During this Heat training camp and preseason, Omer Yurtseven will not only be trying to convince coach Erik Spoelstra to give him playing time; He will also be trying to convince Spoelstra to do something that the Heat coach is naturally disinclined to do.
Spoelstra, over the years, has felt most comfortable playing Bam Adebayo alongside an established three-point shooters: Kelly Olynyk, Meyers Leonard and P.J. Tucker. The metrics suggest that the Heat is at its best when Adebayo plays alongside a floor-spacing big man whose three-point shot is respected by opponents.
So Yurtseven has made it a personal mission to prove to Spoelstra that he can be that type of player.
He said he made 300 three-pointers each day he worked out this summer — “at minimum” — and has been sinking them at an 80 percent clip.
Yurtseven shot 42.6 percent on threes at NC State and Georgetown (26 for 61), but took only 11 and made just one in 56 games last season.
Does he believe Spoelstra is receptive to playing him with Adebayo at times?
“We haven’t had the discussion, but I feel like it is in the plans,” Yurtseven said. “In pickup [games], we’ve started that rhythm that we have with each other. Training camp is going to be the real proving grounds.”
If history is any indication, the expectation is Spoelstra initially will go small with the Heat’s starting group, with 6-5 Caleb Martin or, at times, 6-7 Haywood Highsmith playing alongside Adebayo. Jimmy Butler also can play power forward but prefers not to start at that position.
But Yurtseven, at 6-11, is expected to get some work alongside Adebayo, in practice at the very least — and potentially in games if that tandem works.
“I think it’s possible,” Udonis Haslem said of an Adebayo/Yurtseven pairing. “And I think that’s a good goal for Omer to want to be out there and play with Bam. Him being able to play with Bam and being able to knock down that three gives him more opportunities to be on the court and give us what we need. He’s already grown as one of our best rebounders if not the best. He’s pretty close. And the way he rolls to the basket creates mismatch problems because guys sink in when he gets a couple of dunks.”
When Yurtseven filled in for the injured Adebayo during parts of last December and January, the results were astonishing: He became the first undrafted player in NBA history to produce at least 15 points and 15 rebounds in their first career start (Dec. 26 against Orlando), set a franchise record by snagging at least 12 rebounds in 11 consecutive games and became the first NBA rookie to accomplish that since Blake Griffin in 2010-11.
He began January with four consecutive games of 16-plus rebounds, the first rookie to do that since Larry Smith in 1980-81.
In all, he averaged 12.1 points and 12.7 rebounds in 12 games as a starter.
But Spoelstra opted to play Dwayne Dedmon ahead of him, and Yurtseven logged just 44 minutes in the Heat’s final 13 regular-season games and just 37 minutes in the playoffs.
He spoke with Spoelstra and team president Pat Riley after the season; Spoelstra emphasized the need to improve his defense, while Riley spoke of working to become more agile on defense.
“I am going to have to dominate at the defensive end if I truly want to stay out there and show I belong there,” he said of what resonated from his conversation with Spoelstra. “Defensively I should be so dominant that it shows I don’t want to take him out of the game.”
And with Riley, “his biggest point of direction was agility,” he said. “That has been one of my biggest focuses this offseason, that lateral agility and overall agility.”
Meanwhile, Heat executive Alonzo Mourning and Haslem continue to push him.
When Yurtseven was getting regular minutes in Adebayo’s absence last season, Haslem “was literally pulling me aside and saying, ‘we’ve got to work on this. After shootaround, we have to work on boxouts’. And I was already rebounding well. Having that extra work gave me another 30 percent edge. He’s been nothing but brutally honest and real with me….
“Zo told me… you [get minutes by playing] excellent defense, you block shots, you anchor down in the paint, make sure nobody gets there.”
Last season’s production - when given the chance - “definitely gave a boost [confidence] but more so it gave me fire to know I can play and dominate at this level,” Yurtseven said. “It’s a matter of time and work and opportunity. All I can control is being ready. That’s why I’ve busted my [butt] these last 11 months.”
If he gets the minutes, and puts up similar numbers, there could be enticing offers in free agency next summer. The Heat can exceed the cap to re-sign Yurtseven, Max Strus and Gabe Vincent next July.