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Coup’s Notebook Vol. 74: Miami Sees The Other Side Of Zone, Bam Becomes A Linebacker, Bam Explores The Corner And Cole Swider Gets His Opportunity

The Miami HEAT are 39-32, No. 7 in the Eastern Conference with a Net Rating of +0.8, No. 18 in the league. With 11 games left in the season, here’s what we’ve been noting and noticing.

OUT OF THE ZONE

It’s a movie we’ve seen a million times before. One team takes a ton of threes. Most of them miss. There’s an outcry about all the attempts. Why are you taking so many threes if you’re missing them, the question is always asked, as if the shooters know when the shots are going to fall or should allow others’ misses to affect their own confidence.

Time and time again, the answer tends to have more to do with the defense than anything else, just as we’ve discussed the past two weeks with how teams are loading up the paint against Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo.

New Orleans loaded up the paint, too, just in a different, much more Miami way than the Denver’s and Dallas’ of recent weeks. They did it with zone, running 29 possessions of it which matched a season-high for HEAT opponents (tied with Philadelphia on Christmas Day) as Miami produced 0.93 points-per against it while attempting threes on 19 of those 29 possessions – making five. The HEAT took a season-high 47 threes in all, making just 27.7 percent of them.

Of course not every possession is made the same. In some ways the zone is baiting teams into thinking they need to take threes, but you also have to take some threes threes with the way the floor is setup. You just want the threes to come from some manner of inside-out approach, where the defense is drawn to the ball, not from swinging the ball around the horn.

“We got stagnant, I will say that. We just passed the ball around the perimeter,” Jimmy Butler said after the game. “We got to be better at attacking. Anybody can dribble that bad baby into the paint and kick it to the weakside or find the open guy. We just got to do a better job of that.”

There’s a difference between earning a three like this, where the ball barely scratches the paint…

Notebook 74: Pels Zone No Drive

And like this, a possession later but off a Butler drive, with the weakside defender engaged and choosing between two shooters…

Notebook 74: Pels Zone Jimmy Drive

The latter shot you’re expected to make, even if you miss, because it’s good process. The former shot, contested and up against the clock, inherently has reduced value.

They were packing the paint, staying in the zone, and I would’ve too,” Erik Spoelstra said.

“At some point they double down, triple down, quadruple downed on protecting the paint, daring us to shoot. You do have to take those when they’re available. At the same time there were opportunities where we could have moved our bodies a little bit more, cut more, run more, attack the paint more, move off of those drives a little bit more. Those would have been improvements in the margins.”

The sample sizes are relatively miniscule, but Miami has scored just 1.05 points per possession in the halfcourt against zone this season, No. 27 in the league among all teams when facing zone. Even with make or miss in there, the number of threes they take against it shouldn’t be the focus as much as the type of threes they earn. And for what it’s worth, Miami is in the Bottom 10 in three-point frequency against zone this season. The offense has come and gone this season, no doubt, but the specific way they struggled against New Orleans was a bit of an aberration.

DEMARCUS WARE

This interception of an Evan Mobley pass by Bam Adebayo on Sunday night was truly nutty stuff.

Notebook 74: Bam Interception

Which immediately reminded of this even more nutty Demarcus Ware pick-six interception of Michael Vick back in days when social media was barely a thing yet.

Miami had a Defensive Rating of 67.9 with Adebayo and his five steals on the floor against Cleveland, enough to push Adebayo’s Defensive Estimated Plus/Minus up to +2.8, No. 10 in the league. Here’s how things are stacking up in that statistic among the five favorites for Defensive Player of the Year.

1. Wembanyama +3.3

2. Adebayo +2.8

3. Gobert +2.5

4. Davis +1.4

5. Allen +0.2

Note that this number does incorporate some box score statistics like steals and blocks, and Wembanyama leads the league with 3.4 blocks per game.

Miami has the No. 2 defense in the league since February 1 at 107.9 points allowed per 100 possessions, and at No. 8 for the season (112.1) they have an outside shot at finishing with a Top 5 defensive unit. Their Defensive Rating with Adebayo on the floor is 109.5.

WHEN TO STAND AND WHERE TO DO IT

Last week we discussed Adebayo’s budding three-point shooting – he made at least one three in five straight games until Sunday – with a focus on a quote from Spoelstra about how Adebayo’s function as a hub in the offense is largely going to leave him opportunities at the top of the floor rather than in the corners, despite corner threes being the easier shot. Adebayo did take and make a corner three after that, but it was a semi-transition attempt that didn’t have much bearing on the spacing of the halfcourt offense.

