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Coup's Notebook Vol. 69: Playing Fast To Go Slow, Slight Offensive Changes, Duncan Robinson Touches History Again And Tyler Herro Punishes The Drop

The Miami HEAT are 30-25, No. 7 in the Eastern Conference with a Net Rating of +0.3, No. 18 in the NBA. With the All-Star break in effect they don’t play again until Friday, Feb 23 as they embark on a four-game road trip. Here’s what we’ve been noting and noticing.

THE FAST WAY TO PLAY SLOW

The Miami HEAT have, generally, been a very slow team. They haven’t been inside the Top 20 in pace since the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season and while that’s partially due to the way they defend, strangling opposing possessions with the aid of the shot clock, their Offensive Pace rankings have generally mirrored their overall possession counts, lingering in the Bottom 10.

Whether that’s a good or bad thing is a matter of opinion but it’s mostly a function of style, personnel and scheme, with their penchant for grind-it-out possessions translating well to the similarly viscous postseason style of play. What’s more interesting beyond the subjective nature of pace is that Erik Spoelstra is constantly preaching pace to his teams – his teams just express it differently than those that generate a ton of early offense. Miami plays a highly aggressive style of defense, for example, and the turnovers which that style begets get the HEAT out running for easy baskets. Both Kyle Lowry and Kevin Love have affected Miami’s overall pace in recent years with their hit-ahead passing off defensive stops, too. None of it has made Miami a fast team, but it has given them the capability of scoring quickly – and easily – given the right opportunities.

Where Terry Rozier factors in doubles as one of the more amusing statistical aspects of the team. Even as the team has maintained its slow overall pace since Rozier – currently out with a knee injury but not expected to miss too much time – joined the starting lineup, Miami has also been getting the ball across the halfcourt line as fast as any team in the league, trailing only San Antonio and Sacramento by about a hundredth of a second. The results in Milwaukee aside, the offense hasn’t exactly exploded since then, so what exactly is the advantage in rushing so much in order to execute what can be a methodical offense?

It's not something you need to overthink.

“You get more time on the clock,” Bam Adebayo said. “That’s as simple as it is, getting more time on the clock. Obviously walking it up you can get to 16 and you never know when somebody might blitz. Getting across half it gets our offense more ready to have a normal possession. We get across halfcourt and get it in one of our power guys hands with 19 on the clock, we got so much time to work with rather than getting across right at 16, right at 17, we get it across right at 20 seconds, or a pitch ahead at 21 seconds, now you can work offense, you can move. We just take our time because we want the right shot.”

Miami needs to push the ball up the floor, in other words, because their deliberate shot-hunting style needs as much time as it can get.

“Getting the ball up quicker, anything with more intertia, more energy, more ball and body movement is good for our team,” Spoelstra says. “Does that mean we’re going to shoot in the first six seconds on the clock? I don’t know. I just want it to be more energy, more motor, and then getting to our strengths.”

Of course, sometimes it does lead to early offense. Adebayo spent much of the first half against Phoenix sprinting the ball up the floor, crossing halfcourt with 21 or 20 seconds on the shot clock, and here he drew the attention of the entire defense to open up a corner three for Josh Richardson.

Notebook 69: Bam Bring Up Pace

It’s important not to confuse slow with stagnant. Yes, the HEAT’s offense can get stuck in the mud, especially against a highly disciplined defense, but outside of matchup hunting circumstances they know they aren’t a team that can succeed by standing around and pounding the ball. Miami is a team of cutting and passing, of screens upon screens upon screens, of drive-and-kicks opening up space for further drive-and-kicks. When they’re at their best they may not create a ton of easy, early offense, but they play with pace. And Spoelstra is using Rozier as a battery for that emphasis.

“I want him to play with a great motor and I want everyone else to match that,” Spoelstra said. “It’s not good if he’s only playing with a motor and bringing it up and everyone is lagging behind, or vice versa. He has to be committed to that. It’s not phrenetic, it’s just doing things with more intention.”

