The Launching Pad: Olynyk Finding A Groove, D-Wade Creating for Others, James Johnson Earning His Money

Insight4 years ago11 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: 41-36 (2-2, 7th in the East)

• Offensive Rating: 104.6 (1o1.5)

• Defensive Rating: 104.0 (93.5)

• Pace: 98.76 (98.87)

Lineup of the Week (min. 10 minutes)

Goran Dragic, Tyler Johnson, Wayne Ellington, James Johnson, Kelly Olynyk

• Minutes: 11

• Offensive Rating: 142.6

• Defensive Rating: 84.6

• Net Rating: plus-58.0

• True-Shooting Percentage: 74.6

• Pace: 98.3

The Big Number: .318

It’s no secret that the Heat need Wayne Ellington. He’s their most feared shooter, and one of the most prolific ones in the league. The Heat leverage Ellington’s ability to run figure-eights, catch a bullet on the move, and stick a contested triple into the eye of a flummoxed defender. Miami’s offense is 4.8 points per 100 possessions better with Ellington on the court.

When Ellington is off, or when teams specifically sell out to take him out of the offense, Miami suffers. The Heat are 7-15 when Ellington makes one or fewer threes in a game this season. That .318 win percentage is the equivalent of a 26-win team or this year’s Sacramento Kings. In the ten games Ellington has gone three-less, the Heat have gone 1-9.

It’s, uh, safe to say he’s pretty important to what they do.

Weekly Trends

1. Kelly Olynyk is saving Miami’s offense

Kelly Olynyk leads the NBA in improbable buckets. It’d be one thing if I was referring to those hang-and-hit contested layups that guys like Russell Westbrook and Kyrie Irving have made famous. Contested pull-up jimmies in the in-between area like DeMar DeRozan or, funny enough, Dwyane Wade.

But no.

I have never seen anybody make routine basketball plays look as ugly as Olynyk. He drives at the speed of dial-up internet. His pump fakes are telegraphed but somehow work. He creates angles out of thin air, flipping up shots that shouldn’t even be possible, much less effective. What the heck is this?

Olynyk fools Kevin Love with a pump fake then drives. Love recovers (because how the heck could he not?) and absolutely stifles the drive. Olynyk, with his alligator arms, not only draws contact after another pump fake, he somehow flips the ball behind him with an underhand scoop and kisses it perfectly off the bottom left corner of the square — all while jumping precisely 3.7 inches off the air.

That awkwardness, combined with an ability to shoot and pass, have made him the toughest Heat player for opposing teams to key in on. He’s Miami’s best screener; his body bumps free Heat guards for drives, which forces the defense to shift. From there, Olynyk can pop out for threes (74th percentile on pick-and-pops this season) or find cracks in the defense when he (eventually) makes his way down the lane.

This is a routine pick-and-roll, but Olynyk helps create the advantage that led to a bucket. There isn’t much contact made in this case, but he throws George Hill off his path, giving Goran Dragic a head of steam. Tristan Thompson is then forced to drop down in containment while Hill tries to recover. As Dragic probes, Olynyk fades away from the drive before flashing in front of the rim, receiving the pass, and getting the easy bucket.

Of course, you can’t talk about Olynyk without mentioning his slick work in the dribble handoff (DHO) department. The chemistry he’s gained with Dragic and Ellington have opened up slip opportunities for him. The “Kelly Keeper,” as the great Tony Fiorentino has dubbed it, has become a staple of Miami’s offense. They’re good for at least one of those every night.

Olynyk is slow. Olynyk is awkward. Olynyk is frustrating to watch when he’s pump faking out of open shots. But, darn it, he makes the Heat hum on offense. His spacing pulls bigs out of the paint, his screening frees guards, and his passing adds a layer of unpredictability to Miami’s metronomic drive-and-kick-and-drive-again offense. It should come as no surprise, then, that Miami’s offense is over 10 points better per 100 possessions with Olynyk on the floor.

His defense remains questionable, and teams will absolutely target him in space the way the Pacers did last Sunday, but if he leaves a bigger mark on the offense than he hurts the defense, he’ll be closing games for the Heat come playoff time.

2. Dwyane Wade making plays

The second Wade Era has been a bit of a mixed bag in terms of results. Miami has gone 9-8 in the games he’s played in, though they’ve corrected the home game issue. Miami is 9-2 at the Triple A with Wade in the lineup and 11-2 overall since he’s rejoined the roster. The road has been … a struggle, to say the least.

Wade’s scoring exploits have also been inconsistent. He starts hot, falls off a cliff, and then turns into 06 Wade in the clutch.

• First quarter: 2.5 points, 47/67/100 shooting split

• Second quarter: 2.8 points, 45/33/40 shooting split

• Third quarter: 1.8 points, 31/11/91 shooting split

• Fourth quarter: 4.9 points, 43/10/75 shooting split

• Clutch time: 3.9 points, 46/0/100 shooting split (36-3-6-3 per 36 minutes puts him in Damian Lillard range)

The one area where he’s been able to consistently and positively impact Miami has been with his passing. He is Miami’s most experienced and reliable playmaker. He’s seen every defense, and possesses passing counters to everything.

