‘5 at 35′: Heat’s best-ever reserve? Memory lane hardly needed

With 2022-23 marking the Miami Heat’s 35th season, the Sun Sentinel is unveiling a series of “5 at 35″ reflections from staff writer Ira Winderman, who has covered the entirety of the franchise’s 3 1/2 decades.

After opening the series with a look at the five greatest games in the team’s history, five franchise-altering moments, the team’s biggest celebrity fans, five of the biggest personalities over the years, five notable Heat Lifers and rivalries that have defined the franchise, we began our position-by-position breakdown with the top five shooting guards, point guards, small forwards, power forwards and centers since the franchise’s 1988 inception, moving today to the leading sixth men over the years.

And, yes, an argument could be made about recency bias, but at least it is award-winning recency bias.

1. Tyler Herro. No, this list is not about any single season, but rather the breadth of contributions over a Heat career. But exceptions also appear fair when a breakthrough is part of the equation.

In the 40 years the NBA has named a Sixth Man of the Year, only once has that name come from the Heat, which it did after last season with Herro, when he averaged a league-leading 20.8 points as a reserve, becoming the first player since such statistics were tracked to average at least 20 points, five rebounds and four assists with fewer than 10 starts.

In breaking Dwyane Wade’s Heat single-season record for bench points, Herro closed with 20 games of 25 or more points off the bench in 2021-22, the league’s highest such total over the past 30 seasons.

2. Ray Allen. Forget everything else and just remember this: Ray Allen came off the bench on June 18, 2013, the night he converted the final-seconds 3-pointer against the Spurs that forced overtime of Game 6 of the NBA Finals. Two nights later, the Heat were NBA champions for a second time during the Big Three era.

As it was, Allen started just nine of his 152 regular-season Heat appearances and only one of his 43 postseason games with the Heat.

Consider it the ultimate championship bench boost.

3. Mike Miller. There were only 21 starts in his 139 regular-season appearances with the Heat and just five in his 58 playoffs appearances, the team advancing to the NBA Finals in each of his three seasons, winning titles in 2012 and ‘13.

Miller’s energy off the bench was infectious, his playoff 3-pointers essential and his ability to hit a shot in the Finals without a shoe epic. He was the type of reserve who got the crowd going just by walking to the scorers’ table.

4. Antoine Walker. A starter for all 23 of his appearances in the 2006 playoffs on the way to that season’s championship, Walker otherwise mostly was a reserve during his two seasons with the Heat, starting just 34 of his 160 regular-season appearances over his two seasons with the team.

Little did more to spark the Heat during those seasons than Walker entering and hoisting away from the 3-point line with his “tippy-toe” launches.

Walker stands as another example of the Heat convincing a former starter to play as a reserve and then thrive as a reserve.

5. Shane Battier. By the end of his three-year run with the Heat, Battier had moved into more of a starting role, but in his first two seasons, which both produced Heat titles, in 2012 and ‘13, only 30 of his 137 regular-season appearances came as a starter.

Battier wasn’t necessarily a dynamic presence off the bench, but rather a steadying force, able to convert timely baskets when most needed, taking on some of the biggest individual defensive challenges.

Among those of note who also provided significant Heat bench boosts over the years were Chris Andersen, Eddie House, Udonis Haslem, Norris Cole, Tyler Johnson and Bimbo Coles.

Up next: As part of Ira Winderman’s Sunday NBA column, we unveil the Heat’s all-time team to this stage, as the franchise turns 35.

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