Playoff Breakdown: We got Shooters(for now), Butler Taking Over & Bam Needs to do the Same

Insightlast month10 min readJohn Jablonka

It’s Heat in 4, cowards!

The Miami Heat went on a road and beat the Milwaukee Bucks to take the 1-0 series lead. Were the Bucks without their best player for most of the game? Sure. BUT. The Heat were without their best 3-level scorer, so it kind of evens out.

Cocky Heat fan aside, this was an impressive win from the Heat despite them being without Giannis Antetokounmpo. This was the same team that had Antetokounmpo go out early in the game and still blow out the Heat.

The Bucks with Antetokounmpo off have been minus 0.6 in 1942 minutes and minus 0.1 with an 11-8 record in games he doesn’t play. If you include 2 of Brook Lopez, Khris Middleton, or Jrue Holiday, that number goes to plus 12.9 in 292 minutes! That’s a good team even without Antetokounmpo.

So, how did the Heat manage to pull it through?

The Heat havinig a 128.7 offensive rating and a 68.5% effective field goal certainly helps. The offense was clicking for the Heat, whether it was inside the arc or outside. And this time, it didn’t feel like the offense was bad process-wise. There was a game against the New York Knicks where they had great percentages and a great offensive rating, but it seemed off to me.

We got Shooters!(for now)

Let’s start with the obvious — shooting 15-for-25 will make your offense look great. They weren’t difficult shots for the most part. A lot of them were the shots you want your offense to generate and need your players to make:

These were simple catch-and-shoot 3s when the defense helped off, off a pick-and-pop, or on a drive-and-kick to the corner.

  • 7-for-13 on open 3s
  • 5-for-8 on wide-open 3s

They weren’t difficult shots or shots that you’d typically brush off as the offense hitting tough shots or even bad shooters making you pay.

I’m not sure how much I trust everyone who made shots to make those shots again, even if they’re open, but if they can just hit average on open shots, that will be huge for this offense.

Staying on the topic of shooting. The Bucks series was going to be a Herro series. With a team that is in such a deep drop, there’s so much space for a pull-up threat.

The Bucks allow the most pull-up 3s with 12.0 per game and the opponents shoot 35.1% on them. On top of that, they allow the 12th most wide-open 3s(17.3). The Heat’s ball handlers and shooters were going to have open 3s off a PnR, handoffs, staggers, and other off-ball actions.

It’s these types of looks that Herro was going to have. In this game, he had two of them and made two of them. It’s unfortunate that he had to go get his fingers broken diving for a loose ball. It’s such a freak injury that you can’t predict it happening.

Herro was the team’s best 3pt pull-up threat and it’s not even close. Per BBall-Index, he’s 17th in 3pt pull-up shot-making. Then it’s Caleb Martin at 52nd and Kyle Lowry at 75th.

My bet is on both Lowry and Gabe Vincent stepping into that job. They’re the team’s next ball handlers that could get those shots off. It should be remembered that this is a seven-game series, anything can happen in such a short sample. Hell, we know what Vincent can do when needed.

Pushing the Pace

The Heat’s thought process must have been “You can’t face the Buck’s half-court defense if you’re keeping getting out early before the defense can get set”.

The Heat had 12 fastbreak points. They made it a clear emphasis that someone was going to run the floor quickly and early as the defensive rebound was secured:

Anytime anyone was close to getting a rebound, Butler was already on the other side waiting for the full-court outlet pass. That’s one way to keep scoring without worrying about an elite defense. That’s how Butler gets a lot of his points.

But this wasn’t just Butler. There was a clear point in getting shots up early. The previous examples with Herro’s pull-up 3s were one of them

They were getting out early off misses and off of turnovers. Per PBP Stats, they had an 11.1-second offensive pace off a missed shot.

Here, Adebayo gets a good deflection to force a turnover and Butler is gone as soon as he gets it. Passes it off to Vincent and he goes into a wide-open pull-up 2.

