It is ridiculously early in the NBA season. Most teams have only played one game, many without a full complement of healthy players, and as such we are weeks away from even beginning to figure things out. We do however have a strong idea of what some teams are trying to do, in particular those that are returning most of their roster from the previous season like the San Antonio Spurs and Miami HEAT.
So it’s not just going off of one game against the Boston Celtics when we say that this HEAT team has the chance to have a historically good offense. Not because of the offensive results or shooting percentages, which have been more than adequate, but because there is just so much space for everyone to work with, and nothing is more important to a consistently fluid attack than spacing.
The more space there is, the more opportunities there are for offensive players to manipulate the defense. If LeBron James is on the wing and there isn’t a defender within a slide-step of the paint, a strong cut to the middle is going to pull defenders farther out of position to help, if only judging by distance traveled. And as defenders are pulled out of position, the chances of finding a high-value shot rises exponentially.
“The benefit [of our spacing] is we usually have someone attacking the block,” Shane Battier said. “We want to attack blocks. You can’t attack the block if someone is there. So you want to open blocks and give attackers room to drive the block or curl screen to post the block. That’s the advantage.
“At any time, one of our guys, if they feel a matchup, they can curl a cut or they can back cut into the post and they get great position because you can’t front it. You really can’t, if you’re a defender, get great post position. It just puts a lot of stress on the defense in a lot of different ways that teams aren’t used to playing.”
You can’t front the early, spaced post-up because with dead-eye shooters – or otherwise serious offensive threats – in either corner, the natural defensive help for the front will be drawn too far away from the paint to swarm the lob pass.
In other words, with good spacing an offensive player can cut into deep post position and enjoy single coverage a few feet from the rim.
As Chris Bosh did against Boston (watch the full play here):
With Miami players running the lanes wide and all five Boston defenders outside of the paint, Bosh is cleared for takeoff and he wins a foot-race with Jared Sullinger. Paul Pierce can’t slide over and chuck Bosh off his course because that would be asking for an alley-oop to James at the rim. Courtney Lee can’t slide over either because that would leave Shane Battier a swing-pass away from an open corner three. Only Rajon Rondo is really in position to buy Sullinger time, but Bosh becomes a threat so suddenly with his speed, Rondo would have had to anticipate the Bosh’s move a few seconds before he made it.
That leaves Sullinger all by his lonesome trying to catch up to Bosh, and when Mario Chalmers doesn’t throw the immediate lob over the top – something he and Bosh connected on later in the game – Bosh turns, allows Sullinger to catch up in order to clear a passing lane and wait for the ball.
Chalmers delivers the pass and the world become’s Bosh’s oyster with every help defender more than a step away. For a few precious seconds, Bosh only has one guy to think about beating.
Bosh misses the shot, but it’s a good look that we know he can capitalize on consistently. The entire league shot about 43 percent on straight post-ups the past two seasons (according to Synergy Sports) while players converted half their attempts when flashing to the middle in similar fashion to Bosh.
It’s not something that will happen every single time down the floor, but Erik Spoelstra has been drilling these types of situations in practice, giving his players the freedom to read-and-react as the come down the floor. Sometimes you’ll see Bosh sprint ahead, sometimes he’ll manage his speed and trail the play to come up with an open three at the top of the key.
It’s all up to his discretion, based off a ton of research.
“Seeing millions and millions of situations,” Bosh said about what helps him make the read. “Playing it through my head thousands of times. Just repetition. You know when to take it. The catch-and-gos are there, the catch and shoots are there, catch and swings . . . I mean it’s just reading the game and feeling it. You just kind of have to feel it. You can’t think too much. I don’t like to think during the course of a game. I just like to move and trust that my brain is going to do the rest for me.
“You have to be a student of the game to feel when it’s time to cut and post so it’s going to be there a lot for me. I know that I want to get down in the paint a lot more. I know everybody is going to be expecting me around here (Bosh points to the perimeter) and I shoot one or two threes it’s going to kind of mess them up in the head. They’re going to think I’m settling for jump shots but I want to get to the rim.”
The early post-offense – principles similar to the Orlando Magic attack when Dwight Howard was there, posting a player early and filling in shooters around him – isn’t just going to be Bosh, either. This is something you’ll see throughout the season from him, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, who used two early-post possessions himself against Boston.
It’s just small portion of what the HEAT are trying to do, but it should help illustrate what it possible for Miami this season. Relentless, efficient offense is the name of the game, and if the HEAT wind up being a historically well-spaced team, as boring as that may sound, then the opportunities afforded them could very well lead to a historically efficient offense.