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Coup's Notebook Vol. 67: Boston And New York’s Paint Coverage, Sorting Out Usage, Terry Rozier's Right Wrong Foot And A Budding Rivalry

The Miami HEAT are 24-22, No. 7 in the Eastern Conference with a Net Rating of -1.0, No. 19 in the NBA. Currently on a six-game losing streak, they have games against Phoenix, Sacramento, Washington and the LA Clippers coming up this week. Here’s what we’ve been noting and noticing.

COVERAGE TOUCHES

The HEAT are clearly stuck in a bit of a rut right now, and the reasons for it have not been the same from game to game. For about two weeks the offense was in the mud as the shooting went ice cold, but over the past two games the scoring efficiency has bounced back along with the threes while the defense – 141.1 Defensive Rating – struggled against Boston and New York as those teams made 53.4 percent of their own threes

Such is the regular season. You’re never as good as you look when you’re winning seven in a row, as Miami did during the first month of the season, and you’re never as bad as you look when you’re on a losing streak. There are no guarantees, and seeing matters even if it didn’t matter last season, but Erik Spoelstra has a long record of pulling his teams together and squeezing all the juice out of the orange.

In the meantime, there are still interesting wrinkles happening game-to-game. Against Boston on Thursday, for example, Miami ran more pick-and-rolls than they had all season, using 76, ahead of the 74 they used against Boston back in October. With Kristaps Porzingis on board and the center rotation filled out with Al Horford and Luke Kornet, Boston is using more drop coverage with their centers – while still switching one-through-four – and drop coverage is typically a soft spot Miami likes to attack. Drop coverage with the right spacing, though, tends to give up shots to the ballhandler rather than the screener, and Bam Adebayo had just 22 direct touches against Boston, his fourth fewest of the season.

Against New York, Adebayo had his second fewest direct touches – touches that lead to a used possession or an assist opportunity – of the season with just 14. Through the first three quarters, before the Knicks loosened up their paint help as they held a big lead and focused more on shutting down the arc, Adebayo had just eight direct touches, the first time all season he’s been in single digits through three quarters. New York plays even more drop coverage than Boston, third-most in the league at 33.5 screens per 100 possessions, and Tom Thibodeau’s scheme has always been extremely help heavy in the paint.

Watch these two clips, for example, and see if you can find where Adebayo could have received a pass in his comfort zones with New York pulling in defenders, high and low, from the weak side.

Notebook 67: Bam PnR Knicks

During preseason, after that long postseason run, New York’s defense during their Second Round series was on Adebayo’s mind. One of the areas he was looking to improve the most against, he said at the time, was making quicker, more advanced reads against paint-helping schemes like New York. Those upper paint touches Adebayo gets out of pick-and-rolls are highly valuable, too, as he’s producing 1.29 points-per-touch, No. 15 among 55 players with at least 100 touches in that area. But the Knicks were able to take away the bulk of those touches on Saturday and Miami scored just 90.8 points-per-play in the halfcourt, according to cleaningtheglass.com, the bulk of their efficiency coming on the break.

Some of this is also the HEAT figuring out their spacing with new lineups and a shortening rotation. Throughout the years Spoelstra has always put a heavy emphasis on the right spacing begetting the right shots and shot making. It’s not a huge surprise, then, that Adebayo’s usage rate is down to 20.9 percent the past two games with new lineups, and zero practice time, up against two of the best defenses in the league.

They’ll figure all that out with time. Adebayo is too important to the offense. But credit Boston and New York for clogging up the lane and, in taking away Adebayo’s comfort zones, forcing Miami to work possessions without their bread-and-butter actions.

BACKCOURT CHEMISTRY

On paper, the process of fitting in four players that have all had usage rates over 25 this season seems like a complicated process, along the lines of sorting out offensive roles between LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. With those three it took a full season to round out proper assignments, Wade willingly taking a secondary creation role to James in order to maximize the offense at large, but within that narrative it’s sometimes forgotten that Bosh’s usage rate immediately dropped that first season from 28.7 in Toronto to 23.5 in Miami. That wasn’t just because Bosh acquiesced to a different role, his game was also more naturally adaptable in that context because what he did was different to the two lead playmakers. It took longer with Wade and James because there was so much overlap.

So while Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro and Terry Rozier will all have to make adjustments to their games with four high-volume shot creators on board, it’s far less about Butler and Adebayo – Butler gets so many of his touches hunting mismatches or otherwise getting downhill in more static situations, as does Adebayo these days, recent games aside as discussed above, along with his role as a finisher of pick-and-rolls, at the rim or with his dotted-line jumpers – than it is about players in Herro and Rozier who share similar styles and, theoretically at least, similar roles.

The good news about those styles is that both Herro and Rozier are comfortable playing on and off the ball. That ability, along with on-the-move shooting that opposing defenses are forced to respect, tends to facilitate all necessary change, and we saw it as early as Rozier’s first score in a HEAT uniform.

