Coup's Mailbag Vol. 1: Answering Questions About Bam Adebayo Taking Threes, Tyler Herro Off The Ball, Playing Big And The Postseason Shooting Drop

HEAT Mailbag
by Couper Moorhead

1. Why did the 3 point shooting drop? – Kye Enomoto

The question of the offseason is the simplest one. Why did the team with the best three-point shooting in the league at 37.9 percent drop to 31.3 percent in the postseason? There are many possible answers, but none of them are going to be perfect.

Something that gets lost in this discussion that should always come up first is that for three years running, the HEAT have taken either the toughest or very close to the toughest threes in the league as tracked by Second Spectrum’s Shot Quality metric (which roughly translates to expected effective field-goal percentage). This is not inherently a bad thing since that version of the statistic is only measuring those shots, where they are and how well contested they are and what types of shots they are, against league average. It doesn’t take into account the skill levels of players like Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro and Max Strus and Kyle Lowry, who can all take and make difficult threes. For a team that doesn’t generate a ton of two-on-the-ball situations naturally – they manufacture them with precision and pace, not with any one unstoppable presence – having dynamic shooters has sustained their halfcourt offense for years.

One of the defining numbers of the season is that, counting the postseason, Miami was 32-2 when they shot at least 40 percent from three. When they were below 30 percent, they were 8-16. Nothing particularly outlandish. This only served to highlight how good the defense was throughout. Everything was in place to allow for a good shooting performance win the day.

The way Miami gets to their tough shots is of interest, however. Take Portland, for example. They’ve also regularly had a tough Shot Quality mark but that was because they had multiple on-ball scorers creating threes off the bounce. Their best scorers were their best shooters. The HEAT’s best shooters are, generally, role players who need a system to create shooting windows. The deeper you go in the playoffs, system shots are harder to come by. Strus and Robinson have elite defenders chasing them around screens, threatening to contest from the side and from behind, and teams have more switchable players to switch those actions when they choose to. Not only did catch-and-shoot opportunities for Robinson, Strus and Herro drop off by about three per 100 possessions against Philadelphia and Boston – but their Shot Quality on those shots dropped even further.

Herro gets to his looks in a slightly different way than the other two, which we’ll get to more later, but Philadelphia and Boston clearly targeted him in their gameplans and took away as much of his airspace as they could. Both of those teams knew how important threes, even tough threes, were to Miami’s halfcourt success and they did everything they could to take them away even at the expense of defending Jimmy Butler without paint help. Miami’s best shooters are so good that they earned priority spots in the scout, and they aren’t in the place in their careers where they can create good looks on their own.

We also have to consider who was taking all of Miami’s threes in the postseason. Robinson was often out of the rotation or playing spot minutes. Herro’s attempts dropped off as he was pressured well beyond the arc. Butler’s attempts doubled. Victor Oladipo was playing mostly regular minutes after missing much of the regular season. Lowry was dealing with a hamstring injury for most of the run. After dealing with various injuries in the latter stretch of the season, Caleb Martin couldn’t recapture the adjusted mechanics that had him shooting a career-best earlier. Strus and Gabe Vincent shot worse than they did in the regular season, but even without considering the level of defense Boston was playing it was the first playoff run for each of them. It’s not wild for inexperienced postseason players to struggle a bit.

Comparing percentages between the regular season and playoffs gets tough when the rotations aren’t the same. If the shot distribution is different, if different or injured players are making up the majority of Miami’s volume, of course it makes sense that the shooting would change.

Surely there’s some bad luck involved. With shooting, that’s always going to be a factor. We do have numbers that tell us how many open or uncontested or lightly contested threes a team earns depending on which website you’re using, and those weren’t all that different for Miami in the playoffs, but when you watch the film on those shots it becomes readily apparent that not all lightly contested shots are made the same – something Erik Spoelstra commented on in his most recent press conference. Strus running around one Adebayo handoff for a three in January is different than Strus having to run back and forth off multiple handoffs with Marcus Smart hot on his heels just for a split-second chance to get the ball up. You can be open, or somewhat open, and still be under duress.

Did the HEAT miss some open shots, particularly open shots that the defenses of Philadelphia and Boston did not want to give up – as opposed to a good number they were happy to allow – and did that cost them? Of course it did. If a few more of those shots fell, maybe they find themselves in the NBA Finals. That’s the pain of shooting. But we also can’t pretend they had the same players taking the same shots that led them to the best regular season shooting in the league.

