, and Spoelstra is one of the more under-appreciated coaches in the NBA. They can figure out how to stay afloat in the East without Waiters and need to get him back to full strength for next season, which should be the focus.
The issue is the compensation for him. According to Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel, Waiters would get a $1.1 million bonus for appearing in at least 70 of the season’s 82 games. He’s missed the last two games, and we’ll see what happens in the near future between Waiters and the Heat. The Heat should push Waiters to be smart here. He’s come into his own in Miami and has not been the same player in other places.