Prized Possessions: Mike Bibby

With Mario Chalmers sidelined for up to two weeks with a knee sprain, the new starting point guard for the Miami HEAT is Mike Bibby. And the general consensus is that not a whole lot is going to change.

“I think I’ll be the same,” Bibby said of his new role.

“Not much of an adjustment, honestly,” LeBron James said. “Mike likes to get off the ball a lot too. He likes to set early screens down on the floor, and get off the ball.”

Sounds much like Chalmers’ game, whose improved off-ball capabilities have been a boon for the HEAT over the past month, including late-game situations. But just how similarly do Bibby (10.1 PER, 107 Defensive Rating) and Chalmers (10.8 PER, 104 Defensive Rating) use the floor? To SynergySports, where we can find just how often a possession used by each player results in a specific type of play:

The first thing we absolutely must note is that these are percentages of each player’s possessions with only the HEAT. As such, we are operating with a miniscule sample size of 57 possessions for Bibby, and a robust 455 for Chalmers.

There are notable differences, but nothing major, as each has been primarily a spot-up shooter for Miami. Chalmers makes plays as the ball handler off picks more often, while Bibby makes more plays as the pick setter (a skill we’ll get to with video later). Bibby runs off, and shoots off, more screens, while Chalmers cuts slightly more and has used more transition possessions, all while playing slightly more in isolation.

Considering Bibby’s sample size, and the fact that Bibby will be asked to do most of the same things playing alongside the starters that Chalmers was, many of these differences are negligible, as we can illustrate here:

But even when two players are asked to do the exact same things, they are still two different players, each with his own way of operating on the court. With that in mind, let’s look at some tape to see just how Bibby functions with the HEAT.

As Dribbler:

This is different than being the primary ballhandler, coming up the court and setting up the offense. Once the play is set, Bibby tends to pass and move off ball fairly quickly. Being the dribbler, however, simply means putting the ball on the floor and forcing the action.

Though Bibby is no longer going to break people down off the dribble in isolation, he is a heady player who sees the angles, and given how often he is running off screen situations when he’s not spreading the floor, will penetrate whenever he can make the catch going toward the rim.

In this example, Bibby gets the ball to Chris Bosh in the high post, sets a baseline pick for Dwyane Wade, then curls off a Jamaal Magloire screen, receives the ball in motion from Bosh, and gets a short floater.

The shot rims out, but the Hawks are called for goaltending and Bibby is credited with the hoop. This is not something he’ll be asked to do with much regularity, but like Chalmers’ ability to penetrate along the baseline, a few possessions like this a game – forcing the defense to react in a different way – can have a positive ripple effect on floor spacing for the rest of the evening.

But more important than creating his own offense is setting up Miami’s primary scorers, as Bibby does here, handing the ball off to a downhill-moving James, one of the most dangerous situations in the league for any defense.

The play stalls when James picks up his dribble, trying to get his defender in the air and draw a foul, but most of the time, good things will result in being patient and finding James or Wade for that handoff.

Our third dribble example is a simple pick-and-roll with Bosh. Neither Chalmers nor Bibby runs the P:R even once every five possessions, but as Bibby shows here, he is more than capable of executing with precision.

Oklahoma City’s defense swarms and Bosh loses the ball, but Bibby successfully draws both defenders as a shooting threat – which we’ll get to in a moment – and gets Bosh the ball, as with James, with a clear path to the basket.

And if the defense doesn’t shade toward Bibby as he dribbles in mid-range, he will do what he’s been doing for years: pull-up.

As Screen Setter:

Thanks in large part to his days in Rick Adelman’s high-post, motion offense with the Sacramento Kings – an offense Spoelstra pulls from, most notably with Bosh – Bibby is an excellent screener. He stays wide, sets a strong base, gets his elbows up and forces contact, all of which fits perfectly in an offense which has asked it’s guards to set screens for the better part of the year.

One set Spoelstra runs often involves both big men starting at the elbows and having the point guard either pass off to a wing or two one of the big men, depending on the variation. Typically, Bibby curls down around one screen set by the center, then sets a back pick to free Bosh before running off another pick from the center to space the floor from the top.

Here, Bibby’s man doubles slowly onto Bosh in the post, so Bosh kicks the ball out, and Bibby initiates the reverse, again resulting in Wade getting the ball with a path to the rim, where he scores.

If the defense fronts Bosh or the pass cannot otherwise reach him, as it does in the following play, the ball swings to Bibby.

Again, Bibby’s threat as a shooter draws both defenders and gets the defense, forced to react to Anthony’s dive down the middle of the paint, out of position. The resulting shot from Wade is not the optimal look, but both ball and player movement were present, making it at least a partially successful possession.

Bibby doesn’t just set off-ball screens, however. Here, he runs a pick-and-roll with Wade and then takes advantage of a hard closeout to penetrate and find Wade near the rim.

This is quite the Bibby showcase. He runs off a pick to catch the inbounds in the corner, passes off, curls off a down screen, sets the pick on Wade’s man, pops, catches, dribbles then feeds Wade. He didn’t take a shot, but Bibby was a focal point of that possession, from freeing himself off the inbounds to setting a tough pick on James Harden, and was the reason the ball found one of the league’s best finishers near the basket.

As Spot-Up Shooter:

Bibby’s bread and butter, and the lifeblood of the HEAT’s offense. If the shooters aren’t shooting, making or not, then they cannot be threats. And without threats, the floor spacing, so crucial to Wade, James and Bosh’s ability to attack, breaks down.

Fortunately, Bibby is making spot-up threes at an extraordinary rate, hitting on 12-of-24 and scoring 1.36 points per spot-up possession. But it’s not just shooting talent, it’s having special awareness of the floor, always giving Miami’s attackers an out should the defense collapse to the middle, as you see in the following two plays.

Note here that Bibby doesn’t have time to lick his finger and test the wind on either of these. The closeouts are coming fast, so he shoots in rhythm, just the way he likes it.

“I’d rather be rushed a little bit so you can be in the rhythm and shoot it,” Bibby said. “I’d rather have a contested shot than a wide open one.”

Leading the Break:

Synergy only credits Bibby with five transition possessions with the HEAT so far, but his safe, heady passing – turning the ball over only 14 percent of the time – works well when, most of the time, Miami’s role players just have to get the ball to the freight trains and get out of the way.

It also helps to be patient, as Bibby is here, hitting Bosh in the secondary break.

The question here is not about what Bibby can do differently than Chalmers, it’s about how he fits into the whole. And even though we have limited data available to us, Bibby’s abilities as dribbler, screener, passer and shooter have transitioned fairly seamlessly into the offense. Being the starter won’t make much of a difference.

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