Coup's Notebook Vol. 4: Tough Tyler Herro, Mean Jimmy Butler, The Curious Case Of Gabe Vincent And The Roll Squad

Coup's Notebook Vol. 4
by Couper Moorhead
HEAT.com

After a tough start to their five-game road trip, the Miami HEAT have won four in a row with wins over the Utah Jazz and Washington Wizards. Now they sit No.
1 in the Eastern Conference at 11-5 and they're getting back on the plane for another four-game trip which culminates in a post-Thanksgiving match against the renewed Chicago Bulls. Here's what we've been noting and noticing:

The Roll Squad

There may be no more important moment for an offense than the one which puts two defenders on the ball. However you get to it, if you hit pause on your remote the exact second an additional defender commits to the ball just about anywhere outside of the paint, then you’ve arrived at one universal truth: the offensive team is now one pass away from a 4-on-3 advantage.

Depending on the quality of your opponent that advantage might last somewhere between the blink of an eye and three jumping jacks, but there’s no better theoretical moment when you’re trying to score the ball than the one where the defense is outnumbered.

We say theoretical because you still need the personnel to take advantage of the advantage. If you’re overly dependent on a single playmaker then that playmaker being taken out of the possession by a double can quickly turn into a negative if the 4-on-3 is being led by players who can’t make quick-twitch decisions. The good news in Miami is that they have plenty of the right personnel.

The HEAT don’t draw a ton of double teams. For as much as they’ve increased their mismatch hunting, many defenses have chosen to defend those situations one-on-one, only bringing help when the ball gets into the paint. That doesn’t always happen naturally for a HEAT team that is No. 28 in the NBA in drives per 100 possessions (38.16). Which isn’t to say they don’t get into the paint. They’re actually No. 2 in paint touches, or touches that originate in the paint. They just don’t get there with the dribble.

So how does a team that doesn’t generate many drives and doesn’t draw many static double teams create those elusive 4-on-3’s? It’s all about the roll.

‘Wow, this genius discovered hitting the screener out of the pick-and-roll’, you might be thinking. But that’s not the point. This isn’t about Erik Spoelstra finding some way to reinvent the wheel. It’s just how the HEAT have used the tools to get the wheels on the car, and it’s with a breadth of screening options that can all do something with the ball. There’s Bam Adebayo and Dewayne Dedmon, sure, but there’s also Kyle Lowry and Jimmy Butler willing to regularly set screens and rely on someone else to make the difficult pass.

Here’s where it all comes together, the moments where Miami’s offense – up to No. 10 in halfcourt as of today – flows like water rather than the sludge we occasionally see.

Beautiful basketball. Even as Butler gets stymied by the initial Wizards switch, something the HEAT are only going to see more and more of, Duncan Robinson immediately sprints into a secondary handoff. The prospect of Robinson freaks the defense out, he draws two, and it’s all downhill, literally, from there.

Between Robinson and Herro, who teams are starting to trap more as his game grows in both esteem and threat, that exact pass – the same pass Steph Curry makes a dozen times a game to Draymond Green – is Miami’s lifeblood. On possessions where Herro passes out of a pick-and-roll or either shooter passes out of a handoff, the HEAT are scoring over a point per possession. In the halfcourt, teams are trying to stack as many point-per-possession outcomes as they can.

“It’s really important for their development,” Spoelstra said. “Duncan has already been working on that for a couple of years because the coverage has changed with him. He has had to develop and continue to develop as a facilitator verus traps and pressure and teams that try to take him off that line. It can be great trigger for us but you have to have the right reps and to be able to do it without turning the ball over and he’s developed a lot of different passes.

“Same thing with Tyler this year, coverages are changing a little bit and teams are being a little more aggressive to try and get the ball out of his hands like all really good scorers in this league. He has the vision, he has the skillset to do it, he just needs the reps and experience.”

It’s ironic that P.J. Tucker missed the shot in the video example because he’s been Miami’s most efficient screener to date – a skillset we went deeper on last week. When Tucker sets a screen and the ballhandler passes, per Second Spectrum, the HEAT are generating an absurd 1.33 points per possession (followed closely by Dedmon at 1.24 and Butler at 1.13). No, Tucker isn’t going to continue to shoot an astronomical 70-plus percent on non-rim paint shots (even 50 percent is really good there), but as long as he’s capable of making this play…

…then the HEAT will be happy. Those are the plays that win you a playoff game and keep your season moving forward. The more teams switch – a pervasive coverage in the postseason – the more quick pocket passes to a slipping screener are going to be there. The HEAT are proving to have a squad replete with players capable of making those plays.

“Just by the nature of how we do things that’s going to be a lot of different guys, sometimes its Jimmy, sometimes its P.J., sometimes it’s our 5’s,” Spoelstra said. “There’s different reads that those guys have to make, coverages aren’t always the same with the five-man as they might be with the other players who are doing either a DHO or a pick-and-roll.”

