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Is Starting Heat’s Meyers Leonard A Given?

David Santiago, Miami Herald

As the season returns, questions arise.

For Miami Heat center Meyers Leonard, it’s been five-plus months since he’s had the chance to regroup with his team. Suffering a sprained left ankle injury in a February 3 meeting against the Philadelphia 76ers, Leonard missed the Heat’s final 16 games prior to the NBA’s four-month hiatus.

When the 7-foot big man was out, Miami suffered seven catastrophic losses to teams with a record below .500. At the same time, the Heat began assembling its rotation, which featured newly acquired players, Andre Iguodala, Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill. The Heat went on an impressive spurt, winning four straight games, including a 105-89 victory versus the Milwaukee Bucks.

Leonard wasn’t the only player out with an injury, Tyler Herro missed 15 of Miami’s last 16 games with an ankle injury, and Jimmy Butler was a no-go against the Sacramento Kings, Portland Trailblazers, Cleveland Cavaliers and Charlotte Hornets. The Heat lost in all four of those games.

With the return to play starting July 22, as the Heat take on the Sacramento Kings in one of three scrimmage games, coach Erik Spoelstra has yet to announce a starting lineup or rotation. With Miami bringing its entire 17-man roster to Disney, Spoelstra may be open to fluctuating minutes between players, especially with an entirely healthy team.

The opportunities to use Leonard are countless. From being able to stretch the floor and account for parts of Miami’s smooth offensive flow to providing consistent defensive stops, his time on the court serves well for the Heat. In fact, Miami’s usual starting five, including Leonard, has accounted for first-quarter success.

— A 5-man lineup (20 plus games played) of Jimmy Butler, Meyers Leonard, Bam Adebayo, Duncan Robinson and Kendrick Nunn consisted of the league’s highest plus/minus (156). Behind the Heat are the Milwaukee Bucks, with a lineup of Brook Lopez, Wesley Matthews, Eric Bledsoe, Kris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo (79).

— That same Heat lineup is No. 1 in net rating in the 2019-20 season (33.1).

— Miami is second in the NBA in first-quarter points per game (29.7), behind the Dallas Mavericks (30.0).

As for shooting statistics, the opportunity to have a big man that can shoot from beyond the arc makes Miami one of the quickest and most efficient teams in the league.

— The Heat rank first in three-point percentage (38.3), shooting efficiency (1.165) and free throw attempts/field goal attempts per game (0.298). They are also in the top 10 in effective field goal percentage (54.9), two-point percentage (53.0), shooting percentage (47.0), three-pointers made per game (13.4), three-point attempts per game (34.8). free throws made per game (19.5) and free throw attempts per game (25.1).

— In addition, having Adebayo and Leonard helped accelerate Miami’s style of play, as they averaged 1.19 points per possession, tied for first in the NBA this season.

And with the ability to substitute Leonard with Kelly Olynyk, who has strived from three-point range since the All-Star break, shooting 80.0 percent from deep, Miami’s in store for a shooting clinic.

The end of the rollercoaster ride is here. Meyers Leonard and the Heat are set for the toughest battle they’ve ever faced: NBA at Disney World.

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