The Launching Pad: Gearing Up for the Home Stand
Welcome to the playoff edition of 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 (Game 1 — Game 2)
• Record: 1-1
• Offensive Rating: 108.6 (103.4 — 113.9)
• Defensive Rating: 113.4 (127.8 — 99.3)
• Pace: 101.07 (100.76 — 101.44)
• True-Shooting Percentage: 58.1 (53.3 — 59.3)
Lineup of the Week (min. 5 minutes, two appearances)
Goran Dragic, Tyler Johnson, Josh Richardson, James Johnson, Kelly Olynyk
• Minutes: 6
• Offensive Rating: 128.8
• Defensive Rating: 94.1
• Pace: 106.41
• True-Shooting Percentage: 75.9
The Big Number: 28
Hassan Whiteside has played a whopping total of 28 minutes through two games. That’s less than half the amount of burn Kelly Olynyk (64) has gotten, and two minutes fewer than rookie big man Bam Adebayo. His totals: six points, 10 rebounds, one assist, three blocks, five turnovers, and a plus-minus of minus-15.
He has been a relative non-factor in the series. That’s mostly due to matchups — the Sixers have opted to space the floor with Ersan Ilyasova at the five instead of Amir Johnson. Whiteside is a high level rim protector, but he’s been a fish out of water when brought out in space. Erik Spoelstra has decided the spacing and playmaking of Olynyk, and the defensive versatility (in theory, anyway) of Adebayo give Miami a better chance to win.
This will change whenever Joel Embiid makes his return to the series, whether that’s in Game three or later. For all the gripes people (read: I) have about Whiteside, he takes the Embiid matchup personally, and gives the sort of effort that Spoelstra has been begging for. Olynyk can’t guard Embiid, and Adebayo gets erased offensively. Whiteside is the best option in that matchup. Until then, we’ll likely continue to see the Big Fella rack up spot starter minutes.
Trends Through Two
1. Kelly Olynyk has been fantastic
Through two games, Miami’s best player has been their back-up center. Olynyk is averaging 18.5 points with a 57/71/73 shooting split, 6.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists, a steal, and a block.
He’s lifted Miami with timely buckets, crisp passes, and tough screens. The herky-jerky post game has been on full display. Seriously, what the heck is Dario Saric supposed to do with this?
ICE defense against pick-and-rolls featuring Olynyk have led to open looks. Watch how the physical screen helps get Goran Dragic downhill:
Here, you can see Olynyk’s entire offensive skillset — and it’s impact — on one play.
The crushing screen on the Ellington flare springs him wide open. That forces Philly’s defense to shift. Olynyk receives the pass from Dragic shortly after. Ilyasova closes out hard because of the threat of Olynyk’s shot. Olynyk uses that against Ilyasova, throwing him off balance with a pump fake. Ben Simmons sinks in to take away the drive, leaving Dwyane Wade wide open. Wade and Olynyk read the situation, and the two make the most of the 2-on-1.
The Heat have been at their best with Olynyk on the floor. Their offense is 29.4 points per 100 possessions better with Olynyk; the defense is nearly 17 points stingier. He leads the Heat in net-rating with an almost impossible plus-46.2. The sample is obviously small, but good lord has he been important.
2. Getting Goran going
Even in a down year, this much remains evident: the Heat go as Goran Dragic goes.
When the length of Ben Simmons and Robert Covington stifled Dragic in Game 1, the offense had no juice. Driving lanes evaporated, plans were erased, and Heat were left to belch up contested junk.
In Game 2, Dragic looked like an All-Star. He was aggressive early and often. Any Philly defender caught leaning the wrong way was getting blown by or fooled out of their shoes:
That’s the version of Dragic the Heat will need if they hope to win this series. He has to get into the teeth of the defense and dictate terms. If the shot is there, take it. If the defense sinks, find the open man. Whatever decision is necessary will needed to be made with precision and decisiveness.
3. Throwing the sink at Ben Simmons
Miami has tried everything — soft coverage, drop coverage in pick-and-roll, traps, soft stunts, and even full-court presses. On the stat sheet, it hasn’t mattered much. Simmons is slapping up 21-9-11 while shooting 50 percent from the floor.
