Love Joining the Starting 5, Zeller Revives the Backup 5 Spot: How Have They Looked So Far

Insight4 weeks ago8 min readJohn Jablonka

It was a nice surprise when the news hit that the Miami Heat were signing both Kevin Love & Cody Zeller. There have been so many conversations on Twitter as to who the team should target as a buyout player.

Of course, there was this whole hype for Russell Westbrook but in the end, they decided to go with two bigs rather than a smaller wing or a guard. I think that was a great decision that addressed arguably their biggest need.

Remember Dewayne Dedmon? In 350 minutes with him on, the Heat were minus 10 and had a 102.8 offensive rating. The Heat were getting destroyed in his minutes and in minutes without Bam Adebayo in general — minus 6 in 943 without Adebayo.

There was another need for an actual starting four(though I don’t think Love is truly that either) to give them more size and hopefully better shooting.

So far, I’ve liked these two additions, especially with what Zeller has given this team and what Love in theory has provided.

With there being six games played already post-All-Star break giving us a bigger sample size, let’s go through what both of them have brought to the team.

Firstly, the lineup stats actually don’t do either of them any justice. With Zeller on, the Heat have a -8.5 net rating in 84 minutes with a 110.7 offensive rating and 119.2 defensive rating. That’s not that much better than Dedmon!

Although a big part of that has been because of the minutes without both Jimmy Butler and Adebayo. That has killed the team and is making the numbers much worse than they are and it isn’t Zeller’s fault. In fact, the Heat with Zeller and Butler are +25.3 in 35 minutes with a 135.8 offensive rating and 110.4 defensive rating.

Zeller himself has been amazing for his role and what he was brought to do.

Right from the first game, he brought energy and hustle on the glass. He’s already grabbed nine offensive rebounds:

With the Heat struggling on offense, getting easier points inside off the rebounds or simply more possessions is needed. On offense, when he has the ball, he hasn’t done that much. He does what’s asked of him and that’s been enough whether that’s cut to the rim or finish on a roll.

But what I’ve enjoyed about him the most is the little things he does like this:

Losing PJ Tucker hurt on both ends, but an underrated skill that he had is knowing when to screen and he did it a lot. Zeller has only made two of these flare screens that resulted in a shot, but that’s still a good thing to see. It’s a simple off-ball action that can get you clean looks for shooters.

It’s a great feeling knowing you have a solid backup 5.

The minutes with Love in general have been better, as the Heat are +2.9 in 135 minutes with a 116.9 offensive rating and 113.9 defensive rating. But the starting lineup is -3.8 in 87 minutes.

Love was brought in for different reasons than Zeller. I initially thought he would be the backup 5 off the bench but Erik Spoelstra made the decision to start him from the go.

There has been a benefit to doing so & one of those reasons showed up in his first game. Love is a shooter — a shooter that is respected by the defense. Now, that may not look like it since he got to Miami because obviously if you play for the Heat, you lose your shooting touch.

Love is currently 8-for-31. Yikes. Including 1-for-8 on open 3s and 5-for-13 on wide-open 3s. Yikes, again. Hopefully, these percentages will go up, but nevertheless, he still gets treated as a shooter:

This is what’s needed when you run Butler and Adebayo actions. You can run anything with those two if you have Love in the weakside corner and Tyler Herro lifting up. That takes away any potential help from the weak side to take away the roll or pre-rotate. In simple words, he provides that gravity.

But he also gives this team a bit more diversity on offense. The Heat haven’t had a pop threat like this.

It’s a miss here but you have the option now to run a Herro-Love pick-and-pop. That’s there if you need it.

There are multiple ways you can use Love as a shooter. You can have him setting screens then flaring out for 3, especially if the player he screens causes more defensive confusion:

Or you can actually run plays for Love himself. He gets into a dribble hand-off with Butler but then immediately flares out and receives a pin-in screen from Adebayo.

Right now, he just needs to make those shots because everything he’s doing on offense has been good. And the thing that’s been my favorite is his outlet passes:

He’s such a good passer when it comes to these ones — the timing, the accuracy, and decision making is all there. And he does these as much as he can, which almost always leads to good early shots.

With Love, however, the question is on the defensive end. That’s where I haven’t been impressed and probably why he’s only played four minutes in the fourth. I don’t think you can close with him or play big minutes.

That’s mainly because of what Love forces the defense to do with him on. He’s not going to be your drop big similar to what Meyers Leonard was. You also don’t want to switch with him. So, the only other option is to either trap or show and recover.

Most of the time, it might work out well where there aren’t any advantages created. But it’s also an action that can get spammed repeatedly until it does. It won’t always lead to points, but it will a lot of times put more pressure on the defense and have them in rotations more often:

And because it can get spammed over and over again. There is less room for error. It takes more effort and energy to constantly be sharp with every rotation, the communication be on point, and cover so much ground when recovering or rotating. And in those cases, it will give up easy looks:

This also isn’t considering that the Heat already have Herro in the lineup which requires a similar scheme. This will get picked on in the playoffs.

But with Love, it’s also more than just getting picked on in the PnR. I haven’t liked his overall activity on defense. With him being the low man most often, he’s responsible for those first rotations when taking the drive. And being a big body, you’d think he would contest the shots better.

Here, however, he sees the action happening but is still late rotating to contest the shot. He needs to be there earlier. But there’s also another issue there. Love’s help or rim protection comes from taking charges. There have been many instances where he tries to slide through to take the charge when it would’ve been better to go up and contest.

He rarely does look to contest — contests 3.0 shots within six feet — and when he does, opponents are shooting 83%. And I don’t see that getting any better.

Now, with all that said, those two have been a great addition to the team. They played their role, have been impactful, and have given the team very useful minutes. Don’t think you could’ve got better players at the buyout that would be more useful.