Points And Pictures: Curb Your (Tank) Enthusiasm
Instead of dropping The Launching Pad, our resident statisticians, Nekias Duncan and Christian Hernandez, got together for a special holiday edition of Points And Pictures. They’ve got you covered with relevant numbers and trends, with a little bit of film mixed in. Happy Holidays!
The Stats (Weekly stats in parentheses)
• Record: 16-16 (3-0, 7th in the East)
• Offensive Rating: 105.8 (107.6)
• Defensive Rating: 105.6 (97.2)
• Net Rating: plus-0.2 (plus-10.4)
• True-Shooting Percentage: 53.1 (51.6)
• Pace: 100.31 (95.50)
• Time of Possession: 14.5 seconds (15.7)
Lineup of the Week (min. 10 minutes)
Tyler Johnson, Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow, James Johnson, Hassan Whiteside
• Minutes: 10
• Offensive Rating: 126.1
• Defensive Rating: 68.2
• Net Rating: plus-57.9
• True-Shooting Percentage: 61.0
• Pace: 108.11
The Big Number: 344
97-79, and it really wasn’t that close.
On a chill(y) Sunday afternoon, the Milwaukee Bucks ventured into Miami and got the brakes beat off of them. Giannis Antetokounmp (22 points, 6 rebounds) was relatively quiet. Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe shot a combined 7-of-32 from the field.
Meanwhile, Goran Dragic knocked down four of his six triples en route to a 25-point performance. Hassan Whiteside (15-10-0-2-4 in 25 minutes) dominated the paint. It didn’t feel like Josh Richardson could miss, and Tyler Johnson sprinkled in back-breaking, run-capping threes.
With the win, the Heat improved to 25-17. More notably, it was their 7th straight win at the time. That was 344 days ago.
I reference all of that to set this up: the Heat’s current five-game winning streak is their longest in nearly a year. Their run has placed them back into the playoff mix, though they only sport a .500 record. That may frustrate a vocal portion of the fanbase, to which I say … you might just have to get over it.
The Heat winning now doesn’t mean it’ll keep up. A losing streak may very well be on the horizon. Veterans may — and honestly, should — be traded at some point this season. Depending on who goes, that may lead to a bulk of losses that will give the Heat some shiny lottery balls. But until that happens, soak in the young guys (more on them shortly) leading the charge.
Justise Winslow is evolving. Josh Richardson is finding his footing after a cold stretch. Derrick Jones Jr is quite literally flying across your TV screen on a bi-nightly basis. You wanted the young guys to get burn; WE wanted the young guys to get burn. They’re doing that and racking up dubs on the way. That may not get you Zion Williamson, but getting some clarity with the young pieces you have is valuable in its own right.
1. Justise Better now, better now
Who the heck does this guy think he is?!
That is the look of a man with a braided head full of confidence.
Winslow has found sweet nirvana as a primary initiator. He’s getting to his spots, spraying dots across the lot, and converting tough shots at the rim. Off-ball, he’s settled in as a more-than-reliable three-point shooter. He’s up to 38.3 percent from deep on a career-high 3.5 attempts, nearly double the rate he put up last season.
He was fantastic in his pair of games last week (15-6-5-3, 60/50/50 shooting split), and has been popping on both ends of the court during December. Three stats that really jump out:
• In terms of raw plus-minus, the Heat are a plus-131 with Winslow on the court over his last 18 games.
• Winslow has four games of 20 or more points over his last eight games. He only had two (2) in his career before this run.
• Winslow has converted 61 percent of his shots at the rim, and 47 percent of his non-rim paint attempts in December. Prior to that, he had a 47 and 30 percent “success” rate respectively.
That last bullet is huge for obvious reasons. Winslow proving he can finish at the rim consistently is going to put big men in precarious situations. If they start committing even harder to Winslow, those lob passes are going to open up.
