The Miami HEAT are 32-29 with a Net Rating of -0.7, No. 24 in the league. They are No. 5 in Defensive Rating and No. 26 in Offensive Rating and have 21 games remaining. Here’s what we’ve been noting and noticing.
Kevin Love’s numbers haven’t jumped off the box-score across Miami’s two rather tough losses since his debut, but his role probably isn’t going to be about eye-popping numbers. It’s about helping other guys get those numbers, easier.
“Nobody has to cater to me,” he said. “I’m just going to go out there and try to make the game easier for these guys.”
Against the Bucks the spacing advantage was fairly obvious. Milwaukee loves to put Giannis Antetokounmpo on a player that’ll allow him to roam a little bit defensively and be a helpside factor. With Love swiftly joining the starting lineup, Antetokounmpo had to respect the shooter. And because Love is respected as an above-the-break shooter as well, that meant he could occupy Antetokounmpo in a variety of ways from a variety of spots, clearing the lane for Miami’s primary scorers.
The shotmaking will of course matter. Love’s pair of threes in the second quarter against Charlotte helped make up a 22-point deficit. A night with four or five threes spread out over 25 minutes could be the difference in a playoff game. But the spacing you provide affects every possession that you’re on the court, and spacing comes with respect just as much as it does with actual percentages. The offense is still going to have to run smoothly because even as Love can pull it quick and shoot over the top of smaller defenders, he’s not going to put the ball on the floor often for much more than a relocation dribble. Considering his nine attempts against Charlotte – with Miami generally being a highly functional and accurate kickout team – that shouldn’t be much of an issue.
If Love was nothing more than a sticker shooter he would already be a plus for Miami’s offense, but he’s already shown why he’s considered maybe the best outlet passer since Wes Unseld. No real home run shots yet, just a couple of doubles to Butler and Adebayo to get them up the floor with the quickness.
Notebook 45: Love Outlets
“It’s one of the first things he said to me that he thinks he can help our team with his passing and his vision and helping get guys open and easy shots,” Erik Spoelstra said.
Teams tend to scout this sort of thing by the time you hit the postseason. Kyle Lowry’s hit-aheads last year were a great source of easy offense for a few months until teams caught on and the opportunities dried up. You take what you can while you can get it. Once Lowry returns, there could be a cumulative effect stacking his heads-up approach in transition with Love’s. Maybe not, but we’ve already seen instances where Adebayo hasn’t felt the need to crash all the way to the rim as Love gained rebounding position, and a team that has Adebayo and Butler leaking out with trustworthy passers looking for them will no doubt come by some added value.
IN BAM’S FOOTSTEPS
Cody Zeller is going to be solid. He’s been solid his entire career, and as long as he’s healthy there’s no reason to expect him to be anything but solid during his time in Miami. When you’re talking about backup center minutes, solid is worth quite a bit.
We discussed earlier this week how Zeller, given his history as an offensive hub in Charlotte with a variety of dribble handoffs and elbow actions, can function relatively similarly to Bam Adebayo in Miami’s offense.
“He played a lot of similar actions in Charlotte,” Spoelstra said. “But the package, yeah it will be very similar to what we run when Bam is in the game.”
While much of that package involves setting up other players, it also means putting Zeller in position to catch the ball in similar areas to Adebayo. Which, this season more than any other, means in the upper regions of the paint. In two games we’ve already seen Zeller attempt two push shots from that zone.
Notebook 45: Zeller's Bam Shot
Two shots may not seem like much, but this is Zeller’s shot. He can catch and finish around the rim and he’ll look for putbacks, but unless there’s a clear runway off a pocket pass this push shot is one you’ll see plenty of in the coming weeks. The good news on that front is Zeller is pretty solid on shots that can be a little awkward for bigger centers. Over the past six seasons he’s at 46.4 percent on non-rim paint shots, ranked No. 82 of 209 players who have taken at least 400 such shots. That puts him just above a center like Domantas Sabonis (46.1 percent) and just below both Adebayo (47.3) and Joel Embiid (47.4).