Related to all of this, Miami hasn’t been running any more frequently in the past two weeks than usual – about 15 percent of their possessions have been logged as transition opportunities – but they have been far, far more efficient, scoring 139.5 points per 100 possessions in transition, No. 2 in the league and a huge jump from where they had been sitting prior to that, No. 30. Again, it hasn’t touched Miami’s actual pace much at all, but Spoelstra’s emphasis has had the intended impact.

“It definitely comes from Spo,” says Caleb Martin. He’s emphasized getting the ball up the floor a lot quicker, we have guys like Terry running the point right now getting the ball out as fast as possible, Tyler has done a much better job too getting it going. We started to realize that getting those two and Bam in that quick of an action, including Jimmy too, we get a lot of great stuff the faster we play.”

EARLY RETURNS

Let’s begin here by saying not only are we working with a very small sample size since Miami traded Kyle Lowry for Terry Rozier, but with Rozier essentially not getting a single practice in until the two-day break before the most recent game against Boston, Spoelstra has barely had time to implement the changes he may want to make with the new look of his rotation. Everything we’ve seen should be considered preliminary.

The changes we have seen have been fairly minor as far as how Miami is playing. The defense, especially the zone, has carried the bulk of the added value as the team has won six of the last eight games, with the offensive efficiency numbers relatively static since the January 22 deal. Outside of the pace of play emphasis discussed above, Miami’s style – which has included a handful of games with a fully healthy roster and a handful of games with multiple key players, including Rozier, being out – has remained mostly consistent.

One expectation was that Miami, with Rozier and Tyler Herro in the starting lineup, might lean into more pick-and-roll, but so far they’re actually running about two fewer on-ball screens per game. Handoff usage, however, is up about four actions per 100 possessions, though some of that is due to Duncan Robinson’s usage over the past few games. Where we did start to see the impact of Rozier’s skillset was in the attacking game, where Miami was getting about six more drives per 100 possessions, up to 54.7 since the trade which would be among the five most drive-happy rates in the league over the course of a full season. With Rozier specifically on the floor, that number jumps to 58.5, a number that would trail only the Oklahoma City Thunder.

More drives haven’t necessarily led to more rim attempts – Miami was No. 29 with 19.5 restricted area attempts per 100 possessions pre-trade, that number rising only to 19.9 since – but given the interior size of the teams they’ve been playing lately, and the amount of drop coverage that they’ve faced, that’s not too surprising. Something to check back in on in a few weeks.

One minor subplot from the deal is that Lowry was one of the league’s best entry passers, frequently tossing hit-ahead passes into Butler post-ups as he crossed halfcourt. That’s a special skill that very few players in the league possess, and it’s difficult to replicate. The good news, then, is that Butler’s post-ups have remained steady since the trade, though the team’s overall entry passes are down about three per 100 possessions with Adebayo and Jaime Jaquez Jr. receiving fewer post-ups.

“It's still an emphasis,” Spoelstra said of Butler’s post-ups. “There’s details of how we can get him the ball and get it to him quicker, to spots where he can operate to his strengths. The reality also is he’s getting schemed more when he is catching it in the post, which ultimately is a good thing. It’s a good thing when teams bring a second defender, and we’ll just continue to make the adjustments to how he’s being guarded. But the ball does need to find him, one way or another, whether its pick-and-roll basketball, at the elbows, top of the floor, in the post, that’s essential for our offense.”

Pulling back to the big picture, though, and it’s way too early for much more than a glimpse at Miami’s structural differences with their new group. They haven’t had enough games together and they sure haven’t had enough practice time. There won’t be too much more of that in the two months between now and the postseason, but at least the week after All-Star will give Spoelstra time to put together something of a mini camp.

FLOWERS

After shooting 11-of-15 from three in the last two games, split between open catch-and-shoot looks and contested, on-the-move looks that some players wouldn’t even hit rim on, Duncan Robinson is now shooting 41.2 percent from three on 12.3 attempts per 100 possessions.

