It was a simple twist of fate. Had it not been for Dwyane Wade’s third significant hamstring injury thus far this season, he might not even be here at all. And yet, it now appears that shooting guard Tyler Johnson could be here for years to come, as the Miami Heat development machine has churned out another supremely talented rookie.
First, it was Hassan Whiteside. Whiteside has been rampaging through the NBA with reckless abandon, utilizing his massive 7-foot-7-inch wingspan to throw down monstrous alley-oop dunks, snatch rebounds out of the sky from high above the rim, swat basketballs as Godzilla would planes, and generally wreak havoc on both ends of the floor.
Now, it is Johnson, whose exploits have provided a great deal of promise for the future! Johnson is short (6-foot-3) and slight (190 pounds), and at times miscast by the Heat as a point guard, but he makes up for it with serious hops and sweet shooting. He’ll throw down a highlight-reel dunk just as easily as he’ll swish a three-pointer when his feet are set. But he’ll also do the little things you may not notice — like play the game with a tremendous energy, or grab a rebound typically reserved for a player twice his size.
For president Pat Riley and the Heat front office, Johnson, who went undrafted in June out of Fresno State, has become a scouted, developed talent.
He impressed enough during his four years in college – including a senior season during which he averaged 15.3 points, on 47.7 percent shooting from the floor and 43.2 percent from three-point range, and 7.3 rebounds in his 35 games — for the Heat to invite him to participate in Summer League.
He played well for the Heat’s Summer League squads in the Orlando and Las Vegas tournaments in July, averaging 12.5 points, 3.0 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 22.8 minutes while shooting 55.1 percent from the field in 10 games.
He played well enough, in fact, to earn a training camp invitation. He made just one preseason appearance, but he made it count. In the Heat’s overtime win against the San Antonio Spurs, he finished with 17 points (on 6-13 shooting, including 1-2 from 3-point range), four steals, four rebounds and two assists in 36 minutes. He was never going to make the regular season roster, but the Heat gave him a $75,000 partial guarantee so that it could re-direct him to its D-League affiliate, the Sioux Falls Skyforce, after being waived.
In 13 games for the Skyforce — all starts — he averaged 18.5 points on 47.7 percent shooting, including 46.3 percent 3-point shooting, in addition to 4.4 rebounds and 3.8 assists in 33.9 minutes per game.
The Heat took notice of his stellar play, and rewarded him for it.
On Jan. 12, Johnson thought he had his big break when the Heat called him up on a 10-day contract. But he was wrong. Johnson was with the team for five games. He didn’t play at all in four of them. His only action was 1:44 of mop-up duty in one game, during which he scored two points on a pair of free throws, his only statistics. When it was all over, the Heat chose not to re-sign him. He went back to the Sykforce on Jan. 22 as an unrestricted free agent.
Five days later, Wade strained his right hamstring. Two days after that, Johnson was re-signed to a second 10-day contract. This time around, with the Heat lacking in depth and forced to play him, Johnson seized his chance. He had two breakout performances during his second 10-day stint – producing 13 points, nine rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocks in a road win over the Boston Celtics on Feb. 1, followed by an 18-point effort against the Spurs on Friday.
Multiple NBA teams were circling as he again became an unrestricted free agent Sunday morning. The Heat, however, got its man. And it figures to be a long-term affair for the promising young rookie. Read more…