Playoff Breakdown: Victor Oladipo’s Debut, Defense Stepping Up, and Some PJ Tucker Love

Insight4 months ago8 min readJohn Jablonka

The Miami Heat lost a close Game 3, lost Kyle Lowry to a hamstring injury, and Trae Young had an average game. Those three things happened and all of the sudden, the Atlanta Hawks can make this series, right?

Hell no! This was always Heat in five. Sunday night’s performance showed yet again that the Heat are the superior team in every way, especially when dealing with adversity.

Losing your starting point guard will always make life more difficult. Then, you add to the fact that your other guards haven’t been playing well offensively either and things can get out of hand quickly. The Hawks want to get into their offense fast and if the Heat aren’t scoring, that creates more early offense opportunities for the Hawks. So, Erik Spoelstra decides to insert Victor Oladipo and also go towards a defensive lineup.

And the eight-point lead midway through the second quarter that the Hawks had, somehow turned into a 15-point run and Miami headed into the second half with a 14-point lead. Once that happened, Atlanta couldn’t recover and the game was over before you knew it.


Offensive Breakdown:

There is one main thing that Oladipo gives this team and that is the ability to get to the rim and collapse the defense. He finished second on the team in drives behind Jimmy Butler with seven. Providing that rim pressure is key when it comes to making the defense make a decision, force rotations, cause defensive breakdowns, and lead to open shots.

There is so much you can do if you’re able to break down the defense on the perimeter and get downhill. You either blow by fast enough to get a layup yourself or you force rotations for a dump-off pass or a kick-out. That’s exactly what Oladipo did.

In the first play, with the clock running down, he manages to use his burst to get by Bogdan Bogdanovic with ease and before the weakside defense can react. In the other plays, he forces the defense to make a decision and stop his drive. But that opens up a pass to the cutting Butler, draws three defenders into the paint for a kick to PJ Tucker or a kick to Max Strus, and gets that ball moving for an open 3-pointer.

Towards the end of the game, I liked two of his passes out of a pick-and-roll.

He showed this kind of playmaking against the Orlando Magic — yes, it was the Magic, but he still made those reads. If there is no Lowry, maybe he earned more on-ball actions to either get downhill or be more of a playmaker.

This drive-and-kick wasn’t just an Oladipo thing. There were many quality shots being generated because the drives forced the defense to rotate.

In the first two plays, they’re the most simple drive-and-kicks you can get but when you’re the best 3-point shooting team in the league and were the best spot-up shooting team at 1.12 points per possession, per NBA Stats, then these are the shots you want.

What stood out to me was the last play. Tyler Herro does a great job at rejecting the screen and that allows him to get into the paint. He forces the weakside defender to rotate and he immediately goes up to kick out to Tucker in the corner. The ball keeps on moving, which forces more rotations. This allows Oladipo to attack off the catch and repeat. It ends with a poor decision by Gabe Vincent but the process is there.

Another interesting point was Tucker’s involvement. Before this season, you could have made a solid prediction about his role on the offensive end — stay in the corner and shoot 3s. That changed a lot in Miami. He was involved in more hand-offs, pick-and-rolls, and post-ups.

This was probably my favorite possession of the game. Tucker has pretty much been whatever the team needed him to be. Here, he has a mismatch on Trae Young in the post, and it’s food for him. Although it didn’t happen in these plays, Tucker has shown to be one of the better playmakers on this team, particularly in the post, and you can see three guys around the perimeter that could be open if he draws enough help.

I’d also like to see more hand-offs from him. When he’s around the perimeter, his defender cheats off him and is able to stay near the paint. I noticed this same thing with Draymond Green and Nikola Jokic and the way the Golden State Warriors counter this is by having Green set more screens. This is just another way of making use of Tucker.

It opens up space to pull up or if the defense does send two to the ball, then it opens up a roll for Tucker.


Defensive Breakdown:

Another poor game from Young. Could you have imagined Young being outscored by Vincent, Strus, Tucker, and Kevin Knox? If you haven’t, then you should have because the Heat had Young in jail for four straight games.

The defense against Young doesn’t stand out anymore. They aren’t doing anything new or special. It has got to the point where I’m expecting Young to struggle and barely reach double-digit points.

In the regular season, he ranked eighth in drives per game with 17.3 and sixth in shots off of drives with 8.1. That has not been the case against the Heat at all.

In four games, he’s averaging eight drives and 2.3 shots. The Heat have completely took away what Young wants to do. Did you know that Patrick Beverely is averaging more drives and practically the same amount of shots?

They did spice things up when it comes to the defending him, whether that’s changing the scheme or the defender.

You can see how difficult it’s for Young to get past the 3-point line. I don’t think there are any tracking numbers for this, but I don’t think Young has stepped into the paint a lot. Most of this comes down stellar defense from everyone who defends him.

We have Vincent defending him well and all that Young is doing is dribbling out the clock. There could have been some advantage created, but Butler is there to throw a quick double. In the next play, similar thing but it’s Bam Adebayo showing and forcing him to give up the ball. Finally, there is Butler staying with him almost at the half court and not letting him past.

Quick note about these plays. All these plays result in Young dribbling out the clock and passing it off with under 10 seconds on the shot clock. That’s a win for the defense.

However, the switching is still the defense that bothers him the most and this play shows it.

Firstly, you have Tucker picking him up full court. Let me say this again. This is a soon-to-be 37-year-old PJ Tucker guarding him full court. Once Young gets a screen, he meets Adebayo. No worries, let’s call for another screen to get him off. Fine, you can have Butler instead — there was also Oladipo that could have been on him too.

There was not a single guy that could have been a good matchup for him. Once he gets Butler, there is already 12 seconds on the clock and he must do something.

Unfortunately, Butler doesn’t allow him, as he completely shuts off his drive and he couldn’t even make it beyond the 3-point line — also note where Tucker is waiting, he’s pre-rotating already just in case Butler got beat. He retreats and goes the other way, and Adebayo is still waiting for him at the nail. And all he can do is kick it out to Bogdanovic with seven seconds on the clock with Adebayo defending him.

That is the kind of defense you’ll most likely not see anywhere else. This defense got fans on Twitter complaining that this isn’t fair to defend a player like that.

Finally, Oladipo also impressed me with his defense.

He was picking up Young full court, staying connected, getting through screens, denying passes, and being a brick wall to prevent drives. I think this game showed that his defense will be needed in the playoffs against certain players.