Hawks vs Heat Play-In Preview: Can The Heat Slow Down Young & Can They Generate Enough Offense?

Insight2 months ago12 min readJohn Jablonka

It’s play-in time(?). That feels weird. I’m not used to the Miami Heat being in the play-in tournament and I don’t like it. Although a deep playoff run is unlikely, I’d still want to witness Jimmy Butler in the playoffs — that’s the most important part.

There are other positives about making the playoffs even if it’s a competitive first-round exit. We get to see more Heat basketball! We also get to see and evaluate how Bam Adebayo’s and Tyler Herro’s growth this season translates to the playoffs.

But in order to get there, the Heat need to get through the Atlanta Hawks. Now, the Heat should beat the Hawks, but at the same time, their average margin of victory against them has only been six points. Plus they got whooped on the road by them too.

What makes the play-in worse and so unpredictable is the fact that it’s a one-and-done. So, all of the Xs and Os can be thrown out the window because anything can happen. All of the things you accounted for can go right according to plan but then you have Saddiq Bey going off 7-for-10 from deep just because.

But with that said, let’s take a look at all of the stats, previous games, and what they should be doing on both ends!

The Stats

Let’s get all of the basic stats out of the way. Here are the four factors, per Cleaning the Glass:

Hm. A whole lotta greens for the Heat. What’s interesting here is that 118.4 offensive rating. That’s over 5 points better than their season averages. The offense hasn’t been an issue against this team. They did have some problems with the turnovers, which has been quite an issue for them.

Here’s their shooting distribution:

This is where the issue comes in. Their defense is the most worrying part of this game. Allowing 71% at the rim is unacceptable and that’s not counting almost 50% in the short mid-range. A lot of that has been coming from transition and early defense, though.

Here are their play types on offense, per InStat:

There are a couple of key things here. The first is they shot the ball well on that catch-and-shoot. They shot 38.0% on those looks, which is as good as you’ll get from the Heat and hopefully, that continues in this game.

They did struggle scoring off the ball handler in the pick-and-roll(more on that later), so one of the ways they managed to generate offense is in transition — that was key for one particular player.

Then there’s the isolation, which was tied first for the most efficient and will be the most important aspect of this game.

And finally, here are the player stats with at least three games played:

Butler is simply something else — scoring a total of 75 points on 75% true shooting is wild. Though there is a glaring stat that also stands out and that’s Herro’s 44%. He has struggled against the Hawks all season long. A lot of it has been missing open looks that he usually makes, so it’s not that bad.

With the key stats out of the way, let’s dive into the offense.

Offensive Breakdown

As mentioned with the play types, one of their most efficient ways of generating offense was in transition. There is a reason why Butler was able to score so efficiently. For the season, the Heat scored 11.0 points on a fastbreak. Against the Hawks, that went up to 15.3, which would rank sixth for the year.

There were a lot of times when they forced turnovers, quickly got out in transition off a miss, or pushed the pace off a make. In one of the games in March, that was one of the reasons the Heat made a run in the third quarter — it was Butler pushing the pace and getting to the rim at will. Butler shot 19-for-27 at the rim.

So, the first order of business on offense is to get out and run. Play faster when Butler is on the floor to get him these easy looks.

But when this goes into the half-court, they should go to what works and we know what works. Because this is a one-game elimination, they need to go into actions that have shown time and time again that they can generate good looks and create advantages.

The best way to do that, regardless of the opponent, is to go matchup hunting with Butler. Every action should be involving Butler one way or the other. Butler is dangerous as an isolation scorer, in the post against various matchups, or as a screener.

With a team that has Trae Young, the best way to get offense is to see where he’s at and have his man screen Butler:

That’s as good of a pressure point as you’ll get. Picking on the worst and smallest defender will put a lot of pressure on the defense, and if they don’t rotate or help well, it’s a bucket for Jimmy Buckets.

The Hawks will not want to switch that. So, now you’ll have John Collins be the one that either needs to help or recover to stay on Butler.

If that’s not there, you can have Butler work in the post — he’s a mismatch against anyone. These stats should be looked at with caution, as they’re not always highly accurate without video evidence:

  • Butler vs Collins: 7min, 30 possessions & 6pts on 2-for-4 shooting
  • Butler vs De’Andre Hunter: 18min, 80 poss & 16pts on 7-for-12
  • Butler vs Young: 3min, 18 poss & 13pts on 4-for-5
  • Butler vs Bogdan Bogdanovic: 3min, 16 poss & 12pts on 5-for-7
  • Butler vs Clint Capela: 3min, 12 poss & 13pts on 6-for-11

Butler against Bogdanovic in the post is too easy because he can overpower him:

Butler against Collins is also too easy because he’s too fast for him:

Now, if that all doesn’t work or the Hawks defend all of that well, there’s the last option. Butler screening for guards. Using him as a screener is not only a good way to create shots for him but put the defense in rotation enough to create shots for others:

The Heat with Butler on in 101 minutes have a 121.2 offensive rating and shoot 61.4% from 2 and 35.9% from 3. When he’s on the court, there shouldn’t be any issues on the offensive end.

