The Launching Pad: Butler-Zeller Connection, Duncan being Duncan, Getting Bam Involved

Insight2 months ago10 min readJohn Jablonka

Hi, and welcome back to our Miami Heat weekly round-up: The Launching Pad! Each week, I’ll be going over key observations and trends, breaking down some film, and giving my overall thoughts on the week. You can find all of it here, every Monday.

The Stats & Weekly Thoughts

It’s been a while since the last Launching Pad and a lot has happened since then. It’s been so long that the Heat have only four games left and they very well could have six total games left in this entire season.

Unfortunately, the Heat found themselves on the outside looking in when it comes to getting the top-6 seed. Currently, they’re seventh with a 41-37 record and are our 1.5 games back from the Brooklyn Nets. Going from the first seed to potentially not knowing if they make the playoffs is fun.

The Heat were comfortably a top-6 team around mid-January. It seemed like things were starting to click. They were plus 3.5, had a 10-5 record, and had the best defense in that month. Although they still struggled with their offense(ranked 26th), the hope was to have the 3pt shooting improve slightly and combine that with the defense.

However, they followed that month by going 4-6 in February and 7-8 in March. Everything flipped post-All-Star Break, especially on the defensive end.

As much as the offense has been the issue all season long, this team won’t be winning games if they try to outscore the opponent. This team will have to win on defense. And a lot of that comes down to trust. I don’t trust this team on offense.

Although they have statistically been a great offense and had high-scoring games, the process hasn’t been there. There’s been a lot of tough shot-making.

Pre All-Star break, the Heat have shot 35.0% from the field and 41.2% from 2pt on shots in the last four seconds of the shot clock. Post All-Star break, that jumped to 40.1% and 51.6%. That’s a pretty significant jump that can skew the numbers because of shots that can go either way.

That’s why some of their offensive numbers can be a bit misleading to think they’re a good offense now. So, combine some flukey offensive games with an awful defense, and that’s how you find yourself being in the play-in.

The Heat had all of the opportunities to secure the sixth seed. They lost to the New York Knicks twice because of poor defense. They lost to the Nets because they gave up 76 points across two quarters. They lost to the Orlando Magic in overtime. The chances were and they blew it.

Now, their best chance is to get the seventh seed and hopefully get the Atlanta Hawks.

Looking at some stats(post ASB & the last 10 games):

  • Record: 9-10 | 5-5
  • Net Rating: -3.9 | -2.3 per Cleaning the Glass
  • Offensive Rating: 115.6 | 117.7
  • Defensive Rating: 119.4 | 120.0

A Butler-Zeller Connection

I don’t think anyone could have predicted what we saw happen against the Dallas Mavericks. Jimmy Butler going off for 35 points, 3 rebounds, and 12 assists on 84.0% true shooting was already a WOW performance, but it was how he did it — or rather who he run the most actions with.

Right from the tip, Butler made a clear decision to go out aggressively and actively look for his shot. After the poor performance in a very much-needed win against the New York Knicks in the previous game, there was no messing about from Butler.

Butler has already shown how elite of a player he can be, but he still finds ways to just make me laugh with just how good he really is. Although it’s just one metric on Basketball Reference, this was his highest game score in the regular season for the Heat with 37.7 — and the 3rd highest in his career.

So, to start the game he was looking to get his by running a lot of picks with Cody Zeller.

His first action of the game was a pick-and-roll with Zeller. Kyrie Irving decides to go under, but that’s not a good decision with Butler already going downhill. What makes it easier is the Mavericks’ rim protection after that is who? Reggie Bullock or Luka Doncic?

Butler was able to get right to the rim with ease and there was little that the Mavericks could do to stop him once he got there. And once the mid-range started to fall, there was literally nothing else you could do to stop him from getting to his spots and making every shot.

This was expected. Butler averages 25.8 points per 75 possessions on 67.3% true shooting in games without Bam Adebayo. What wasn’t expected is Zeller having his highest-scoring game since 10th October 2019. It’s been over three years!

Butler was able to find him almost every single time they run the PnR. Because at this point, Butler already had 14pts in just under six minutes, the defense was going to be focused on him(plus it’s not like the defense was going to be sending help at Zeller’s rolls).