The Heat gave him space in Game 1, and he picked them apart to the tune of 14 assists thanks to the passing angles presented. Miami amped the pressure up in Game 2, and we saw Simmons get frustrated. The most enjoyable play of the night was when Justise Winslow tracked him full-court, drew the charge, then called him a #BAN. Multiple times.
Irritating Simmons and throwing off his rhythm with pressure makes sense. You also have to realize that more pressure will lead to more dribble-drive opportunities, and that isn’t something Simmons really struggles with.
Still, maybe more in-your-face perimeter defense from Winslow and Josh Richardson is the move. They haven’t seen much of him compared to James Johnson (the guy who matches up the best physically), but they’ve done a decent job so far:
Ben Simmons when guarded by…
James Johnson (71 possessions): 17 points (7-of-13 FG), 10 assists, 4 turnovers
Justise Winslow (31 possessions): 7 points (2-of-6 FG), 7 assists, 2 turnovers
Josh Richardson (21 possessions): 8 points (3-of-7 FG), 3 assists, 1 turnover
— Nekias Dunkin' (@NekiasNBA) April 18, 2018
It doesn’t matter who Miami decides to throw on him, or how they go about it. They just have to make sure they’re on their toes and make things tough. If Simmons makes enough plays, you tip your cap to a great player.
4. Wayne Ellington has been toast
The Heat could have a problem on their hands. Throughout the season, Ellington has been a vital piece to Miami’s offense. His three-point shotmaking –spotting up, off the dribble, contested or otherwise — opened the floor and helped Miami’s offense hum. On the other end, his improved stamina helped him shift from liability to “eh, he’s alright I guess.”
Through two games, the defensive needle has shifted towards “liability” again. He’s been very good from three (38.5 percent on 6.5 attempts). but he’s done a terrible job of tracking shooters:
JJ Redick and Marco Belinelli are shooting a combined 9-of-13 (4-of-5 from 3) when initially guarded by Wayne Ellington so far.
— Nekias Dunkin' (@NekiasNBA) April 18, 2018
That just can’t happen. He’s died on way too many screens, leading to looks like this:
Miami is posting a defensive rating of 123.1 with Ellington on the floor. That number drops to a bad-but-not-holy-God-what-is-this 107.1 with Ellington on the bench. He either needs to step up defensively or start draining, like, 70 percent of his threes to correct this. Oddly enough, it wouldn’t be wild to see either situation come to fruition.
5. Dr. Josh and Mr. Richardson
To say Richardson has been uneven in this series would be quite the understatement.
He’s been fantastic defensively, by the eye and by the numbers. Richardson leads high-volume defenders in defensive field goal percentage. He’s tracked shooters, bottled up drives, and has generally given max effort on that end. Watch how he tracks Redick, denies the driving lane, then blocks a jumper off of a dribble-handoff:
Offensively, he’s been a mess. He’s shooting 31.6 percent from the field and 11.1 percent from three on 4.5 attempts, most of those open. Simmons has especially bothered him — he’s only made one shot against him in direct matchups. The length of Philly has given Richardson fits, but forcing the issue without much of a plan isn’t a smart way to go about it:
Richardson was much better in Game 2 than Game 1, but he needs to get rolling offensively.
6. Dwyane Wade, cooking in pick-and-roll
Wade isn’t a destroyer of worlds off the bounce anymore, but he’s still one of the smartest players in the league. He’s seen every defensive coverage, particularly in pick-and-roll, and knows how to exploit that.
We saw a lot of that during his memorable Game 2 performance. His first two buckets came in pick-and-roll. He got to the rim and finished with a floater when Markelle Fultz went over the screen. When Fultz when under the next go around, Wade walked into a pull-up jumper. Trapping Wade in pick-and-roll still spells death:
Wade is shooting 67 percent as the ball-handler in pick-and-roll thus far, and has made good reads out of it as well. We’ll see how the shooting regresses, but he’s proven he can still create.