They also went:

  • 9-for-10 on shots within 22-18(very early) seconds on the shot clock
  • 8-for-11 on shots within 18-15(early)

Getting and making many shots early is something the Heat need to do a lot because they also had one of the worse stretches in the third when they went away from that and slowed the game down.

But what about what happened in the half-court?

Butler Taking Over

Butler had himself a game, finishing with 35 points on 57% true shooting — not his usual efficiency level, though.

The way Butler got his points and the way it was distributed is going to be key going forward. Some of it was him being WOW and some were good actions on offense that got him those looks.

The most simple action is isolation for him:

Here, instead of him hunting for guys smaller that he can pick on in the post, he goes for Joe Ingles and Jae Crowder. Give him that and he’s going to be too quick for them to defend him and it’s a drive to the rim. You also add the spacing around him and especially if there’s no Brook Lopez, and it’s even easier.

One of the ways the Heat made it easier for him is by running more actions with Kevin Love and other shooters around the 3pt line.

In the first play, there’s also no one in the far corner. The whole point is to bring everyone out of the paint. With both Love and Adebayo near the win, you also have Antetokounmpo and Bobby Portis there, which means there’s no weakside rim protection.

There’s also a blown coverage there with Ingles and Wes Matthews, as he’s icing the pick but Ingles is expecting Butler to use it, so there’s no one stopping Butler.

In the second play, they run a Butler-Love action and Butler again beats his defender before they can realize but with Lopez being involved in the action, there’s no one protecting the paint.

Running these actions to have Lopez away from the rim is important. But even with him on the whole game, they struggled to protect the paint. With Lopez on, the Heat shot:

  • 9-for-12 at the rim
  • 14-for-27 in the short mid-range

That short mid-range is another area that Butler needs to hunt for more:

Butler at times seems so passive and indecisive when attacking off a PnR. There are times when he has a clean look near the paint that he can walk into and is slow to take it.

And with Lopez dropping so deep plus with the screens being set inside the arc, there will be many shots for Butler there.

The second play was an interesting one with Martin setting the initial screen to get Antetokounmpo to switch off, then you have Adebayo setting another screen on Portis inside the paint. That leaves Butler with an open pull-up.

The Bucks made some adjustments to end the half by going into zone defense:

This will be interesting to keep an eye out for the rest of the series. All of the possessions started in a similar way with Butler flashing to the middle, but I didn’t quite like the process and the decision afterward. Is taking on Lopez at the rim a smart choice?

Bam Needs To Do the Same

Adebayo had a quiet first half — 5 points on 2-for-6 shooting. But that changed in the second half where he was involved a lot more in the PnRs and he himself was getting his own looks.

But one thing stood out the most again. This felt like 2021 all over again.

Lopez is giving him way too much space and Adebayo is looking for other actions to go into. Now, those handoffs are important and are a big part of this offense. They are useful in situations like this where the defense is in a deep drop.

My issue with Adebayo is he makes these reads so predictable and binary in a way. It’s either him making a read to pass and look for those handoffs or he’s attacking. I haven’t seen him catch the defense off guard and realise what the defense is giving him.

In the first play, Middleton played that screen perfectly. His move to attack should have been more decisive — he probably could’ve not even attempted the handoff.

This isn’t asking him to be taking all of the shots when Lopez is giving him that much space, instead it’s more about making the defense unaware of what he’s going to do. Just mix things up.

Finally, I’d want to see more PnRs with him. As good as he is from the mid-range, he’s most effective when he’s in rhythm from that pocket pass.

Per InStat, he’s shooting 43% from around the paint area as a roller, including 49% on jumpers as a roller. Compared to isolations or post-ups, it’s 37%. There’s a significant difference between him creating his own shot off the dribble and getting set up in a PnR. This is exactly what he did against Lopez previously:

And this is what he did at the end of the game:

With Herro being out, there needs to be someone else taking those shots, and seeing as we’ve seen them play the Bucks without Herro where it was a lot more Adebayo-Vincent PnRs, I’m expecting more of that going forward.