The Miami HEAT are 16-17 with a Net Rating of -1.4, No. 22 in the NBA. They are No. 8 in Defensive Rating and No. 26 in Offensive Rating. Here’s what we’ve been noting and noticing, and a Happy Holidays to you and yours.
Before we get to how Tyrese Haliburton got so open for his game-winning three Friday night, let’s first look at how Tyler Herro got just as open on the play before.
Notebook 37: Herro Springs Open
The value of good screens. T.J. McConnell probably should have been playing higher up on Herro and being more physical, but as it stood he allowed Herro to get a pretty full head of steam going before Max Strus was able to clip him with a screen. Given that a three was the only thing that could have hurt Indiana here, you could also argue that Buddy Hield, seeing that McConnell was already trailing the play, should have called and audible and switched out onto Herro and trusted that McConnell would read it and switch onto Strus. Myles Turner saw what was happening and tried to get out to the arc, but at that point Bam Adebayo was laying down a pretty good block for an offensive lineman. Herro doesn’t need much more time than that.
Miami scored with good technique and good execution while Indiana may have been a bit too rigid sticking to their assignments. As for the next play...
Notebook 37: Haliburton Game Winner
Most teams are going to switch in this situation to keep the action flat, and after the game Herro indeed said this was initially a clean switch. From the sound and look of it, it was Haliburton’s little hesitation with 5.5 on the clock where Herro thought Lowry was going to recover and switch back. All it took was half a second where one guy thought his teammate was doing one thing, and the other guy thought his teammate was doing the other, and Haliburton had the shot.
“Me and T just didn’t communicate well enough,” Lowry said. “I went to help, he thought I was going back, we left a guy with nine threes open. Our mistake. I’ll take the blame on that one. I tried to help, but I should have just stayed on him.”
“Just a miscommunication,” Spoelstra said. “Haliburton came off it, then he crossed back and it was a little bit of confusion on who was taking him on that.”
Beyond that shot being a game winner, what was interesting about it is that it was the same way Haliburton got to a chunk of his career-high 10 threes for the evening. Not necessarily miscommunications, but that little pocket of space and time which occurs right in the middle of any switch exchange. If you remember, this is the same type of shot Trae Young was trying to hunt against the HEAT last year when he had trouble avoiding Adebayo’s switches, and after ending up facing down Adebayo against the shot clock so often in his 0-of-9 game a couple weeks ago, Haliburton clearly had a plan of attack for where he could find space.
Notebook 37: Haliburton Pocket 3's
“There’s these moments in between the pick-and-roll where I thought he was really good, Spoelstra said. “That was kind of an example of that on the last play, the gap in between the switch where he was just exceptional tonight.”
Asked after the game about those plays, both Adebayo and Lowry – “Get up,” he said – noted that the best way to take that shot away from a great shooter is to play up high on them and force the offensive big man to set a real screen in close quarters. Of course you might give up some driving lanes, but against the few players in the league who can consistently take that shot with confidence, sometimes it takes extreme measures. Miami had to resort to some pretty hard traps and doubles down the stretch just to eliminate the possibility of Haliburton doing anything with the ball on his way to a career-high 43 points.
THE CONFIDENCE MAN
After Haywood Highsmith had the best game of his young career on Tuesday night, scoring 18 points in 40 minutes on 7-of-10 shooting, it’s worth taking another quick look at how he’s been performing for the HEAT considering he’s already more than doubled his career high in minutes in his third season.
The offense we don’t need to spend too much time on. He’s struggled a bit finishing around the paint, mostly off the catch but with the occasional fake handoff thrown in, but you can clearly see where the team is trying to get him comfortable with those same jump-stop floaters that P.J. Tucker was so effective with last season. After a very slow start from the arc, his three-point percentage is up to 37 percent, 35 percent from the corners. As you would expect from an Erik Spoelstra team, everyone has been pushing for him to shoot more and shoot with confidence when he’s open.
“Everybody has been,” Highsmith says. “They got confidence in me. I have to have confidence in myself.”
