Coup's Notebook Vol. 3: Jimmy Butler And The Dedmon, The Hammer, Kyle "John Stockton" Lowry, Half(Court) Steppin' And More

Jimmy Butler and Dewayne Dedmon
by Couper Moorhead
HEAT.com

The Miami HEAT are 1-3 this week with a week-later rematch against the Utah Jazz on deck. Here's what we've been noting and noticing:

BRINGING OUT THE DEDMON

When Dewayne Dedmon signed with the HEAT last April, he immediately produced like one of the best backup centers in the league. In 13 minutes a game, Dedmon was posting 27 points and 20 rebounds per 100 possessions, with ridiculous 73.5 percent true-shooting. Coaches love to talk about players being a Star In Their Role, no matter how big or small that role is. For 11 brief games last year, Dedmon was effectively a Hall of Famer in his role.

It was going to be nearly impossible for Dedmon to repeat that success over the course of a full season. That’s just how math and probability works. I don’t make the rules. But as long as you weren’t expecting more of the same, there’s nothing to be disappointed in. Dedmon is still of the league’s best backup centers, providing stable rebounding, rim protection and finishing whenever Bam Adebayo needs a breather. And while the statistics have come down to less absurdist levels, Miami’s offense has a On/Off differential of plus-17.5 per 100 when Dedmon is on the floor. So, still absurd.

“Dewayne has given us really productive minutes in those short bursts off the bench at that position,” Erik Spoelstra said. “He’s a big big for us off the bench, which we need.”

We don’t have to discredit Dedmon in any way to note that that level of impact is not all due to him. In some respects he’s simply a marker, his presence on the floor serving to represent the overall effectiveness of the HEAT’s bench lineups. It’s not all about Dedmon, but if we want to keep our field of vision as narrow as possible, it’s about Dedmon and Jimmy Butler.

For two players who had never played together before, Butler and Dedmon had incredible out-of-the-box chemistry. Of Dedmon’s 24 two-point makes last season that did not come off of an offensive rebound, Butler assisted exactly half of them. This year, as they continue to work their two-man game, Butler has assisted on 9-of-10 non-putback scores from Dedmon.

“Jimmy can make it work with anybody but Dewayne is a really big target on his pick-and-rolls to the rim,” Spoelstra said. “He has really good hands, he has good spatial awareness when he catches it in traffic, he’s able to find the rim. We run a lot of actions with the two of them involved together and they’ve just found a good connection.”

Of the 104 two-man units that played at least 50 minutes last season, the best, by far, was Butler and Dedmon at plus-31.5 points per 100 possessions. This season, they’ve dropped all the way to No. 2 on the team at plus-23.5 per 100, and the pair remains the best offensive grouping at 125.4 points per 100.

THE HAMMER

If you take your eyes off the ball for a few possessions and just watch P.J. Tucker, it won’t take you long to see the effect he has on the team’s highly-rated rebounding effort (No. 4 in Offensive Rebound Percentage, No. 4 Defensive). Spoelstra recently called him on of the “best box-out guys” in the league, and when Tucker isn’t doing that he’s flying in from the corners to buy the team second-chance possessions out of nowhere. Only Adebayo (26) has grabbed more offensive rebounds than him (24), and only Adebayo has more box-outs as tracked by the league. He’s never the tallest or quickest or bounciest player on the floor, but he’ll put a body on anyone.

That also goes for non-rebounding situations. While Tucker is well known for being one of the most prolific corner-three shooters in league history, he’s equally adept at creating corner opportunities for others. Enter The Hammer.

Popularized by the San Antonio Spurs earlier in the millennium, the hammer action is essentially a weakside backscreen set in the corner that frees both a relocating shooter and opens a passing lane for an attacker as he drives the opposite side of the lane. It looks like this:

Tucker typically lurks in the dunker spot or outside the key, threatening to cut into the paint as the defense is drawn toward the ball. More often than not, it’s a feint. He’s waiting for the perfect moment to crush a defender and create an annoyance-free pocket for his suddenly open teammate.

