What happened to Miami Heat guard Wayne Ellington?

MIAMI, FL - OCTOBER 21: Wayne Ellington
MIAMI, FL - OCTOBER 21: Wayne Ellington /

The Miami Heat are struggling in third quarters, and the absence of sharpshooting Wayne Ellington might be a reason why.

*Editor’s note: This piece was written prior to the Miami Heat’s win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night, when Wayne Ellington scored 21 points in 27 minutes.

It’s been said time and time again: the Miami Heat are looking for their identity. Ideally, it’s one that involves a continued dedication to defense in tandem with sharing the offensive wealth among Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragic and Dion Waiters.

Barring mishaps like the 25-point loss to the Indiana Pacers, which saw the Heat give up 120 points, Miami’s defense has shown flashes of brilliance. Thus far, the Heat give up 103.9 points per 100 possessions. Most recently, they held the number one Boston Celtics to 98 points in a win on Wednesday, November 22. If they can keep focused for a full 48 minutes, they could easily rank among the league’s best on the defensive end.

Consistent efforts on offense, particularly in the third quarter and beyond, continue to drive the storyline for Miami. And so far, head coach Erik Spoelstra hasn’t been able to find a cohesive unit to prevent those third period droughts.

Spoelstra half-jokingly acknowledged this problem to the Sun Sentinel, prior to Wednesday’s win.

"Maybe the next game, on Wednesday, we won’t even go into the locker room.”"

Possibly most perplexing about the third quarter however, is the absence of Wayne Ellington. Ellington, who joined Miami during the 2016 offseason, currently ranks first among Heat players in average minutes played in the second quarter (8.2), while ranking dead last in average minutes in the third quarter (2.9).

Even more astonishing however, is that Ellington is averaging 1.2 points in those brief fourth quarter appearances. For comparison, Miami’s leading scorer in the third is Dragic, posting an average of 4.4 after the half.

So why the reluctance to play Ellington? In 2016-17, Ellington was instrumental off the bench for Miami in their run in the second half of the season. Listed as inactive for the first 16 games of that season, Ellington first appeared in a loss to the Celtics, contributing nine points on 1-for-5 shooting from three. But followed that with performances of 22 and 17 points, shooting .556 and .600 percent from downtown.

Ellington would finish 2016-17 shooting .378 from three. Though his shooting was streaky, he managed to contribute 10.5 points per game, in an average 24 minutes per game. Jumping to the 2017-18 season however, Ellington has seen a decline in minutes, down to 17.6 per game, even though he’s increased his shooting to .412 from beyond-the-arc.

The 2017 preseason did forebode a rough start to Ellington’s shooting, as the guard only connected on .257 of his three point attempts. That said, Spoelstra didn’t give much thought to Ellington’s shooting struggles, encouraging the guard to keep firing from down town. Despite the shaky start, Ellington is currently one of two Heat players to shoot more than 40 percent from three to take at least five attempts. The other sharp shooter? Kelly Olynyk.

Considering the Heat is in the top-five in 3-point attempts this season, limiting Ellington’s minutes in the third seems self-defeating. Numbers aside, Ellington has repeatedly shown his ability to move without the ball to find an open shot, a useful tactic when Miami’s offense stagnates.

In 2015, while playing for the Los Angeles Lakers, then Time Warner Cable Sportsnet studio analyst and former college coach Dave Miller acknowledged such, speaking to the guard’s versatility.

"“Everybody’s thought he’s just a floor-spacer, but what he’s done a great job [at], is moving without the ball, and then when he receives the ball, he’s able to read and react.”"

Next: Are the Miami Heat equipped to compete in the Eastern Conference?

Spoelstra may be hesitant to inject another, potentially streaky shooter into an already volatile Miami lineup. But benching Ellington, especially during scoreless third quarters, might be doing the Heat more harm than good.