“I’ve always had confidence in H, from the beginning of the season,” Herro said.
As long as Highsmith isn’t hesitating when he’s open, and he’s converting at an above-average clip, he’ll be fine on that end. When Jimmy Butler was out against Chicago recently and Spoelstra played multiple shooters, it was often Highsmith at the end of the passing chain with the best opportunity.
Notebook 37: Highsmith Shooting Chain
Make or miss, that’s a shot he has to take.
In that same game, Highsmith made his presence felt defensively. Nobody really stops DeMar DeRozan, and DeRozan hit some tough jumpers over Highsmith same as he did to anyone else, but Highsmith got him a couple times, too. A tipped dribble here, a good contest there. Nothing fancy, but effective.
“He had some tough buckets on me, I had some tough stops on him,” Highsmith said. “I held my own. He’s definitely one of the best players I ever guarded in my career.
“It made me feel like I’m a good defender, that I’m doing a good job on him.”
The numbers say Highsmith is giving up an inordinate number of points in isolation, over 1.2 points-per, but once you take assist opportunities out of the equation that number – on-ball defenders are still partially responsible for those since passes often come if they get beat and help has to come, but they also have less control if a three falls or not – drops to 0.95 over just 22 possessions. And the video looks pretty good.
Notebook 37: Highsmith Isolation Defense
Sometimes he’ll give up a drive, but he’s becoming more aggressive with his defending, actively trying to poke the ball away or swipe down on bigger players. Being more of a defensive playmaker, if you will. Miami is 1.6 points per 100 better with him on the floor, defensively, third best on the team behind Bam Adebayo and Caleb Martin, and per 36 minutes he’s averaging about the same number of deflections as Butler.
We’ve said this many times before, but Highsmith is the closest thing on Miami’s roster to Tucker as far as multi-positional flexibility. In his first few stints, he appeared to be playing with some hesitance, unsure of his place on the team. Then he had that great burst to finish the game at Washington in mid-November, and since then he’s a 40 percent three-point shooter with plus defense. Teams are going to make him prove it again and again, and being like Tucker in form does not make you like Tucker in function, but there’s no doubt Highsmith is offering Spoelstra a semblance of two-way production when called upon. Even if he isn’t in the rotation every night – though he has been even when the team has been mostly healthy – it wouldn’t be that surprising to see him earn postseason minutes down the line. There’s a reason Spoelstra played him 27 minutes in the win at Boston a few weeks back, and why it was Highsmith closing the game when Jimmy Butler couldn’t return at the end against Indiana on Friday – a game Miami absolutely wouldn’t have been able to tie were it not for Highsmith impact plays (another fake handoff, a baseline drive-and-dish).
-One of the more subtle areas related to three-point shooting where the HEAT haven’t quite been able to replicate last season’s process is their baseline hammer screens. Last year P.J. Tucker led the league with 38 off-ball screens along the baseline that led directly to a shot, per Second Spectrum. The next person on the list had 27. This year the HEAT’s leader is, and this is pretty perfect given the role he’s trying to fill, Highsmith with seven. Those hammer screens are coming at about half the rate, and even though they don’t account for a huge chunk of attempts those are still some pretty open corner threes absent from the shot profile.
-On a related note, Miami is taking about 9.5 corner threes per 100 possessions this season, No. 10 in the league. Last year they were No. 2 at 11.8. Another small reason behind the team-wide shooting dip, with those extra attempts now coming above the break where percentages are typically lower.
-Miami was nearly as healthy as they’ve been all year heading into the Indiana game. Butler then sprained his right ankle, and we’ll see how long that keeps him out, but what was interesting about the evening is that Spoelstra didn’t even know who was available until about 90 minutes before the game. ““I can’t do role definition right now, 90 minutes before the game,” Spoelstra said he told the team. That’s how you end up with a situation where Gabe Vincent is available but doesn’t figure into the rotation. It’s nice to think that coaches always know going into a game who they’ll have, but these days things are fluid and you have to adapt on the fly.