Screen assists, as a statistic, get a bad reputation because of how they’re utilized in certain narratives, but they do offer a glimpse into the functionality of a given player. Unsurprisingly, Adebayo leads the HEAT at 3.3 per game. After that, there’s Tucker at 1.7 and Dedmon at 1.5 each. What’s interesting about this is that Adebayo and Dedmon are both screening to free the attacker, setting upwards of 34 ball screens per 100 possessions. For Tucker, that number is 7.7. Instead, he’s making his living building picket fences made out of brick and iron away from the ball.

"I think P.J.’s one of the best screeners in this modern day era," Spoelstra said. "In terms of his nuance with it, IQ, timing, deception, feel and his variety of different ways to get guys open. It really is remarkable. He can do it in pick-and-rolls, off-ball, in hammer screens, a lot of things that you can’t really teach. You have to have such a superior level of mind and IQ for the timing of those kind of screens. It’s been really fun to see that part of his genius off the ball, he’s as good as anyone I’ve seen."

You might read this section and think nothing of it now, but there’s a very good chance that someone on the HEAT is going to his a huge shot next postseason. And it’ll only be when you rewatch that play that you’ll notice who moved the bodies around to make it happen.

AIN’T NO HALF STEPPIN'

If there’s a statistical curiosity that’s worth keeping an eye on over the coming months it’s whatever is going on with Miami’s early-season halfcourt numbers. We have a few options that allow us to parse out halfcourt-only data but to use a site that is publicly available (though behind a subscription) we’ll use CleaningTheGlass.com, which defines halfcourt as:

“Anything that occurs when all 10 players are in the scoring half of the court and set in a normal guarding position.”

Still with me? Let’s start with the offense, where Miami is No. 4 in Offensive Rating (111.3 per 100 possessions) but No. 16 in halfcourt points-per-play. That per-play modifier is important because it represents the gap between those two rankings. Per-play doesn’t include offensive rebounds since every second-chance is a new play, so between Miami’s rebounding and their prowess in selective transition opportunities, that’s how their overall attack is still ranked so highly.

Defensively, there’s a similar effect at play. Miami is ranked No. 7 in Defensive Rating, but No. 15 in halfcourt points-per-play allowed, again the difference in the two is made up with the elite defensive rebounding – the HEAT earning more plays than the other team – and transition defense. This is all despite Miami being No. 1 in the NBA in opponent field-goal percentage on all shots outside of the paint – they allow more threes as a percentage of total shots given up than anyone in the league, as a side effect of their scheme – and jumpers are notoriously difficult to control over time.

In light of the wild variance in jumpers that we’ve seen so far, there just isn’t enough information to get a full grasp of the HEAT’s defense. It’s elite on paper, and it sure looks elite on film, but if there’s any truth to be found in the halfcourt ranking those kernels might be enough to keep them out of the Top 5.

What’s so interesting about the offense is that outside of The Kyle Lowry Effect, many of the changes on that end were made, seemingly, in the interest of improving the team as a postseason offense, where everything slows down and the halfcourt is crucial. All those mismatches the HEAT have been hunting in the early going? That’s playoff basketball.

In the 18 years since 2003-04, which is as far back as the data goes for CleaningTheGlass, 23 of the 36 teams that made the NBA Finals had a halfcourt ranking inside of the Top 5. Only six teams were outside the Top 10 – one this decade, the 2019-20 Los Angeles Lakers – and each of those six was a Top 5 team in Defensive Rating, among them the vaunted Detroit Pistons units of 2003-04 and 2004-05.

We’re 12 games in, so all of this is more observational than exclusionary. If the HEAT stayed exactly as they are today, with a tiny boost defensively that would come from simply not being in the midst of a losing stretch, there’s precedent for a team with that profile for making the Finals. But it is the path less traveled, and it remains an unusual dossier in terms of the way the HEAT get to who they are. Their identity is both somewhat obvious and, as becomes apparent the deeper you dig, somewhat murky. Part of the fun of the season is uncovering answers in the fog.

KYLE STOCKTON

When asked about his point guard’s prowess in setting screens to free up others, Erik Spolestra had this to say:

“It’s the subtle nuances of deception, bursting to screens, creating some separation and the unpredictability of his angles that makes him a creative screener. He’s always been a guy that gets people open. In that regard he reminds me, in a different way because the game is different, of John Stockton. John Stockton used to be a brilliant screener to get guys open. Kyle’s been that kind of screener over the course of his career.”

