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The Post Handoff: Wade and James

In their first preseason game against the Orlando Magic, the Miami HEAT ran five handoff plays with their rotation players in the game. That amounted to about 6.5 percent of their total possessions before Erik Spoelstra put in the young guys.

The HEAT ran handoffs two percent of the time last season, even less in the playoffs. And most of those possessions involved a big man receiving the ball at the elbow with the express purpose of handing the ball back off to a wing or guard. Sometimes this would result in Dwyane Wade diving down middle of the paint – and there was a misdirection handoff for Wade that Spoelstra used a handful of times at the end of games – but the far more common result was a long two-point jumper, if not a simple reset for the ballhandler. So it shouldn’t be surprising that Miami was in the middle of the pack for points scored per handoff (.916).

What the HEAT did against Orlando was different.

What if we could tell you could have one of the NBA’s elite scorers in the post, less than 15 feet away from the basket and possibly with a mismatch, with another elite scorer accelerating towards the rim directly past him? Would that be something you’d be interested in?

It should be, because not only is it another lethal option for the team, it’s another situation that shows the continued growth in the HEAT’s offensive chemistry. That’s because these aren’t set plays. Their reads, or, in other words, instinct plays.

“And that’s the way we like to keep it,” Spoelstra said. “We want to continue to develop more actions where the two of them are involved and where it’s not necessarily scripted. It’s clear we’d like to have a presence in the post. They’re providing us those opportunities in the paint. They’re being very unselfish and they’re using their IQ and commitment on cutting. It takes energy, takes effort to make those types of plays, but it adds into the dynamic of a post-game where it’s not just an isolation, not just a post up.”

Consider first these post-handoff combinations – excluding high-post actions – from last year, and how many times Miami used a possession involving those two players:

  • Bosh-LeBron: 2
  • LeBron-Wade: 2
  • Bosh-Wade: 6
  • Bosh-Chalmers: 2
  • Wade-Chalmers: 2

That’s for the entire season, including the playoffs. Against the Magic, as you’ll see, the HEAT already ran half of the total of LeBron-to-Wade post handoffs that they did in all of 2010-11. But you’ll also see the Wade-to-LeBron combination that was never seen before.

James has to consider three defenders before he makes the cut in the first possession. First, Hedo Turkoglu has to turn his head for a second – or James could shake him with a v-cut to the left.

“We want to cut through any time our guys get in the post,” James said. “Just when the defense relaxes and you hit the post and your guy that is guarding you relaxes a little bit, you’re able to get maybe a quick layup.”

Then he has to be aware of Jason Richardson, on Wade in the post.

“Sometimes, if you do it too fast you may charge the guy that’s guarding the guy in the post because he’s able to step over quickly,” James said.

Lastly, there’s the help defender, in this case Dwight Howard, who James forces the contact on by jumping back and into Howard.

In the second possession, Richardson sees the handoff coming and jumps in front of Wade, but Wade, using a v-cut this time, adjusts and draws the foul instead. Because this is simply an option play, not a set, everything relies on the two-man game between the primary players.

“The read is the defender,” Wade said. “Sometimes the defender is going to trail, sometimes the defender is going to shoot the gap. You just have to read and see how much space your man has and you don’t want to put him in a bad situation by having the ball when they have no space and getting a turnover. So, it’s just a read of the other guy’s defender and how well [you] cut.”

And that’s the larger point. These are just handoffs, they’re cuts, and the HEAT are one of the best cut teams in the league when they move off-the-ball, shooting almost 70 percent and scoring 1.30 points in those possessions. If Miami is doing much more of that, with two of the best wing scorers in the league, does that sound like something you might be interested in?