Smith: Former MSU Star signed by Heat based on potential

DJ Stewart takes a shot from the free throw line during his time as a Bulldog.

DJ Stewart has signed an Exhibit 10 contract with the Miami Heat, giving him a likely spot in training camp for Miami. After going un-drafted, Stewart was added to the Heat's summer league roster where he started three of their seven games. Compared to his stats while playing for Mississippi State University, his summer league performance was underwhelming. He averaged 5.6 points and 12.2 rebounds while shooting 33% from the field and 20% from behind the arc playing 14.6 minutes per game.

Defensively, he averaged 0.7 steals and 0.2 blocks per game, while committing over one foul each game. It is expected that some players, especially those who go un-drafted, will struggle in their first taste of professional basketball. However, I do not believe anyone expected Stewart to struggle as much as he did.

After seeing his disappointing performance in the summer league, why did the Heat sign DJ Stewart? Athletic shooting guards with a frame like Stewart's are hard to come by. Standing at 6-foot-6 with a 7 foot wingspan, Miami seems to see a ton of potential in Stewart. Plus, signing him to an Exhibit 10 contract means Miami owns the rights to him and can later convert him to a two-way contract. If this occurs, he would spend most of his time playing for the Heat G-League affiliate, the Sioux Falls Skyforce, giving Miami plenty of options. 

What is the realistic best case scenario for Stewart this season? Making the Miami Heat roster. All-Star shooting guard Victor Oladipo is expected to miss the first month of the season, potentially leaving the Heat with an open rotation spot at the guard position. I expect to see Duncan Robinson start for the Heat in his spot, with Tyler Herro coming off the bench. If either of these young stars suffered an injury before the season started, the door would be opened for Stewart to have a huge opportunity as a role player in his rookie season. Although, even this feels like a stretch. 

Even if Stewart plays incredibly well in training camp, the Heat would most likely prefer to send him to the G-League. This way, Stewart gets a large amount of playing time against professional competition and garners constant focus from the coaching staff on ways to take his game to the next level. We have seen a similar situation happen with a couple of former MSU stars. Quinndary Weatherspoon has spent the past two seasons averaging almost 15 points per game for the Austin Spurs in the G-League, while also spending some time on the San Antonio Spurs' roster. Robert Woodard spent last season also playing for the Austin Spurs, averaging over 16 points and 11 rebounds, as well as playing a role in winning a summer league title a few days ago. In my opinion, it would benefit him much more playing in the G-League than riding the bench for the Miami Heat. 

There's another side to this unfortunately. What is the worst that can happen for DJ Stewart? I am going to take any potential injury out of the equation and hope DJ stays healthy. With that aside, if he performs poorly at training camp, the Miami Heat have the option to cut Stewart from their roster, choosing to not even keep him for their G-League affiliate, making him an unrestricted free agent. Following this, most likely, DJ Stewart would sign to play professionally overseas somewhere. Other former MSU stars have taken this route such as Fred Thomas and Lamar Peters. Even though it is not the NBA, these players are still being paid to play basketball as their job, which is not the end of the world. Stewart could end up joining them if he does not show out at training camp. 

The reality is that DJ Stewart's future professional career very easily could be determined before the NBA season begins. It will be interesting to see how Miami handles him. I expect him to end up on a two-way contract, spending most, if not all of his time with the Sioux Falls Skyforce. I expect to see him back in the summer league next year. Whether it is with Miami or not will be determined by his performance this season. 

I truly wish DJ Stewart had stayed another year at MSU and taken the opportunity to improve in college as well as play with the talented team Ben Howland has assembled for this upcoming season. I do wish him the best in his professional endeavors, as I do for all our former MSU athletes. 

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