Haywood Highsmith doesn’t fit the profile of your typical NBA player.
Sure, he’s 6’4″ and 220 lbs, but he also hails from D-II Wheeling Jesuit, located in West Virginia, and went undrafted when he graduated in 2018. His road to NBA relevancy has been long and winding, and it’s not finished yet.
After playing for the Philadelphia 76ers in 2018-2019, Highsmith plied his trade overseas for a few seasons in Germany and Italy. The 76ers again came calling with a 10-day contract but released him before the start of the 2021-2022 season.
Then, after a string of COVID absences, the Miami Heat signed him to a series of short-term contracts. He didn’t get much burn, but they clearly saw something they liked in him, and he signed a three-year deal (with team options) in March of 2022.
Haywood Highsmith is the next breakout star for the Miami Heat
Highsmith is mostly known for his defense and motor. He’s strong and athletic, and he plays how you’d expect from a man fighting for his NBA career. Highsmith is a solid off-ball mover and was a 40% three-point shooter in college, although he hasn’t gotten enough touches in the NBA to really showcase his offensive talent yet. He is a plus rebounder for his size and doggedly pursues every loose ball, and he’s a capable defender from 1-3.
He only played more than 16 minutes in one game with the Heat this past season – when he logged 40 against the Magic on the last game of the season as the Heat rested their starters for the playoffs.
The 25-year-old scored 16 points and snagged five rebounds, and while his shot wasn’t falling, he was appropriately aggressive on both ends of the floor. He has a little more off-the-bounce game than, say, Duncan Robinson, as you can see from this late-game highlight:
His G League stats were more impressive, as Highsmith averaged a well-rounded 13.4 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 2.2 “stocks” with the Delaware Blue Coats in fewer than 30 minutes per game.
Despite his lack of playing time, the Heat were impressed.
"“Really like him as a two-way, offense-defensive player,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He already kind of fits that mold of a three-and-d guy. He can guard multiple positions. He’s strong. He can guard quicker or bigger guys. He’s a more than capable three-point shooter."
Who does that remind you of?
Max Strus is particularly instructive as another low-profile college gunner with the athleticism to hold his own on defense. Haywood is similarly-sized, and although he doesn’t have the quick trigger that Strus has, he’s certainly been willing to get his attempts up when given the opportunity – an underrated aspect of cracking the Heat’s rotation.
Strus, of course, played his way into a starting role for the Heat during their playoff run. Haywood probably won’t reach that level, but he could prove to be a similar revelation as the Heat’s next unearthed gem.