Keeping Blocks in Play

It is no secret that the Miami HEAT like to get out in transition on opponents. For the HEAT, these transition opportunities represent the most efficient way to score. In Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, the HEAT have two of the most dynamic open court players in the NBA. Creating a change of possession on the defensive end is the quickest way to unleash their abilities.

Steals and blocked shots both signify a positive defensive action. Steals result in the direct transition from offense to defense; one team gains possession from the other. Blocked shots, however, are different.

When a player blocks a shot, there are three common outcomes. He can block the ball out of bounds, resulting in no change of possession. He can block the ball inbounds and have it bounce to the opposing team, again resulting in no change of possession, but also the possibility of a broken play score by the opponent. Or, he can block the ball and maintain possession himself or tap it to a teammate.

In general, a blocked shot is a positive because it usually prevents an efficient shot by the opponent. However, some blocked shots are more productive than others.

“These guys are so good in transition that if we’re able to keep it in bounds, they’re gone,” Joel Anthony said.

The HEAT, as a whole, do a good job of keeping shots inbounds. On the season, the HEAT have blocked 267 shots that have been logged by Synergy Sports. HEAT players have been able to keep the ball inbounds 86.5 percent of the time. These blocks, the ones not sent flying into the crowd, maintain the possibility of a change of possession.

For Anthony, whose 2.2 blocks per 36 minutes lead the HEAT, keeping the ball alive is not a new concept.

“They talked to me about it in my first year. Try to save it. Try to keep it inbounds,” Anthony said. “All you want to do is send it out there, but you’ve got to keep it in play or even grab it.”

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As you can see, Anthony rarely swats at the ball. Instead, as he says, he tries to go straight up, making slight contact with the ball. By doing this, Anthony increases his chances of keeping the ball in play and having the HEAT gain possession. It isn’t flashy and it won’t land him on any top 10 lists, but it’s effective.

In his time with the HEAT, Chris Bosh, who blocks .8 shots per 36 minutes, has exhibited a similar touch on his blocks. Only twice has he sent a ball out of bounds, keeping it inbounds 97.7 percent of the time. Bosh differs from Anthony in that fewer of his blocks come in help defense scenarios. The majority of Bosh’s blocks come in one-on-one situations, which may be more valuable since helping often leaves the defense vulnerable to dump off passes and offensive rebounds.

The difference between Bosh and Anthony’s shot blocking styles is why they complement each other so well.

Joel Anthony and Chris Bosh form the backline of the Miami starting defense, blocking 101 shots combined. They’ve been able to keep 94.1 percent of those blocks inbounds. For reference, Serge Ibaka of the Oklahoma City Thunder, who leads the NBA in blocked shots, keeps 85.3 percent of his blocks inbounds, Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic keeps 77.9 percent of his blocks in bounds and JaVale McGee of the Denver Nuggets keeps 88.6 percent of his blocks inbounds. The blocks kept inbounds by Anthony and Bosh present numerous opportunities to secure a change of possession.

Let’s define a “true block” as a block that leads directly to the end of the possession for the shooting team. This is achieved either through a block at the end of the shot clock or a block recovered by the defense. True blocks are the goal of every shotblocker. They force an actual change of possession.

As Anthony explained, the HEAT use the live-ball version of true blocks to get out in transition. The HEAT are producing a true block on 58.8 percent of all blocked shots. Anthony and Bosh produce true blocks on 66.3 percent of their blocked shots. Anthony and Bosh’s figure is higher than the 51.5 percent true block percentage posted by Ibaka, the 60.6 percent posted by Howard or the 50.5 percent posted by McGee.

Players cannot guarantee possession after a shot block. A bounce to the left or to the right and the shooting team maintains control. However, players can increase the probability that their team will gain possession by keeping it inbounds.

“It’s a good fundamental to have,” Chris Bosh said.

Blocking shots inbounds is a fundamental regularly mentioned in reverence of Bill Russell, who is said to have done it better than anyone. The HEAT big men apply this fundamental to take their opponent’s efficient scoring opportunities and turn them into efficient scoring opportunities for the HEAT. That is a winning proposition.