His court vision and creativity has been on full display in pick-and-roll. He’s generating 1.1 points per pick-and-roll pass in Miami, one of the better marks in the NBA. That number shoots up to 1.312 when hitting the roll-man in pick-and-roll, an elite level that puts him well ahead of premier passers like Chris Paul (1.119) and LeBron James (1.106).

Wade has been a godsend for Miami’s bigs. They’ve watched ill-advised lob after off-the-mark lob fly everywhere except their waiting hands for far too long. With Wade, the screens have more oomph, and the cuts to the rim are more purposeful because they know they’ll be fed if they’re open.

Wade starts his drive to the left before Darren Collison can prepare for it. Adebayo disrupts Collison’s path by slithering between him on his drive to the rim. With Collison behind the play, Myles Turner steps over to cut off Wade. At that point, the play is over. If you peep closely, you can see Bam start his gather for the jump before Wade even threw the pass. He knew it was coming, and Wade knew just where to leave it.

Teams have been able to stifle Miami’s pick-and-roll attack with traps because none of their ball-handlers have been able to consistently hit the big on the slip. Enter Wade, whose recognition skills and elite ball-placement force defenders to think twice about sending two.

With Goran Dragic, that turns into a kick-out and a reset. With Wade, that’s a lead pass to Johnson, right on the money. His ability to feed guys is part of the reason why he’s trusted as much as he is.

3. James Johnson, back to destroying worlds

Maybe James Johnson is just a second-half player. Whatever it is, Johnson is back to wrecking havoc on both ends of the floor. He averaged 12.5 points, 8.0 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and nearly two blocks last week. Somehow, the numbers didn’t really do him justice.

His work on LeBron last Tuesday might’ve been his finest work all year, and he has stellar performances against Giannis Antetokounmpo in his bag. Johnson has the right combination of size, length, quickness, and strength to at least match up with the NBA’s elite. When he’s dialed in, he can actually make life tough for them.

On the other end, he’s back to running point-center with a little of battering ram mixed in. He’s still dropping in bounce passes for Tyler Johnson and attacking off of those inverted pick-and-rolls with Goran Dragic. Johnson is generating 1.425 points per pass in the pick-and-roll, a mark only eclipsed by three players with his volume. When all else fails, Johnson has been able to jostle and shimmy his way to the rim. He can finish over you, around you, or through you.

Johnson shot north of 57 percent from the field last week and has been hitting shots at a 56.1 percent clip since the All-Star break. The percentage itself probably isn’t sustainable, but the aggression and force Johnson has played with recently should be. This is the guy Miami envisioned they were getting when they inked Johnson to a four-year deal over the summer. The jury is still out on that decision, but he’s made it look good lately.

Set Play of the Week

The Heat steal a page out of the Cavaliers’ playbook

Cleveland’s offense begins and ends with LeBron James. Honestly, why the heck wouldn’t it? He’s one of the greatest players of all-time, and his commandeering of an offense evokes memories of Peyton Manning and his Colts. He knows what he wants to do, and knows how your defense is going to react to it before he decides he’s going to do what he wants to do.


With LeBron’s ability to create for himself or others out of thin air, offenses featuring him don’t have to be Spursy with ball-movement or be filled with intricate actions like Quin Snyder’s Jazz teams. Give him shooters, and he’ll make defenses crap on themselves while they’re waiting for LeBron to make a move.

Cleveland’s pet set is called Elbow Quick. It’s as simple as it is deadly. LeBron stations himself at the elbow while two players, typically Kevin Love and a guard that can shoot, screen for each other in the corner. One player will pop out to the 3-point line while the other dives towards the hoop on a flex cut. The action is difficult to defend because the smallest blip of miscommunication will lead to a dunk or a wide open triple.

Here’s a quick example from Cleveland’s blow out victory over the Heat earlier in the season:

On Tuesday night, Miami gave Cleveland a taste of their own medicine.

The action kicks off with Dwyane Wade receiving the rock on the elbow in the LeBron role — because of course it does. Ellington jets to the corner and sets a screen for Olynyk, and this where you can see how devastating the action is. The easy solution would’ve been to switch the action, but having Love trying to chase Ellington around would’ve been a disaster. J.R Smith trying to defend Olynyk on a post-up wouldn’t have been ideal either.

Instead, Smith practically hugs Ellington so he doesn’t lose him. This is problematic because it forces Love to go under the screen to try to reconnect with Olynyk. Wade capitalizes on Love going off the beaten path, feeding Olynyk for the open triple.

Here’s the play in real-time.

It’s such a bang-bang play. There isn’t much you can do with it unless you have two like-sized defenders that can switch multiple positions. Even then, the switch has to be smooth, because any crack in that transition will lead to an open look.