The numbers also don’t suggest that the offense will be that worse without him — they have a 116.8 offense in 91 minutes without, which includes the game he missed, and a 125.2 offense in 43 minutes he simply sat on the bench.

125 offense is woah! But there’s a big but here. They shoot 47.5% from 2 and 45.1% from 3. They’re entirely reliant on 3s without him and have simply got hot shooting that well. The issue is inside the arc. They can’t get there and if they do, they can’t score.

A lot of that has to be with there’s not any other action for any player that can get someone to the rim. There’s a Herro-Adebayo PnR, but that hasn’t gone exactly well:

Herro has struggled in these four games, although a lot of it does come down to missing looks he makes:

Hopefully, those looks will go down but that’s again relying on the 3s falling, which you don’t really want. Now, I’d love to see more off-ball actions, pindowns, and DHOs for Herro and let him flow into some PnRs and curl to the rim. They did so in the first meeting:

Finally, just spam Lowry-Adebayo PnR. When Butler sits, just run off-ball actions with Herro and PnRs with Lowry.

That’s what will get them the best offense to survive those minutes. But as long as Butler plays most of the night, 3s fall down, and Herro makes his usual shots, there shouldn’t be any worry about the offense.

Let’s get to the defense!

Defensive Breakdown

The first thing they need to do is defend Young as well as they have done previously. And what they’ve done is throw everything at him. There was a lot of mixing and throwing everything at him to get him out of rhythm.

One of the things they do is help off a lot of everyone and pinch in on his drives:

Young averages around 5.0 shots at the rim and 8.3 shots in the short mid-range per 100 possessions for the season. That decreases to 3.0 and 6.1 against the Heat. That kind of help prevents him from getting near the paint, where he can do a lot of his damage.

Because you obviously don’t want him against the drop:

Young coming off a double screen or an empty PnR is usually ending up in a lob. They can’t defend Young like that.

A big part of their defense was having both Caleb Martin and Victor Oladipo out on the perimeter.

Those two are able to pressure the ball, stick with him, forcing him to pick up his dribble, and can also easily switch the PnRs. I would be quite shocked if Oladipo doesn’t end up playing significant minutes.

Another defense they threw at Young was a double:

Young will likely see a lot of aggressive defense from everyone. There will be Gabe Vincent, Martin, and Oladipo pressing full court only for him to be met with a timely double or a show.

Everything will revolve around being aggressive against Young, not allowing him to pick up any rhythm.

When it comes to his teammate, Dejounte Murray, there will be a whole different scheme. You can play drop against him. They didn’t in the first game and got hurt because of that. But in the last three games, they chose to have Adebayo drop against his PnRs(unless it was Butler):

He won’t punish you with his passing or by pulling up from deep. They can afford to drop even with Herro defending and have other guys help off.

However, if it’s Bam-Butler defending, they did end up switching the Murray PnRs, and the results were yikes.

This is one of the best defenders in the world switching onto Murray and he just made tough shot after tough shot. Credit to Murray for knocking them down, but that’s the shot defenses will live with. A tough contested jumper is what you prefer over an open look from 3 or inside the rim.

And outside of some hot 3pt shooting, the Hawks’ offense didn’t look great with Murray running the show:

The Heat were able to defend all those actions pretty well and not allowing many advantages to be created. They held their own when Young wasn’t on the floor. They weren’t put in the rotation as often.

And that’s where the defense will come down to.

When Young is on the floor, they can’t allow him to have any breathing room. They will double, show, blitz, pick up full court, and collapse. Everything that they can do. If they can limit him again, it’s a good chance the Hawks’ offense will suffer in the half-court.

Because Murray wasn’t doing that kind of damage outside of getting his. That wasn’t an issue on defense.

But most importantly, they will need to defend in transition and early offense. That is where the Hawks got so, so many looks at the rim.

I like their chances for tonight. Butler will likely play more minutes and as long as he’s on the court, it should be good. Here’s a fun stat! In 67 minutes, with both Adebayo and Butler on, the Heat have a plus 22 net rating with a 128 offense and 106 defense.