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Coup's Notebook Vol. 63: Tyler Herro And Duncan Robinson Partner Up, A Fourth Quarter Deep Dive, Manifesting A Real Statistic And Haywood Highsmith Thrives As Designee

The Miami HEAT are 17-12, No. 6 in the Eastern Conference with a Net Rating of +1.7, No. 12 in the NBA. With a couple days off before facing Philadelphia on Christmas Day, here’s what we’ve been noting and noticing.

THE OL’ BISCAYNE TWO STEP

Something interesting happened against Atlanta on Friday. Yes, of Miami’s 34 fourth-quarter points, Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro scored 30, including all nine of the HEAT’s field goals in the period. It was, as the cool kids used to say, pretty rad.

What was interesting, though, was the way those two worked together on the court down the stretch. Inherently, everyone probably understands why having Herro and Robinson on the floor at the same time could be good for an offense. Great shooting around Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo is generally a recipe for offensive success, and over the years the numbers, while not quite good enough to blow you out of the water, have borne that out. The problems have been on the defensive end where against good team it simply wasn’t viable to have two targets for teams to call up in pick-and-rolls. For as solid as Herro and Robinson could make any lineup offensively, those groups gave back just as much if not a little more on the other end.

That wasn’t the case with the Hawks. In 12 minutes together the two-man group of Herro and Robinson produced 137 points per 100 possessions on offense and held Atlanta to just 103.8 per 100 defensively. It worked, perhaps better than that pairing has ever worked before, because of plays like this one:

Notebook 63: Tyler And Duncan Defense

Either Herro or Robinson is always going to get called up for fourth-quarter screens and Erik Spoelstra has generally asked them to show out on ballhandlers to avoid the switch. Herro does that here and recovers as best he could to the ball when Murray slips out of the action. With Adebayo dropping back to help – he broke up multiple lobs throughout the night – and managing his spacing perfectly, Herro is able to affect the ball just enough to coerce Murray into giving it up. Rewind and watch that sequence again and you’ll see Robinson dropping back into the paint to get a hand on Capela before recovering out to Bogdan Bogdanovic to prevent Murray from kicking to an open shooter. Trae Young finishes out the possession by failing to draw a foul on Caleb Martin, and that’s a win for the defense.

Is this lights out, world beating defense? Hardly. But nobody is asking Herro and Robinson to be that. Just be solid and hit your marks. They don’t have to put in Oscar worthy monologues in their scenes, just deliver your lines, get across the right exposition and let the director move the crew along.

“It’s gotten to the point where they’re at the right spot at the right time,” Adebayo said. “They’re accepting the challenges, they’re accepting mismatches when people try to call them into them. It’s great to see them grow into that and obviously grow offensively because it doesn’t do anything but help our team.”

Not every team is Atlanta, a finesse group that has historically struggled to figure out ways around Adebayo. Teams with bigger, stronger wings (De'Andre Hunter and Jalen Johnson were not available) are going to give Herro and Robinson trouble one-on-one, and more dynamic playmaking teams will manage the floor better. There was a play in this quarter where Clint Capela caught the ball downhill on a roll and had only Herro, in the restricted area, between him and a dunk and Capela for some reason chose to kick out to the corner. Poor decisions by the offense can sometimes be a gift.

But there are also indications that Herro and Robinson have improved. Herro is averaging a career-high 1.3 steals per game because he’s clearly hunting weakside deflections, and after years of ranking near the bottom of the league in isolation defense, Herro is allowing just 0.93 points per (albeit on just 31 possession due to missed time with an ankle injury) while Robinson (51 possessions) is at 0.84 – numbers that put them much closer to average than they’ve ever been before.

“This year the difference is both of us are quote unquote not ducks on the other end,” Herro said. “We’re able to play a little defense and I think that’s a credit to both of our hard work and dedication to the game. Dunc has really done a great job of continuing to work on that end so we can play together. We’re both not the best defenders but I think if we’re able to prove that we’re at least average defenders then Spo is able to play us both at the same time.”

That’s all Herro and Robinson have to be together. Average on one end. Viable. Feasible. Hopefully sustainable. The offense will take care of itself, if just given the chance.

