The Miami HEAT Are 2-1 in preseason after a shorthanded, youth-led win on a back-to-back in Memphis, and they have two games to go before the real thing begins. Here’s what we’ve been noting and noticing.
Assertive Bam Is Different Bam
There is nothing wrong with asking for Bam Adebayo to be more aggressive. He’s got all the talent in the world and the more talent you have the more people are going to ask of you. Amidst all the clamor over the past couple of years to get his usage up – and through two preseason games it is up, from 24.8 last year to 31.4 – there has been a less-considered angle, which is what exactly does that More Aggressive Bam look like? Where do the shots come from? How does it affect his, and the team’s, efficiency?
Two games into preseason, we have our first glimpse at possible answers to those questions.
Before we go any further, let’s make clear that this is absurdly early for any real analysis. Teams are still figuring out who they are going to be this year, major players have been out on both sides and, perhaps most important, coaches are literally experimenting with schemes and styles and lineups that they don’t intend to use to the same degree in the regular season (Erik Spoelstra has already said as much about the Adebayo-Omer Yurtseven pairing). Numbers are nothing but hints whispered in the wind right now.
All that said, here’s a number to consider: through two games and 28 shots, about 32 percent of Adebayo’s shots have been non-paint two-pointers. That’s up from 16 percent last season. In other words, Adebayo’s mid-range jumpers have doubled so far. Watching the tape there are a few reasons for this. In the first game against Minnesota, Miami’s spacing with the Adebayo-Yurtseven units was a mess. More than once Adebayo had a good matchup and there was nowhere to go but take a jumper.
Adebayo has also been the recipient of some late clock passes where, again, he had no choice but to take a tough two just to get a shot up. But plays into the main point here, which is that Adebayo was often in position to be the late-clock creator because the offense was looking for him to be that throughout the shot clock.
Notebook 27: Bam Mid-Range Jumpers
He’s getting post touches and elbow touches at all points in the clock, against a variety of matchups. The team has him in position to create more, and oftentimes creating more means taking tougher shots. We aren’t going to point to mid-range looks and shout, ‘BAD’. Those looks are incredibly important especially as you get deeper into the playoffs, but unless you’re Kevin Durant or a handful of other historically rare and elite players, they’re also going to be generally more inefficient in a vacuum. Over the course of a full season, more long two’s and fewer attempts at the rim could pretty easily pull a true-shooting percentage underwater, at least occasionally.
For a recent example you don’t have to look any further than Tyler Herro. Herro could have been wildly efficient last season if he was strictly an off-ball player, but the team needed shot creation and there was no reason to put his development in a box at such a young age. In theory, Herro’s experiences creating off the dribble – and his struggles, particularly against good defenders – should pay dividends down the road. There are also no guarantees. Much of the HEAT’s most efficient offense relied on Adebayo being in playmaker mode, operating as the engine powering a full motion, read-and-react half-court offense. Going for a more static approach, at least while Adebayo develops into less of a Score or Pass and into more of a Score and Pass player – he’s had a bit of a toggle in the past, with two exclusive modes – could lead to some stagnancy for a half-court offense that already struggles with bouts with molasses.
The ultimate upside for the team is similar to the conversation we have about burgeoning shooters. You want your shooters to make shots not only because made shots are good, but because you want them to develop a reputation as someone defenses have to respect. In those cases, respect begets spacing. With Adebayo, the dream is that he becomes so good with more individualized offense – the numbers on his posts and isolations are generally good, though there is an element of selection bias at play because he’s often only attacked good matchups – that teams give him the respect of true double-teams, as Brooklyn did the other night when Adebayo drew the smaller Kessler Edwards in the post.
Bam Doubled vs. Brooklyn
The easiest path for this iteration of the HEAT to go from good-to-great on offense is to find a way to consistently distort opposing defenses with doubles, doubles that in the past have been easiest, however infrequent they could be, to generate with great shooters moving at high speeds. Many of Adebayo’s, and Jimmy Butler’s, great postseason scoring games have come with teams making clear decisions to cover them primarily in single coverage and cut off their passing lanes. If Adebayo – or Herro, for that matter – could reach the point where postseason schemes have no other option but to send, or at least shade, multiple defenders, that’s an entirely new dimension of offense you’ve suddenly unlocked.
