The Launching Pad: Delon’s Debut, Duncan’s Growth, Stopping Zion & Heat’s Defense

Insight3 months ago13 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 main basketball stuff that happened in the games from the week. Whether it’s thoughts from the games, 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

Games from the week

  • 106-95 win vs New Orleans Pelicans
  • 121-110 win vs Sacramento Kings
  • 106-96 win vs Portland Trailblazers
  • 97-103 loss vs Denver Nuggets

Stats from the week:

  • Offensive rating: 112.3(110.4, 127.4, 115.2, 96.9)
  • Defensive rating: 105.5(98.9, 115.8, 103.2, 104.1)
  • Record & net rating: 3-1, +6.8


This was a pretty good way to come out of the All-Star break. Three straight wins and a very close loss against the Nuggets. This easily could’ve been an undefeated week against three good teams.

We started off the week with some elite defense against Zion Williamson. That whole game against the Pelicans made the game in the mud. It was your typical Heat game that was slow, grind it out, and make tough shots. And thanks to Bam Adebayo, that’s exactly what they did down the stretch.

Moving onto the Kings, that was also a typical Heat game, except this was a different typical Heat game. This was the, missing three of your top players and almost winning convincing. A great offensive effort, getting huge leads, Adebayo playing like the clear best player on the court, and Jaime Jaquez Jr playing like a star.

The Blazers game was closer than it should’ve been. Starting off cold on offense, Butler was passive, and nothing was working. That and the Blazers started to heat up. Fortunately, Butler flipped the switch and Duncan Robinson hit some shots.

Finally, we get to the Denver game where this should’ve been a win. Everything went right for the Heat. They stepped up defensively. Jamal Murray had to leave early with an injury. Nikola Jokic was struggling. Their offense disappeared. But so did the Heat with Butler not turning it up and deferring to Terry Rozier to carry the team.

At this point, each win is important. The Heat can easily go from being in the top 4 to being in the play-in in just a matter of a single game. Wherever there’s a win that you can get, that needs to be a priority. You don’t want to put yourself in that hole where you have to crawl out of it.

Now, let’s go through some basketball!

  • Stopping Williamson
  • Delon Wright’s debut
  • Duncan’s offensive growth

Against the Pelicans, the Heat shot 13-for-29 from 3pt. That’s 44.8%. They also shot 25-for-53 from 2pt. That’s 47.1%. They also had a 21.7% offensive rebound percentage. The offense was in the mud. That’s why they had a 110.0 offensive rating, but that matters less when the Pelicans had a 98.6 rating.

The reason for that was their defense against Williamson. He finished with only 23 points on 9-for-22 shooting and attempted only 6 free throws. This was an awful game for Williamson and that’s all thanks to the elite team and individual defense the Heat employed:

The whole idea was to create walls of players wherever he wanted to force them into tougher shots. Each time he attacked, he was met with at least two players and at times three around him. That wall prevented deeper drives, which encouraged shots outside of the restricted area. That’s where he usually feasts and they’ve taken that away.

This will not only force him into tougher shots, but it forced him to pass too:

Seeing so many bodies early, seeing stunts, digs, doubles, and guys just lunging at him from every direction forced him to pick up the ball and make the pass. The Heat were doing everything that screamed anyone but Williamson. At times, they just didn’t guard whoever was near just to help. And that worked. The Pelicans had no offense outside of Williamson.

They also had to send that kind of help otherwise this happened:

If you don’t send help or if they let him get whatever matchup he wants, this is what happens. He will either get the shots that he wants at the rim or will require more help and that will open up easier shots.

But overall, this was one of the best defensive performances against an elite offensive weapon, and the Heat just did one hell of a job taking him out of the game completely

The Heat did it again. They found a great buyout player. Wright made his debut against the Kings and it was felt. He did his job in his role as well as he was meant to on both ends of the floor:

On offense, without Butler or Tyler Herro, he was tasked with a lot more pick-and-rolls than you’d expect but he made basically every single read correctly. He executed those actions so well and it led to many good looks.

In the first clip, it’s a PNR with Adebayo. The Kings ice it and have Domantas Sabonis in a drop. So, he attacks right away, gets a paint touch then makes the pass to the corner for a Haywood Highsmith triple. Similar action in the next play, but you can see his good decision-making. Once he sees Sabonis on the other side, and realizes Davion Mitchell wants him to use the screen, he hits him with a good cross where he’s able to reject the screen. Now, he has a step on Mitchell, gets a drive, paint touch, and freezes Keegan Murray as he makes a kick to Highsmith again.

In the fourth clip, it’s another open look. This time, it’s with Trey Lyles showing but he’s still able to drag him out, keep two defenders engaged, force the tag to help on Adebayo and make the kick to Cole Swider for 3. In both, the fifth and sixth clips, you have him showing off his own self-creation.

