Merely days away from the 2016-17 NBA season and it appears the final roster spot on the new-look Miami Heat will go to one of two point guards: Briante Weber, a 23-year-old defensive menace, or 34-year-old Beno Udrih, who agreed to a buyout last season to pave the way for the addition of Joe Johnson.
Regardless of who Pat Riley ultimately chooses, Udrih will get paid his fully-guaranteed $1.4 million salary, which could have been some sort of hand-shake preface to his buyout. Weber has a partially guaranteed contract of around $874,000.
So in essence the overall cost is at least $1 million more to keep Weber but retaining the scrappy guard out of Virginia Commonwealth should be the easiest decision of Riley’s tumultuous offseason.
Udrih is what he is, a capable and steady veteran who can run the offense in spot minutes off the bench. However, he does nothing at an exceptional level and his career is on its final leg. He’s a decent 3-point shooter (35 percent career) and an okay defender. His biggest strength is his off-the-dribble accuracy coming off screens, as noted by ESPN’s Bradford Doolittle.
Weber, while very raw from an offensive standpoint, has one elite skill: defending.
— FOX Sports Florida (@FOXSportsFL) October 19, 2016
And while stealing passes alone does not make a great defender, he possesses the lateral quickness and will to stay in front of just about anyone. But back to the steals, which FiveThirtyEight regards as one of the most valuable stats in hoops.
In 95 minutes of preseason action, Briante Weber is averaging 8.6 steals per 48 minutes, looting an opponent’s possession once every five and a half minutes. This is ABSURD.
To put that number into context, Ricky Rubio led the NBA last season in 3.35 steals per 48 minutes. Just as Hassan Whiteside is a shot-blocking machine, Weber is just as elite at on-court thievery.
The fact Weber shows this type of rare defensive ability already should be enough to warrant a roster spot. This is especially true on a team that, as currently constructed, has no shot at contending but still has the right combination of core players to be among the league’s top defensive teams.
Can you imagine the defensive potential of a lineup featuring Whiteside, Justise Winslow, and Weber? I don’t care that Weber is shooting 38 percent (8 of 21) in the preseason or that he’s 3 of 13 from behind the arc in two years of Summer League.
The focus this year, at least initially, should be developing youth so that when there’s an opportunity to add a star either via trade or Free Agency, the Heat already has a solid, growing supporting cast in place. And when you hit on a young player, like with second-year wings Josh Richardson and Justise Winslow, the value is enormous considering their low salaries.
Udrih is not going to win them anymore games. Maybe if this was a contender in need of a steady reserve guard, he’d be the logical answer. But Weber, while an offensive project, is a beast on the defensive end at minimum, which goes in line with the team’s identity. It’s simple cost-benefit analysis.
The Miami Heat’s No. 15 player won’t move the needle, but the smart basketball and value play would be giving that final spot to Briante Weber.