2. I wanted your thoughts on Bam shooting threes and how realistic it is to expect him to be a threat out there. Do you think it's something the coaching staff wants? What level of shooter do you think he could be? I would like to think P.J. Tucker would be a reasonable goal. Thanks! – @micah-lister

Bam is always a fun topic this time of year because he’s young and talented and has a long career ahead of him. He’s only 24 and has plenty of time to add to his skillset. Starting to take threes is a natural progression for a lot of bigs these days, and I understand why it keeps coming up. That said, I’ve always been leery with the topic. Not that I think it’s too much for Adebayo, but because it’s not nearly as simple as it sounds and there’s an opportunity cost with every change you make to your game. If you start doing one thing more, what else aren’t you doing as much of?

Chris Bosh is the natural point of comparison here. Bosh was a pioneer, of sorts, in stretching his game out mid-career when he saw the benefits of spacing the floor for LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Bosh was also starting from an entirely different place, which was as one of the best mid-range shooting bigs in the league. Outside of Dirk Nowitzki, who might be the best shooter ever for his size, Bosh’s percentages were routinely among the best in the league. And he shot it with volume. In the five seasons before Bosh upped his three-point volume, 32 percent of his shots came between 16 feet and the arc, making 47 percent. For Adebayo over the past three years, that number is 8.5 percent, and he’s only made 32.7 percent of those shots – which surely wasn’t helped this season by his thumb injury. And while Adebayo’s mechanics are sound enough, keep in mind that shooting off the catch and off the dribble generally require slightly different motions. With Bosh it was as simple as taking all of his catch-and-shoot attempts and taking a step or two back behind the line. Adebayo’s catch-and-shoot attempts are miniscule. It’s not nearly as much a part of his game as it was for Bosh.

But let’s play this out as a hypothetical for a moment. Say Adebayo starts taking three shots a game from behind the arc, which is about where P.J. Tucker was this season. Even at low-ish volume, Tucker is one of the best corner-three shooters of the past decade. He has a long, proven resumé and teams respect him with commensurate closeouts. Over the past five years he’s made 451 corner threes. Second place is Danny Green at 266. Prolific stuff. Yet against Boston, the Celtics still put Robert Williams on him and had Williams sag off into the paint to deter Butler and Adebayo. It wasn’t that Boston thought Tucker couldn’t shoot. He made 40 percent of his three in that series. They just decided it was in their best interests to prioritize the paint. And that’s with Tucker being a proven shooter.

If Adebayo is taking those shots a game, it’s hard to expect him to shoot with the same efficiency as Tucker. Efficiency usually drags behind volume by at least a year or two. Even Bosh didn’t top league-average percentages from three until his fifth season in Miami. So say Adebayo is below league average in his first couple of years shooting those shots. Are teams going to defend him as a shooter? Is he really spacing the floor? It might work during the regular season, but when it comes down to the games that matter the most are playoff defenses going to closeout hard? Because if teams are going to sag off those shots, that’s another defender in the paint with Adebayo now further away from the rim, further away from offensive rebounds and paint catches and lobs. Jonas Valanciunas added a three-ball the past couple years which led to some fascinating regular season performances, but that skill was a non-factor in the playoffs. Phoenix wasn’t worried about those shots.

Can Adebayo do it? There isn’t a single thing that I would put past him. If he showed up next season looking like he could win the Three Point Contest, I wouldn’t even be that surprised. But these things almost always take time, even for the most talented players. Could it be worth it down the line for him to stretch his game out? Maybe. But the gap between now and that skill being important in a big postseason series is large, and you have to be careful about not taking him away from the very many things he already does well.

3. Why didn't Coach Spo utilize the rotation with our bench players and decided to stick with 5-6 players for long minutes? - @subacid500

Miami’s minutes weren’t all that crazy if you look at the postseason as a whole. Jimmy Butler was at 37 a night – he essentially hit that number for five straight years in the regular season and plays just a tick under 34 with Miami – Bam was at 34, and nobody else was over 30. Compare to some teams that had their core players topping 40 as early as the First Round, and the HEAT’s postseason minutes distribution appears to be pretty healthy. Certainly helps when you have a few blowout wins along the way.

