Hornets Playing Right Into Heat’s Hands By Abandoning The Three Ball
The Miami Heat currently hold a 2-0 series lead over the Charlotte Hornets for quite a few reasons. The biggest determining factor so far has been Miami’s insane efficiency.
Despite their pace being reminiscent of their pre-All-Star break style, Miami is averaging 119 points per game while shooting nearly 58 percent from the floor and a shade under 53 percent from three. Miami has been methodical, using the clock and using Charlotte’s pick-and-roll traps against them:
1. Josh Richardson checks in
2. Charlotte tries trapping the side P&R
3. Weak side defender (Kemba) leaves Josh
4. 🔥 pic.twitter.com/An9DXFR5Bz
— Pizza's Intellect (@NekiasNBA) April 21, 2016
However, an underrated reason why the Heat have been so successful through two playoff games, and what may help them down the line, is the play of Al Jefferson.
…Wait, what? Yes, you read that right.
Jefferson, through two games, is averaging 19 points on 64 percent (16 of 25) shooting from the floor and has baked anyone who has tried to guard him – especially Hassan Whiteside.
After a 13-point performance in Game 1, Jefferson scored 16 in the second quarter of Game 2 en route to a 25-point game in another loss.
Just check out the clinic he put on:
Now stop shaking your head, wipe your eyes, and pay closer attention to some of the looks Jefferson got, especially in the second quarter:
Going back to Al Jefferson’s second quarter barrage. Look at the help defense o his post ups. Or lack thereof. pic.twitter.com/lMUJCh5CEF
— Pizza’s Intellect (@NekiasNBA) April 21, 2016
Those are screenshots, but feel free to re-watch the video highlights. Besides a couple of dig-downs by Josh Richardson, Miami didn’t send help on Jefferson, even with Whiteside getting cooked and playing with two fouls. That was by design.
The Hornets were one of the best offenses in the NBA this year, ranking ninth in offensive rating (105.1). They did most of their damage from three, ranking fourth in attempts per game (29.4), fourth in makes per game (10.6), and seventh in three-point percentage (36.2).
Miami has made a concerted effort to take away the three-ball – almost drastically so. They’ve run shooters off the line, which has helped explain Charlotte’s uptick in free throw attempts. But generally, they’ve been in the jerseys of shooters away from the ball to eliminate potential kickouts. Basically, help hasn’t been sent because they don’t want it to.
Case in point: Through two games, Charlotte is only averaging 16.5 three-point attempts and are shooting threes at a 21.2 percent clip. That’s well below their average.
The game has slowed down tremendously for the Hornets, which plays right into Miami’s hands. In this series, with Jefferson on the floor, Charlotte has posted an offensive rating of 106.2, slightly higher than their regular season number, but a pace of 85.37. With Jefferson on the bench, the offense has been better (107.2) and a lot faster (96.05).
Now, let’s look at Al Jefferson’s line from Game 2 again. He had 25 points on 70.6 percent shooting from the floor, which is outstanding for him. Look deeper, and you’ll see he took 17 shots, which is another testament to how good he was.
Look a little deeper, and you’ll get to the real hole: Jefferson took 17 shots – all 2’s – while the Hornets as a team took 16 total threes, only making one. That’s a recipe for disaster for Charlotte, even with Jefferson cooking, and even more especially with Miami blazing from “Steph Zone” on the other end.
Jefferson’s series averages, 19 points on 64 percent shooting, look nice before you add in the fact that he’s a combined minus-25. Then there’s the defense, where Jefferson has been a complete liability.
Much like Whiteside or Amar’e Stoudemire have had no shot of guarding Jefferson on the block, Jefferson has been roasted, toasted, fried and baked in the pick-and-roll all series.
Take this clip from Game 1, where Jefferson came out to show on the pick but had no chance at getting back in time:
Why Charlotte elected to continue blitzing high P&R when AL JEFFERSON checked in, I don't know. pic.twitter.com/8MITTKZrgU
— Pizza's Intellect (@NekiasNBA) April 18, 2016
The Hornets’ 101.8 defensive rating in the regular season ranked ninth in the league. That number has risen to 132.3 in the playoffs largely due to the issues they’ve had guarding the pick-and-roll. As awful as that is, it’s been even worse with Jefferson on the floor (135.4).
Essentially, Charlotte is in a bind. Jefferson has been, at worst, their second-best offensive player. But going to him consistently has slowed down the offense, combined with Miami making a conscious decision to take away potential kickouts from beyond the arc.
On the other end, Jefferson hasn’t been able to guard a soul, which has led to easy baskets at the rim, or skip passes for open threes. And despite the box score numbers, Jefferson has done more harm than help in this series.
Miami is just fine with that, and you should be, too.
All stats are courtesy of NBA.com unless noted otherwise
Follow Nekias Duncan’s coverage on the Miami Heat & NBA on Today’s Fastbreak