Coup's Notebook Vol. 42: The Offensive Theory Of Everything, Taking Players Out, Turning Up Turnovers And Pinching The Pressure

The Miami HEAT are 28-23, No. 6 in the Eastern Conference with a Net Rating of +0.0, No. 19 in the league. They’re up to No. 5 in Defensive Rating and No. 27 in Offensive Rating. Here’s what we’ve been noting and noticing.


We have espoused this theory multiple times already in print, but we’re going to do it again because at its very core, this HEAT season is a season built upon theory. No, Erik Spoelstra and his staff did not make changes to the offense knowing it would be a bottom five attack come January. They made changes to the offense because the team struggled mightily to score against Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals. They made changes to the offense because the offense needed changing. The theory, then, and the hope is that the changes will pay out come the postseason.

There are reasons to be encouraged, even if they must be put somewhat mildly given that the team is No. 27 in Offensive Rating and has the lowest rated half-court offense among all teams in the playoff picture. Chief among those reasons being that there are fewer obvious coverages teams can use to jam Miami up.

Last year when teams blitzed Tyler Herro, Miami was getting less than 0.85 points per direction action. Of the 14 times Herro was blitzed in the playoffs, the HEAT got zero points out of it. It didn’t happen as often as it felt, but that’s quite a few empty possessions if teams, like Philadelphia, pick-and-choose their moments to save it for high-leverage spots. Herro has actually been blitzed less this season despite the team coming into it expecting to see that coverage more often, but across 29 instances of Herro seeing two on the ball like that Miami is now getting 1.00 points-per-action. Maybe not an elite number, but certainly much more normal. When Boston tried it in a big moment the other night, Herro got the ball where it needed to go.

Notebook 42: Boston Blitz Herro

“We hope that the work they put in, the intentional work, will pay dividends,” Erik Spoelstra said. “That’s why we started to develop this because these were the schemes we were facing. To be able to conquer the playoffs, you have to eliminate what teams are trying to get you to do. Clearly that was a gameplan with Tyler, to take the ball out of his hands, to trap him and blitz him on pick-and-rolls. He’s gotten considerably better, right now it’s his best coverage. Who would’ve thunk it a year ago?”

Same deal with Bam Adebayo. Two seasons ago against the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round, Miami scored just 0.81 points-per-paction on Adebayo screens against the drop coverage that was the norm with Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez on the court. Across both regular season and postseason last year, that number was 0.92. This year it’s 1.05. Again not an elite number, but a very normal one – normal enough to support a great defensive unit on the other end.

“Then Bam playing out of that drop,” Spoelstra said. “How many times have we faced that in the playoffs? He’s dramatically improved that part of his game.”

The team has reached a point where they can get Adebayo in position – via pocket pass or in a face-up spot – to get to his comfort zone at any point in the game. Nobody in the league has taken more jumpers in the upper painted area. It’s at 48 percent shot, not one that is going to produce highly-efficient offense over 82 games, but it’s a shot they can get to down the stretch of big games. If it’s a tie game with under a minute to play against a great defense in the playoffs, a 48 percent shot is more than good enough.

“I can get to that shot,” Adebayo says. “The only way is if you literally put two dudes in front of me, and at that point whoever is next to me is going to get the ball because it’s not like I don’t see my teammates.”

Speaking still to the playoffs, let’s agree for a moment that clutch minutes – games where the score differential is no greater than five points in the final five minutes – are the best regular season representation of slower, possession-focused postseason basketball. Here is how Miami has scored in clutch minutes, per 100 possessions, over the past four seasons:

2019-20: 102.2 (Rank 23)
2020-21: 95.3 (Rank 30)
2021-22: 101.1 (Rank 24)
2022-23: 110.2 (Rank 13)

We’re always dealing with small samples here (145 clutch minutes this season, however, most in the league) so everything gets salted, but that’s not a bad mark considering the HEAT are only shooting 30 percent from three in those minutes. In previous years Miami’s clutch offense often boiled down to whether or not threes went in or if Jimmy Butler could get to the free-throw line. As Adebayo and Herro develop as shot creators alongside a reliable postseason performer – and matchup hunter – in Butler, there’s both more consistency and diversity to the late-game package.