Of course what @subacid500 is probably asking about is down the stretch of the Boston series, especially Game 7 where Butler went the full 48 and Adebayo was close behind at 46. That’s just what happens the deeper into the postseason you go. As you face tougher and tougher opponents, your ability to buy your core players rest becomes more and more limited, in part because those opponents are also pushing their own main guys for more time on the court. Having a deep bench is great for the regular season – great for the playoffs, too, as far as giving you lineup flexibility and some insurance against injuries – but during the regular season those bench units are finding success against other bench units. They aren’t going against the other team’s starters, and in the playoffs every coach has to make the calculated decision whether rested bench players can overcome the talent gap against tired starters. In rare occasions, the talent gap isn’t as wide and the depth can buy you more time. But even in those cases, using the depth means three players off the bench. We can’t speak to exactly what Spoelstra was thinking, but this is a pattern that has played out for most teams for decades. In the biggest spots, you play the guys who you trust the most, who have earned the most trust, and ask them to push through. Injuries are always a factor, too, as was the case with Miami’s primary bench player in Herro.

In Miami’s case, they couldn’t afford to have Butler sit. Over the 17 playoff games that Butler played, the HEAT were +7.7 per 100 possessions with him on the court. When he sat, they were -4.0 per 100. They lost Games 3 and 4 against Philadelphia largely because they lost the opening minutes of the fourth quarter when Spoelstra tried to get Butler a breather. Against Boston, Miami was -8.6 per 100 when Butler was on the bench. That’s not an uncommon effect as against the best defenses you need the best players to create, but clearly the HEAT weren’t immune to it.

4. Why didn't the Heat try going big against Boston? - @JAYOakaTOOTS
Should we start Bam at 4? – Eduardo Corrêa
How about help for Bam—another tall player who could help with defense and rebounding as well as offense in the middle and scoring? - @TMiller99

Lumping these all together because they’re all getting at the same idea. Should the HEAT find a way to play bigger? My answer for this has always been the same. Sure. I’m open to it. Just tell me what it looks like and who the players are.

The first thing that has to be considered is Miami’s roster construction. As of today, their two best players are not defended as shooters. We discussed the possibilities for Adebayo in that area earlier, and with Butler even though he takes more threes in the playoffs teams are generally giving him that shot. Neither one is a floor spacer. With that in mind, it’s pretty important that the players who share the floor with them are threats from the perimeter. Otherwise the paint, against any good defense, gets far too congested and no amount of offensive rebounds are going to make up for that. You might counter that Golden State just won a title with two non-shooters in their frontcourt, to which I’d say they took one of those non-shooters out of the starting lineup against Boston, and besides their roster construction allows for that formation at other times because they have two of the best shooters we’ve ever seen. Your roster dictates.

Whether or not the other frontcourt player alongside Adebayo is tall or not, they have to be able to shoot. Meyers Leonard worked in that spot for a regular season spell in part because he was shooting over 40 percent from three. Kelly Olynyk had his moments because, again, he was a volume threat from anywhere on the floor that teams had to respect. Jae Crowder had some incredible hot streaks and was always a willing shooter above the break. Tucker was leading the league in three-point percentage for half a season and was the only player to sustain his three-point shooting in the playoffs. They were all either threats to convert open looks or consistent spacers or both.

The postseason success came with Crowder and Tucker because they fit perfectly with Adebayo’s switchable skillset. They helped coalesce one of the best, and most postseason potent, defensive systems in the league. Leonard and Olynyk were two of the best shooters around for their size, but the defense wasn’t quite the same with them.

So you want to play bigger, but that bigger player needs to be a spacer who can also defend at a playoff level – let’s move beyond regular-season innings eaters, as this is a team trying to win a title. Who is that player? Most everyone who fits that mold is making a ton of money if not multiple All-Star teams. Every team in the league wants players like that. You could play them with Butler and Adebayo because that type of player can play with anyone. Bosh was that type of player and he’s a Hall of Famer.

The real question here is what are we trying to solve for? With Adebayo on the floor the HEAT defend and rebound – literally, their Defensive Rebound Percentage in his minutes would have been No. 1 in the league – at an elite rate. Those aren’t things that need fixing. Could they be a little better defending around the rim, where they were a little below average this season? Sure. But Miami’s system has its own form of rim protection because, in part due to their switching, they rarely allow players to get into the paint. Adding a rim protector usually means playing more conservative coverage, allowing that driving pocket, unless that rim protector can also move their feet on the perimeter in which case, again, we’re talking about highly coveted personnel even before factoring in the shooting.

