Coup's Notebook Vol. 64: Goran Dragic Made His Mark, Zone Usage In LA, First Possession Bam And Tyler Herro In The Ray Allen Corner

The Miami HEAT are 19-14, No. 5 in the Eastern Conference with a Net Rating of +1.3, No. 14 in the NBA. With two games left of their five-game West Coast swing, here’s what we’ve been noting and noticing.


Goran Dragic never got to play with the team he was supposed to play with.

As Dragic announced his retirement from basketball this past weekend, with a celebration coming in his native Slovenia after the Paris Olympics, those were likely the first words on the minds of many in the HEAT orbit. Dragic will rightfully go down as one of the most beloved players in the history of the franchise, but he never got to play with the team he was supposed to play with.

When Dragic was acquired at the 2015 trade deadline – a whirlwind day when it felt like half the point guards in the league were dealt – the idea was to pair him not only with Dwyane Wade in the season following LeBron James’ departure from a team that had just made four straight NBA Finals but with Chris Bosh after Dragic had just made All-NBA Third Team playing with similar-on-paper floor-spacing bigs in Phoenix. A pick-and-roll between one of the premier downhill guards in the league and an ultra-versatile All-Star big having the best three-point shooting season of his career (at volume) promised to keep Miami’s contention window open. That same day, Chris Bosh was admitted to the hospital with blood clots in his lungs. The HEAT wound up missing the playoffs.

Restocked with veteran rotation options the next season, Bosh played the final game of his career two third of the way in, only 53 games on the ledger for the team as it was meant to be. We can debate all day as to whether Miami would have beaten Toronto in the second round with Bosh available, and whether they would have advanced past the Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA Finals, but we’ll never know just as we’ll never know the outcome of the 2020 Finals had Dragic – trying desperately to play through a torn plantar fascia – and Bam Adebayo been healthy. The two most important runs of Dragic’s HEAT tenure will forever be linked with hypotheticals.

The reality of Dragic himself, though, left nothing to the imagination. Despite his usage rate topping out at 27 and mostly hovering around 25 in his five full seasons with Miami before the foot injury in the Orlando Bubble, Dragic had the ninth-most drives in the league, 4,444 of them, as he converted 63 percent of his attempts at the rim. Between his first full season with Miami and his fourth, he nearly doubled his rate of pull-up threes, mirroring the growing importance of that type of shot for guards, and became a true three-level threat from any spot on the floor.

He was also more than willing to fill any role. Playing alongside Wade and Bosh, he took a more complimentary offensive role, finding his spots to be aggressive particularly in transition. Without them, he carried an All-Star load, making the team in 2017-18 a year after perhaps his most complete HEAT season in 2016-17, his one 20-point campaign. When Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro came aboard in 2019-20, Dragic accepted a bench before Erik Spoelstra made him a full-time starter again in The Bubble whereupon Dragic had maybe the best and most defining 11-game stretch of his career, given the circumstances, averaging 20 a game against the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics while consistently rescuing Miami’s offense from the deep muck.

The basketball mattered. Oh, it mattered, even if the context wasn’t always the one mapped out, but you ask anyone who spent time around Dragic in those years and you’ll receive similar answers from them all. Love that guy. He’s the best. One of my favorites. As most players have largely exited the locker rooms when the media is allowed in during pregame, Dragic was often the only one there, sitting down with his coffee, happy to chat. People loved being around him, loved working with him, loved playing with him. Many players make their marks on the court, far fewer make such indelible ones off it.

Dragic should be celebrated. Take the time, one of these days, to put your thoughts in his direction. His time in Miami may not have been what it was supposed to be, but that’s what makes his time in Miami so special. He made the most of his time, through the ups and downs, and for every highlight clip of shoulders-first drives and stage-worthy spins, he left behind far more people that will just be happy to see him for decades more. That’s a career any player, or half career with regard to his time with the HEAT, can be proud of.


Monday night marked Miami’s highest usage zone game of the season, topping out at 38 possessions, which was reasonably predictable given all the wing defenders the HEAT were missing – Jimmy Butler, Caleb Martin, Haywood Highsmith, Josh Richardson – and all the wing talent on the LA Clippers roster. Erik Spoelstra’s zone was born against the Clippers more than five years ago, and that coverage has earned them plenty of shorthanded wins over the years.

The Clippers, however, wound up scoring 1.29 points per possession against the HEAT’s zone in this one, to the point that Spoelstra didn’t use Miami’s secondary coverage at all in the fourth quarter. Things started off well enough in the first quarter as the zone stalled out LA and induced a handful of turnovers, but the deeper into the game you could feel LA growing more comfortable finding the soft spots.