Again, no guarantees, but the upside is worth a possible squeeze, short term or otherwise, on Adebayo’s efficiency *if* that’s a side-effect of a different shot diet. That squeeze, by the way, he can mitigate with an already-strong affinity for drawing fouls. It’s not about shots so much as it is about scoring opportunities, which are factored into usage rate in the end.
Of course we’ll probably have another note just like this one in a few weeks talking about the same things. And then another few weeks after that, and so on and so forth. The evolution of any young All-Star bears keeping a microscopic eye on them. Such is the burden of more.
MEET JAMAL CAIN
Last week, we relayed Spoelstra’s positive early thoughts about the play of Dru Smith at training camp. This week, after a 15-point, 11-rebound, 5-steal performance against Brooklyn FOLLOW UP BY, it’s Jamal Cain’s turn.
Who is Jamal Cain? After playing four years at Marquette and another at Oakland University – making him 23-years old – he’s one of the newest players in Miami’s undrafted development program. After averaging in single digits scoring at Marquette, even after playing 30 minutes a game his senior year, Cain exploded for a 20-point, 10-rebound season in that final season for the Golden Grizzlies (albeit with under an assist a night).
Cain’s four-game performance with Miami at Las Vegas Summer League was modest – eight points on five shots a game in 20 minutes – but it was enough to earn him an invite to training camp where his athleticism certainly popped.
“He has the work ethic, he has the potential,” Spoelstra said. “He’s raw, but you can see his athleticism, you can see his competitiveness.”
While the cuts and dunks get the highlights on social media, and it was cool seeing Cain go chest-to-chest with Durant – a player Cain grew up watching and told him mom about immediately on the phone after the game – perhaps the most interesting play he’s made so far was this steal.
Jamal Cain Steal vs. Durant
Some of this is Miami’s defensive points of emphasis at work but watching him play Durant’s eyes throughout that possession and come up with the steal gives you the sense that you’re watching someone with an elevated sense of defensive awareness.
Cain – who followed up the Brooklyn breakout with more goodness in the HEAT’s inspiring win in Memphis the next night, adding 19 points – is going to need some seasoning, at least. He’ll need time to learn the pro game and get up to speed, but as someone who still has a bit of that raw athlete feel to him at times he may also just need time to figure out who he can be at the professional level. He’s not particularly big and he doesn’t have much of a track record as a shooter despite making four high-arcers in the past two games, which is a difficult mold to fit into the modern game unless you’re just that incredible – and smart – as a defender and off-ball cutter. It’s certainly possible, and the HEAT are rarely in a rush with their G-League projects, but where we stand now is probably the very early stages of this development story.
That it’s a story at all in the first week of preseason is a credit to Cain, currently playing without a guaranteed roster contract. Miami always has that next player in the pipeline. This is the time of year that offers names worth remembering for down the road.
Just ask Adebayo.
“This is Jamal Cain, man,” Adebayo said in the arena hallway after beating Brooklyn. “Realize who this is. This is Jamal Cain. He’s going to be in the league for a long time. This is my dawg, man.”
FIRST ROUNDER, FIRST IMPRESSIONS
We can’t talk about Cain without also mentioning Jović, who did his part to help Cain’s energy-first scoring along.
There will be plenty of opportunities to do deep dives on Nikola Jović, Miami’s first-round pick this season, so we don’t need to do so just a couple of games in the preseason. But for a player who looked like his head was spinning around, Exorcist style, during the first few days of training camp he’s put together a nice couple of games in preseason to make a good first impression. Down the stretch against Memphis, with Jović playing backup center with just about every other big not named Orlando Robinson unavailable, Spoelstra even had Jović bringing the ball up the floor and gave him the opportunity to isolate Xavier Tillman, Memphis’ backup center. Twice Jović used a crossover to get by Tillman and get into the paint.