"To be compared to a guy like John Stockton is incredible," Lowry said.

Of the 67 players classified as point guards, per their typical defensive matchups, by Second Spectrum, Lowry has set the second most ball screens at 48, trailing only Brooklyn’s Patty Mills. Of those 47 picks, only three of them have resulted in the ball getting back to Lowry for a shot, drawn foul or turnovers (a used possession). In other words, Lowry’s screens are truly and almost entirely geared toward getting his teammates open, as is often the case with Herro, or a mismatch, as he does for Butler.

The inverted pick-and-roll between Lowry and Adebayo has been limited, so far, but it has been used and thus, clearly an option.

TIDBITS

-As we discussed last week, the HEAT aren’t actually scoring that much more early in the shot clock because they’ve essentially replaced their pick-six turnovers from last year with Lowry’s hit-ahead passing. A fine trade overall, but it does speak to a larger shift in that Miami is only middle of the pack this season in forcing turnovers after finishing No. 3 a season ago. A large part of that is the lack of blitzing they’ve done in pick-and-roll compared to a year ago. When trailing Denver by double digits on Monday, Spoelstra called in the more aggressive strategy in an apparent effort to manufacture some turnovers – their 13 blitzes in that game were the most this season outside of Dallas, against whom you practically have to put two on the ball with Luka Doncic. Miami hasn’t been as aggressive this year, but they’ll clearly dial things up when required.

-By that same token Spoelstra called in 27 zone possessions – Miami had only used three total prior – on the second night of a back-to-back in Los Angeles last night.

-You’re forgiven if your brain told you that you were watching Bam Adebayo leaping for a crucial putback dunk late against the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday when it was, in fact, 36-year old P.J. Tucker. You’re also forgiven for wondering when the last time Tucker, not exactly known for skywalking, dunked the ball. The answer to that little bit of trivia is May 8, 2019, during the Western Conference Semifinals against the Golden State Warriors. Was that three seasons ago? Four? Five? Who knows at this point. Time is a flat circle.

-Tyler Herro has taken 55 pull-up jumpers this season, fifth-most in the league. That’s more than Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard, Bradley Beal, Trae Young and Steph Curry. The Leader in the clubhouse is Kevin Durant (90 attempts). Herro’s effective field-goal percentage on those shots, as of today, is 44.5.

-I remain nonplussed about Duncan Robinson’s shooting, which we’ve discussed at length so I’ll just add two more points. If you want to hold Robinson to a standard, using his 2020-21 season (8.5 3ptFGA/g at 40.8 percent) might make more sense than his 2019-20 (44.6 percent, same attempts). That’s not to say Robinson can’t hit his earlier marks again, but both he and Spoelstra have commented in the past that it took a while that season for the league to adjust to a surprise All-World shooter. Those consistently open and unbothered looks, they’ve said, are never coming back.

Secondly, since the ol’ timeline appears to be kicking the rotation-change-mobile into high-gear after the losses in L.A., it should be reiterated that a major part of why Robinson is so important to the HEAT is the volume at which he can get his shots – off a rare set of movement skills – which contributes to spacing just as much as percentages. Miami’s starting lineup needs that volume, given it’s lack of true shooters, and the best-case scenario for everyone is things working in the current situation. After the Clippers loss Spoelstra again reiterated his confidence-level in Robinson.

“It’s a tough league. You more often than not have to manage disappointment of not playing up to standards that you have. That’s not exclusive to Duncan. You have to manage those emotions and stay the course. He has uncommon persistence. He’ll break through. I have no doubt about that. His teammates the same way. The staff, the same way. You just have to stay the course.”

-Every game that Robinson plays with a made three extends his franchise record for consecutive games played with a triple. Decently cool, despite everything else.

-Lowry’s 22-point fourth quarter against the Clippers tied his career-high for any quarter, one that he set well back in 2015. His top four single-quarter scoring efforts have all come in the final period.

-Adebayo’s 19-point first quarter against the Clippers was a career-high for any quarter, as was his 24-point first half for any half. He started drawing doubles in the second half, with the Clippers planting their center as available paint help while Nic Batum took some of the primary responsibility, that limited his ability to force the issue on offense, but drawing doubles is the next step in his offensive evolution.

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