How to get Miami Heat guard Tyler Johnson back on track

MIAMI, FL - OCTOBER 25: Manu Ginobili
MIAMI, FL - OCTOBER 25: Manu Ginobili /

Miami Heat guard Tyler Johnson hasn’t translated his stellar preseason into regular season success yet. Here’s how he can get back into a groove.

Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra likes to say the basketball will “find energy,” often referring to a player being rewarded by his relentless activity.

He’s used this to describe Ray Allen and adopted it as one of his core “Spoisms” that anchor his coaching philosophy with the Heat, as he now shepherds the young talents of Justise Winslow, Tyler Johnson and Josh Richardson into the prime of their careers.

But through seven games, Johnson especially seems to be lacking the type of energy we grew accustomed to last season. The spark off the bench along with James Johnson hasn’t been there, and there is a visible reason why, particularly on the offensive end.

Johnson is shooting just 29 percent from 3 thus far and 38 percent from the field, both uncharacteristically low numbers for a young backcourt player many expected to take the next step. That step is still there, but to get through this slump, he’ll need to increase his energy on the offensive end.

Thus far, Johnson’s very best game both statistically and on film was his 7-of-13 shooting, 23-point effort in a home loss to the San Antonio Spurs. After rough outings against the Atlanta Hawks and Boston Celtics, Johnson finally looked like his usual self. This began with early, effective touches on the offensive end. He got himself into the game early and then began to dictate the team’s overall energy.

Here’s his first touch of the game, a simple read off of a Dion Waiters drive. Johnson slides to the open space when Danny Green collapses and Patty Mills stays at home on Goran Dragic, leading to an open three.

This is a very simple play, but don’t underestimate its importance to Johnson’s overall confidence and energy. Too often early in the season, he’s been hesitant to take a jumper that may seem contested, opting instead to put the ball on the floor and try to make a play elsewhere. In this instance, he immediately gets into his shooting motion and hits it with confidence.

Early success is so important for Johnson right now and here’s another possession later in the first quarter of the San Antonio game, a classic set designed to get Johnson on the move.

Manu Ginobili on Johnson is a mismatch, and a screen with no help from any San Antonio defender gives Johnson the ability to explode to the rim and get fouled. This type of play is far more what many have come to expect from Johnson. He’s one of the more physical guards in this league, unafraid of taking on a big man at the rim. The Heat are better when they find a way to get him on the move, as opposed to stashing him in the corner where he is just 4-for-11 from 3 this year.

Johnson’s energy is important to the Heat, not just for what it brings to the offensive end but also on the defensive side. When he gets into the game early on, there is an awakening that occurs and the ball begins to find him.

After a strong first quarter offensively, Spoelstra rode with the guard and Johnson put his stamp on the defensive end early in the second quarter, with the steal and slam.

With the Heat’s offensive struggles to begin the year, someone with Johnson’s energy coming off the bench is vital when the offense begins to look sluggish. But that energy often isn’t there, if he isn’t involved early on.

That concept may seem like an unnecessary accommodation to make for a player who should insert himself into the game, but not every player is made out of that mold.

Next: Miami Heat: Dispatch from Waiters Island, week two

Johnson benefits from being directly integrated into the offense and from there, his defense comes alive. The more the Heat call his number early on, the quicker he’ll begin to look like himself.