Sometimes it seems as though there is a bit of confirmation bias at play here. Just as it happened with Bosh, who people assumed couldn’t be a center because he wasn’t blocking a ton of shots or pulling in regular double doubles, when the other team does get something in the paint or an offensive rebound it’s easy to blame it on the lack of size. But what your eyes are seeing in those moments is clouding how great the HEAT, with Adebayo at center, are at most all other times in those areas.

I’ve never quite understood the desire to make Adebayo anything but a center when he’s everything you want in a center in today’s NBA. He can play any coverage. He can defend any player. He can screen and dive to the rim. He can handle the ball and create shots for shooters. He can attack in the paint. He might not space the floor, but he is awesome. Maybe there is a max-level player out there who would fit the postseason needs and push him to the four spot, but that’s true of anyone who isn’t one of the best of all time at their position. This is just my opinion, but Adebayo at center, as much as designating a position even matters these days, is far more of a solution than a problem. They didn’t lose to Boston because they were too small and couldn’t defend or rebound. They lost because their halfcourt offense couldn’t find enough juice against an elite defense.

5. Your thoughts and statistics, is Herro better when on the ball or off? If he starts with Lowry next year, he'll play more off ball I imagine? - @Winner_Of_Life4

Herro is an interesting one. He’s improved leaps and bounds as a creator with the ball in his hands over the past two seasons. He’s better at getting to the rim, he’s better at drawing fouls, he’s better at finding the open passing lanes in Miami’s offense – particularly in finding the weakside corner on a drive. His ability to be a threat with the ball in his hands, to create something out of nothing, was a boon during the regular season. There were plenty of games where the HEAT’s offense would start out flat and Herro would come in and add some high-volume punch. He didn’t win Sixth Man of the Year by mistake.

But when it comes to efficiency, during the regular season, it was Herro’s off-ball endeavors that carried his career-best 56.1 true-shooting on a career-high 28.8 percent usage. There are a couple of ways to parse this, but let’s start with Herro shooting 41 percent on 185 catch-and-shoot threes as tracked by Second Spectrum – which includes catch-and-shoot opportunities coming off movement and relocation – and 31.7 percent on 123 threes off the dribble. Or we can look at it as his effective field-goal percentage off 0-1 dribbles was 64.5 percent. Of the 111 players who took at least 400 shots off 0-1 dribbles, Herro’s eFG% was no. 7 in the league. After two or more dribbles, his efficiency dropped to 45.2 percent, No. 58 of 65 qualified players. That’s no small gap.

It’s also entirely expected. Herro’s increased usage this season, 23.5 to 28.8, would have been a huge jump for any player. Efficiency typically lags behind. But Herro being so good in catch-and-shoot situations masked some of those typical usage-related growing pains. Miami needed him in that volume role to keep their offense above water and there’s no reason to think he won’t improve with the ball in his hands.

So, to answer the question, Herro was statistically much better off the ball than on it last season. If you put him in a lineup that could create shots for him, he was lights out. If Spoelstra decides to change up the rotation, Herro should fit in fine. But that volume bench role was critical last season, and Herro has plenty of room for growth there.

6. Pick One Theater Experience for a 1st time viewer: Everything Everywhere All At Once or Top Gun 2? - @jnicho20

Now we’re bringing out the heavy hitters. The dilemma here is that Everything Everywhere All At Once is spectacular. It’s one of the most unique, sincere and creative movies that have come along in a long time, and one of my favorite 5-10 of the past half decade or so. In a lot of ways, it’s a miracle that it even exists. Everyone who enjoys movies should at least give it a chance. There’s nothing else like it.

But Top Gun: Maverick is one of the best action movies to come out of American studios in the past 10 years, up there with Mission: Impossible – Fallout and Mad Max: Fury Road and the various John Wick films. Because so much of what you see is in camera, the actual actors in the actual planes, it has a level of authenticity and craft that we very rarely see these days. Seeing a movie like that, on as big a screen as possible, is an opportunity that only comes along every few years. It might not be the better movie, but it’s the more singular big-screen experience. Years later, I’m glad I didn’t miss the opportunity to see Gravity on a giant screen – it wouldn’t have been the same at home.


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