Max Strus made himself matter this season. That made his play a net gain for the Miami Heat.
But, as with so many of the Heat’s developmental projects, the question next becomes how long he can continue to matter.
For all of the Heat’s developmental projects over the years, many have come with expiration dates, with Duncan Robinson the latest concern in that regard.
Previously, the Heat appeared on the verge of something special with Derrick Jones Jr., Chris Silva, even Tyler Johnson, among others.
So for all the gains made by Strus, from two-way player a year ago to reserve for most of this past regular season to playoff starter, what ultimately will matter most is backing it up going forward.
What could loom is the type of payoff received last summer by Duncan Robinson … or a pivot by coach Erik Spoelstra to the next man up (or even back to Robinson).
All of which has Strus aware that there has to be more.
“I’ve just got to be more complete,” said Strus, aware that the shelf life of Heat 3-point specialists can be limited, as exemplified by the Heat tenures of Jason Kapono, James Jones, even Wayne Ellington. “Obviously teams are going to force me to make plays inside the arc. So I’ve got to get better there. And I think I’ve taken leaps and bounds as a player in this league.
“Our team didn’t have the outcome that we wanted, but looking through the full year, I think I’ve had a pretty successful season personally. So I’ve grown a lot, learned a lot. There’s definitely areas for improvement. And that’s exciting about this game, that’s what wants you to keep flourishing, is the challenges that come with it and the ways you can get better.”
That part, of course, is non-negotiable.
“You have to develop yourself as a complete player,” Heat president Pat Riley said. “You’ve got to be able to go downhill. Max has to be able to go downhill and finish now. You can’t be going downhill and putting up layups and missing. He’s got to be able to go downhill and make a little pull-up jumper and he’s got to make layups.
“And, so, his game has to change a little bit and he knows this. And he’ll develop this.”
Where Strus, 26, believes strides have been made is in the aspect that likely vaulted him over Robinson in the rotation.
“I mean, I always thought I was solid on the defensive end,” he said. “But I think this year proved that to other people. I think I’ve gotten more respect and am gaining more respect around the league as a better defender. And that’s not something that’s just going to go away.
“People are still going to try me and attack. And I hope they do, because I think it takes them out of their rhythm and takes them out of their offense. And I just keep proving over and over again that I can guard in this league and be a guy that can stop people.”
While much was made of Kyle Lowy’s hamstring strain and Jimmy Butler’s soreness, Strus also was a fixture on the postseason injury report, because of a hamstring strain. Through it all, he started all 18 playoff games.
So a one-year Heat wonder?
Or something more substantial?
“I mean when you look at it, the starting lineup, they put one of their better defenders on me,” he said of where he stood at season’s end in the Eastern Conference finals against the Boston Celtics. “So personally that should be an achievement in itself, that coming from where I came from this season and for us to be in the playoffs and to start the series, I mean Marcus Smart was guarding and he was the Defensive Player of the Year. So that’s got to say something in itself that I did somewhat of a good job this year.
“But I’ve to go figure out other ways to be more helpful. And we’ve all got to figure out ways to do that and be better next year.”