The Launching Pad: Are the Heat More Legit Than What Most Thought + Bulls Game Breakdown

Insight3 months ago9 min readJohn Jablonka

Are the Miami Heat more legit than I thought they’d be? Each week, they’re trending in the right direction and are showing more positives. Last week, they were on a seven-game winning streak. Now, they split the road trip in Chicago(though they did blow a massive lead there) and won against the Cleveland Cavaliers without Bam Adebayo.

Then, there was this tweet that I saw. The Heat are both top 10 on offense and defense and have the third-best net rating in their last 10 games! That’s impressive.

I don’t recall any stretch like this last year. This team may actually be a lot better than I gave them credit for, at least in the regular season. Though, at the same time, how much is that them just shooting better?

I’m not putting it all on shooting, there are many other improvements that has made this team better, but their biggest issue last year with their floor was poor shooting. That team wasn’t going to be that bad had they had an average shooting team. That would’ve certainly improved their overall record and their seed significantly.

I was curious to see how they fared last year at this point of the season(15 games in).

Here are their ranks now vs last year through 15 games, per Cleaning the Glass:

  • Net rating: 13th vs 17th
  • Offensive rating: 16th vs 12th
  • Defensive rating: 8th vs 17th

It’s interesting that it’s actually their defense that has jumped significantly. So, let’s compare some of their defensive stats:

  • Defensive rating: +2.9 points better than average vs -0.1 points worse than average
  • Opponent eFG: 55.7%(21st) vs 56.1%(28th)
  • Opponent TOV%: 16.9%(2nd) vs 16.8%(4th)
  • Opponent ORB%: 26.9%(12th) vs 26.8%(15th)
  • Opponent FTr: 16.8(3rd) vs 18.0(4th)

Your typical four factor stats don’t differ significantly — on this note, this is something that would probably need a deeper dive through.

But let’s get back to the initial question. Are the Heat actually legit?

I think that depends on what the goal is. Right now, it does look like they are a better team than what we’ve seen from them in the regular season.

There are improvements across the board. Everyone is hooping right now.

Jimmy Butler has been playing better than how he started. Since November 3rd, he’s averaging 25.1 points per 75 possessions on 55.2% eFG and 62.8% TS with 26.0% usage. The team also has a plus 14.2 net rating with him on. But there’s a slight worry in one of his stats that is still showing with his rim frequency being down to 24.2% in those nine games — that’s something to monitor.

Both Jaime Jaquez Jr and Duncan Robinson have been stellar in these 10 games. Robinson is shooting 46.6% on 7.3 3s. Jaquez is averaging 17.4 points per 75 poss on 65.2% eFG and 67.3% TS. Both are playing their role to perfection. A fun stat is that Jaquez is leading this team in shots at the rim and Robinson is slightly behind in fourth place.

All of those are key reasons why they’ve been able to step up in these last 10 games.

What’s also more encouraging is their stats by quarter:

  • 1st: 125.4 Off, 112.4 Def, +13.0 Net
  • 2nd: 116.9, 98.0, +18.9
  • 3rd: 126.0, 114.7, +11.3
  • 4th: 104.5, 113.4, -8.9

That is also a wild difference compared to what they’re like through the first 36 minutes and the last 12. Two completely different teams.

If you’re interested in seeing why they struggle to score in the fourth, I had a breakdown going through just that here.

But as good as they’ve been, I’m not sure if I can get there to say they’re there when it comes to genuinely competing for a championship — I don’t think they can’t pull it off, they seem to be in a better position than last year, but would still need a lot to go right for them.

There are still questions, even with how well they’ve been doing.

Although Kyle Lowry just had a wild game against the Cavaliers, it’s a valid concern about having him as the starting guard going forward. With that said, I think they’re still a perimeter scorer short. There’s Tyler Herro… and Robinson? Is that it? Not sure how I’d feel about that backcourt scoring.

Speaking of Herro, integrating him will be interesting to see how Erik Spoelstra goes about it. That’s going to be a significant change, especially when the rotations, the touches, and the usage distribution have been quite well so far.

BUT. I do think this can go so damn well. Take the first seven games of the season and throw that out. That doesn’t matter as much here. For one, we won’t be seeing Thomas Bryant again, when healthy. The rotations have now been entirely different and have fixed some of those early-season issues.