Tough Tyler Herro

What Herro is doing offensively is for real. In his third season he’s posting a 28.6 usage rate, a sizeable jump from last season’s 23.5, and doing it while hovering around or above league-average true-shooting at 55.9 percent. Only 12 other players are matching those numbers so far this season, and of those only Ja Morant hasn’t made an All-Star team.

Does that make Herro an All-Star? That’s a question for another day, a day that most certainly isn’t in November. If he sustains the same combination of volume and efficiency, he’ll be in rare company.

Sustains is the key word there. Can he sustain it? It won’t be easy, but it’s not supposed to be.

There are 158 players, as of Friday, who have taken at least 100 shots this year. Of those, only four – four – have taken more difficult shots according to Second Spectrum’s Shot Quality, which measures opportunities based on location, how contested they are and how they came to be (catch-and-shoot versus pull-ups). The only players taking tougher shots than Herro are Luka Doncic, DeMar DeRozan, Kevin Durant and Brandon Ingram.

Spot the trend? Those are all guys who make a living shooting off the dribble, and often doing it inside the three-point line. Those aren’t just tough shots, those are star shots, the kind players create out of nothing when their teams have nothing else. They’re shots you earn, both from your own ability and from the respect of your teammates. Take these shots without support from those around you and you won’t be taking them for very long.

“If I hadn’t seen him so often in our workouts and practices, and his summer development…” Spoelstra said. “…If I hadn’t seen all of that then maybe you would look at some of these plays and say well, what else is available? But I’ve seen him make and work on those shots hour after hour, and he’s increased his playmaking ability as well. Most teams now are not just letting him come off freely on pick-and-rolls. They’re either switching, jump switching or trapping him. His passing and hitting the open guy has really improved. Those traps and jump switches are born out of a respect because of his shot-making ability and he’s earned that.”

Herro is the rare type of scorer for whom the typical math doesn’t apply. When you can make the shots he can make, the calculus changes. And the HEAT, with a roster that has recently consolidated its number of shot creators, need Herro Math. Whether he can sustain his efficiency or not, Herro’s role and opportunity isn’t going to change much because it’s the role that’s required.

Can he, though? Sustain? That’s the Million Dollar Question we keep coming back to. Herro’s effective field-goal percentage on pull-up jumpers is .426, as compared to something ridiculous like Durant’s .614, so he’s not bound for some huge fall there. Hitting over 50 percent from mid-range is high – that’s Durant, Dirk Nowitzki territory – but within the realm of where you could see Herro end up given his footwork, improved handle and shot mechanics.

If there’s a yellow flag in the shot profile it’s that Herro has an eFG of .578 on 83 half-court shots taken after 5-plus dribbles, No. 3 among 45 players who have taken at least 50 such shots. Considering Herro is only producing 0.61 points-per-isolation so far – which involves some poor luck on his part given the amount of missed team shots coming from some pretty good passes, especially to the weakside corners – the efficiency on those pound-the-rock possessions will likely come down a bit.

We don’t want to say anything is too likely or not with a third-year player this talented. Let’s let Tyler be Tyler, whoever that is, and that includes letting him set his own performance baselines. There aren’t many players in the league who can make this shot profile work, but Herro is doing it so far. Sure, there are going to be some nights where the percentages look a little ugly simply because he doesn’t get to the rim a ton and the free-throws aren’t there, but even if the overall efficiency dips a bit it’s a skillset this roster configuration absolutely needs to juice the offense. Herro has his role, now we get to see just how far he can take it.

Mean Jimmy Butler

This is a difficult thing to prove because the HEAT clearly have prioritized mismatch hunting as a general team philosophy, but even within that shift it sometimes feels as though Jimmy Butler has been particularly ruthless in finding smaller players on the floor. When the New Orleans Pelicans were in town the other night, Butler was searching for Devonte’ Graham every time down the floor like The Terminator looking for John Connor. It felt a little mean, but mean in a great way for Miami.

It’s only 17 possession on the year, but when Butler has attacked a point-guard in isolation this year he’s produced 1.78 points-per-possession, which is basically the best offense anyone ever anywhere produces. And in the 15 post-ups where he’s been defended by a point guard, he’s produced 1.54 points-per.

Butler, for his part, was diplomatic when asked about attacking those matchups.

“I don’t think it’s so much having smaller guys on the floor,” Butler said. “I’m not scared of any matchup, but I think that guys, including myself, when I get the ball in the mid-post and I get to back somebody down or get into the paint, it’s really good offense for us.”

It’s not an every-night thing because not every team has players worth targeting, but next time you spot one watch Butler and see how he manipulates the offense, where he’s calling for screens and where he’s sprinting in transition in order to create cross-matches, to gain an edge. He’s not letting teams off the hook.

