The Deception of Individual Scoring

Some things make sense both at first glance and even after allowing for some mental lingering. Then you take a closer, analytical look and your logic slowly dissipates in the presence of fact.

Our starter idea was simple. As impressive as an explosive quarter from Dwyane Wade or LeBron James, as much fun as it is to shape a narrative around verbs such as dominate, decimate and destroy, they are individual, not team feats. Even with easy offense created by turnovers, once a perimeter player gets it going, there’s bound to be contested, low-percentage shots mixed in that disrupt the overall flow of the offense.

Basically, when a team has a single player control an entire quarter’s worth of offense, execution tends to suffer. And when execution suffers, eventually efficiency follows suit as a team grows stagnant, falling back on the ease with which they were able to watch one player do the work.

So, when James drops 14 on the New York Knicks in the first quarter last December or Wade opens a mid-February game against the Indiana Pacers with 22, it makes sense that, over the course of a game, those performances have a negative effect, lending to Miami’s second-half struggles with execution. And when the HEAT have first-second half splits of 106.3 and 81.32 points per 100 possessions in Game 4 against the Philadelphia 76ers, reason points to Wade’s 14-point second quarter as the point at which the downward trend began.

Note: we are excluding Bosh from this research since, by the nature of his role in the offense, much of his scoring already comes in the flow of the offense.

According to numbers from NBA StatsCube, that’s just not true. When James or Wade have scored 12 or more points in either a first or second quarter, the HEAT have topped both their first and second half averages for offensive efficiency. The same goes for when they score 14 or more. Up the variable to 16 and you get a slight downturn in second halves, but the sample size is so small at that point it’s tough to come to any conclusions.

If that doesn’t make sense, allow this chart to illustrate the point:

Not only does Miami’s second-half efficiency slightly improve when Wade or James score at least 12 in a first-half quarter, the HEAT actually underperform when such an event does not occur. Spread over sufficient data, the negative correlation does not exist.

What we can see is quite simple: the HEAT have been more efficient before halftime than after.

There are, naturally, plenty of other causes. What Wade or James are or aren’t scoring has nothing to do with how much or where they are shooting. But the same goes for the team at large. When the HEAT are not efficient, it comes down to a lack of attention to detail. In Game 4 against the 76ers, Erik Spoelstra says, those details were things like screening, action on the run, creating separation and operating with a high motor.

“I look more, are we getting more opportunities in the paint or at the rim,” Spoelstra said. “We didn’t the other night and they got us to settle. A lot of details of our offense we didnt execute correctly and we paid for it. A lot of times it is the little things and we didn’t take care of all the little things. By the second half we became a jump shooting team and that isn’t enough to beat them.”

Now the logic centers of our brains perk back up. Take fewer jumpers, earn looks in the paint and get your teammates open and you will profit in the half-court, and that’s even before considering all the goodness created from consistent defense. The HEAT have often struggled in second halves because of those things, not because of over-reliance grown from Wade or James taking over a quarter and launching a few in-rhythm jumpers along the way.

That may seem rudimentary, but it’s worth taking a look at nonetheless. Sometimes you have to prove yourself – in this instance, myself – wrong before your mind will put you on the path to an answer. And in searching for the solution for Miami’s second-half struggles, as tends to be true in all cases, the answers reside in the gray area, in the details that exist neither in data points nor in visual recognition during live action.

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