There’s Butler playing basketball much better. You have both Jaquez and Robinson being involved in the offense more. There are so many good things that can be even better with Herro once he gets back. Everything will just depend on his approach, but the upside is there.

But these questions are for way down the line, at least near the trade deadline. There shouldn’t be any conclusions being made 15 games into the season. There are trends that are showing, but that is all.

Things that Caught My Eye

The Cavaliers game was an odd one. This was a blow-out win with Butler not having to play the fourth quarter(second game in a row with him not playing). But it was how they did it.

Have a look at these stats for the Heat vs Cavaliers:

  • Offensive rating: 140.3 vs 109.7
  • True shooting: 65.3% vs 65.5%
  • Turnover: 8.3% vs 23.6%
  • Offensive rebounding: 33.3% vs 25.9%
  • 2pt: 20-for-43 vs 20-for-37
  • 3pt: 15-for-26 vs 10-for-18

The Cavaliers had a 109.7 offense but were more efficient. They shot well inside. They were on fire from downtown and yet they weren’t in this game

The only reason for that is the Heat completely won the possession battle. They had 22 more true shooting attempts. There’s no coming back from that when the team is on fire themselves. With the Heat hitting everything and getting 22 more opportunities, that’s a recipe for a blowout.

A couple of things have stood out in the Bulls games

First, you had the Butler isolation-oriented offense. I’m not that happy with this kind of offense. This is usually where the ball tends to stick and Butler tends to hold the ball for too much.

This kills most of the ball movement and movement in general. That’s my issue with it. Because you can see that it’s working in ways you’d want isolation offense to work. Butler is drawing help whether that’s through digs, showing help at the nail, overloading on the strong side, or straight-up doubling him.

That’s right there. That’s perfect. That’s creating the advantage. The issues come everywhere else. It starts with Butler needing to recognize and make some of those passes. It means he needs to execute better because I don’t think he’s been elite at this.

Though a lot of those issues are made worse because of everyone else. Four players are static. No off-ball screening. Poor IQ on cuts and movement. All of that compounds to make this offense less effective, as it gives Butler fewer options and makes his life harder.

On the other hand, you also had this:

This is a completely different offense. It’s an offense around Robinson and Adebayo running simple pick-and-roll actions. Everything was run through them and it worked.

A lot of it was created for Adebayo on the short roll. That’s how they created an advantage. Robinson’s gravity had the bigs step up significantly. That then opened up Adebayo on the roll and he was making plays out of that.

The last clip at the 1 minute 10-second mark. This was perfect. It was exactly the type of action you’d run with Butler too.

You have Robinson coming off a screen and that’s the defense he sees. Adebayo quickly slips and now, take a look at this screenshot:

That’s Adebayo on the short roll with a 4-3 advantage. Look at where each Bulls player is. They’re around the paint to stop Adebayo. Now, that makes it so much easier to get a good look. It all depends on what the defense does, but that still gives him many options.

Here, Zach LaVine is left in no man’s land. Coby White rotated off of Josh Richardson to help on the tag(as he should have). But then you have LaVine’s man, Jaquez taking advantage of that by cutting inside. That forces LaVine to make a decision. Stick with him and open up a kick, or do nothing and open up a cut.

This is also a classic Butler read from Jaqeuz.

That’s a great offense when you’re able to generate this kind of advantage. It’s offense like this with these players that make me feel better about Herro coming back. Replace Richardson with Herro. Or take turns with Herro running the PnR and have Robinson spacing.

We also had Jaquez play some great basketball — I’ll be going through his recent stretch in more detail!

Jaquez has impressed me the most with his all-around game on offense, particularly with him running the PNR.

Finally, some random stats and tidbits:

  • Out of 41 players with at least 30 pull-up 3s, Robinson is first in % with 52.8
  • Butler has a 23.8% frequency within 3ft — a career-low
  • On the other hand, he’s attempting the most 3s per 100 possessions since 2019 and he’s hitting 38.9%, which would be a career-high
  • Since the Hawks game, with Robinson and Adebayo on but without Butler, they’re attempting 30.0 shots at the rim(34.1% rim freq) — that would rank 5th and 4th respectively
  • Jaquez has a 44% rim freq in these last 10 games