The Four Furies: It Doesn’t Look Like Jimmy Butler, Kyle Lowry, Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro Are Taking Turns Because None Of Them Care Whose Turn It Is
When you hear it said out loud, the concept of Enjoying Someone Else’s Success sounds a bit like corporate gobbledygook. Some executive read some team-building book and here’s the phrase that leads off the next staff meeting. They finally greenlit In Good Company 2 and here’s the follow-up speech Topher Grace has been waiting 17 years to make.
Nobody can really blame you for thinking that, but Erik Spoelstra believes what he says. He lives what he says. He’s made Enjoy Someone Else’s Success such a fixture of his locker room airspace that you can practically hear it being whispered in your ear whenever you step foot in HEAT facilities. It doesn’t matter if that sounds corny to you, reader, the maxim is as much a part of the fabric of Spoelstra’s teams as any scheme or strategy he employs. Sure, there are years where words ring hollow if the talent isn’t there and the losses pile up. But when the talent is there, and the talent buys in and lives it. Shazam.
“Everybody is so stoked and excited whenever somebody else would make a shot or get a big stop,” Jimmy Butler said after the HEAT beat the Dallas Mavericks by featuring four 22-point scorers for the first time in franchise history. “With this group, we really do enjoy each other’s success like that.”
For as much talk as there has been about Miami’s league-leading defense, it’s also the side of the floor that has, at least generally, undergone the least amount of change. It’s better, to be sure, thanks to drastic upgrades in defensive personnel, but the profile is relatively consistent. Switch a ton, seal off the paint, send liberal and creative help and if you happen to give up a high volume of threes, so be it. Better, but not different.
Offensively, this team is almost unrecognizable from the past handful of years. They isolate and post-up a ton at the cost of pick-and-rolls and handoffs. They mismatch hunt. Shots at the rim are down a little and threes are down a lot. Mid-range attempts are on the rise. Assists are inconsistent night-to-night. Were it not for the team getting to the free-throw line, there’s little in the profile that would indicate much of an analytical slant.
And yet here’s Miami, sitting today as the No. 2 offense in the league (114.3 points per 100 possessions) after a pair of highly efficient, though low volume, three-point shooting nights. Same coach, same forward-thinking mindset as always.
“I think the most important thing is your offensive efficiency,” Spoelstra said. “It’s two things. Are you getting to your strengths and are you doing it efficiently? That’s regardless of whether you’re getting it from the three-point line, the free-throw line or at the rim. We have a team that has an aggressive bent by nature, so we want to play to that. As teams and defenses start adjusting, we have the three-point spacing and shooting that, when it’s needed, we might have some games where we shoot 45-50 attempts to keep the defense honest. We just have to take what’s given.”
Take What’s Given may as well be painted on a sign hanging above a locker-room doorway because it’s the best explanation for why everything is working as it is.
This could change overnight because it’s November 3, but right now the HEAT are one of only three teams featuring three players all with a usage rate over 27 percent (their share of team possessions that end in a shot, foul or turnover). For the Lakers and Timberwolves, that includes their starting point guards. For Miami, it doesn’t, as Kyle Lowry sits all the way down at 15.2 despite leading the team in assist rate and sitting second in average time of possession. In other words, Miami has four engines under the hood of the offense. Somehow, despite Lowry’s presence freeing up Adebayo and Butler for mismatch-targeting post-ups and iso’s and Herro playing with such go-ahead he may as well be playing in a Green Man outfit from Always Sunny, it has never once felt like those four players were participating in the proverbial taking of turns.
“You want to be able to maximize your offense in all the different ways in your menu, without it feeling like you’re taking turns,” Spoelstra said. “I don’t think anyone would say that about our team. It’s an unselfish group, they like sharing the ball, they like enjoying someone else’s success. If they can help someone else score they want to see that happen.”
Throughout Miami’s win in Dallas, in was always one of the four leading the offensive way. And it was also another one of the four enabling them to do it.
Jimmy Butler has never seemed to care about leading the team in either shots or points, finishing each of the last two seasons with more games of single-digit field-goal attempts than over 20. But he’s always had a sense of the moment. Whether the team was stuck in the mud or getting too sped up, he was always ready to steady the moment with a drive down the right side of the lane and a trip to the free-throw line. As the HEAT started slow against the Mavericks, Butler proceeded to either sprint down the floor for a post route or methodically take his screens from Lowry, find the advantage on the switch and go. Twelve points worth of go. Twelve points worth of take what’s given.
“We got a bunch of guys who are really unselfish,” Herro said. “Guys who can go off in any quarter, whether its 10 or 20 points in quarter, we got multiple guys who can do that.”
It was Herro’s turn next. With Luka Doncic at his Luka-iest on the other end, Herro matched him shot-for-shot and then some to the tune of 15 second-quarter points as teammates kept feeding and feeding. We’ve been over the narrative surrounding Herro already. His role on the court is probably the easiest to explain. Very few players in the history of the league have posted a usage rate approaching 30 despite coming off the bench all season, and Herro is primed to become the next, doing it all with a finger on turbo as time has slowed around him.