FOURTH QUARTER DEEP DIVE

For as good as the final period was against Atlanta, we’re now that we’re 29 games into the regular season and it’s time to take a look at what exactly has been ailing Miami in their fourth quarters, where they have a Net Rating of -13.7, last in the league. We’ll have to set up a few truths about this team before bringing it together in the end, but you might find that the results engender less dismay than that initial negative number.

First, Miami is one of the best teams at turning the other team over. That is by design. Erik Spoelstra has said over and over throughout the years that he wants his team to be one of the most disruptive around and all you need is a couple nights of watching them to see how they do it. They help aggressively in the driving lanes, even at the cost of giving up a handful of threes. They play the passing lanes. They attack your dribble. They know how valuable a live-ball turnover can be going the other way and they take risks to get there. Before a pair of recent games against low-turnover Chicago, the HEAT were Top 3 in opponent turnover rate. Today, they sit No. 6, forcing giveaways on 15 percent of opponent possessions.

As we’ve written many times, they also need to produce turnovers. Such is the nature of a high risk, high reward defense. On possessions where Miami doesn’t force a turnover, they allow 1.33 points per possessions, No. 19 among all teams when removing turnovers – an effect that is consistent across multiple seasons. It’s not too dissimilar why Miami has typically allowed a high field-goal percentage at the rim while historically being one of the best teams – closer to average right now, which is a story for another day – at limiting those attempts. When you draw hard lines in the sand, things don’t always look great in the moments where those line are broken through.

Alright, so we’ve established that Miami is, purposefully, great at forcing turnovers and when they don’t force turnovers their defense gives up some points. Now take a look at the HEAT’s opposing turnover rate by quarter:

1st Quarter: 16.1 percent (Rank 3)
2nd Quarter: 16.6 percent (Rank 2)
3rd Quarter: 14.8 percent (Rank 7)
4th Quarter: 12.4 percent (Rank 22)

And now here’s Miami’s Defensive Rating by quarter:

1st Quarter: 107.7 (Rank 7)
2nd Quarter: 112.4 (Rank 9)
3rd Quarter: 114.3 (Rank 14)
4th Quarter: 121.1 (Rank 27)

The overall defensive numbers, and the rim attempts allowed, would probably look better had Bam Adebayo – by far the most statistically impactful defender on the team – not missed seven games, but the shape of those two trendlines are nearly identical. The defensive efficiency has come and gone with the turnovers they’ve forced.

There is some bad luck at play, particularly from three where percentages tend to be more volatile. Teams are shooting 38.1 percent from three against Miami in fourth quarters, exceeding their expected shot value by 4.37 percentage points, fourth-most in the league. Granted, teams are also outperforming their Shot Quality by 3.35 percentage points on threes in the first three quarters and it’s relatively common to see teams topping expected value against Miami in recent years, when the HEAT typically don’t allow high-value attempts from deep, but 38.3 percent against is 38.3 percent against. By that same token, the HEAT are exceeding their own three-point Shot Quality by 8.88 percentage points – nearly double that of the second-place team – in the first three quarters, and are 4.07 points below in the final period. Playing the luck game when it comes to analysis can be a fickle task.

Perhaps there’s a larger conversation to be had regarding how much control a team has over opponent turnovers. There may be some shellshock in the first half regarding teams slowly adjusting to how the HEAT’s defense sets up, rotates and pressures, and the turnovers calm down as the game slows down. But considering Miami is actually allowing fewer drives and fewer shots at the rim in the fourth quarter, things they can control, and three-point numbers are always going to see variance on both sides of the floor, the drop in turnovers, at the moment, appears to be the place to zero in on.

The good news is that when Adebayo is on the floor Miami forces a turnover rate of 15.8, best on the team among those who have played at least 15 games, and when he’s off that rate falls to 14.1, lowest off-court mark on the roster. Just having Adebayo back and playing at a Defensive Player of the Year level will plug at least a handful of holes. We’ll check back in on this later on, though keep in mind that until last season Miami had never had a Net Rating better than +1.1 in the fourth quarter during the Jimmy Butler era. When they were great in the fourth, last year at +4.8, it was because they had the second-best defense in the period. Defense is always the key.

