To appreciate Haywood Highsmith’s ability to come out of the deep freeze and immediately contribute to the Miami Heat these past two weeks is to appreciate how he joined the team in the first place.
That was late last December, when COVID and injuries so ravaged their roster that the call was put out to essentially anyone who could make it to Texas in time and be in good enough shape to play NBA basketball right away.
For Highsmith — check, check. He signed with the Heat on Dec. 30, converted three 3-pointers in 14 minutes off the bench in a Dec. 31 road victory over the Houston Rockets, and kept going from there.
The hustle (beyond just getting to Texas) and contribution eventually led to a three-year partially guaranteed contract in March.
“I’ve always been ready,” he said, with the Heat facing the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday at State Farm Arena.
Now flash forward to just over a week ago in Washington. Held out of eight of the previous 10 games by coach’s decision, and utilized for only eight minutes of mop-up duty since Oct. 26, Haywood was thrust into 42 minutes of action in the overtime road loss to the Wizards. At least 20 minutes followed in each of the next four games, including 34 on Friday night against Washington.
While the Heat’s “be ready so you don’t have to get ready” mantra might come off as trite, it also has defined this latest Highsmith opportunity.
“I mean, it’s obviously a good opportunity for me to get some reps and show everybody what I can do and I can bring to the team, and an opportunity for me just to build up my confidence, as well,” said the 25-year-old forward who went undrafted out of Division II Wheeling University in 2018, with just five previous games of NBA experience with the Philadelphia 76ers in 2019 before joining the Heat.
“But I’ve always been ready. I’ve been in the gym a lot while I wasn’t playing, getting reps in the pre-practice, so I’m ready. So now it’s all about me just putting it on the floor and showing people what I can do.”
While Highsmith has impressed with his rebounding, including 14 in that overtime loss in Washington, the shooting has been decidedly off, even though that was among the initial attractions for the Heat. There have, however, been timely 3-point conversions over this latest revival.
“If I see an open shot, I’m going to take it,” he said. “I put in too much work to sit there and pass up open shots. That’s just me, keep shooting. Open shots, I’m going to take ‘em, knock ‘em down.
“I’m going to keep taking ‘em, because I feel like I’m a very good shooter. People might not think I am, but I feel I’m a very good shooter at the end of the day. Just because I’m not making my first couple doesn’t mean I’m going to stop shooting.”
As the Heat move closer to whole, with Tyler Herro back and Jimmy Butler apparently on the way, the opportunities likely will diminish or evaporate. But his coach already has taken notice for the next time a low body count could mean more Highsmith.
“H is just super solid,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He is a very good defensive player and he’s an exceptional rebounder for his size, exceptional. If there’s a crowd and the ball’s going up, he finds a way to come down with it.”
In some ways, that could make him this season’s Caleb Martin. At least that’s the way Martin, who came practically out of nowhere last season with the team, sees it.
“I mean you love those types of stories, with guys like that,” Martin said. “Now everybody gets to see how much work he puts in, and he’s here all the time.”