Sure, Herro’s efficiency is going to fluctuate, wildly at times, because he’s generally taking a ton of pull-up jumpers. Nobody seems to care. His job is to score and score at volume. If the other team tries too hard to prevent him from scoring, his job is to leverage that attention for the benefit of others. It’s a simple role, despite the playmaking reads becoming more complicated as scouting reports evolve. Herro is thriving in the simple. In the take what’s given, or in Herro’s case, take what you make.
“My best attribute is probably to score the ball,” Herro said. “I can score, I feel like with anyone. Just making the right play, whether its setting a teammate up or looking for my shot.”
Herro has led the HEAT in attempts in four of their seven games, carrying 57.8 true-shooting along with him, and it seems the only time he’ll lose popularity in the locker room are the games in which he doesn’t threaten to earn the night’s badge for volume and creativity.
“The world knows that he can score the ball with the best of them,” Butler said. “We need him to keep doing that, keep the confidence high and come out and jack them up there like he always do. That’s what we tell him to do. We love that Tyler. Keep that confidence high because we’re going to need it all [season] long.”
Nobody has seen more of a role shift this season than Adebayo, newly the every-night aggressor in part due to Lowry shouldering more of the playmaking burden. Last year Adebayo was third in the league in setting handoffs at 17.7 per 100 possessions, per Second Spectrum. That number has plummeted to 10.1 per 100, No. 36 among his peers, and as a result his assists have dropped from 5.4 to 1.5 a night. Clearly his talent for passing wasn’t stolen by some malevolent force. He’s simply been placed in position to finish possessions rather than process them.
After a six-point, three-foul first half that Adebayo called “terrible”, Lowry, Butler and Herro all fed their All-Star big as he posted 10 points in the third. There was a pair of geometrically perfect lobs from Lowry, sure, but the rest was New Bam. Post. Re-Post. Attack.
“It’s all about the matchups,” Butler said. “Who got the hot hand, and if I’m being brutally honest who hasn’t touched the ball in a while. I think we have a good grip of that, we’re paying attention to that because we want everybody to be successful. You’re playing with a bunch of guys that do better with the ball, and Kyle is phenomenal at getting everybody the ball where they want to have the ball.”
“We’re playing free basketball,” Adebayo added. “Like Jimmy said we’re sharing the ball, playing together, we know where the shots are going [to come from].”
If any of the four is the butter spread across the toast, it’s Lowry, the team leader in Take What’s Given. Clearly content to play the elite ball-deliverer, as Spoelstra put it earlier this season, Lowry might never take 10 shots in a quarter much less 20 in a game, but he’ll sprinkle in small bursts of aggression between the hit-aheads and pocket passes. On nights when the shot is falling like it was in Dallas (6-of-9 from three), you look at the box score at the end of the game and there’s Lowry with 22 points on 10 shots, including eight in the final period as he plays the perfect quick-trigger, pull-up capable compliment to Adebayo in pick-and-roll.
It’s not taking turns if all you’re doing is flipping the switch on and off.
“Nobody is like, ‘Oh, I have to do this job, or I have to do this, I have to be this certain way,’” Lowry said. “We’ve learned very early that everyone has their own type of job and jobs can be switched. Positions can be turned and flipped and no matter what just go out there and be successful and play hard. We’ll figure it out.”
As hinted at earlier, the mixture of these four fluid offensive roles has produced unusual, if seamless and effective, results. You don’t have to dig too far to find that the team’s efficiency is being sustained by jumpers and floaters. The Lakers are the only other team with similarly low volume drives – Miami is No. 25 in drives per 100 possessions – and three-point attempts. All the added post-ups and isolations aren’t exactly blowing the bloody doors off. Teams may start scouting those quick transition passes more effectively, and the early-season offensive rebounds may dry up a bit given how few bodies the team is actually choosing to crash.
All that might be true to the point that the HEAT are more of a Top 10 offense than Top 2. All that might be enough to explain a few losses down the road. It might not matter. As long as the HEAT are simultaneously capable of scoring nights like they had against Dallas and Memphis, and defensive symphonies like those against Milwaukee and Brooklyn, they’ll be more than just fine. Maybe truly great, in the end. Maybe just very good, if things cool and normalize and do all those things that things do over the course of six months. They’re built for the playoffs, either way. A team full of talent more than happy to play Choose Your Fighter night-to-night, quarter-to-quarter, with a diverse-enough menu to send any caliber or style of opponent home to be a family man.
“It’s not about stats with these guys, and I think that’s so unique,” Spoelstra said. “You can talk about it, you can teach it, you can rant about it as much as you want, it’s a league that is based on celebrating a lot of other things, and rightly so, but ultimately it’s about winning.”
They should be taking turns, these talents. Maybe on some base functional level, they actually are. But to them, they aren’t. And that’s that little something special that can carry you though a season no matter your schemes, shot profiles and rotations.
“It is [rare],” Butler said of the blend. “But it’s because we don’t really care who scores. As long as we win, we’re all happy. As long as we win, we all did our job. No matter if someone scores two points, no points or 25 points.
“We win, everybody is happy.”
Theorize all you want on what the league’s next big thing is. What new type of shot or pick-and-roll coverage or lineup concoction is going to spark a trend that defines the next five years. The HEAT have been that team before, and someday will be again under Spoelstra. But today, maybe the market inefficiency they’re poised to exploit is something far more simple. Maybe this team is just all about Good Vibes.