The Launching Pad: Butler Flips the Switch with the 2nd Unit, Rotation Changes & Trade Deadline Thoughts

Insight4 months ago12 min readJohn Jablonka

Welcome, welcome, welcome! Here’s this week’s Launching Pad — a weekly round-up where you’ll get everything that you need to know about what happened with the Miami Heat. Everything here will bring you up to speed with all of the games and news you missed by expanding on all of that through deep dives, stats, discussions, analysis, and film breakdown.

The Heat You Missed!

To start off the round-up, we’ll be going through some of the basketball stuff that happened in the games from the week. Whether it’s going through particular plays, focusing on a player, or breaking down the main reason why they won or lost a game. The key here is focusing on the Xs & Os from the week

  • Record: W vs WAS, L vs LAC, W vs ORL, W vs SAS
  • Net rating: +8.7, per Cleaning the Glass
  • Offensive Rating: 113.1 (107.1, 101.1, 130.0, 115.20)
  • Defensive Rating: 104.4 (102.0, 109.6, 102.2, 104.0)

Finally, a winning record in the week — we haven’t had that in a while. It’s great that they took care of business against the teams that they should have beaten. It was great they took care of the Orlando Magic as well as they did and how they did it throughout the game. The Clippers game was frustrating in the end after being close for the most part until the fourth quarter.

One particular stat that stands out from this week is that defensive rating. That’s elite and because of that, I’ve seen some takes that the Heat’s defense is back to some extent. Now, for the most part, it did look like the defense stepped up or at least brushed up on the awful errors they were making. But at the same time, the quality of the opponent should matter. Having a great defense against the Wizards, Magic, and the Spurs needs to be added into the context.

The Heat aren’t a terrible defensive team. For the season, they’ve been average and a lot of that is because if they’re going against subpar teams, they can wreak havoc on that end and the opponent being incompetent on offense helps with that.

Speaking of defense, this worries me going forward with Terry Rozier.

Against the Magic, their plan later in the game was simple on offense — have Paolo Banchero hunt Rozier by any means. The only upside was that the Magic don’t have the talent, the spacing or the shooting to have maximized hunting that mismatch, so it didn’t hurt the Heat as much.

But you can see how Rozier was getting picked on repeatedly in screens to get him switched on, in cross-matches in early offense, and also being put in PNRs to put the Heat in rotation.

Look at the clip at the 1-minute mark where Rozier shows against Banchero. That forces Adebayo to step up on the short roll from Markelle Fultz and that opens up a lob for Wendell Carter Jr. That’s easy basketball for the Magic.

And that’s been the case even against the Knicks where they had both Julius Randle and Jalen Brunson doing the hunting.

Moving onto the Spurs game, three things stood out.

Firstly, it was the passiveness of Butler. He did end up with a triple-double but it was only with 17 points. He 100% looked like the usual Butler looking to be a facilitator instead of a scorer. That has its pluses and minuses.

The minuses is these possessions. Butler and the second unit struggled to put up points, in part because they were missing open, good looks from 3pt. But that’s also because they were entirely reliant on those looks because Butler was passive. Butler wasn’t looking to get himself involved in any of those actions, all he did was put himself in the corner and just let others try to “cook”.

The shots they got were either open, good shots or shots that you’d expect Robinson or Love to make. But they’ve been struggling to shoot for a while and at some point, you can’t keep going back to a high variance 3pt shot when you’re not putting up points.

At some point, Butler should just demand the ball to get into a different action — hell, it might get an open 3pt but it could be a completely different look in rhythm

That’s exactly what he did later in the game. These bench units with Butler give him everything that he needs — screeners to hunt mismatches and space to attack

When Butler is able to get himself going, he’s able to dictate whatever shot he wants or whatever shots he can create for others. He did that by attacking mismatches in isolations, in the post, and deciding on what to do after depending on what the defense did. That could’ve been an easy drive to the rim 1v1 or punishing the help by making solid reads. That’s exactly what he did in the fourth when he flipped the switch to attack mismatches and just be aggressive in getting to the rim.

What’s Been Heating Up!

Moving on to the main part of the round-up, this is where we look at some of the main topics, news, narratives, stats… anything that is worth going into for the week and dig deeper into them.

One major thing has stood out in this recent stretch and it started with that player’s only meeting plus the film sessions. In the four losses before the win against the Kings, things looked off.

And to me, a lot of it had to do with certain rotations and forcing certain things(this is a bigger topic, I’ll be diving into regarding their offense later this week). Even before the Rozier trade, it was clear Spoelstra wanted to run more Herro and Butler together and for the recent stretch, they played a lot. Against the Celtics, they only played together. Similar to the Herro with both Butler and Adebayo, that was a thing that wanted to be pushed and that didn’t fit as well.