That all generally remains true, but it’s worth calling attention to the first possession against Cleveland, where Adebayo stood in a spot he rarely stands.

Notebook 74: Bam In Corner

That is deliberate corner spacing – Adebayo would typically be roaming the baseline in the dunker spot when he’s off the ball, looking for an opportunity to flash middle – with Adebayo ready to catch-and-shoot. Two things about this, though. First, Jarrett Allen is not exactly respecting the spacing, managing his three second timing in the paint and standing ready to help on drives more than he’s paying attention to Adebayo. That’s part of having to prove yourself as a shooter, both in volume and efficiency, before defenses are truly going to alter the way they play you. On this possession, Adebayo spacing in the corner only took him out of the play while allowing Allen to play free safety.

Secondly, the fact that the spacing was setup like this on the very first possessions suggests it might have been premeditated from the sideline, perhaps – this is merely guesswork – a tentative foray just to see how the defense would react. This is backed up by the fact that Adebayo never spaced so deliberately from the corner for the rest of the game.

Just one possessions of thousands this season, you just don’t see Adebayo standing in the corner like that very often. What we learned is that Allen wasn’t ready to respect the shot, but the HEAT were willing to try it out and see what happened.

SWIDER TIME

At the 8:08 mark of the second quarter against New Orleans on Friday, Cole Swider had his name called for first half minutes for just the second time since the calendar flipped to 2024. It didn’t take a genius to figure out why. With Pelicans sitting in a zone and the HEAT shooting 2-of-19 from three before that timeout – with Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson both out due to injury – Erik Spoelstra was looking for shooting so he turned to a player who is shooting 48.2 percent on 9.3 attempts from deep across 12 G-League games this season.

On his first possession in, Jimmy Butler drove down the left side of the lane and as Swider’s defender, CJ McCollum, helped into the paint Butler kicked out and Swider had a look. At least enough of a look for a 6-foot-9 shooter with only 6-foot-3 McCollum closing out on him. Yet Swider hesitated, pump faking and taking two dribbles inside the arc before turning and handing the ball off to Butler for a contested look at the end of the shot clock.

“It's not an easy role to come in there to see, alright there’s been a bunch of missed shots I have to come in there and make the longest shot in this game,” Spoelstra said. “That’s not an easy deal.”

“They’re always telling me to shoot,” Swider said. “I think I passed up my first one and then I’m thinking I got to make sure I’m ready to go. It’s definitely a tough situation to be in but that’s what they have me here for.”

The play was reminiscent of Duncan Robinson’s first season, when he made 15 appearances and shot 10-of-35 from three. Robinson had moments of hesitation then, too, but another summer of work and having an entire staff in his ear telling him to shoot whenever he had daylight prepared him for a breakout second season where he shot 44.6 percent on 8.3 attempts a night. It was difficult not to think of those early Robinson days when Swider passed up his first opportunity.

One possession later, he looked like a more seasoned version of Robinson.

Notebook 74: Swider Three

But the most interesting Swider-related play of the night came a few minutes later when Bam Adebayo pitched the ball. As Adebayo slipped, Swider immediately read that his center was about to get behind New Orleans’ Larry Nance Jr. and sent the lob.

Notebook 74: Swider Lob To Bam

Not a perfect lob, a little low and outside the ideal strike zone, but it’s the intention and the processing speed you’re looking for right now and those plays are as encouraging as any three Swider makes.

It’s early in Swider’s developmental curve in Miami’s system and he’s not likely to factor into many meaningful minutes assuming Herro and Robinson get back on the court sooner than later, but this is all worth a note in your brain for down the road. Since Day 1 of training camp it was clear that both Swider and the HEAT were intent on modeling Swider’s game in the image of Robinson – in a bit of the some way as Max Strus before him – and nobody is going to argue against Robinson’s immense value to Miami’s offense. The chance of having another facsimile of that impact in the next year or so could be a major boon.

TIDBITS

-Miami has two wins of 30 or more points – Boston leads the league with eight, the Pelicans have six and the Thunder and Bucks each have five – both of which have come against Cleveland.

-One theory we’ve discussed at point this season is that there’s a bit of shock value associated with Miami’s aggressive style of defense, which then leads to early turnovers in bunches. Sure enough, the HEAT are No. 2 in opponent turnover percentage in fourth quarters (14.5 percent, trailing Orlando at 14.9 percent). That number sustains through second quarters, where the ranking drops to No. 12, but they drop down to No. 16 and 13.7 percent in second halves.