Notebook 67: Rozier Herro Drive Kick

In what was otherwise a stuck-in-the-mud sort of evening for the offense, this possession represented something approaching the possibilities of the future. Herro brings the ball up, gets off the ball immediately, sets a screen to give Adebayo a step on his defender as Adebayo goes up to screen for Rozier while Herro relocates, Rozier gets his feet in the paint off the action and kicks it to Herro, Rozier relocating to the left corner in the process, and Herro drives the advantage before finding Rozier in the weak corner.

That’s what it can look like, two volume guards playing off one another. There will be moments when the game slows down and Miami needs more shot creation than drive-and-kick, and clutch minutes will need some sorting out along those lines, but both Rozier and Herro have too many dimensions to their games for this to be a slow, awkward, fitting-the-pieces-together process. Over the past three games Herro’s usage rate is down to 23.5 while Rozier’s is sitting at 20.2. We’ll check in on this periodically to see where they find the right balance.

THE RIGHT WRONG FOOT

Rozier’s other two scores against Memphis were also notable, though mostly from a skillset perspective.

Watch these layups and see if you catch what sets them apart.

Notebook 67: Rozier Right Wrong Foot

Those same-hand, same-foot – jumping off the right foot, with no gather, and scooping it in with the right hand, and vice versa – layups are much tougher than they look and that skill level speaks to why Rozier is able get to the rim as often as he does. Big men expecting a more traditional gather as they manage the space between the ball and a rolling Adebayo, as Jaren Jackson Jr. was doing in the second clip, can get caught off guard when an attacker takes off on the unexpected foot.

Spoelstra’s coaching staff has been teaching this as part of their layup package going back years now. You can find evidence of everyone from Mario Chalmers to Josh Richardson to Dion Waiters to Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson breaking it out every so often, and it’s not by mistake – you’d see those same players working on quick, finesse finishes in practices long before seeing it in games.

Rozier comes equipped with plenty of tricks – keep an eye on his extremely long gather steps as he breaks through the first layers of defenses to get in the paint – right away, but Spoelstra and crew always find something to add.

A BUDDING RIVALRY

There’s been a game within the game whenever the Memphis Grizzlies and Miami HEAT meet up these days. We can take a guess that it has to do at least a little bit with Jaren Jackson Jr. winning Defensive Player of the Year last season as Adebayo finished in the top five in voting for the fourth straight season. Whatever it is, Jackson Jr. and Adebayo certainly seem to go right at each other more than they do most other players, especially in the context of their games since neither has the usage rate of a Joel Embiid.

Sure enough, in the past two seasons Jackson Jr. has used 12 isolation possessions against Adebayo, coming short only of Wendell Carter Jr. (14) as far as one-on-one matchups. Jackson Jr. has scored a below-average .90 points-per in those attempts, but what happened last Wednesday was truly rare as Adebayo blocked Jackson Jr.’s shot in isolation three times as part of his career-high six-block evening.

Notebook 67: Bam Blocks Memphis

In fact, Adebayo blocked Jackson Jr. five times in total, the first time that’s happened since Feb. 15 last season, according to Elias Sports Bureau, when Nick Richards blocked Keita Bates-Diop five time in a single game. Over the past three seasons, Adebayo’s four total isolation blocks on Jackson Jr. are second-most in the league, trailing only Nikola Jokic’s five isolation blocks on Embiid. You can toss in an Adebayo block on a lone Jackson Jr. post-up for good measure.

What’s interesting is that Adebayo really hasn’t gone back at Jackson Jr. on the other end as much, even if it has felt like it at times, with just four isolation possessions total across two games this season.

All this said, Adebayo may have won that individual battle on Wednesday but in winning the game, Jackson Jr. won the war.

TIDBITS

-The Boston Celtics used just 15 isolation possessions against the HEAT last Thursday, tied for the fewest they’ve used against Miami in the last four seasons, playoffs included. This is notable because the HEAT have long been able to reduce Boston’s offense to more stagnant, one-on-one possessions, but with the HEAT switching fewer and fewer pick-and-rolls these days the dynamics of the matchup are shifting. Still, this game also didn’t come close to clutch minutes, where questions remain about Boston’s execution despite gains they have made with their roster reshuffle, so there likely would have been a little bit more matchup hunting if the game was close. Also of note, Boston has used more post-ups of late but they didn’t have an outlier game by any means in that area.

-Boston’s Offensive rating of 150.0 was the second-highest Miami has allowed in the Butler era, though while it was an outlier performance from an efficiency standpoint their Shot Quality (55.02 expected effective field-goal percentage) far surpassed the home team (51.03) that night.

-On a more macro Shot Quality note, HEAT opponents are shooting 16 percentage points above expectations on threes during this losing streak. Miami hasn’t been at their best, but there’s also some plain old bad luck involved, too.