No Longer a Specialist: How Max Strus Rounded Out His Game

Insightlast week8 min readJohn Jablonka

Just over seasons ago, Max Strus was getting little to no minutes on the Miami Heat. He appeared in 39 games and averaged 13.0 minutes per game. He began to have a bigger role last year when he played 68 games and his minutes increased to 23.3. He was gradually getting more and more minutes as the season went on. Eventually, he ended up starting to finish the season and throughout the playoffs.

It’s like the Heat have done it again. They found an undrafted gem that is one hell of a shooter. For the season, he shot 41.0% on 6.5 3s. As the starter, that skyrocketed to 46.9% on 8.9 attempts(out of 23 starting players with at least 10 games who attempted at least 8 3s, Strus ranked first in percentage)

He was amazing as a shooter. Per BBall-Index, he ranked:

  • 6th in 3pt shot making
  • 6th in catch & shoot 3pt shot making
  • 14th in 3pt shooting talent

But now, 18 games into the season, it’s difficult to call him just a specialist. The amount of growth and improvements he’s made in a span of one year is impressive.

This already became a trend during the pre-season(for Duncan Robinson, too!) where he wasn’t playing as just a shooter. He was putting the ball down more, running actions, and taking guys off the dribble.

The strides are noticeable in how he spiced up his offense. He’s become a well-rounded high-quality role player. So, let’s go through his development on the offensive end this year!

One of the main changes from last year is his huge increase in shots inside the arc and at the free-throw line:

  • 55.7% on 3.8 2s per 100 possessions → 57.0% on 6.3
  • 79.2% on 1.7 free throw attempts per 100 → 88.5% on 2.1
  • 78.4% 3pt rate → 65.9%
  • 15.6% → 23.2% rim frequency
  • 4.4% → 7.3% short rim frequency

One way he’s done this is through running more pick-and-rolls or curling into the paint:

He loves to go into that floater. Whether he gets the ball off a catch, comes off a PnR, or curls into the paint, once he gets downhill, he has the option to go to that floater.

The curling into the paint is in itself a change, too. Last year, that’s mostly like curling for a 3, and if that’s not there, he’d probably go into a dribble-hand-off.

But by having that option to curl into the paint, he’s adding a counter that the defense must respect.

He’s also shown significantly more confidence just putting the ball down and attacking:

I find myself doing more and more of these highlights from each game with him doing more on offense. There are so many little things in these videos that weren’t there last year.

In the first clip, he’s dribbling up in semi-transition and sees that the defense isn’t set, so he quickly accelerates to the rim.

He’s also not hunting the 3s as much. At the 16-second mark, he could have easily run around the 3pt line to pull up. Instead, he drives off the catch because OG Anunoby wasn’t going to recover from that.

Of course, he’s still going to take a lot of 3s(as he should), but there are also more counters that he feels more confident in. These aren’t rare occurrences that happen as a response to the defense. These are now shots he can easily take.

His cutting game also has improved significantly. Because of his threat as a shooter, he will get overplayed a ton and the defense will top-lock him. So, to counter that, there has to be cutting involved:

Everything about it is better. The decision alone to know to make the cut is sharper knows where to cut across, and there seems to be some good faking to sell those moves.

Per NBA stats, he’s scoring 1.91 points per possession on 0.6 cuts(yes, very small volume but it’s still effective and an efficient counter).

It’s also plays like these that show the difference in his decision-making:

For context, they run this same play before where he did set the screen for Robinson. This time, he notices that the defense is expecting that. So, once the defense isn’t paying attention, suddenly change the speed and go the other way.

Scoring the ball inside the arc or moving without the ball isn’t the only way he’s improved. His playmaking has also taken a step forward.

This goes hand in hand with how he puts the ball down on the floor, curls into the paint more, and is being used in a lot more PnRs. If the shot isn’t there, he’s shown he can make reads off a drive — even a one-handed live dribble kick-out.

These types of possessions are key to keeping the offense alive. Being able to beat a closeout, get downhill and not only finish yourself but also able to find the open man on the kick out is crucial. Without this skill, plenty of advantages that are created will die out because if there’s no shot available, they can’t do anything else.

In addition to his kick outs, he’s been able to make solid pocket passes to cutters on drives(though that hasn’t been fairly consistent, more on that later):

That’s adding yet another option for him to go to.

Finally, being the shooter that he is, he will draw two on the ball plenty of times:

That’s the most important part. Being able to draw two on the ball is great, but being able to make the read to take advantage is even better.

Unfortunately, it’s these passes that he hasn’t been able to capitalize on consistently. As you can see, that video compilation is a lot shorter than everything else.

Plenty of times, he doesn’t even look for those reads and ends up attacking or passing the ball elsewhere right away:

It’s also not that he doesn’t look for them. Most of the time he simply misses them completely or the processing speed to make those passes are way too slow:

There are way too many instances where he’s not even aware of the open man in time. Too many times he takes too long to make a pass where the window will close quickly. It’s these looks that he needs to get better at significantly.

But this has still been one hell of a start to the season for him. You couldn’t have asked for more when it comes to his improvement on offense when it comes to making himself more versatile and well-rounded. It makes him less of a specialist and much more dangerous to guard, especially in the playoffs.

Now, that was an important thing to improve on. However, let’s also not forget why he was starting in the first place — his shooting.

His 3pt shooting has fallen off quite significantly compared to last season. A bunch of drop-offs across the board in all of those stats. It’s amazing that he’s more versatile, but his impact comes from being a high-volume shooter — that has to come first to open up the rest of the game.

Hopefully, he does bounce back because if you combine this Strus with last year’s shooting… Jeeez!