“For me, I shoot the ball a lot more,” Adebayo said of clutch minutes. “But for the team we got a couple of plays where we know, if we have a couple of plays that go sideways in the fourth, we got these were we can get ourselves in our spots and get something good.”

In other words, they have hard, concrete actions they can rely on when things get tight. If things are always tight in the playoffs, then, it stands to reason that they have hard, concrete actions they can rely on in the 16-game season, too. Teams are going to try to take those away – we’re seeing it already with the attention Adebayo and even the potential passing avenues in his direction are being swarmed in the paint and with Butler drawing doubles in the post – but now we’re into the counters to the counter. Before, the HEAT were often stuck trying to peel the first layer of the onion.

The question now is whether or not the HEAT’s best players can do what they do well enough against great teams and great players in a close series. So much of this is new and new is always a risk. But new was also necessary to try and get to something more, lest the team stunt the development of their promising young talent. Can Herro and Adebayo be good enough with their increased responsibilities, can they be efficient enough to win four games in a series against a team that might be able to match Miami defensively and is able to get to their own actions with elite offensive talent?

Miami’s offense is not good right now. It’s neither efficient nor is it particularly enjoyable to watch. They certainly don’t care about the latter part, and the context for the former changes in a seven-game series. Until that time comes, it’s all theory and conjecture. And hey, if the team was shooting even league-average from three, they would have a Top 10 offense and much of this would be entirely moot.

What’s happening under the hood may be more mechanically sound than the rough paint job makes it look, but the engine won’t be pushed to its limits until April.


This team just keeps racking up the steals and turnovers. With 16 steals against New Orleans last Sunday, the HEAT now have two games with as many steals this year which ties them for second-most for the franchise in a season. Since Victor Oladipo’s return they’re forcing turnovers at a rate that would effectively be the third highest in a decade. If this team has anything they do better, more consistently, than anything else night-to-night, it’s turn the other side over.

How they do it is well-trod territory. Against a team like New Orleans, missing high-usage playmakers in Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson, Erik Spoelstra can lock in on the one player driving most of the offense and find a way to make his life miserable. Out of the nine times Miami blitzed CJ McCollum that day, the Pelicans only got 0.14 points-per-pick out of it. Out of the five times Miami showed – still putting two on the ball for a beat or two while giving the screener defender a chance to recover and avoid a switch – the Pelicans didn’t score at all. McCollum shot 5-of-16.

“[McCollum] was the point of attack on basically everything they were doing,” Spoelstra said. “That’s number one. Number two, I just liked out activity way better. We seemed to be a little more passive at the start of the game when we were playing our normal coverages. Which have been very good for us, so it just kind of depends on the game. But the last four minutes of the second quarter we were basically trapping everything, we were flying around, so we said, ‘Ok, let’s do more of that.’

McCollum’s seven turnovers were also one off his career high.

“They just threw a number of looks at him,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said. “They tried to deny the ball out of his hands. When he came off DHO’s or pick-and-rolls they tried to blitz him. We all have to do a better job of recognizing what’s going on on the floor and running our offense and dissecting what teams are doing. I thought the turnovers was a direct example of their defense being up, being active, getting deflections.”

Being up is the operative term there. Even as the HEAT have gone towards more conservative coverages at times, running drop coverage and tons of zone, they always find a way to be anything but passive. Spoelstra has used the words “multiple efforts” so many times over the years that it’s barely more noticeable than him using the words “game” or “win”. But they are meaningful words, and on New Orleans’ best opportunity in the final minute it was multiple efforts which changed the play from what might have been a dunk to a tipped pass and turnover.