But we knew Jović had ball skills. He can shoot, that’s for sure. There are some wild misses, as there were on his tape from Serbia, but he’s got plenty of confidence and is more than capable of making a deep three look as pure as it gets. We know he can handle the ball a little, given that he was often playing guard before getting drafted. What’s been a nice surprise, at least on an NBA level, is the touch he’s shown on some of his passes.
Notebook 27: Nikola Jovic Lobs
Granted some of these, particularly those against a Brooklyn team that looked weeks away from being ready for the season on defense, were not the toughest reads or passes. Wide open is wide open after all. But plenty of rookies, with the game moving fast, either miss those opportunities or don’t make the right pass. Not only was Jović playing with his head up and looking for cutters, but he has the timing and the touch to make those passes catchable. Some players just have a sense of how to quarterback.
Jović is super young. He even confirmed that he has yet to graduate from high school, which requires a final exam he’ll have to take over Zoom to Serbia. The game is going to overwhelm him at times, as it does for any rookie. But skills play and he might be the most natural power forward on the roster. There’s a scenario where he ends up playing in Sioux Falls just to get minutes with how crowded the HEAT are with veterans, but he’s talented enough to just as easily work his way into the rotation eventually. We saw it recently with lottery picks in Tyler Herro and Bam Adebayo. We saw it with a mid-first rounder in Precious Achiuwa. Just because Jović was the No. 27 pick in the draft and can’t buy a beer stateside, there’s nothing preventing him from pushing his way into the conversation sooner than later. When you’re ready, you’re ready.
As one of the few veterans available in Memphis, Duncan Robinson – who at one point had 21 points on just four made field goals – had the Grizzlies defense so freaked out they blitzed him out to halfcourt on a handoff just to get the ball out of his hands.
Flying somewhat under the radar these days despite recovering from last season’s early slump to shoot 40 percent the rest of the way, Robinson continues to offer one reminder after another that he’s more than capable of playing a central role in a good, professional-level offense when given the opportunity. Whether he’ll have that opportunity, either via the necessary minutes or touches or actions, at the beginning of the season remains to be seen, but that option is always there.
Robinson finished in Memphis, sitting on the bench as the younger players sealed the win, with 29 points on just 11 shots. If this were the regular season, he would have been just the sixth player since 2020 to score that many points on so few shots.
Even before Robinson’s eruption, it’s been clear this preseason that he’s been trying to work on his in-between game – something he’s discussed over the past couple years as teams increasingly grew more and more aggressive trying to run him off the arc. It hasn’t always worked out, as he’s occasionally dribbled a little too deep into the teeth of the defense and had to take a tough shot, but this is the type of stuff you would almost never see from Robinson during his breakout 2019-20 season.
Notebook 27: Duncan Drives 2
It’s been a strange year for someone who very recently had two of the best volume shooting seasons in league history, but credit to him for working on his game and putting himself in as good a position as possible for when Spoelstra calls his name. Even if the minutes don’t come in as great of numbers as they used to, you can practically guarantee there will be nights where he’s needed. Some players aren’t ready for those moments. Some always are. Miami tends to have more of the latter type.
-Spoelstra, on whether he thinks this is the best Eastern Conference we’ve seen in many years:
“I do. I think both conferences, and I think the play-in has really helped that. If you have a striking chance to get into the playoffs teams are going for it now. It’s exciting. You feel like you have an opportunity. I think that 16-17 team that we had, we all wish the play-in was then. There’s less teams at the bottom fighting for the lottery. I think that’s stepped everyone’s game up. The East is certainly great at the top of the conference, but you have great depth too. That back end of the conference and figuring out who is going to be in the playoffs is going to be a ferocious competition.”
-With regards to the possibility of using a flex starting lineups, mixing and matching based on the opponent, Spoelstra said he’s “open to whatever right now.” This is an idea that has come up every so often when Miami hasn’t had a locked-in set of starters, but Spoelstra has been fairly reticent to use it outside of a few need-based situations when a starter or two was already injured for more than a couple games. Still, you never know.