NBA summer league 2022 – How Max Strus parlayed four games in Las Vegas to become a critical part of the Miami Heat

IT WAS AUG. 11.12.2021and at the Cox Pavilion in Las Vegas, what looked like an ordinary NBA summer league game between the Miami Heat and the Memphis Grizzlies was anything but.

This was a sudden death after the NBA changed the rules for summer league games that go to double overtime seven years earlier.

The next basket wins.

With a 94 tie, Heat big man Omar Yurtseven won the opening bounce and tipped the ball to Max Strus. The sophomore guard, who had played 513 total NBA minutes in his first two seasons, calmly took seven dribbles — from the opposite 3-point line to the heats — and started.

hiss

His teammates, who shared his dreams and ambitions, stormed off the bench to celebrate when Strus punched him in the chest and let out a celebratory yell.

It was a high point amid a four-game stretch in which Strus averaged 20.8 points and shot 40% from long range.

As Strus looks back over the past year, he knows that one of the most important steps in his basketball journey involved a gamble in Las Vegas.

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Max Strus opens double overtime with a 3-pointer from the top of the button and the Heat takes down the Grizzlies 97-94.

After struggling to find a consistent niche in his first full season with the Heat in the 2020-21 season, Strus made the decision to return to the Summer League despite instigating a contract for next season.

“The summer league was everything for me last season,” says Strus. “It gave me all the confidence in the world to do what I did last season, honestly.”

And it was exactly what the Heat were looking for: a showcase for the youngster to shine as the team’s leader.

“I didn’t really play much when I was on a two-way,” says Strus. “They said, ‘Okay, we think you can take the next step in your career,’ and they believed in me.”

It’s another summer league success story, with Strus pointing to similar promotions from Heat teammate Duncan Robinson and Boston Celtics guard Derrick White. And Strus said he knew he was just the latest example of a player whose productive weeks in the desert led to a promising NBA career.

“I think, yeah, I’d be the guy that people can look at and say, ‘He was in his third year in the NBA, he probably shouldn’t have played in the Summer League, but he made it,'” he said Straus says. “‘And it was best for him. And now look where he is.'”


AFTER GOING UNDRAFTED In 2019, the Celtics signed Strus for training camp but ultimately partially cut him off to retain the 7-foot-6 center Tacko Fall. Later that year, after being signed by his hometown Chicago Bulls, Strus tore his ACL at the G League Showcase and missed the season. After the Bulls cut him, Strus rehabilitated his knee and signed a contract with the Heat in 2020.

“I have a lot of chips on my shoulder,” says Strus. “If one isn’t working for me that day, I have so many others to fall back on. Being under-recruited, it’s going D-II, it’s getting hurt, it’s being renounced. I have all these things in my head that keep pushing me. “

Strus’ rise from G Leaguer to NBA starter reinforces the reputation for player development the Heat instilled in Pat Riley’s two decades in office.

“I knew from the first week that I was here that this is exactly what was meant for me,” says Strus. “It starts with practicing and working overtime and that’s really appreciated here.”

Strus’ play throughout the season actually knocked Robinson out of the rotation. But what impressed Heat coach Erik Spoelstra most about Strus is the mental toughness he has shown.

“Having the guts, the stamina, and the mental stability to do this consistently throughout a long NBA season,” Spoelstra said. “Anyone can do it for a week … but then three months into the season, I think we all learn what our makeup is. That can sometimes take guys a bit sideways, and it didn’t.”

Max Strus, a summer league claim, is Exhibit A.

STRUS’ RISE TO The NBA is one of the more unlikely in recent memory. After graduating from Stagg High School in Hickory Hills, Illinois, he played at Division II Lewis University for two years before joining DePaul. Once there, then-Blue Demons coach Dave Leitao had a thought.

“When I went to DePaul, I thought I would play abroad or could have played in Europe,” says Strus. “But when Coach Leitao pulled me into his office and said, ‘No, you can play in the NBA,’ that’s all I thought about after that. That was my goal.”

It’s a dream that has been nurtured in the Strus household for as long as he can remember. Strus admits he’s not even the best athlete in his immediate family. That title goes to his mother, Debra, who was inducted into DePaul’s Hall of Fame as a volleyball player and also played basketball. His father, John, worked in Eastern Illinois for a year. His sister Maggie played volleyball at the University of Illinois Chicago. His brother Marty played basketball with Lewis.

“We’re just a huge athletic family,” says Strus. “And when we get together, it’s like, ‘What sport are we playing today?’ So that’s just how I was raised.”

And so, after two volatile years, he found himself back in Las Vegas, still trying to build a basketball career. After making the heat, he averaged 10.6 points in 68 games and shot 41% from the afterlife in the 2021-22 season.

“I understand why people … outside of Florida have no idea who he is,” Spoelstra said during Heat’s Eastern Conference Finals series against the Celtics that year. “He excelled in our summer program in the Summer League. And he’s been through a lot of ups and downs and learning experiences over the past year.”

“The minutes are not typical minutes for a young player; they were minutes with great context, pressure and expectations,” added Spoelstra. “And if it wasn’t done right, the vets would skip him. I think that’s the quickest way to learn in this league. We are now talking about 24 months. He has a lot of experience under his belt.”


HEAT STAR JIMMY BUTLER, to put it liberally, does not respect easily. He doesn’t mince his words either.

But the 11-year NBA veteran has no hesitation in praising Strus.

“I don’t want to get a fine, so I won’t say the word, but in the locker room we always say they don’t have a B-word in them,” Butler said recently of Strus and Heat teammate Gabe Vincent. “Because they don’t. At no point in the game are you afraid of anyone, of any task. It always helps to have these guys on your side and they are everything organizing Miami Heat is about.

“They play hard, they’re not selfish in the slightest and they want to win above all.”

Not only did Strus befriend the former Bulls player, whom he cheered for in the Chicago suburbs, he earned Butler’s respect as an equal — on a team that was just one win away from an NBA Finals.

“I told him I met him one of the first times. I was like, ‘Dude, I grew up with you,'” says Strus. “‘I was in high school when you guys were in the playoffs.’ … So it’s crazy how it all turned around again.”

As Strus continues to write his story alongside Butler, he recalls the obstacles he faced to get here.

“I’m established now,” says Strus. “I think I’m an established NBA player. I started every game in the playoffs, Eastern Conference Finals, and I think I’m here to stay now. Last year I didn’t believe anyone – the first day I went to Summer League, I don’t think anyone knew who I was or knew my name. When I left Summer League I think people had it and now they know for sure who I am.

You also know who Strus is because he was involved in one of the weirdest sequences in NBA history in Game 7 of those East Finals against Boston.

Strus threw a 3-pointer deep into the corner that cut the Celtics’ lead – which had been 17 points in the first half – to 56-54 with 11:04 in the third quarter. After several minutes of gameplay – during which the Celtics put together another run – Strus’ Trey was knocked over by the NBA Replay Center in Secaucus, New Jersey for stepping out of bounds. The Heat lost that game 100-96, ending their season.

Strus knows that no matter how far he gets in his career, the call will be part of his legacy.

“… After the game, my brother said: ‘At least one rule is named after you now,'” says Strus.

Strus won’t play for the Heat’s summer league roster this week, but he believes the foundation he built there and the confidence he found will translate into an even better run next year. Spoelstra and the Heat coaching staff want Strus to focus on the positives of his season and not what he’s saying during the conference finals.

“I could have done a lot better … and I get that, and they get that,” says Strus. “The talks at the end of the season were very positive that I took the necessary step this year.”

Just like Strus’ brave 3-pointer in last year’s summer league double overtime, players sometimes need a shot to prove they belong. For Strus, returning to Las Vegas was just the opportunity he needed.

https://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/34174775/nba-summer-league-2022-how-max-strus-parlayed-four-games-las-vegas-become-critical-part-miami-heat NBA summer league 2022 – How Max Strus parlayed four games in Las Vegas to become a critical part of the Miami Heat

Emma Bowman

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