Heat Drop Another One Behind Poor Drop Coverage
CHARLOTTE — Another night, another poor defensive showing for the Miami Heat.
The Heat were on the second night of a back-to-back, but it may as well have been a re-run from Monday. Much like the Sacramento Kings, the Charlotte Hornets pretty much ripped Miami’s defense to shreds in their 125-113 win on Tuesday night.
The Hornets shot a blistering 54 percent from the field, while draining 13 of their 28 three-pointers (46.2 percent). They were even better in the paint, shooting 16-of-26 (61.5 percent) in the restricted area.
Those three marks aren’t far off from what the Kings did on Monday night. They shot 49.5 percent from the field, 46.2 percent from three (12-of-26), and converted two-thirds of their shots at the rim.
When asked post-game about what specifically is wrong with the defense, Erik Spoelstra summed it up with one word: Everything.
“The last two games, it’s been everything. That’s the problem. You’re trying to plug in a leaking dam and there’s just too much. [I’m] trying to find enough people that are reliable to do their job every single time down, regardless of what’s going on during the course of the game.”
Spo did express confidence that the team will get back on track:
“We’ll get there. We’ve proven obviously we can do it. That’s this league; it can go either way very quickly. We can get it back very quickly as well, but it will take some work.”
What’s encouraging, and a bit frightening, about Miami’s recent struggles is that they aren’t from a lack of effort. Guys are trying out there. There are just fundamental issues that come with the “drop” coverage that Miami employs, and any liability from a personnel standpoint will exacerbate those issues.
To their credit, the Kings and Hornets did a fantastic job of exploiting those weak points.
In a “drop” pick-and-roll scheme, the “big” defender hangs back in the paint in an effort to wall off the rim. The guard’s responsibility is to fight over the screen and stay attached to the ball-handler to either force them into pull-up shots from mid-range, or to funnel them inside to the “big” for a contested (or blocked) shot.
The downside to this: a team with a dynamic shooter and/or a great screener can easily create downhill situations. Speedy guards like De’Aaron Fox can get to the rim quickly and blow by bigs when they get a head of steam. For stop-and-pop threats like Kemba Walker or Damian Lillard (42 points on Saturday), pull-up threes are easy to come by, especially if the “big” drops back too far.
It should come as no surprise, then, that the guard trio of Walker, Tony Parker, and Malik Monk combined for 63 points with a 54/60/86 shooting split. All three balled out individually; the Hornets scored 20 points with a 67/100/100 split in their five minutes together.
Again, the issue with “drop” coverage is that it’s conservative by nature. It’s supposed to concede an open jumper, but it’s up to the perimeter defender to force the ball-handler into a mid-range jumper instead of a three.
When I talked to Goran Dragic before the game, I asked him specifically about the issues Walker poses in pick-and-roll.
“He’s crafty. He’s not a big guard, but he gets low. He can maneuver because he understands angles and can breakdown defenders.”
We got a glimpse of that midway through the third quarter when Charlotte went to their double-hi action.
Initially, Dragic does a good job of staying attached to Walker. But Walker crouches down and slows up to put Dragic on his hip, then jukes to his right. With that juke, Walker simultaneously runs Dragic into Cody Zeller again, creating space for the step-back three. Dragic does his best to recover and contest, but by then, it’s a hair too late.
While Monk did most of his damage from beyond the arc (4-of-6 from three), he was able to mix in some nice drives as well. Below is an example of what Miami wants to allow from a schematic standpoint:
Josh Richardson stays attached to Monk; Bam Adebayo is in good position as he drops. He’s back far enough to drop to the rim if the action calls for it, but up far enough to prevent Monk from getting off a clean pull-up look from three. Monk simply takes the advantage of the in-between space and drops a floater home.
Parker, on the other hand, pretty much got wherever he wanted, when he wanted. He finished with a game-high 24 points. Five of his eight makes came in the paint, with four of those coming right at the rim. His understanding of angles, as well as his finishing ability was on full display.
The Hornets ran a ton of “Wedge” action in this game. That’s when one big (in this case, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) screens the other big’s man (Hassan Whiteside is Cody Zeller’s man here) as a precursor to a side pick-and-roll. It’s a great way to get the defense bending before the actual action takes place.
MKG makes solid contact with Whiteside before Zeller springs Parker open with a screen of his own. Tyler Johnson does his best to stay attached, but with Parker’s left shoulder firmly inside of Johnson’s body, there was no real angle for Johnson to deter the drive, particularly with his lack of length.
This is the rub for Miami. They’re playing things conservatively, and it makes sense on a basic level. But teams also know what they’re doing and have ways to counter that. As Spo noted, it’s going to take some work for Miami to get back to their usual stingy levels of defense.