The Launching Pad: Chillin’ In The Corner, It’s Wayne-ing 3s, Richardson Missing Open Looks

Insight5 years ago7 min readNekias Duncan

Welcome to The Launching Pad, a weekly roundup of Miami Heat basketball. Who’s playing well, and who should pick it up? What numbers should you be watching? What was that beautiful play Miami ran in the second quarter? You can find all of it here, every Monday.

The Stats (weekly stats in parentheses)

• Record: 10-9 (3-0, 8th place in East)

• Offensive Rating: 101.5 (109.4)

• Defensive Rating: 102.8 (97.2)

• Pace: 98.74 (97.02)

• True-Shooting Percentage: 55.3 (60.1)

All stats through 11/26/17

Lineup of the Week (min. 10 minutes)

Tyler Johnson, Wayne Ellington, Josh Richardson, James Johnson, Kelly Olynyk

• Minutes: 15

• Offensive Rating: 165.2

• Defensive Rating: 107.1

• Pace: 90.0

• True-Shooting Percentage: 89.3 (!!!)

The Big Number: 2.6

The Heat have been demolished in the second halves of games this year. That’s been covered quite a bit (like herehere and here), but that’s because of how wide the disparity was. Entering last week’s slate of games, the Heat were the sixth-best first-half team in terms of net rating, but dead last in the second half (minus-12.6).

During their 3-0 run last week, Miami posted a plus-2.6 net rating in the second half. The number isn’t impressive on its own—it would tie the Cleveland Cavaliers for the ninth-best mark in the league—but considering Miami’s struggles, this is a major win.

Miami’s worst second half came against the Boston Celtics in their 104-98 win on Wednesday, but that number (minus-12.8 net rating) was skewed by a disastrous fourth quarter (minus-43.4 net rating). To the Heat’s credit, they put together one of their best third quarters of the season in that game, outscoring Boston 25-22 with a net rating of plus-18.9.

Miami responded with a plus-5.3 net rating against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday. On Sunday, Miami bounced back from an ugly first half display with a dominant second half (plus-14.3 net rating) against the Chicago Bulls.

The competition will be fierce this week. The Cavaliers, New York Knicks, Charlotte Hornets and Golden State Warriors are all better second half teams than Miami, with Cleveland and Golden State ranking in the top ten. We’ll see if Miami can hold up.

Weekly Trends

1. Killing the corners

I’ve had gripes about the process of Miami’s offense at times—not enough off-ball movement or built-in counters—but it’s hard to argue the result right now. Their most impressive stat: The Heat currently leads the NBA in corner threes attempted per game (10.0).

Miami averaged 12 corner three attempts last week, draining them at a 38.9 percent clip. Their most impressive outing came against the Timberwolves where they attempted at least 19 corner threes.

This beauty here is an example of what we saw during Miami’s 30-11 run last year:

Tyler Johnson and Hassan Whiteside initiated a high pick-and-roll from the left wing. Tyler went away from the screen, so Whiteside rumbled down the lane. Karl-Anthony Towns dropped to contain the drive while Jamal Crawford recovered; Jimmy Butler dropped to cut off a potential pass to Whiteside.

While Butler was occupied, James Johnson cut hard from the right wing to give Tyler a relief valve. Johnson caught the pass on the move and simultaneously flung a dart to Wayne Ellington in the corner. Shabazz Muhammad, Ellington’s defender, was caught watching the initial drive and couldn’t even react to the pass to Ellington.

From Wednesday, here’s Tyler Johnson getting in on the corner action:

Similar circumstance here. Dion Waiters and Kelly Olynyk run a high pick-and-roll on the left side of the floor. As Waiters gets to the rim, Boston collapses on the paint. James Johnson relocates to the right wing and receives a pass from Waiters. As the defense rotates, Johnson tosses the pass to Tyler for the triple.

More, please.

2. Make it Wayne

Wayne Ellington had himself a week, averaging 16.3 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.3 assists off the bench. The part that you care about is the 3-point shooting. He torched the nets, draining 13 of his 23 shots (58.3 percent) from beyond the arc.

He drilled threes in transition. He drilled threes in the half court. He drained them on spot-up attempts. He ran figure-eights on the court.

He’s building more chemistry with James Johnson on these dribble-handoff looks.

Part One:

Part Two:

Fun stat to track: The Heat are currently 5-1 in games where Ellington knocks down at least four threes. Their lone loss came against the Pacers last Sunday, and that game was probably the one that sparked his recent run of flame-throwing.

3. Josh Richardson is still bricking open looks

Heat fans are—or at least they should be—pretty much used to Richardson starting seasons off slowly. His career pre- and post-All-Star splits are staggering, to say the least.

Even if you’re in the “not too worried” camp like I am, seeing shots like this can get depressing:

Richardson missed all 10 threes he attempted last week, bringing his season total to 23-of-91 (25.3 percent). On open (nearest defender four-to-six feet away) or wide-open (nearest defender six-plus feet away) threes, Richardson has shot a combined 22-of-76 (28.9 percent).

Richardson knocked down 31.4 percent of his open or wide-open threes last season, although he was injured for most of it. He closed out the final 15 games of last season knocking down 40.8 percent of those looks.

It’s tough to say who Richardson is as a shooter. He followed up a hot-and-cold rookie season with an injury-riddled sophomore campaign. He’s been flat-out bad this year, but it seems outlier bad. If things don’t pick up soon, we’ll need to start—not finalize, but start—a discussion about what Richardson’s offensive ceiling is.

Set Play of the Week

More Dragic-Olynyk side action

Head coach Erik Spoelstra has spent the early portion of the season testing out lineups. The process has been frustrating at times, but we at least have a basic idea of which player combos work and which ones don’t.

Goran Dragic and Kelly Olynyk have established enough chemistry to put their combo in the “it works” section, at least offensively. Among two-man combos featuring Dragic, only Ellington (110.9 offensive rating) is a better partner for Dragic than Olynyk (110.3).

Both players read the floor well and know how to manipulate defenses to open things up for others. It’s no surprise that both have been criticized for their passiveness at times, but that’s just who they are.

Here’s an example of their IQ and unselfishness at work. Dragic and Olynyk kick off a side pick-and-roll here. Olynyk sets a nice screen while Dragic temporarily shakes loose with a spin move. Dragic freezes the defense with an extra dribble on the baseline; Olynyk goes wide on the roll instead of popping out for the three like he normally does.

That movement forces Jimmy Butler to step up to cut off Olynyk. Shabazz Muhammad helps from the corner—a major no-no—and Olynyk reads it immediately. Instead of taking (and probably making) the bunny, he flips a pass to Ellington in the corner for the easy triple.

Here’s the play in real time:

It doesn’t get much better than that.