The Miami HEAT are 24-15, No. 4 in the Eastern Conference with a plus-3.8 Net Rating that ranks No. 7 in the NBA. They’re still not whole, with a handful of players still injured, but at least they have players moving through health and safety protocols ahead of a showdown with Phoenix on Saturday. Here’s what we’ve been noting and noticing:
Rebounding may be one of the most misunderstood – or under-understood, since it doesn’t typically garner much thought in the first place – areas of the professional game. It’s easy to tell who gets a lot of rebounds. That’s as easy as looking at a box-score. It’s tougher to determine who is actually a good rebounder, given how much of those totals are determined by team scheme, composition and a player’s role.
Omer Yurtseven has pulled in at least 12 rebounds – with a recent string of 16, 17 and 16 again – in ten straight games. He’s the first HEAT player, ever, to do so. It’s the second-longest streak of 12 rebounds for a rookie in the past decade, and he could tie Blake Griffin for the longest this Saturday against Phoenix. In league history, Yurtseven is tied with Willis Reed for the longest 12-rebound streak by a rookie.
Impressive stuff. The good news is that beyond the can-be-misleading raw totals – if you’re often in drop coverage with feet in the paint, and by far the largest player in your regular lineups, you’ll happen across quite a few rebounds, especially at a faster pace – Yurtseven appears to be a very good rebounder. For starters, his total rebound percentage of 23.8, the percentage of how many available rebounds Yurtseven acquires, would have him tied with Clint Capela for No. 3 in the league behind Rudy Gobert (25.3) and Nikola Jokic (24.1).
They aren’t easy rebounds, either. Many teams defer the chance to crash the offensive glass, leaving centers with freebies on that end, and ten games is certainly a small enough sample size to have some second-chance opportunities fall into your lap. Consider, then, that 45.3 percent of Yurtseven’s are considered contested by Second Spectrum tracking data, by far the highest mark on the team, a number that holds up on both sides of the floor. Digging even deeper, Second Spectrum’s RAP+, which factors in your positioning for rebounds, how often you go for the rebound and how often you’re successful in those attacks, is No. 4 of 342 eligible players with at least 500 rebound chances this season.
“Being in the right position and then pursuing, blocking out when needed but going and getting in when that’s what’s needed,” Erik Spoelstra said. “He’s been doing a better job at rebounding in traffic with two hands, guys draped all over him and trying to knock the ball out of his hands. We need every bit of it.”
Miami’s schedule during this recent rebounding streak will likely be looked back on as their softest of the season. In those ten games, only two have come against playoff teams, and the not-so-good teams they played have been rendered even less good by injuries and health and safety protocols – and before you mention how shorthanded the HEAT have been, that’s the reason Yurtseven has the opportunity he has right now. In other words, Yurtseven hasn’t been particularly tested on the rebounding side of things. Yet.
And that’s just fine. You only play who is in front of you, and in his first real stretch of playing time in the league – before the streak, he had never played 20 minutes in consecutive games, which he’s now done eight games in a row – Yurtseven has all the numbers he needs to back up his performance.
More on the rest of his game soon, but rest assured that the rebounding, likely helped along by the “cage match” workouts he’s undergone with assistant coach Malik Allen and Udonis Haslem which Spolestra has repeatedly referenced, is hardly an illusion.
HALL OF SPO
Even a couple of seasons ago, when Spoelstra was guiding his team through the Orlando bubble to an NBA Finals appearance, the statement that leads this section appeared to cause some trepidation among NBA followers.
Now? Despite the relatively little time that has passed it’s hard to imagine many taking issue with reserving a spot for Spoelstra in Springfield. And as he’s spent the last month managing Miami’s myriad of injury issues and players going in and out of health and safety protocols, Spoelstra - now a future Olympic coach - has added another couple of accolades to his resumé, both winning Coach of the Month for December, for the ninth time, and passing Doug Moe for No. 25 on the all-time regular season wins list with 630.
Barring any sort of catastrophe, Spoelstra will soon pass Chuck Daly (638 wins) for No. 24 and has the opportunity to pass Flip Saunders (654) if the HEAT reach at least 47 wins this season, which they are well on their way to doing. From there, it’s just going to be about how long Spoelstra, 51 years old, wants to coach. If he coaches another 10 years averaging barely over 40 wins a season, he’ll likely get into the Top 10 depending on what Doc Rivers (1,012) and Rick Carlisle (850) do along the way. He’ll likely need to coach into his 70’s to top Gregg Popovich for the No. 1 spot, which the San Antonio coach is likely to earn this season passing Don Nelson (1,335 wins), but by all means the top spot will be there if he wants his.
When it comes to the postseason, Spoelstra is already No. 8 with 85 wins (Rivers and Popovich are the only active coaches ahead of him). Phil Jackson leads all coaches there with 225 playoff victories, with Pat Riley sitting No. 2 at 171.
A CLOCKWORK TUCKER
When Kyle Lowry was ejected just before halftime against Portland, the HEAT were suddenly left with a rather dramatic shortage of ballhandlers. No Lowry, no Jimmy Butler, no Bam Adebayo, no Gabe Vincent. Spoelstra put Tyler Herro in with the starters to open the second half, and Herro did indeed handle bringing the ball up the court, but it was clear that Tucker was the central cog of the offense going forward, hunting his usual hammer screens, catching on the short-roll, crashing the offensive glass, doing anything he could to keep things moving.
That little stretch produced what was one of my favorite possessions of the season.
Coup's Clockwork Possession
Watching that feels like removing the face of a grandfather clock so you can see all the innerworkings, all the gears and mechanisms and nuts and bolts – if there are nuts and bolts in a clock. It’s not a possession that’s going to win any awards, but it’s fascinating to see Miami’s offense working so very hard to manufacture a paint touch. There are plenty of other teams that would resort to basic pick-and-rolls missing as much as the HEAT were missing. The HEAT never stopped never stopping.
The Blazers aren’t exactly the height of defensive fortitude, but it still felt like a semi-miracle that the HEAT put together an Offensive Rating of 126.7 in that second half. The shooting of Max Strus (more on him below) helped out, but having a remaining player like Tucker who you can trust to just hold the ball and make the right pass is what turned a game on the road to a loss into another victory. It’s no mistake that Tucker is tied with Lowry for No. 2 on the team in Estimated Plus-Minus (available at dunksandthrees.com) at +2.3.
-Miami’s franchise-record December, when it comes to shooting, is well-trod ground at this point, but a couple more points to consider. First, they just had their sixth game this season with at least 19 threes against Portland on Wednesday, which is already a team record and we’re not even halfway through the season.
-Second on the shooting front, since December 1 the HEAT have the second-toughest Shot Quality on three-pointers in the league. That’s standard for them given how their offense functions. Still, they’ve out-shot their Shot Quality in that time by 8.6 effective field-goal percentage points, by far the No. 1 mark in the league. Second Spectrum offers a version of Shot Quality that takes individual players, as opposed to league averages, into account which raises the difficult of their shots closer to league average, but they’re still out-shooting that mark by the second-most in the league. A lot of work goes into Miami’s shooting factory, but the recent results have been fairly wild.
-There are eight players taking at least six threes three game while shooting 40 percent or better. That list is Bojan Bogdanovic, Zach LaVine, Kevin Love, Desmond Bane, Devin Booker, Luke Kennard, Patty Mills and, as you probably guessed, Max Strus. It’s a strange year for shooters, but Strus has unquestionably been one of the best through the first half of the season.