Cup of Joe Presented by Café Bustelo: Going Through The Gauntlet
Heading into this season, every team knew that it was going to be a grind.
From health and safety protocols and an abridged offseason to a condensed 72-game schedule, this has been a campaign unlike any other.
And the HEAT have experienced that first hand, most recently with a hellacious stretch this month.
From April 13 – 24, the team played eight games in 12 days, going 4-4 during that span. They then followed that up with a tough loss to the Bulls on Monday even with a 33-point performance from Jimmy Butler.
Despite the disappointing result, Miami is still just two games back of the fourth-seeded Knicks and fifth-seeded Hawks and a half-game behind sixth-seeded Boston with 10 games left, including two big ones against the Celtics.
“There’s going to be high emotion with the remaining games, and that’s not exclusive to the Miami HEAT,” Erik Spoelstra said. “That’s going to be all those teams in the Eastern Conference that are grouped up where we are, and on any given night, the storylines are going to sway dramatically one way or another based on a win or loss. We have to stay the course, handle our business and just focus on the Spurs on Wednesday.”
Before we get to that game against San Antonio, let’s dive into some positive trends and happenings around the team, yeah?
Early on, you could tell that Bam Adebayo had all the makings of a special defender.
Remember when he put the clamps on LeBron James and Steph Curry during his rookie year?
Fast forward a little over three years, and Adebayo has lived up to his potential and cemented himself as one of the best and most versatile defenders in the league.
In addition to ranking third in ESPN’s defensive real plus-minus tool at plus-3.93, he’s also holding his defensive assignments to just 43.4 percent shooting, including a paltry 32.5 percent from deep.
Let’s take a look at how some notable guys have fared with Adebayo defending them:
(Note: like with all tracking numbers, these can be a little finicky.)
|John Collins||2-of-11||LeBron James||2-of-8|
“I think Bam is one of the most unique defenders in the league. He can legit guard one through five, and that’s not just coach speak, that’s not fan speak, media speak, that’s legit,” Spoelstra said. “He can anchor a very reliable defense, and he can take on different challenges, and he has the IQ to be able to execute multiple schemes where it’s not just the switching scheme that people think that he is involved with.”
Of course, he’s been able to execute on the offensive end as well.
This game-winning jumper over Jeff Green on April 18 was kind of a big deal…
…and this jam over Daniel Theis about a week later gave us déjà vu:
Another one. (DJ Khaled voice.)
Duncan’s Still An Elite Shooter
When the season was in its infancy, Duncan Robinson caught some flak from the outside for not shooting as well as he did a year ago. Well, following up a season where you shoot 44.6 percent on 8.3 attempts from deep per game is kind of difficult. Just kind of.
But here’s the crazy thing: Robinson is still shooting at an elite level and improving in other areas.
For starters, the only player in the league with a better percentage than him at his volume (40.2 percent on 8.6 three-point attempts per) is Steph Curry. If he finishes the season over 40 percent on eight-plus attempts, he'll be just the third player in league history with at least two seasons above those marks, joining Curry and Klay Thompson.
That’s…uh…pretty darn good company.
What’s more, he recently became the first player in franchise history to tally multiple 200-triple seasons and passed Dwyane Wade for sixth on the team’s all-time made threes list.
“Like with so many guys in this league, opportunity and situation [are important], and I feel very fortunate to be in a great one here. So, it makes it easy on me that I just kind of go out there, show up every single day, handle my business [and] try…to the best of my ability to be a consummate professional,” Robinson said. “In terms of the gameplay stuff, they just let me be me, let me be aggressive and just see where the chips fall. So, it’s super humbling to be in any record book, but let alone a franchise like this. I just try not to take it for granted, and I just want to keep it rolling.”
Robinson has also kept his player development rolling by attacking off the dribble and cutting to the basket more to keep defenses honest.
“He’s becoming a better screener, so that’s creating opportunities for other people,” Spoelstra said. “He can put the ball on the floor. He’s really improved dramatically as a cutter, an off-ball player, so it’s not just about his three-point shooting.”
Nunn Showing He’s A Bonafide Scorer
Another guy who has been shooting the lights out and showing improvement is Kendrick Nunn.
Over his past five games, Nunn has averaged 19.8 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.6 assists on 51.4 percent shooting, including 50 percent from downtown.
That’s good enough for his best three-point shooting stretch in two months.
Unsurprisingly, he stayed ready for his opportunity and seized it.
“This year, our depth is not in everyone’s favor at times. And the way he’s responding every time his number is called, I think, is a great thing for a guy that young,” Andre Iguodala said. “[He] never gets discouraged and is always ready to play…and he’s professional beyond his years in terms of his approach when things may not be going his way. So, he’ll have a lot of success, and he’ll be in this league a long time.”
Odds & Ends:
-Speaking of being in the league for a long time, Dewayne Dedmon has joined the fray and made an immediate impact off the bench.
Not only has he crashed the offensive glass for second-chance opportunities, but he’s also protected the rim relatively well.
All told, Dedmon has recorded a 21.5 rebounding percentage, which would rank fifth among all players if he qualified.
“I’m just aggressive. I’m trying to get rebounds, trying to get shots for my teammates and make sure I set some good screens to get them open,” Dedmon said. “I mean, that’s just part of my DNA.”
-We’d be remiss if we didn’t bring up Butler, who has continued to lead by example on both ends of the floor. Per usual, deflections, steals, superb passes, middys and vital trips to the line have been part of the equation.
Again, his season-high 33 points ultimately weren’t enough against Chicago on Monday, but he’s hopeful about the final stretch.
“We’ll go in, we’ll check everything out and try to be better, go out there and play with a lot more effort, get some rebounds…and guard somebody,” Butler said. “That’s what we need to do these last 10. I’m hoping. I know that we can make that happen though.”
We’ll see how it all shakes out.
Until next time.