Knicks Preview: Tweaking the Three
There has been a perception this season that the paper-mache column in Miamis house of defense is opponent three-point shooting. The suspicion is that there is a glaring hole in Miamis game plan, one that any team capable of getting the ball to shooters behind the three-point line can exploit.
It isnt a very difficult case to build, what with Miami surrendering the fifth-worst shooting percentage from downtown (36.3) in the league. But the more you dig into the context Miami has had extremely bad luck on open catch-and-shoots, of which there have been too many the more it seems that hitting threes isnt the secret plan for the New York Knicks to beat the HEAT, its just something they will have to do in order to simply be in position to win.
And since the All-Star Break, when Erik Spoelstra made a few tweaks to the system, the three has been far less of a poison pill.
This year began with Miamis offense at the forefront. Spoelstra wanted his team to push the ball, spread the floor and, most importantly, create the turnovers that translate into relief baskets. But that came at a cost. By giving players more rope to hunt for steals and jump into passing lanes, that meant more players that would be out of position to fulfill their traditional defensive duties of closing out on shooters.
The result was more open threes for opponents than the year before. The price, it seemed, was too high.
We wanted to build some habits, to be able to disrupt teams and force turnovers, even early on at the expense of giving up some things and that happened to be opportunities at the three-point line, Spoelstra said. Weve adapted, slightly, to be able to be a little bit more conservative and stay at home on shooters while we still have the habits to be able to turn it up in spurts during the game.
The numbers back up the tweaks that were made. Though overall three-point percentages remained steady, the three became far less of a volume weapon. Where teams took 22 threes on average against Miami before All-Star Weekend, that number dropped to 17 from March on. Corner three attempts, the most efficient shots in the game and ones that are generally somewhat open if taken, also dropped, going from six per game to four.
And in fourth quarters in March and April, when Miami was most likely to use its playoff lineups, teams shot just 32.7 percent from distance.
Nobody saw more improvement in his defensive numbers than Wade, who, with the green light to manufacture chaos, tended to stray from the corners to try and create a turnover. Before the All-Star Break, Miami opponents shot 6.3 percent worse on corner threes, and 5.1 percent worse on all threes, when Wade went to the bench.
Post defensive tweaks? There was a negligible difference in opponent three-point shooting with Wade on or off the floor, and corner shots actually went in 10.7 percent less with Wade in the lineup.
For me it was just whatever coach wanted us to do, Wade said. So we focused more on trying to get to the shooters; trying to run them off. We were getting hurt by, early on in the season, teams hitting a lot of threes on us. We were really protecting the paint, but we werent getting them both. Once we realized what the problem was, we tried to fix it. So it was just about trying to make sure all of the guys were comfortable with the system and trusted the system that we wanted to do. And it took a little while.
Wade makes an important point. Throughout the process, Miami was arguably the best team in the league at defending the rim. Only Chicago has allowed a lower percentage in the restricted area this season, while Miami gives up one fewer attempt per game in that same range.
Which brings us to the Knicks. New York is one of the better teams in the league at generating shots at the rim, in part thanks to the attacking ability of Carmelo Anthony, but largely due to the cutting prowess of both Amare Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler. Theyll set up with shooters in either corner and run a high-pick-and-roll, with either Stoudemire or Chandler diving to the rim. The idea being to either get the ball to the cutter while the extra big man is defending the ballhandler, or to have the cutter draw the help defense out of the corner, freeing up a shooter like Steve Novak.
The spread pick-and-roll is the toughest play to defend if you have the right personnel, Shane Battier said. It puts tremendous pressure on your team and you have to be so concise in your movements. Theres a certain timing to it as well, so in a perfect world, yea, youd love to have more guys chucking rollers. But thats not the case most times. You really have to be smart with your angles and your timing.
In January and February, those pick-and-rolls might have caught Miami off guard. But with the interior help defense keeping steady and the screws tightened on perimeter coverage, that may no longer be true. The Knicks will still get, and make, threes, but the more the HEAT can force the ball out of the corner and onto the wing with streak shooters such as J.R. Smith and Carmelo Anthony New York takes more long, above the break threes than anyone outside of Orlando the closer Miami gets to winning the efficiency battle.
Based on the percentages Id rather have them have a foot on the line, Battier said. But, yeah, in a perfect world if I had to choose one Id much rather someone shoot from the arch than the corner.