You know how many players have ever put together that combination of volume and efficiency over the course of a full season? Steph Curry is in the midst of his eighth season hitting those benchmarks while Robinson is on track to do it for the third time. Nobody else has done it more than twice, and only 25 players in league history have done it at all, though that tracks given how rare high-volume three-point shooting was until the past 15 years.

Robinson, of course, doesn’t get to that volume taking just standstill, catch-and-shoot looks. It’s fitting, in a way, that he’s shooting 38 percent on catch-and-shoot threes and an absurd 47.2 percent on non catch-and-shoot threes, according to Second Spectrum’s player tracking data. Only Mike Conley is also above 43 percent on those shots of the 49 players who have attempted at least 100. While the bulk of Robinson’s attempts are off a single dribble, relocation moves to either side mostly, he’s also making 43 percent of his attempts off two or more dribbles, 37 tries in all.

We’ve spilled plenty of ink talking about Robinson and all the adjustments he’s made to his game over the years – his two-point rate has held steady at triple what it was last season as he’s made 56 percent of those looks – so we won’t belabor the point further. It’s just worth noting, once again, that Robinson rides historic on the three-point road.

RAISE THE DROP

Want to see how one shot can change a defensive coverage?

One of Tyler Herro’s laments about breaking his hand in Game 1 against Milwaukee last postseason was that he knew how much he could punish and warp the Bucks’ base drop coverage – not to mention the drop played by New York and Denver. He’s followed up those comments by punishing drop, especially deep drop, whenever he sees it, producing 1.07 points per possession against that coverage, sandwiched between Damian Lillard and Stephen Curry. Jayson Tatum currently leads the league against drop, producing 1.18 points-per. If you eliminate possessions where the screener defender is “up to touch”, essentially isolating the possessions where the coverage is a deeper drop, Herro is producing 1.17 points per, No.11 in the league among the 82 with at least 100 possessions, right behind Tyrese Haliburton. He probably had a point about the coverages Miami faced last postseason.

Early against Philadelphia, 76ers starting center Paul Reed – in place of the injured Joel Embiid – stuck to his usual drop and Herro practically jogged into an open look.

Then, early in the second quarter, same spot, same setup, look how Reed changes up his depth to contest the shot.

One can presume that 76ers coach Nick Nurse had something to say after Herro’s first three.

Wednesday also marked Herro’s best game of the season in terms of getting to the rim, attempting six shots in the restricted area – tied with Miami’s Christmas Day game that also came against the 76ers. Granted, Embiid didn’t play in either game, but credit Herro for seizing the opportunity against a smaller group and getting to the cup.

TIDBITS

- Since 2019-20, Miami now has six games of 19+ threes against Milwaukee. They have 18 against all other NBA teams.

-While Bam Adebayo recorded his seventh regular season triple double against Milwaukee, it was the eighth of his career including playoffs which moved him into third on Miami’s franchise leaderboard behind Jimmy Butler (15) and LeBron James (14).

-Butler’s lob to Adebayo against San Antonio was the 19th time the pair has linked up on an alley-oop attempt, and just the second in the past two seasons. That might seem low, but Butler has typically not been a high-volume lob thrower in his career. With Adebayo leading the way as his most frequent lob connection, the next player on Butler’s list if Precious Achiuwa (5) followed by Dwyane Wade (3) and Ben Simmons (3).

-Since January 25, when Miami started to dip back into heavy zone usage, the HEAT have allowed 1.15 points-per across 885 possessions in man-to-man (halfcourt only) and 1.08 points-per across 237 zone possessions.

-Since the loss to Phoenix, Miami has only been switching 9.7 screens per 100 possessions, third lowest rate in the league. That numbers includes only man-to-man, so it’s unaffected by the rise in zone usage.

-After the loss to the Clippers, Jimmy Butler played the opening minutes of the fourth quarter against both Orlando and San Antonio. He hasn’t played since then so we can’t say for sure whether the change will stick, but if it does it’s a fairly major departure from what has been his typical minutes pattern.