All of this goes back to the idea that the big three don’t necessarily fit once they develop into players who need the ball in their hands. The offense doesn’t exactly work when Butler doesn’t have the highest usage or the most touches, which has been the case pretty much all season long.

That is still the case when they’re all on the floor but it happens less with rotation. Instead of it being over 25 minutes, it’s just under 20. That’s a five-minute stretch where it can be Butler carrying(like the way he did against the Spurs on his own before Herro checked in).

Hopefully, this is the rotation going forward with some other slight adjustments and tinkering with a few things here and there. Though the only change I’d want to see more of is MORE DUNCAN WITH ADEBAYO AND BUTLER!

So, the trade deadline has passed and Pat has stood Pat(for the most part). The only trade to have happened was a couple of weeks earlier for Rozier, which was a necessary and a great trade.

That also had to do more with replacing Kyle Lowry instead of what Rozier is himself. I didn’t think Lowry was some negative player who hurt the team by being on the court, but he also wasn’t a positive player who added much to the court. Sure, his ball handling and IQ on both ends was a positive considering who else the Heat had to handle those responsibilities. But it also wasn’t adding anything that the team really needed — it was just making them less bad.

That’s why the Rozier trade was needed. It’s still a small sample with Rozier and at the moment, I don’t think it’s added that much more yet. I don’t think he’s been that big of a positive player on offense for a number of different reasons, such as not making shots, his pick-and-roll game with Adebayo hasn’t been great, his finishing has been off, and right now, it still feels like he’s not fitting in right.

Though, I’m hopeful that this will work itself out with more time. Rozier isn’t this. He’s been a much different player in the last few years and I doubt he suddenly forgot all about that. He’s being used differently and that plays a huge part.

This was all something that should’ve been addressed in the off-season. There shouldn’t have been a point where the Heat didn’t have a competent starting guard. They shouldn’t have got this point in the first place — that’s the first point.

The second point is this wasn’t the only issue. The Heat still don’t have a starting caliber wing that fits on both ends with what they need to do. I don’t know how much faith I can have in Caleb Martin, Haywood Highsmith, and Kevin Love being the frontcourt rotation. That’s one of the main issues for this team with them still being undersized.

I don’t see how the Heat are in much of a different spot than they were at the beginning of the year. They have the same glaring issues without addressing them at all. It all feels very similar to last year and I know they did make the finals but that isn’t something to be banking on. How they pulled that off matters and that’s not a sustainable formula, they didn’t give themselves any margin of error, and the opponents are also better. This is again hoping for a big miracle.

Now, realistically, there weren’t going to be many moves available because they were never going to part ways with Herro and that was the only way to actually mix things up on the team.

That’s why I’m not entirely disappointed by the lack of moves at the deadline because they were limited in what they could do, it’s the frustrating part is the fact that they were limited in the first place.

But heading into the rest of the season and looking ahead to the playoffs, my level of optimism isn’t as high. Even in the best-case scenario with Butler turning into one of the best players in the world, I still see too many holes and too many solutions in theory that could help.

When it comes to the offense, that’s more about it working in theory. There’s a lot of moving pieces that still need to work itself out. How will the offense look when Butler averages over 70 touches, has a 30% usage, and dominates the ball? Will everyone else adjust to that and how will that look? How will the rotations look seeing as it’s been an experiment throughout the season? That’s all under the impression that Butler will be the usual Butler.

When it comes to the defense, though, that’s the thing that worries me the most. Their defense already slipped up last year and they didn’t get better on that end at all — if anything they got worse. And I have no idea how they’d be facing a lot of these teams.

Most importantly, we’re over 50 games into the season and I don’t have a good idea about their identity.

Things That Caught My Eye!

Finally, before finishing off the roundup, here’s just a bunch of tidbits, stats, individual plays, and any little thing that I found interesting, shocking, encouraging, disappointing, or things to track

  • A 3 man action with Rozier, Herro, and Adebayo breakdown. These were three interesting actions to get both Rozier and Herro playing off of one another. All three actions are set up in a similar with either guy handing it off then flowing into whatever action

  • They’re finally forcing turnovers again — 15.2%, 17.6%, 18.1%. That’s their last three games in opponent turnover percentage. Before that, it was 9.1%, 9.3%, 8.4%, 6.7%. Forcing turnovers is key for their defense and without it, they struggle. Good to see that getting back up to their usual numbers
  • The Heat remain one of the worst teams shooting inside the arc with 51.9% ranking 27th, ahead of only the Hornets, Grizzlies, and Blazers. 2pt percentage is correlated with efficient offense
  • Related to that, in their last five games, they’re shooting 56.4%, which would rank 8th in general
  • Here’s Butler’s EPM moving average over the season. He’s looking much better and it seems he turned the corner where now we see the usual Butler in the regular season