Playoff Breakdown: Attacking Drop, Help vs Bam’s Roll, Butler’s Aggressiveness

Insightlast year8 min readJohn Jablonka

Well, there we have it. The Miami Heat have lost the first game of the series for the first time in these playoffs. Something had to give. The Heat were undefeated on the road in game 1s but the Denver Nuggets were also undefeated at home.

The Heat were in the game for the most early on until the Nuggets took a 24-point lead to end the third quarter. And there were issues on both ends for that. But issues on offense seem easier to correct.

Before the fourth quarter — where they had a 130.4 offensive rating — their offensive rating was just 90.0. A lot of that has to do with them missing wide-open shots that were good looks that came from a good process. But I don’t like putting this loss as just 3pt shooting variance.

They didn’t lose this game because they missed shots(kind of). Denver also deserves credit. They did a great job at flipping through different coverages against different players. They did a great job defending Jimmy Butler by showing enough help to discourage or make the drive harder. They did a great job adjusting to Bam Adebayo’s rolls throughout the game.

PnRs Vs Drop

Ah. Finally, some traditional pick-and-roll coverage. This was going to be the defense that the Nuggets were going to start in for the most part. No more bigs that can switch the screens.

Similar to what the Heat saw in the Milwaukee Bucks and the New York Knicks series, there was going to be a lot of drop to various degrees. So, that obviously meant there were going to be a lot of looks in the mid-range. Everyone was about to get some kind of space to pull up from 3 or just outside the paint.

That’s exactly what they got. The Heat’s shot profile:


BUT this looks better than it really was and that’s because Adebayo was cooking in the mid-range. Without Adebayo, the Heat shot:

  • 10-for-12 at the rim
  • 1-for-11 in the paint
  • 2-for-10 in the mid-range

Those are disgusting numbers. No team is winning then they’re taking almost double the shots in the mid-range(short and long) than at the rim. This was more important than any of the 3s they missed that may have been open.

The base coverage will be with Jokic in a drop, so that opens up Adebayo on the pocket pass around the paint. That will open up Gabe Vincent and Kyle Lowry to pull up for 3. Some have seen a higher drop but the shots are still there.

This is where Tyler Herro would do wonders. He’s the team’s best pull-up threat, whether from inside the arc or from deep. If he’s healthy enough to play, he needs to. I don’t expect everyone else to shoot the way they did now — especially Butler, but that’s also a different conversation — but you can’t ever have too many options.

At the time same time, though, as important it is to hit those shots, if that’s all they can get, then that’s a win for the defense. But there were also a lot of possessions where it wasn’t just missed shots, it was where they couldn’t get shots in the first place:

It’s these situations where they couldn’t even create any type of advantage. That’s where credit is due to Denver’s defense. At times, they sent the ball handler to the sideline. The guards recovered quickly around screens. Jokic was in a good position to take any option away.

Fortunately for the Heat, even if the 3s aren’t falling in the way they were throughout the playoffs, I do expect their overall shooting to get better.

Butler’s Aggressiveness & Attacking Mismatches

Outside of the shooting getting better, this is the most important part and the only thing that can make the offense less reliant on jump shots. The Heat only had 19 shots at the rim, but not a lot of them were ones that would pressure at the rim. A lot of that starts with Butler.

I counted one. ONE. One shot off a drive to the rim. Which is rather surprising against a team that has Jokic.

This isn’t a series for Butler to be getting outscored by Haywood Highsmith. This is a series where Butler needs to be more aggressive in getting to his spots and getting to the rim. Similar to what happened in the Bucks series. Now, he doesn’t have to shoot the way he did then but it can’t be what he’s shown in game one:

I don’t want to see these types of possessions. He’s attacking Jokic in the drop but not looking to attack that space for either a jump shot or a drive. Too many times he was dribbling around the paint to the other side. At times he could have forced a switch from Jokic but nothing happened. Whenever he got a mismatch, he rarely looked to score, instead, he looked to make the pass.

There’s time for this, too. We’ve seen this against the Knicks where his passing and creating shots for others was more important. But everything starts with him getting his first. Once that happens, that’s when the passing starts. He’s bailing out the defenses by not attempting those shots.

The Nuggets also switched a lot of non-Adebayo’s screens for Butler, including off-ball screens, and that did allow Butler to get the matchup that he wanted:

Though I don’t think he capitalized on them as well as he should’ve. You can’t really put pressure on the defense when you’re not aggressive enough to punish those mismatches. When you’re just looking to pass, that’s easier to defend.

Taking Bam’s Roll Away

To counter Jokic in a drop is to make enough shots to force Jokic to step up and once that happens, that creates an advantage. Now, there are two on the ball and that’s where you can put the defense in rotation to get better looks elsewhere.

This is where Adebayo will have to do the work on the short roll. Ideally, it’s finding looks at the rim and then open 3s. And later in the game, there were many occasions that did happen. The Heat were drawing Jokic to step up but they were also ready to help.

This is what you want and the Heat did get a couple of good looks off of cuts inside, but I think for the most part, the Nuggets defended this well. This is where Adebayo needs to get better at attacking the smaller help on the rotation. Everyone else needs to continue with those off-ball cuts to get looks at the rim and if the defense collapses then, make 3s on the kick outs.

Zone Defense

Everyone said that they won’t be able to play zone because you can’t play that against a team like Denver when they have Jokic on. That’s just asking to get cooked one way or the other.

I did expect them to play zone in the non-Jokic lineup. That made a lot of sense and with the way it has been working throughout the playoffs, it was obvious that they were going to use it:

Although the stats will say that the Nuggets had their way against it. Per Couper Moorhead, the Nuggets scored 1.50 points per possession without Jokic on the floor. And even though that number is extremely high, I didn’t think it was that much of a disaster.

In the fourth, we’ve seen them go to it even with Jokic on the floor. That should’ve been surprising but was it really that surprising with Erik Spoelstra? Maybe it shouldn’t have been expected, especially in the first game, but I don’t think there was a possibility that Spoelstra wasn’t going to try everything.

And the stats will say that it worked. They only scored 0.91 points per possession. Though I do think that’s mostly the Nuggets missing good looks and also Jokic was cooking regardless.

But when it comes to the zone without Jokic, I do think they gave up worse looks. I feel like forcing more 3s and turning the Nuggets into banking on shooting variance is the way to go to stop the offense. It’s a high-risk, high-reward situation. But I’m sure it’s a much better option than getting killed inside.