Typically the main soft spot in a zone is in the middle of the floor at the nail, which is why it was so difficult to zone Nikola Jokic in the NBA Finals with Jokic being so dominant in that area. Against some teams, especially those without skilled playmaking bigs or wings comfortable flashing middle and making a quick play, the HEAT will cede those catches and dare you to make relatively inefficient shots. Against the Clippers, Miami went to more of a 1-3-1 look – this is the same they often used against the Denver Nuggets, Jokic was just such a big target he got his catches anyway while Gabe Vincent or Caleb Martin leaned on him – splitting up the top two of the 2-3 look and having those players stack on top of one another in order to switch on-ball screens, then taking things to a further extreme by having the edge defenders of the zone pull into the middle the floor against flashing wings to further clog the nail, just as they’ve done against Kevin Durant in the past to limit his mid-range catches.

Now, because this specific scheme focuses so much on a narrow formation – consider how teams reduce their defensive width to force the offensive action down the wings in soccer – it often forces one of the wing defenders to defend two players at once while the middle of the zone stalls the ball. LA recognized this fairly early on which is how Norm Powell found himself three corner threes, Miami’s wing forced to commit to the wing player while leaving the corner man available. The HEAT eventually cleaned this up in static situations, when someone like Kawhi Leonard or James Harden wasn’t talenting themselves through the small-window driving seams, and you can see Duncan Robinson here playing Paul George on the catch while waiting for Jaime Jaquez Jr. to pull over and release Robinson to the strong-side corner

George tries to drive, the zone collapses on him and the defense wins the day. Same idea on this next possession, just to further illustrate the mechanic, where Tyler Herro tracks Norm Powell above the free-throw line before releasing him to Jamal Cain and recovering to the corner that is now one pass away.

Same thing here, with Lowry releasing on Russell Westbrook, even though Westbrook has the ball in his hands, to recover to the corner.

Notebook 64: Clippers Zone 3

At this point the Clippers have seen this coverage for around 30 possessions, so watch how they change this up on the next possession. After George reverses the ball when Bam Adebayo meets him at the bottom of the zone on a drive, Powell cuts through the zone to ensure Adebayo has to cover two on the strong side of the floor. Then Harden, recognizing the setup, calls for a Daniel Theis screen, with Kevin Love releasing the big up through the middle where Jaquez Jr. and Herro are meant to cover the screen with a switch.

It's a decoy.

Harden never intended to use the screen, only to occupy Herro so he couldn’t release to the wing shooter. The moment Theis is in range to screen, Harden flips the ball to George who already knows Adebayo is a man stuck between two deadly shooters. If Adebayo commits, Powell is again open in the corner. When he stunts, George has a small pocket – think Trae Young shooting in the switch pocket as Miami defenders transfer the responsibility of picking up the ball around a screen – to shoot, and he cans it.

The Clippers had to make a ton of jumpers to counter Miami’s zone, including some off-balance shots when the shrinking wings forced a Leonard or George or Harden to pick up their dribble as they attacked the seam. Many teams just don’t have the talent to attack the zone in the same way, but there’s also a reason it’s a secondary look and not the base coverage. The more teams see it, the more they can recognize where the soft spots are – even if you take away the soft spot in the middle, that will only create a vulnerability elsewhere.

Miami’s zone has allowed 1.09 points per possession in the half-court this season, a good number in the context of all defense but not where the zone typically is at, statistically, in the first half of the season, below 1.00. Monday night, as it so often is, the zone was a survival tool. Spoelstra pushed every button he had available to push with half his wing rotation out, the Clippers just had the requisite talent and wherewithal to roll with whatever was thrown their way.


If you’ve been watching HEAT games this year thinking, ‘It sure does seem like Bam is taking the first shot in a lot of these games’, then we’re here to tell you that you’re onto something.

Despite missing ten games due to injury, Adebayo is tied with Jalen Brunson for the league lead for shots taken in the first 40 seconds – covering one full shot clock and enough of a second one to ensure we’re mostly only using a team’s first offensive possession – at 17. Adebayo was fifth in this category last season, but his 38 first-possession shots only covered 50.6 percent of his 75 games whereas 76.1 percent of HEAT game are opening with an Adebayo attempt.

This isn’t happening by accident.

“It’s not necessarily all the time that we’re running plays for him, it’s more the mentality to start trying to establish inside-out,” Erik Spoelstra said. “It doesn’t mean that it’ll be a post-up for him. Sometimes it’s another action. Everybody wants to get him involved, including the head coach, it helps us establish a tone for the game.”

Adds Adebayo, “it’s just respect that your coach is living with you to make the first play.”

