Coup's Notebook Vol. 1: Herro Going For Two, Jimmy And Bam Going One-On-One And Threes All Over
Notes From The Miami HEAT's First Four Games
Following their convincing victory over the Brooklyn Nets, Miami sits at 3-1 and No. 4 in the Eastern Conference. Here’s a few things we’ve seen through those first four games.
Two Is Better Than One
After a Blake Griffin free-throw at the end of the first half in Brooklyn Wednesday night, Tyler Herro caught the ball on the inbounds with 34.4 seconds left on the clock. Three seconds later, after a quick sprint up the floor, he was pulling up for three. The shot clock had barely broken 20.
If you fell out of your chair, it would have been understandable.
What at first appears to be a rushed shot is really just Herro going for the 2-for-1, a strategy which requires shooting somewhere between 38-30 seconds on the clock in order to generate an additional possession in the period that otherwise would not have existed with the opponent sure to play for one shot. It’s a common concept around the league, one that has existed for years and years. But in Miami, it’s something that they have rarely ever done.
Two years ago, Miami was No. 29 in the league with 0.9 attempts per 100 possessions with 38-30 seconds remaining in the first, second or third period. Last season they were No. 29, again. Through four games this year they’re No. 7, attempting 1.9 shots in that range per 100 possessions. There hasn’t been time to ask Erik Spoelstra about this yet, but it’s clear that there’s an emphasis on creating more possessions.
You certainly need the right personnel to do it, and that personnel appears to be Herro, with a couple years under his belt and some veteran headiness to be aware of the clock, and Kyle Lowry, well versed in the art. It’s no coincidence that those two project to be the team’s most prolific pull-up shooters.
This may seem like a small thing, and it is. But generating a couple extra possessions a game over the course of an entire season is worth more than a handful of points – and that’s all it takes to add a win to your ledger.
For the past two seasons, the HEAT have practically been tripping over 30-assist games. With all their handoffs and cuts, they finished No. 3 in assist percentage in 2019-20 and No. 2 last year. In both instances, at least 65 percent of their field goals came via assists.
You add a true point guard who is currently averaging nearly eight assists per game and that should continue, right?
As backwards as it sounds, in adding the best passer they’ve had on the roster in years, the HEAT are assisting far less. Or perhaps the better way to phrase it is that Miami is relying on assists far less, because Lowry’s heady creation and game management is enabling them to attack in areas of the floor where assists are harder to come by.
The major change is simple. In 2019-20, Miami used 18.3 post-ups and isolations per 100 possessions. This year that number has grown to 29.6, with practically every one of those possessions coming out of their usage of pick-and-rolls and hand-offs.
Just about all the isolations come from Jimmy Butler, Herro and Adebayo. The post-ups are Butler, Adebayo and Markieff Morris, the team’s in-a-pinch shot creator. Few of them are isolations or post-ups for the sake of it. Often using Lowry as a screener first to force a switch, the HEAT are aggressively chasing mismatches in ways they rarely have in recent times.
We’ll be keeping the closest eye on Herro and Adebayo in these areas, as they’re the youngest players seeing the greatest increase in usage.
The Threes Are Still Raining, On One End
One of the staples of the HEAT’s defense the past couple years is that they’ve been among the lead leaders, if not the league leader, in three pointers allowed. This has never been an inherently bad thing on its own given that plenty of the league’s better or best defenses have elected to live with giving up the long ball in order to prioritize the paint. You ask most any coach about it and you get some version of, “We’re looking at it, but you have to give up something.”
One of the most interesting early developments, or non-developments as it were, of the season is that the HEAT, despite their defensive upgrades, are still giving up threes by the bushel, leading the league in the percent of their total attempts allowed coming from behind the arc (46.6 percent, per CleaningTheGlass.com).
Where a team like the Milwaukee Bucks would give up threes due to their insistence on dropping their size back into the paint, therefore allowing a ton of dribble threes, Miami’s scheme emphasized help. They would play the shell drill around the paint, essentially creating a shield with help defenders pinching in at all angles to prevent that shield from being broken. That kept the ball out of the paint nearly as well as anyone else in the league, but it also meant attacking-minded players could threaten to puncture the shield, draw the help and then kick out to a one-pass three. The rim was protected, but the team was often at the mercy of night-to-night shooting variance.
Right now we’re seeing (mostly) more of the same. Even with their best defensive units, there is still liberal help cutting off drives and leaving openings on the perimeter.
“It was similar last year as well, and I’ll be honest we haven’t totally wrapped our mind around it,” Erik Spoelstra said. “We’re working on it, I don’t love giving up that many threes, you can’t take away everything.”
“It makes the head coach extremely uncomfortable when those are launching up there, but a lot of the other things that we do are grading out pretty good.”
None of this is a bad thing, it’s just a thing, a big part of what is going to make up this group’s identity. And it’s perhaps a reflection of the personnel, that even though Miami got better on the defensive end, they didn’t necessarily get bigger, so the same philosophy still applies.
On the other end, however, there has been change. As a byproduct of the increase in isolations and post-ups we discussed above, and the players who are using them, a Miami team that was among the league leaders in three-point rate the past two seasons is currently No. 25 (just 31.2 percent of their offense). It’s early and they’re making them at a decent clip, but it’s certainly a curious change in the team’s profile and one worth keeping an eye on. Taking a lot, and right now it’s the most in the league, of mid-rangers is not an inherently bad thing. As with any shot, you have to make enough of them to make them worthwhile. If it works, it works.
It’s also worth mentioning that those shots are at a premium in the deeper depths of the postseason, so becoming a team that can create in that range certainly has value. Meanwhile the HEAT being a poor shooting team overall so far is of little concern. We’ll revisit that in a month.
-Miami is currently No. 1 in both Defensive Rating (92.0) and overall Net Rating (plus-14.5 per 100 possessions).
-Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo are No. 1 and No. 3 in Defensive Win Shares. Both should be candidates for the All-Defensive teams once again, and will no-doubt be in the early conversations for Defensive Player of the Year when those start up.
-As many high-usage players across the league have seen their free-throws dip with the new foul rules in place, including Butler though he still ranks among the league leaders in attempts, Adebayo has actually seen his free-throw rate take a bit of a leap. Averaging under three free-throws per game his first two seasons, Adebayo is sitting right at seven a night.
-Duncan Robinson is five games away from breaking his own franchise record for consecutive games with a made three (57). He’s shooting 31.3 percent from deep at the moment and I do not care one bit.
-Miami is leading the league in Defensive Rebounding percentage (81.4).