Butler was keeping both the ball-handler and the dropping big engaged, patiently waiting to have Zeller roll to the basket, and with the Mavericks’ choice of staying with the shooters plus poor defense in general, it was a bucket every time.

Duncan is Still Duncan

After Max Strus draws 3 fouls in just under three minutes of playing time, he checked out and never saw the court. But do you know what that meant? It’s Duncan Robinson’s time.

It’s been a rare occurrence with Robinson seeing the court for a decent amount of minutes. The last time he played at least 20 minutes was on 15th February. The last time he played 25 or more minutes was all the way back on 20th December. So, any time he sees the court, he knows that it may be a while until the next time.

Luckily, this was one of his best games this season, as he finished with 12 points shooting 4-for-7 from the field. And he still does everything that he’s always done and still gets all the defensive attention — which is quite surprising that he hasn’t been in the rotation.

One of his best skills is him being an active screener on or off the ball.

In the first play, Heat go into delay with Adebayo having the ball at the top of the perimeter. Next, you have Robinson set a backscreen for Butler, but you can see that Immanuel Quickley doesn’t want to lose him. He doesn’t want to switch and potentially give up the dribble hand-off.

In the next play, he’s setting a pick for Victor Oladipo but this time RJ Barrett really didn’t want to let go of Robinson.

Robinson being such a lethal threat as a shooter is so dangerous that players don’t want to lose him for a second. And instead, he creates open looks for players without ever touching the ball.

You also have your usual Robinson-Adebayo DHO and I think by now you know what’s going to happen. His defender will try to go over and stay attached, as the defensive big will likely show up to take away the pull-up. Robinson has two on the ball, which opens up Adebayo on the short roll. Then a great relocation from Tyler Herro, and now you get yourself a clean look.

Robinson also showcased some moves on and off the ball to score himself.

In the first play, he gets the extra pass from Oladipo. That draws a hard closeout from Obi Toppin with him jumping out to take away the 3pt shot. He attacked the closeout well, gave a little fake on the drive, and had a good finish at the rim(unfortunately, Zeller obviously had to foul).

The second play was the most impressive. The play again starts with him getting the ball, beating a hard closeout, and getting to the paint. He drew Isaiah Hartenstein to step up, and Josh Hart sinks down to Adebayo, so that’s a wide-open kick to Oladipo. That itself was great, but the play doesn’t stop there. He doesn’t stop moving once he passed. He immediately relocates to the corner for a wide-open 3.

It’s insane to see how defenses still treat him despite him not playing games and having an awful shooting season.

Getting Bam Involved

Guards screening for Adebayo has been a very common thing in the past month or so. The interesting bit now has been the frequency and how quickly they get into those sets.

In the game against the Toronto Raptors, that was the very first play. There was a double screen for Oladipo as Gabe Vincent went to set a cross screen for Adebayo inside the paint to get him post position.

That’s what’s great about it and something a little different compared to the previous screens for him.

In the next two plays, Vincent sets 2 similar screens — but note the difference in where Kevin Love is placed and the angle of the screen — which aims to have Adebayo come off it and get right into the post against a mismatch.

That didn’t work as well earlier in the game with Jakob Poeltl recovering well, though. However, the Heat adapted first by having Vincent set a backscreen instead of a pindown and also by having Love closer to the wing. That forces Scottie Barnes to show, which allows Adebayo to have that mismatch. He then can drive to the rim and draw three defenders inside.

There’s been a clear emphasis on running more actions for Adebayo for various shots — whether it’s hunting mismatches in the post or coming off a pindown to curl into a jumper.

Unable to Capitalise on Advantages

In their second matchup, the Mavericks went away from what worked perfectly in their previous game. They barely doubled Butler — though a lot of that could be with the change in where and how Butler got the ball.

However, on the times they did send a double or simply show extra help, the Heat haven’t been able to fully take advantage of the situation.

And I think the blame is on both Butler and the team. There have been many games now with Butler drawing that kind of help and I haven’t seen him be able to punish that consistently. It doesn’t look like he’s capable of beating such traps or doubles by keeping the dribble alive, stretching them out, or making higher-level reads.

On the other hand, the team isn’t giving him many options either. There aren’t many high-level reads open, to begin with. Everyone else seems very stationary and not aware of what they should do. That’s why most often, it’s a simple pass to the nearest player and the defense can recover.