This practice goes back decades in the league. For a long time, coaches would almost throw away their first possessions trying to get their center a post touch even if they weren’t particularly talented offensive players – this was the era of the post-up – just to get them involved. That’s not the case with Adebayo given his clear offensive ability, but it does speak to a desire to get the ball to a player, and a specific place on the floor, who needs a little more setup than ballhandling wings and guards. Years ago, Spoelstra did the same with Chris Bosh, who was ninth in the league with 42 first possessions attempts in 2013-14, the first year for which we have tracking data. But where Spoelstra is trying to get his offense working the right way with Adebayo’s early touches, the idea was a little different with Bosh back then.

“It was more about we knew that Dwyane [Wade] and LeBron [James] would have extremely high usage rates and you wanted your ATO’s in general and dead ball plays to include CB,” Spoelstra said. “That’s not really the case with Bam.”

When Adebayo heard how many early shots he’s taken he joked that he doesn’t know “if that’s a good or bad thing” but it doesn’t really have to be either. It’s what Spoelstra thinks his team needs to find the right offensive balance and as Adebayo has truly come into his own as a shot creator over the past two seasons, it’s tough to argue against the philosophy.


Now for Part II of today’s Is What You Think You’re Seeing Really Happening?

Midway through the second quarter of Miami’s impressive Christmas Day victory over Philadelphia, Kevin Love caught a pass on the left wing with eight seconds left on the shot clock. Love drove and made his way all the way to the rim, but with Mo Bamba still attached at the hip Love opted to kick out to the right corner, where Tyler Herro was relocating from the right wing. As Herro caught the ball his momentum was still carrying him right, but with three seconds on the shot clock, fading towards the baseline, he still rises up and hits a three.

When the ball goes in, Herro is no longer on the screen.

Now, if you saw that and through to yourself, ‘It sure does seem like Herro hits that shot, in that spot, pretty often’, then we’re here to tell you that you’re onto something.

While we can’t filter down all of Herro’s shots to ones where he is specifically fading to his right, we can do so for that specific corner, at home at Kaseya Center and in the first half – Miami is typically running offense in front of their own bench in the first half, though that changes in occasional games where the visiting team wants to mix things up so this isn’t perfect science. And over the past three seasons, Herro is 15-of-29 on those shots, good for 51.7 percent.

He's still pretty good in front of the opposing bench in second halves, 42.3 percent in the other right corner, while in the left corners in either half he’s at 38.9 percent. So, Herro is pretty great in any corner at home, it just so happens that he’s been especially great in the Ray Allen Corner.

Fittingly, just like Allen who since hitting his legendary shot in Game 6 of the 2013 Finals has often told the story of how often he worked on the timing to retreat to the corner in a scramble situation and get his feet set legally without looking down, Herro regularly works on that specific look.

“Pretty much every workout I work on that,” Herro says of shots fading toward the baseline, almost behind the backboard. “Whether its mid-range or from three, it’s kind of the same thing. Just because of the angle of the backboard, it’s really just trying to get the ball up and allow it to get over the rim and not be short.”

Duncan Robinson (22-of-43, 51.2 percent) has been just as good in that spot, and Caleb Martin is 7-of-11, overall pushing Miami to 43.7 percent in the Ray Allen corner over the past three seasons and 40.2 percent – again, at home in the first half in the right corner, which happens to be right in front of where Pat Riley and the front office staff sits – in the 11 seasons since Allen hit that shot.

Safe to say they’re doing Allen’s legacy in that very narrow space proud.


- Over the past 22 games, Duncan Robinson is shooting 49 percent from three on seven attempts per game, the second time he’s had a stretch meeting those requirements in his career and the first time since his breakout 2019-20 season. He has a ways yet to go but only Steph Curry, Joe Harris, Tyrese Maxey and Bogdan Bogdanovic have had similar stretches reach 30 games.

-When Miami was a Top 5 defense two seasons ago, they allowed the fewest paint points per 100 possessions at 42.4. Last season that jumped up to 47.4, which was still good for Top 5 in that category, but opponent paint scoring has spiked again to 49.5, which has them at No. 15 – the lowest they’ve ranked since the 2018-19 season.

-One a related note, when Bam Adebayo is on the floor Miami allows 47.2 opponent paint points per 100 possessions and 50.6 when he’s off it.

-Adebayo’s 26-15-5-3 game on Christmas Day was the third such game in HEAT history and first since 1996, joining Billy Thompson and Alonzo Mourning.

-The HEAT are taking the most non-rim two pointers in the league at 35.9 percent of their total offense, just ahead of the Phoenix Suns and New York Knicks. The bulk of that volume is made up of them leading the league in upper paint volume at 26.3 percent of their offense.