Ira Winderman: Playoff drive running deep for the Heat (with some kid stuff involved)

Tribune Content Agency

MIAMI — It has been an uneven run, players coming and going amid the struggle for a mid-tier playoff seed.

But now, a playoff berth has been secured. Thoughts can turn to the postseason.

No, not the Miami Heat, at least not yet.

But for the Heat’s G League affiliate, the Sioux Falls Skyforce, it’s playoff time starting Tuesday, the first time the Heat’s affiliate has made the postseason since 2016, which also is the lone time the Heat’s affiliate won the G League title.

Typically, such matters are, well, minor league.

But this has not been a typical year, with significant cross pollination between the Heat and Skyforce, to the degree that five players have seen action for both the Heat and Skyforce this season.

That has had former Heat forward Kasib Powell working a balancing act in his second season as Skyforce coach.

“One of the goals and expectations we had was making the playoffs,” Powell said. “And in this league, only 12 [of 30] teams do. So we have been shooting for this from the beginning of the year. We wanted to set the bar high.”

On one hand, there is winning. On the other, there is development. Not that the two are mutually exclusive, as this season has shown in South Dakota.

But while Heat coach Erik Spoelstra gets updates, and while Heat front-office types such Andy Elisburg, Adam Simon and Eric Amsler monitor when able, it is Powell who stands with the ultimate perspective.

Ahead of the G League playoffs, Powell offered his thoughts on this season’s Sioux Falls-to-South Florida pipeline.

— Orlando Robinson: The undrafted rookie center began the season solely under contract to the Skyforce, before being shifted to a Heat two-way deal in December. He now is back with the Skyforce for the playoffs.

“I think we always believed he was an NBA player,” Powell said. “He had a slower start than he probably would have liked. But his work ethic is like no other.

“He kind of picked it up really fast. I knew he would get better, but I would be lying if I said I knew he would get better this fast. His progression has been a great thing to watch. We were all shocked how fast he got better.”

— Jamal Cain: The undrafted rookie forward has been on a two-way Heat contract all season, with several productive stints in Sioux Falls, inciting a recent 38-point outing. Like Robinson, he is back with the Skyforce for the playoffs.

“The way he plays and what he brings to the table is definitely translatable.” Powell said. “In that game when he scored 38, we barely ran any plays for him. And I think in the next level, in the NBA level, they’re not going to run plays for him, and he’s going to have to be a role player who has to figure out a niche.

“But I think his progression is going to be on the defensive end. I think he has the ability to be a 3-and-D. The guys just love having him here. He buys into what we do.”

— Jamaree Bouyea: The undrafted rookie guard had a 10-day contract with the Heat in February, a 10-day contract this month with the Washington Wizards and now is back with the Skyforce, free to sign with any NBA team.

“He’s a dynamic player, as a point guard and a scorer,” Powell said. “Right now he’s talented enough to be somebody’s backup point guard on an NBA team.

“I think what’s kept him from the league is just being young and figuring it out. But he’s talented enough to be at the next level. I think improving his shot to where he’s more of a consistent 3-point shooter will help that jump.”

— Marcus Garrett: The second-year guard went into camp on a Heat two-way contract but then was cut due to wrist surgery. He has been with the Skyforce since, excelling on defense but uneven on offense.

“He has to get better on the offensive end, which I think he has made a jump,” Powell said. “But his skill set on defense is so good that I think that translates to the NBA in itself, like being a Patrick Beverely guy.

“Where he’s at defensively now, even NBA guys won’t get to that level.”

— Mychal Mulder: The 28-year-old veteran of stints with the Golden State Warriors and Orlando Magic, finished last season with the Heat on two-way deal and then was among the final players cut from training camp in October. He leads the G League in 3-pointers as an unaffiliated player, free to sign with any NBA team.

“I’ve been with him for three years now, and this is the best I’ve seen him play.” Powell said. “And it’s not like a hot streak, where it’s three or four games. He’s been tearing up the league all year.

“For him to be able to make that next jump is to step up his defensive side of the ball. And we’ve been doing different things with him. If he adds a bit more on the defensive side of the ball, I think that’s what’s going to get guys in the NBA to take another look at him. But I think he’s close. He’s been one of the rocks of this team.”

— Dru Smith: The guard began the season on a Heat two-way contract, lost that contract to Robinson, and then signed a two-way deal with the Brooklyn Nets, where he remains.

“Losing him was a big thing,” Powell said. “It was a big hole to fill. Dru was a player who did what you needed. But that’s also part of what we wanted to do with the roster, was to have the most call-ups.”