While it’ll depend on matchups and coverages, it’s pretty easy to see Zeller taking around one or two of these shots for every game in a playoff series. That means two or four points Zeller will have a chance to add, two or four points that can easily be the difference in a close game.
Adebayo is going to be the one taking the bulk of these looks, but you can take at least some comfort that his backup is nearly as efficient in a zone Miami has prioritized this season.
THE BUTLER BAMBOOZLE
A few years back we took a look at all the pump-fake fouls Dwyane Wade had drawn in his entire career. As part of that project we identified the 10 players who Wade had faked into a foul twice in the same game. He never, out of the 580 pump fakes we found on film, got someone three times in a single contest.
Jimmy Butler just did that against Charlotte and rookie Mark Williams.
Notebook 45: Butler Bamboozle
Now, this isn’t entirely apples-to-apples. For Wade we focused entirely on fouls drawn via pump fake, which meant reviewing the few thousand fouls he had drawn. You’ll notice in the clips that Butler didn’t actually get Williams to foul him on each of those plays even though he wound up scoring. To get a number on all of those situations for Wade, it would have expanded the scope of the project to rather ludicrous lengths.
So while we don’t know for sure that Butler just did something Wade never did, there’s still a pretty good chance given how rare it was for Wade – probably the most prolific pump-faker in league history – to even draw two fouls on one guy in one game. Not too shabby on Butler’s part.
-Does it feel like Gabe Vincent has hit more than a couple buzzer beaters over the past two years? Vincent has hit eight shots with fewer than two seconds on the game clock, which is tied for 12th most in the league along with a variety of players including Tyler Herro and Kyrie Irving. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has hit the most, with 20, trailed by Luka Doncic and De’Aaron Fox both at 13.
-One of the weirder aspects of Saturday’s game against Charlotte was that Miami only attempted 16 non-rim shots inside the arc – an area that has become something of a strength in part due to the growth of Adebayo. Those 16 shots tied Miami’s season low for attempts in those zones, which speaks to how willing the Hornets were to swarm the paint and force kickouts.
-When Mikal Bridges drew an and-one on Jimmy Butler in the fourth quarter of Brooklyn’s win before All-Star, he became just the tenth player in the past four seasons to score three fourth-quarter points against Butler out of an isolation situation. And over that stretch, only LeBron James has even tried Butler for more than three fourth-quarter isolations. Pretty move by Bridges, but pretty good track record for Butler overall.
-On a similar note, the six points Adebayo gave up to Nikola Jokic on post-ups that same week were tied for the second-most Adebayo has ever allowed on post-ups in a single game. Of the nine times he’s ever allowed four or more point on post-ups, six of those were to Embiid or Jokic. For context, Jokic and Embiid have both averaged around six post-up points per game over the past three seasons, so Adebayo’s handful of “worst” games when it comes to post defense have merely been allowing the two best post players in the league to touch their averages.
-We bring this up every so often but it bears repeating that Miami’s Shot Quality on three pointers, as tracked by Second Spectrum – which factors in the type of threes and contest levels – is No. 28 in the league this season after finishing 30, 28 and 29 over the past three years. Some of that is Miami’s shooters being respected and not being left wide open on purpose in the way you see it happen with some role players, but he shooting success of this team, at least in a statistical sense, has always been tied to outproducing the expected field goal percentage (versus league average) of the shots they get. Last year, for example, their outshot their three-point Shot Quality by over five percentage points – the eleventh highest rate of all teams in the past ten seasons – whereas a team like the Golden State Warriors, who own four of the top “outproducing” seasons over those same ten years, did so by just 2.5. Logically, at least, underperforming is just as viable as over, and even though this season feels particularly anomalous they’re shooting closer to expectations this season (2.23 percentage points below expectations) than last year when they led the league in three-point shooting.