Notebook 42: Pelicans Extra Effort Turnover

As Herro switches Butler decides to ignore Dyson Daniels and go for the double. Herro could have just held the double, but as McCollum quickly moves to get off the ball Herro – he may not be shutting down guys on an island but his activity has seen a marked and noted improvement this season – flees the scene to recover to Daniels. Adebayo goes freelance at this point to create another double, which makes Daniels stutter on a possible look to the corner. In a lot of ways, Miami is beaten at that point. Larry Nance Jr. is right at the cup and he’s a rather simple pass away from putting his team in front. Adebayo and Herro do their best to make that simple pass more complicated, and the extra effort disrupts the passing lane just enough to make both delivery and reception just a little bit tougher.

We talk plenty about how the HEAT’s entire defensive scheme has been constructed to make turnovers possible – crowding the ball at opportune times and creating deceivingly tight passing windows – and how it puts its defensive playmakers in position to play off their instincts. That’s all true. You don’t get anywhere without the effort that is hardly to quantify with great accuracy but is in many ways quantified in every number we use.

“Your scheme isn’t going to get anything done,” Spoelstra said after beating Boston a couple days later. “It’s the efforts the discipline, the multiple efforts that you have to make.”


Speaking of that Boston game, since the Celtics were missing just about half their rotation it was another great example of how the HEAT can lock in on making life difficult for a single offensive engine – and how the scheme can enable the effort which then powers the scheme.

Haywood Highsmith garnered plenty of attention after that game, rightfully so, for the pressure defense he applied to Jayson Tatum, defense which Spoelstra called the “inspiration” for Miami’s fourth-quarter comeback after falling behind by double digits. But take a look at this image of Highsmith getting right up into Tatum’s body down the stretch.

If we went back and rewatched Miami’s first-round series against Atlanta last season we would be able to grab dozens of screenshots just like that one when Trae Young tried to attack a matchup. Pressure on the ball against a deep threat you have to respect, flankers on either side of the pressure ready to shrink the gaps if the on-ball defender gives up a step. So when Tatum tries to drive and the flankers pinch in, it

Somewhat ironically, a couple of minutes later Tatum beats Adebayo, who rarely gets beat, in a very similar situation specifically because the team tends to bring less immediate help when one of the best defenders in the league is on an island. Soon after that, with Gabe Vincent pressuring, a Herro pinch gets Tatum to pick up the ball on his drive which then allows Adebayo to stay back and get a hand on the lob.

Notebook 42: Bam Tip Tatum Lob

Spoelstra didn’t take any risks on the last possession, up two with under ten seconds to play. The call there was a hard double, that pressure forcing Tatum to attempt a skip pass to the corner off his heels. Herro spaces the two on the weakside perfectly, snatching the reduced velocity pass out of the air, and that was that. A scheme that calls for pressure must also enable that pressure, and when the opponent doesn’t have high-level options to drive the gaps created by that attention being devoted to the ball, mistakes are made as playmakers get sped up. Like McCollum the game before, Tatum finished with seven turnovers.


-The HEAT have worked themselves back into a Top 5 spot on defense, which is pretty remarkable if you consider where the season started. Joining them are Milwaukee, Memphis, Cleveland and Boston. Now, Miami is having one of the best turnover-forcing seasons for any team in recent memory, but if you take out defensive possessions ending in turnovers and focus only on shots and fouls, their defensive ranking drops all the way to No. 16 (No. 28 in half-court man-to-man coverage). You do the same for those other four teams, Milwaukee, Memphis, Cleveland and Boston, and they all stay in the Top 5. We’ve repeated variations of this stat a few times already, but if we’re going to spend much of the season discussing how the offense might be better than it looks it’s only fair to point out some of the weirdness on the defensive end. The HEAT have proven themselves to be capable of turning other teams over in the postseason, especially against Boston, so they should be able to sustain what has become their identity. They just might be a little more dependent on inducing mistakes than they were a year ago when they could more reliably flatten teams out with switching.

-Miami has now played a league-high 26 games (second place is 21) decided by five points or less. The league record post-ABA merger in 1976 is 41, and the high since 2000 is 37 set by the 2001-02 Houston Rockets.

-The Charlotte Hornets on Sunday became the sixth team this season to post an Offensive Rating of at least 119 while turning the ball over on at least 19 percent of their possessions.