The Curious Case of Gabe Vincent

For the last year or however many seasons are encompassed by the last year, it’s felt like Gabe Vincent was next. The next Tyler Johnson or Rodney McGruder. The next Duncan Robinson, as lofty a goal as that is these days. Recent HEAT history is littered with success stories of players who went through the G-League grind with the Sioux Falls Skyforce and pushed their way into the big-league rotation. With a commitment to defense evident with every opposing point guard he seemed to annoy, Vincent fit the mold.

Only it never really happened, not fully at least. Yes, Vincent played 655 minutes last season spread out over 50 games as the HEAT, like everyone else, dealt with all sorts of shortened-season-in-a-pandemic issues. Yes, the team rewarded him with a full contract after spending the previous campaign on a two-way deal. Clearly there were expectations that he would play a role in some form or fashion on a team with championship aspirations.

All that despite the fact that the on-court results betrayed what was, by all accounts, very positive process. With quick, repeatable mechanics and a 40-percent three-point shooting season, on high volume, under his belt in the G-League, Vincent had the reputation of a shooter. Yet he shot just 30.9 percent on 149 attempts last season, a number that could only truly be described as perplexing. Why wasn’t the shot falling when there was nothing wrong with the shots taken?

“I’m comfortable with all of the shots that he takes because I see it day in and day out when we’re up there playing one-on-one,” Jimmy Butler said. “Kid can play, man.”

If you’ll remember, that last phrase is one Butler used on more than one occasion when describing Tyler Herro during his rookie year.

It’s always unfair to boil the thousands of hours of work a player puts into his game down to a three-digit number that will govern his career prospects, but in the modern NBA it’s remarkably difficult for a 6-foot-3 player to find a consistent role without a consistent shot regardless of how dogged they are on the defensive end. Because of how good the shot looked going up, it only seemed a matter of time until he turned the corner and the shots started going down.

With six makes on 12 attempts in the past two games, maybe, just maybe, that corner is being turned. Maybe Vincent is finding the player who not only knocks down open corner threes, but makes, even just once in a while, these:

“I don’t know,” Spoelstra said when asked why the ball hadn’t been going in for Vincent before. “I never really get too much into the swing of whether the ball is going in. I see the work that he puts in, I know that he’s a great shooter, and it’s a matter of getting comfortable. I think that’s what you’re seeing, he’s getting comfortable.”

Spoelstra went on to propose that Vincent’s recent success – 31 points in two games, plus-13 when on court – had a little to do with him having enjoyed a healthy offseason, including international participation with the Nigerian Men’s Basketball Team. While the team is not one to discuss such things, if you look back through recent photos Vincent was wearing a bulky knee brace as recently as last week – he had suffered a torn ACL in years past – and against the Wizards that brace was gone as Vincent recorded his first career dunk, something Adebayo noted afterwards.

“I feel great,” Vincent said. “Obviously I’ve been putting a lot of work in on my game. It’s nice that its finally paying off under the big lights. It’s a matter of time. I don’t think I ever lost faith in who I was. I know who I’ve been my entire career in how I’ve been able to shoot the ball, so it’s nice to see it go in. Credit to the staff and my teammates for not losing faith in me either.”

We’re not going to project what happens for Vincent from here on. Threes or not, there’s clearly a role for him on the team as a backup ballhandler. Especially so on nights when one of the primary playmakers is out. And if the shot really does start falling at the rate it seems like it could, then it becomes one of those good rotation problems for Spoelstra to sort out.

In any event, it’s clear that Vincent’s teammates are invested in his story.

“I’m truly happy for him,” Adebayo said. “He’s one of my closest friends, he’s like a brother to me so I always enjoy his success.”

Tidbits

-For all the talk there has been about Adebayo’s offensive aggression over the years, Spoelstra had one of the better quotes about it recently:

“Bam is really smart, so he sees what the veteran players are doing. It’s what is called for , for that game, or that quarter, or that possession, or that half, and it could change. You have to read the game, take what’s available. Be assertive, be aggressive. Read the defense. Make others better and still look at the basket. Those are not easy things to do. Jimmy does that, Kyle does that as leading guys, Bam very quickly is understanding that as well.”

Adebayo is taking a career-high 14 shots a night on his way to a career-high 19.7 points, but nothing he’s done has felt particularly out of character. There are some growing pains when it comes to a more diversified menu, particularly in the post, but he’s becoming a more prolific offensive player within the team concept. Not always the easiest transition for a young player.

-It’s been a little odd to see the HEAT down at No. 10 in assist percentage – how many of the team’s shots come via assist – this season after spending the last two years in the Top 3, but it tracks given the different play types they’re using. What should be noted, however, is that they’re passing the ball the same amount, even ever-so-slightly more than last year. They’re just using those passes to set up plays that don’t as often result in assists. Still great teamwork, just a little less obvious in the box-score.

-After hardly touching zone defense through the first few weeks of the season, Miami is suddenly up to 78 zone possessions, fourth-most in the league. Spoelstra is not one to ignore the tools available to him, especially when the injury bug hits the roster.

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