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Dragic, Heat offense struggling to get on same page

Three key issues are keeping Miami's talented point guard and the team's lineup from realizing their potential

POSTED: Dec 3, 2015 11:25 AM ET

By John Schuhmann

BY John Schuhmann

NBA.com

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As a pick-and-roll combination, Goran Dragic and Chris Bosh are averaging 1.02 points per possession.

The Miami Heat have been here before, trying to put together an offense around three stars that aren't a perfect fit together.

No, Goran Dragic isn't LeBron James. But he was the catalyst for a Phoenix Suns offense that ranked eighth in 2013-14 and seventh through the All-Star break last season before Dragic was traded to Miami. He can flourish in transition as one of the league's best get-it-and-go point guards. And two seasons ago, he was, statistically, the best pick-and-roll ball-handler in the league, racking up 1.15 points per possession for the Suns whenever he came off a ball screen, according to SportVU.

Dragic hasn't been that for Miami. The Heat have scored just 1.00 points per possession on ball screens for their starting point guard, a number that ranks in the middle of the pack among high-volume pick-and-roll ball-handlers. And Dragic has attempted just 1.7 shots in the first six seconds of the shot clock per 36 minutes, down from more than twice that last season.

Goran Dragic FGA in the first 6 seconds of the shot clock
Season Team GP MIN FGA FGA/G FGA/36
2013-14 PHX 76 2,668 248 3.3 3.3
2014-15 PHX-MIA 78 2,640 260 3.3 3.5
2015-16 MIA 16 494 23 1.4 1.7
Through Wed., Dec. 2.
via SportVU

Dragic's usage rate ranks fourth on the team, behind Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Hassan Whiteside. He's having his worst shooting season since his rookie year. And Miami's offense has been more efficient with Dragic on the bench (scoring 104.3 points per 100 possessions) than with him on the floor (99.9).

The Heat are just 16 games into their season, but they didn't give Dragic $85 million this summer to be a fourth wheel on offense. Though Dragic shot well and kept the offense afloat upon arriving in Miami last season, he's struggling to fit in this year. And though the Heat's starting lineup looks like a great offensive unit on paper, it has scored just 97.5 points per 100 possessions, a rate which ranks 29th among 37 lineups that have played at least 75 minutes together.

Is it a bad fit or just a slow start?

We're still figuring things out. We'll continue to watch film together. Teams give us a lot of different looks, so we're not there to the point where it's like, 'Alright, let's give them this part or that part.'

– Miami Heat forward Chris Bosh, on his chemistry with Goran Dragic

"We got to work at it," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said last week. "Each guy is trying to find a way where they can be aggressive in who they are and get into the paint, and then how they can help their teammates out and make the game easier for the other guys."

There are three key issues with Dragic's inability to be himself this season.

Issue No. 1: Dragic has nobody to run with him. When the Heat get a stop, Dragic wants to get the up the floor as quickly as possible. Field goal percentage drops more than 10 percentage points after the first six seconds of the shot clock, so early shots are generally good shots. And there are few players in the league better than Dragic at putting a defense on its heels and getting to the basket.

It would help if he had a teammate or two to accompany him on his fast breaks, but he doesn't. Wade doesn't run much anymore. Bosh and Whiteside don't run. Luol Deng runs on occasion, but plays the fewest minutes of the Heat's starters. The Heat rank 28th in pace (95.9 possessions per 48 minutes) and 18th in fast break points per game (11.6). The starting lineup averaged just 10.5 fast break points per 48 minutes, a rate which would rank 27th.

"It's hard when you get the ball and you like to run and there's three or four people there [on defense] and nobody's running," Dragic said. "Then they can stay focused on you. But if everybody else is running and they're dangerous with the outside shot, then of course [the defense] can't help so much inside."

• Issue No. 2: Wade is doing his own thing on offense. After 12 seasons in the league, he still hasn't developed a 3-point shot that would allow him to comfortably play off the ball. He deferred (after an adjustment period) to James, but clearly isn't ready to turn the offense over to Dragic. Not only is Wade's usage rate higher than it was in any season with James, but he's been assisted on only 24.5 percent of his field goals, the lowest rate of his career.

After the Heat's win in New York last Friday, Wade said that he needs to take over the offense and slow things down at times.

"Coach wanted to make sure that me and Chris kind of led the charge and put it on us to get other guys involved, but also make sure that we were involved," Wade said. "It kind of slows the game down. It kind of gets us in good offensive sets and rhythm."

Slow and deliberate is not what Dragic is about. Still, he could be a terrific half-court point guard if he could develop some chemistry with Bosh. The two never played together last season, but could be a potent pick-and-pop combination, similar to one Dragic was a part of in Phoenix. Those 2013-14 Suns scored a potent 1.25 points per possession when Dragic ran a pick-and-roll with Channing Frye.

• Issue No. 3: Bosh and Dragic haven't developed chemistry -- yet. Bosh isn't the stand-still shooter that Frye is, but he's a more dynamic weapon who has turned himself into a long-distance threat. But chemistry between Dragic and Bosh has been slow to develop and the results (1.02 points per possession in pick-and-rolls) have been underwhelming. A Dragic-Bosh side pick-and-roll, with the other three players on the weak side, would seemingly be devastating, but Miami hasn't run many of those.

"Chris is such dominant player," Dragic said. "He has more weapons. We just need to read how the defense is playing. With Channing, it was different, because they know what was his weapon, only the shot. With Chris, it's different. Every time, they defend differently."

Bosh sees the potential.

"I work well with guards who are aggressive when they attack," he said. "It gets me open shots. We'll eventually catch up to it. We'll keep looking at it. Through 15 games, it's pretty decent. But the upside is huge."

"We're still figuring things out," Bosh said about his chemistry with Dragic. "We'll continue to watch film together. Teams give us a lot of different looks, so we're not there to the point where it's like, 'Alright, let's give them this part or that part.' It'll get there and once we do add that, it'll be another dynamic to this team we can really take advantage of."

Time is on the Heat's side. The playoffs are more than four months away and the offense hasn't needed to be great, because the defense ranks third in the league. And with an offense that's just a hair better than the league average, the Heat are 10-6, just a game in the loss column behind the East-leading Cavs.

The offensive part will come. That's not nothing that we came in and said 'We're going to score 120 a night.' That was never our focus.

– Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade

"The emphasis is always the same in our organization," Spoelstra said. "You have to defend if you want to win."

But if the Heat can find a way to get their three offensive stars on the same page and maybe run the floor once in a while, they could become the favorite to meet Cleveland in the conference finals.

The Heat have been in this situation before, so they're not panicking about the offense. The Big Three Heat didn't really hit their stride offensively until the end of their second season together.

"The offensive part will come," Wade said. "That's not nothing that we came in and said 'We're going to score 120 a night.' That was never our focus. Our focus is we'll get stops and we'll be able to score the basketball at times."

"These are unique, dynamic talents that we have," Spoelstra added. "And working to get these guys all on the same page will take a little bit of time."

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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