Winslow being able to knock down shots in the floater range — pull-ups, push shots, scoops, or whatever he throws up — is going to put his defender in a tough spot. Teams have been instructing their guys to duck under any Winslow screen since he entered the league so they could concede those exact shots Winslow is converting now. If that coverage changes at all, it could equal more 2-on-1s for Winslow and whatever big man he’s dancing with.
Point Winslow is (finally) a thing, and boy is it beautiful.
2. The SpoZone
Never change, Spo.
The Heat have continued to throw out their 2-3 zone, and it has continued to flummox opponents. On the year, opposing teams are scoring just 85.4 points per 100 possessions while shooting 36 percent from the field when the Heat zone up. Only the Toronto Raptors and the ‘Brons have been stingier, though their volume doesn’t come close to the Heat’s.
Miami waits until their second unit (read: when Hassan Whiteside goes to the bench) checks in to unleash their antiquated-but-effective defense. Their perimeter defenders flow and rotate in perfect harmony, the backline calling out measures like a composer. The star of the zone remains Derrick Jones Jr, who’s some odd mix of a defensive back and a goalie:
He’s logged the most zone defensive possessions on the team with 35, with opponents scoring just 0.83 points per possession. The rest of the list, by possessions defended (points per possession, percentile):
• Kelly Olynyk — 31 (0.581, 94th)
• Josh Richardson — 19 (1.00, 19th)
• Bam Adebayo — 18 (1.167, 12th)
• Justise Winslow — 18 (0.556, 100th)
3. #JohnsonAndJohnson is back
We’ll start with the smaller one.
Tyler Johnson is easily the second most polarizing player on the roster behind the starting center. His game and impact don’t match his contract. And while he didn’t give himself that money, the burden of that deal has put him under a microscope. It’s why his slow shooting start — he missed 19 of his first 23 threes to kick off the year — felt like he was point-shaving.
Johnson has since regained his stroke. He’s knocked down 45 percent of his triples since the start of November. With opponents forced to account for his shot, he’s able to leverage that to attack seams in the defense:
A simple pindown turns into an uncontested floater, but how? Johnson’s defender (DJ Augustin) practically sells out to prevent a potential catch-and-shoot opportunity. Instead of popping out, Johnson curls around the pick, putting Augustin behind the play. The big (Nikola Vucevic) hangs back to prevent a potential lob to Whiteside, conceding the floater to Johnson.
Johnson has finally settled into his role as an off-ball attacker. He now ranks in the 61st percentile in overall offense, via Synergy:
While Tyler is best following the “take what the defense gives” mantra, the other Johnson, James, thrives by taking matters into his own hands. After a slow start to the season following his return from a sports hernia, JJ is back to bulldozing fools:
Johnson has been getting busy in pick-and-roll, currently ranking in the 87th percentile as the ball-handler. In general, he’s just been more forceful about getting downhill. He’s regained his touch around the rim, converting a blistering 75 percent of his attempts at the rim in December.
4. Derrick Jones Jr. is still flying — for now
Since the game against the Clippers back on December 8th, Airplane Mode has popped off the screen thanks largely to his incredible assault on the offensive glass. He’s averaging 3.5 offensive rebounds in 22.7 minutes during this stretch, which is a lot even for traditional big men.
The Rockets game really showed off the maximization of his skills. He used his incredible timing and leaping ability to collect a game-high six offensive rebounds. His activity on the glass, particularly in traffic, was a big reason why he also finished with a team-high 11 free throws.
He made eight of those free throws, a big thing for him considering how he’s struggled mightily from the line in limited attempts this season.
He also had two steals and two blocks, which speaks to how bothersome his length and athleticism can be if used properly. Jones Jr. has quietly risen up to the 68th percentile in overall defense on Synergy, with opponents shooting just 35.5 percent against the springy lad.
The tough thing about the Heat’s roster construction is a guy like Jones Jr, who has been one of the most impactful and promising players for the Heat in the last few weeks, only played nine minutes Saturday against the Bucks because the other guys were playing well. That was especially tough to swallow considering that was the game after probably his best performance as a pro against last year’s Western Conference runner-ups.