An NBA draft freefall could leave Heat with decision similar to Caron Butler, Justise Winslow

Ira Winderman, South Florida Sun-Sentinel on

Published in Basketball

MIAMI — Part of NBA draft preparation is being prepared for the unexpected — an element the Miami Heat have had considerable experience with over the years.

This time around, they’re prepared.

Even while holding the No. 15 pick in the first round on June 26, the Heat have worked out a player who at one point was projected as the potential No. 1 pick.

It has been that type of whirlwind for Ron Holland, a 6-foot-6 athlete who already is viewed with the type of defensive chops to contribute immediately for Erik Spoelstra’s team, having honed his game this past season against pros with the NBA G League’s Ignite.

Typically, teams drafting at No. 15 don’t get such an opportunity for hands-on inspection of a player forecast to go dramatically earlier. But this year’s draft is so balanced, that No. 5 on one team’s board well could land at No. 15, or even beyond.

Previously, the Heat in such situations simply allowed the draft currents to deliver a prospect without much in the way of pre-draft inspection. Such was the case with UConn’s Caron Butler falling to them at No. 10 in 2002 and Duke’s Justise Winslow at No. 10 in 2015.

As recently as last month, the forecasting of former NBA executive John Hollinger had Holland as his No. 1 pick in a piece for The Athletic.

Instead, Holland also has been making the rounds with teams lower on the draft board.

“It’s a roller coaster of emotions,” Holland said at last month’s NBA draft combine in Chicago.

At 18, Holland enters as a unique case study, both the youngest leading prospect in the draft, but also one already with professional experience.

“I feel like I was able to show a lot with Ignite,” he said, “just being that I was position-less in high school and I feel like I’m the same with the Ignite, nothing really changed. But I was able to work on what I want to become in the NBA.”

In that regard, Holland will stand as a final case study, with the NBA having eliminated the Ignite program in light of the addition of pay-for-play in the NCAA.


But Holland said getting to play against former NBA players — noting his matchups against former Heat foil Lance Stephenson — gave him a leg up on his next step.

“Just playing against these vets that’s playing seven years in the NBA, they just know more. And I feel like I was able to hold my own,” he said.

“I feel like I can step on an NBA court, any team right now, and I’ll be able to help them win and be able to help them thrive in the playoffs, in a regular-season game. Anything the coach needs me to be able to do, I feel like I’ll be able to do it.”

So who is Ron Holland? A dogged defender who has set his NBA goal as Defensive Player of the Year, as well as a slashing attacker with the type of athleticism the Heat currently lack.

While not the shooter the Heat might prefer to space the floor, with a roster already loaded with two-point threats, Holland’s defense could potentially help compensate if the Heat lose Caleb Martin and Haywood Highsmith in free agency, which opens the week after the draft.

“I’m really built for aggression that I’m about to walk into,” the Texas native said. “So I’ll definitely be prepared for that.”

With the Ignite, Holland was forced to play in a ball-dominant role, cast at a variety of positions. That proved to be a struggle. Thus the potential drop to the Heat’s draft position.

“I’ll definitely be prepared for when things are going bad and I’m losing the ball, turning the ball over, I just need to learn how to deal with it,” he said. “And I feel like with Ignite, I definitely learned how to deal with it.

“I definitely would say my defense is my most proud skill right now. I definitely think my defense is NBA-ready, for sure. But I know for a fact, as soon as I get to the league, I’m going to have to learn so much more.”

Perhaps also learning to deal with No. 1 expectations and then something less on draft night, just as it was with Butler and Winslow when they landed with the Heat.

“I definitely learned a lot about myself this year,” Holland said. “My mentality would never change. I definitely still feel like I’m the number-one draft pick in this class. I’m definitely ready to compete against anybody.”

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