Getting mileage out of “Bunch”
If you’re an avid NFL fan, or even a Madden head, you know that the “Bunch” formation is one of the most difficult for defenses to key in on. The traffic caused by route combinations throw defenders into a frenzy, and all it takes is one miscue for a passing window to open up.
Erik Spoelstra, known and lauded for his willingness to think outside of the box, has clearly ripped off some of these principles. He uses a “bunch” set up with Ellington as the primary receiver — or a feared decoy.
Game 1 went terribly for Miami, but they did get some good looks out of “Bunch.” Here, Wade receives the ball at the elbow and waits for the madness to produce an open man. Ellington sets a down screen for Olynyk, forcing a switch. Ellington pauses before jetting off another screen from Adebayo for an open triple:
A couple of possessions later, Miami went to the well again. Ellington sets the screen for Wade, simulating a “Punch” look. Wade could’ve set up shop in the mid-post, but the magic happens shortly after.
Ellington sets the screen for Olynyk again. Philly’s defenders are clearly flustered because they don’t want another big-on-small switch to lead to another open three. Belinelli has his back turned, which gives Olynyk a free path to the basket. Wade finds him for the easy one.
Forcing the issue in small-big scenarios could be huge for Miami moving forward.
I’ve been on the “Let Justise create” train for a year and a half now. His ability to see the floor, get downhill, and make cross-court lasers is almost unmatched by anyone on the roster not named Dwyane Wade — and Winslow has a size advantage.
That level of creation matters when things break down, but a well-designed play can highlight a player’s strengths without the desperation factor. Look at this beauty:
It’s essentially a Spain pick-and-roll turned on its head. In a normal Spain set up, Adebayo would screen for Winslow, then Richardson would screen Adebayo’s man as he tried to contain the Winslow drive.
Here, Richardson screens Adebayo’s man before Winslow kicks off the motion, forcing Belinelli to act as the “big” in this scenario. Belinelli is forced into a choice — drop and get into a jump-ball with Adebayo, or track Richardson popping out for a three. Belinelli hesitates, and that’s all the window Winslow and Adebayo needed to hook up.
1. Ignore non-threats
We saw it more in Game 2, but the Heat need to nudge the needle a little more to the extreme side. If the Sixers are using Amir Johnson as a screener to spring a shooter open, the big needs to hedge out instead of worrying about a roll. Olynyk does just that on this possession, and ends up with the steal:
Here’s the first of two steals from Wade in Game 2. Look at the space he’s giving TJ McConnell before the scramble ensued:
Miami should help off Ben Simmons when they can — if Philly goes to a Fultz-Saric pick-and-roll, for example — but they should be cognizant of his potential as a roller or cutter.
Simmons and Redick hooked up on some dribble-handoff action. Johnson hedged to take away airspace, the correct move since Simmons isn’t a three-point shooter, but you can see how much room Simmons has to cut if he went that route. On that possession, Richardson would’ve been the last line of defense.
I can just about guarantee Brett Brown pointed that out during film study. That’s a counter Miami should be ready for.
2. At least pretend to get Whiteside involved
Look, you don’t want your offense to live-or-die on a diet of Whiteside post-ups, but I mean … you’ve gotta throw him a bone here. Through two games, I can only recall Miami running one “Punch” set for him.
The entry pass got tipped out of bounds.
If Embiid doesn’t play and the Sixers are content with throwing Ilyasova on him, what does it hurt to get him some touches early? Fear of falling behind in the first quarter can’t be it — they’ve done that anyway. Whiteside has been a good screener thus far — a development we know we can’t depend on for too long. His minutes have been understandably (but still laughably) low. He deserves something while he’s out there.
3. Stick with angled screens
Philly’s defense is long, athletic, and active. Nobody on Miami’s roster can (consistently) beat Simmons or Covington off the bounce. In general, Miami lacks an explosive 1-on-1 guy. Wade relies more on craft; Dragic and James Johnson rely on brute strength.
Screening at an angle is an effective way to extend the defender’s path of recovery. That daylight, as little as it may be, make the difference between an open shot and a contested one. Belinelli isn’t a good defender, but watch how the screen from Johnson allows Dragic to snake around the pick before flowing into a mid-range jimmy: