The idea of the Miami Heat having "sleepers" might seem strange at first, considering the amount of media coverage the team gets.
However, buried behind the future Hall of Famers and well-known names, there are some less heralded players who will impact Heat basketball this year. Eyes need to be kept on them throughout preseason play.
Cole will enter the preseason already a rotation player for the Heat (he averaged 19.9 minutes per game last season). But there is certainly the potential for him to have a strong preseason and an increased role for the 2013-14 season.
Cole showed tremendous growth towards the end of his second season in the league. He became an asset from downtown (53.1 three-point percentage in the postseason), cut down on turnovers (in three of the last four months in the regular season he averaged one turnover or less per game), and he even started to finish at the rim.
If he can prove those improvements aren't fluky, he could very well steal some of starting point guard Mario Chalmers' minutes.
Given that they are a veteran-laden team, the Heat don't have many players who are likely to be better than they were a year ago. At just 24 years old, Cole is one of the few whom we can expect to exceed his 2012-13 play, making him a must-watch guy in the preseason.
Jones figures to be the biggest beneficiary from the Heat's decision to amnesty Mike Miller. Miller leaves behind 15.3 minutes per game, and Jones may be able to scoop up the majority of them.
Over his 10-year career, Jones has shot 39.9 percent from beyond the arc. Simply put, he's a sharpshooter.
However, he's not an asset in any other area of the game.
Still, that type of player has some value on this Miami team that loves to surround LeBron James and Dwyane Wade with outside shooters. Those two slash to the basket, command the defense's attention, and find the shooter for an open three.
Coming off the worst shooting season of his career (30.2 3PT%) since his rookie year, Jones needs to get back to around the 40 percent level in the preseason and show the Heat he can handle Miller's old role.
Varnado is in a different position than Cole and Jones. He's going to be fighting for a roster spot throughout the preseason. The 25-year-old is currently under contract with the Heat, but on a non-guaranteed deal.
Varnado played just 40 minutes with the Heat last season, so there wasn't a lot to learn about him from his first Miami season. However, I recently saw Varnado in extended action as a key member of the Heat's summer league teams. He was solid, but didn't wow me.
As he did in college, Varnado blocked shots in bunches. He also flashed a nice mid-range jumper.
Still, he struggled rebounding at times. If that issue continues in the preseason, that could hold Varnado back from making the roster. Miami can use all the rebounding help it can get.
Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel has speculated that the $250,000 Varnado receives if he makes the opening-night roster will work against his chances, which means that the big man is really going to have to prove he belongs if he is to crack the final 15-man roster.
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