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Toney Douglas Finds his Refuge

USA Today Sports

USA Today Sports

In a recent three-team deal, former Golden State point guard Toney Douglas was traded to the Miami Heat. All that was given up to acquire Douglas from Miami’s front was a likely-to-be second round pick and Joel Anthony — who provided addition by subtraction financially and didn’t provide anything the Heat didn’t already have on the court. Douglas’s career is at a pivotal juncture now, heading to a team with monstrous expectations and little room for error — seemingly a tough situation for a struggling late-first round pick to get himself back on track. But if the Heat intend to keep Douglas, perhaps Miami is best place for Douglas to do so.

Douglas was drafted by the New York Knicks, a team that not only has the most impatient fanbase in the league when fresh blood drapes their team’s colors but a front office that killed Douglas’s development soon after it began producing results. Douglas went from being a stingy defender and knock-down three-point marksman off the bench in his first two seasons to being thrust into the starting lineup as a point guard in year three. Douglas was a disaster as a starting one, with every facet of his game struggling due to his playing out of position (Douglas was also coming off shoulder surgery). Eventually this wrecked Douglas’s confidence, he lost the love of Knicks fans along with his starting job and later a spot in the rotation.

He was traded that offseason to Houston — where his shooting returned to form — but was shipped to Sacramento mid-season where his statistics remained relatively the same. Douglas wasn’t terrible in Houston, even replacing Jeremy Lin as the team’s lead guard down the stretch in some contests because of his defensive ability. This summer Douglas signed with the Golden State Warriors, which I immediately found to be an awkward fit:

“Douglas is replacing Jarrett Jack as the Warriors’ back-up point guard. Although Douglas will bring the defense that starter Stephen Curry doesn’t, Jack oftentimes found himself playing alongside the sharp-shooting Curry and feeding him the ball as he would a wing. Douglas doesn’t have the distribution skills of a Jarrett Jack, hell he nearly ended his possessions in a turnover as much as he did in an assist.”

Having to front arguably the worst bench unit in the NBA without another ball-handler or healthy big man to cover his mistakes (plus an injury to battle), Douglas once again struggled. He’s now headed to Miami, where despite the high standards for the team, what could be his perfect role in the NBA awaits him.

With Dwyane Wade and Ray Allen having their minutes regulated for health and fatigue concerns, the Heat were reported to be looking for bench depth at shooting guard over a month ago. Thus, this trade for Toney Douglas comes as no surprise. Douglas has the skillset of a shooting guard, but more importantly, his flaws should be very easy to cover for on this team.

Douglas will surely always be on the floor with either Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole, LeBron James or Dwyane Wade — all capable floor generals with strong ball handling abilities. On offense, Douglas will be playing off the ball for the lion’s share of his time on the court, meaning no giveaways from poor passing and dribbling. His shot will almost certainly return to normalcy if not reach new heights as primarily a spot-up shooter. Per mySynergySports, Douglas has connected on 43.8% of his spot-up threes this season and 42.4% last year. These attempts will skyrocket on a team that doesn’t require him to do anything more. It also helps that Douglas fits the bill as a guard that likes running out in transition, even though he’s a sub-par finisher around the rim.

Even through his ups and downs, Douglas has remained a useful defender. He has a tendency to barrel through screens with no regard for his health or a potential foul call, but that’s the trade-off for his relentless attitude on that end of the court. Douglas boosted his team’s defense (points allowed per 100 possessions with Douglas on compared to off the court) in Sacramento during the 2013 season, and in his final two seasons as a Knick. He won’t move the needle much defensively on this squad, but there’s no reason he shouldn’t fit right in.

Then there are the intangibles — things that don’t pertain to the stat-sheet but have an effect on Toney’s fit with the Heat. For one, Douglas will be playing with LeBron James, the best basketball player on the planet. He happens to make other players better. Rashard Lewis is a rotation player in 2014 because of LeBron James. Think about that. Also, Douglas went to Florida State — a lengthy drive from Miami’s American Airlines Arena but still somewhat close to what was Douglas’s home for two college seasons.

In response to the trade, Zach Lowe wrote a column that suggests the Heat will cut either Douglas or Roger Mason Jr. to sign Andrew Bynum:

“Miami already has two players who do all that stuff [that Toney Douglas does well] better in Norris Cole and Chalmers, and those two have years of familiarity with Miami’s unique way of life. Douglas may not be long for this team, though he’s intriguing enough to at least make Miami think about which player they’d miss least — Douglas or Roger Mason Jr. — in the event they cut someone to open a roster spot.

Mini-prediction: One of those guys, probably Douglas, will go in order to make way for Andrew Bynum.”

I think there are a few counter-points to be made. Chalmers and Cole are significantly better than Douglas, but he isn’t being traded to the team to replace either of them or take any of their minutes. Miami was reported to be looking for a backup two. Douglas’s size may slot him as a technical point guard, but the Heat have embraced the two-point guard scheme this season and Douglas would be a solid complement in one of these looks.

Douglas being cut over Roger Mason Jr. seems questionable as well. Mason Jr. has jumped from the inactive list to the starting lineup and back a few times this season, and his statistics ring very similarly to Douglas’s. However, Douglas has the upper hand defending the rock, and is much quicker as well. Does that give him enough of an edge? Will the Heat favorite Mason Jr. because he signed with the team first? Are they even going to cut someone to sign Andrew Bynum? Again, I don’t know. It wouldn’t shock me, but I’d side with Miami wanting to give Douglas minutes.

If the Heat do keep Douglas, they’ll have traded for an inconsistent, out-of-position guard looking to find his niche in the league. But by the end of the season, there’s a chance the Heat will have traded for a solid young player who plays within his role and fits the team’s dynamic. If there was ever a shot for Toney Douglas to turn his career around, it’s now.

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