IT’S REAL, ALL OF IT

Ever since Miami had what was probably the best shooting month in franchise history in December of 2021 (40.2 percent from deep on 38 attempts a game, 15.3 makes per game) at the same time Adebayo missed the entire month after requiring surgery on his thumb, we’ve joked that there has been some sort of mystic effect at play whenever Adebayo or Butler isn’t playing. The more you take away from them, the stronger their shooting gets, the saying went, especially early on in games.

In reality, this has only been marginally true, one of those things you notice when it happens and immediately forget about when it doesn’t. In games at least one of Adebayo or Butler missed over the previous two seasons, Miami shot 36.7 percent from three, 36.8 percent in first quarters. Good, but not superpowered.

This season? In the 14 games at least one of Adebayo or Butler have missed, Miami is shooting 41.3 percent from three overall, an absurd 44.9 percent in first quarters (138 attempts). Maybe not a self-fulfilling prophecy, but maybe it really is possible to tweet something into existence.

The HEAT have always been one of the best teams in the league at coming together when shorthanded, and it’s not always because they shoot well. They tend to have hungry, competitive players ready to fill minutes when called upon, and those kind of guys can win games defensively, on the offensive glass and by simply filling a role better than the other team expects them to. Nothing levels the playing field quite like threes, though. If you remember The Rex Chapman Game way back in 1996, when Miami was super shorthanded against the juggernaut Chicago Bulls with players in limbo during the Tim Hardaway transaction process, the HEAT shot 65 percent from three, 15-of-23, including 9-of-10 from Chapman – to this day still the best shooting night, percentage wise, in franchise history on as many attempts. And of course lights out shooting was a major factor in that incredible run to the NBA Finals last year.

Most of the time the quirky, funny things we think are happening don’t play out in the numbers. This year, so far at least, has been the exception.

THE DESIGNEE

Wednesday night in Orlando, Haywood Highsmith made four threes. He also took nine of them, setting a new career high.

Why is that noteworthy? Because this is how the Magic were playing him in half-court, non-zone situations, with an arrow pointing at Highsmith’s primary defender as he caught the pass.

The Magic are not a team that typically concedes threes in order to protect the paint, but most teams will designate one player on the other side to help off in order to crowd the middle of the floor. Highsmith, shooting 32 percent from three coming into the game after starting the season on fire, got that treatment on Wednesday.

Fifteeen years ago, before every offense in the league became so finely tuned and optimized around shooting, it was a little easier to get away with one of your players not being defended at the arc. These days it’s nearly impossible, especially in the playoffs. An offense just won’t be able to keep up in high-leverage games with a free defender clogging up the lane every possession. When players are open, they either have to shoot it or cut when defenders aren’t looking. That Highsmith, who was starting games before injuring his lower back a few weeks ago, was so willing to take the opportunities, make or miss, was an important sign for his offensive fit next to Miami’s best players, especially once the postseason rolls around.

Two seasons ago, when the Celtics and Bucks were locked into a marathon seven-game series, the Bucks made the decision to label Grant Williams that designated player. In Game 7, Williams responded by attempting a staggering 18 threes, making seven, on Boston’s way to a 28-point victory. Is Highsmith ever going to need to go to such an extreme? Probably not, but being willing to take more threes than he’s ever taken before was a big reason why Orlando’s defense backfired on them for one game.

TIDBITS

-With 21-point fourth quarter against Atlanta, Duncan Robinson became just the 24th player in NBA history to score 20+ in the final period on seven or fewer field-goal attempts.

-While he’s only played 11 games, Herro is currently seventh in first-quarter scoring at 7.8 per game, including 48 percent shooting from deep. The only players ahead of him are Joel Embiid, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Luka Doncic, Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Julius Randle.

-He doesn’t qualify yet for leaderboards due to the missed time, but Herro is currently the only player in the league with shooting splits of 47-43-88 with a usage rate of at least 25. We’ll check back in once he’s been on the court for a few more weeks.

-After their assist percentage dipped to 60.8 last season while the team’s three-point shooting slumped and the offense refocused around Herro and Adebayo, the HEAT are back up to 65 percent (Rank 7) this season, about where they were in previous seasons of the Butler era. So many guys have missed time it’s tough to say if that’s where this group will end up, so for now it’s only of interest. -With an 8 pm matchup against the Philadelphia 76ers (the league leader in Net Rating at +11.5) looming on Christmas Day, the HEAT are 11-2 all-time in Christmas Day games.