But it’s the last two clips that impressed me a lot, especially with what he could do off the ball with other ball handlers. He attacked those closeouts perfectly. He didn’t wait for the pass and wait for the defense to reset. He didn’t kill the advantage. He didn’t hesitate. He didn’t make a wrong read. All he did was catch the ball on the go and was able to keep the advantage and drive. That’s how you keep the advantage going and create more shots.

Defensively, he was everywhere:

You can see his active hands, his defense against drives, his great awareness to quickly react to cutters when needing to help, and how he’s able to recover even when he was out of the play. This is the kind of defense that the Heat need the most and it will be fun to see him defensively more than offensively.

It’s been 54 games and seeing Robinson expand his game still catches me off guard. Here are his last three games:

  • 12 points and 3 assists on 3/3 2pt, 2/6 3pt
  • 17 points and 3 assists on 1/2 2pt, 4/6 3pt
  • 4 points and 11 assists on 1/5 2pt, 0/6 3pt

That’s three different games and that’s the growth. He’s having an impact in various. It’s not just with his elite 3-point shooting. When was the last time he went 1-for-11 and still made an impact because he had 11 assists? Never. Or making more 2pt than 3pt.

In the Kings game with every other ball handler out, he was responsible for running a lot more PNRs and creating shots off movement and it worked. In the Nuggets game, he was attacking off the dribble to get himself to the rim. None of those highlights is him getting 3s off handoffs

But it’s the Blazers game that I want to highlight. That’s the game where he was a big reason they went on a run after his big 3rd quarter.

In the first play, the Heat pushed the pace. He gets the ball on the wing and looks to attack immediately. Beats his guy off the dribble, drives baseline, forces help, and makes a kick to Nikola Jovic. That’s action number one because as soon as he does that, he relocates like a madman and the ball finds him back again on the other side of the court for an open triple.

In the second clip, he sets a ghost screen for Rozier and as his defender looks to recover back to the 3pt line, he doesn’t waste any time but catches the ball on the go and attacks baseline again for another kick to Butler for 3pt. How many times have we seen Robinson be the one creating 3s for Butler?

In the third clip, there’s an advantage after Adebayo gets doubled and with a cut from Jovic. The ball gets swung and now Robinson gets the ball, immediately attacks the defender off the catch, drives middle, and makes yet another kick to the corner.

His movement was special in the first place. Now, his movement and his ability to put the ball down like this consistently change so much for this team and how he should be guarded.

What’s Been Heating Up!

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

So, the Heat’s defense… that’s been getting better. Before the calendar year, the Heat were 12th on defense, per PBP Stats. Though a lot of the time it didn’t feel like they were that sharp defensively. That has changed and has only gotten better.

Since January 1st(27 games), they are fourth(since February they’re also the best defense)! And so many other stats go in their favor that would suggest it’s sustainable and it’s them getting back on track. It’s a lot of the things we know that the Heat have done well in the past.

For starters, they are second in opponent frequency at the rim and have improved when it comes to their rim protection too. Opponents only shoot 66.6% at the rim — that’s around average.

Here are their defensive stats compared to pre and since January 1st:

  • Defensive rating: 114.4 → 112.2(105.7! since February 1st)
  • eFG%: 55.9% → 53.7%
  • TS%: 58.6% → 56.6%
  • Rim FGA per 100 possessions: 24.0 → 19.2
  • Rim frequency: 27.2% → 21.3%
  • Rim FG%: 70.4% → 66.6%
  • TOV%: 14.7% → 14.1%
  • Live ball TOVs per 100: 7.7 → 7.7
  • ORB%: 26.3% → 26.1%

Here’s a tweet:

This is the first time that the Heat have been so good when it comes to preventing shots at the rim but also not being horrible whenever they let guys at the rim.

A lot of that has to do with Adebayo being in drop. The Heat have gone away from switching the way did in previous years and it has worked. That’s a lot of credit to Adebayo for being not only one of the most versatile defenders that can execute any scheme but also one of the best defenders period. How many defenders can be multiple schemes and do it effectively?

The Heat’s defense to me this year at times felt a lot like effort and communication issues. For the most part, this is the same core they’ve had over the last few years. They didn’t suddenly get worse defenders. They also haven’t forgotten defensive IQ either. That’s why at times it has felt like this hasn’t been the same team because they were all making mistakes they never really make.

Though I do have question marks against some teams defensively, especially ones that have multiple different types of players that can hunt matchups effectively,

Things That Caught My Eye!

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

  • Bam’s best overall game vs the Kings as a scorer and facilitator

This was one of the most impressive games from Adebayo. With the Heat missing key players, a lot was going to fall into his hands to do what’s necessary.

And what stood out to me is how effectively he balanced being a scorer without forcing and settling for shots, but also knew when to pick defenses apart with his passes. With no Butler, Herro, or Rozier, the offense was going to be a lot of movement, cutting, and handoffs, that’s where he did a great job organizing everything and making passes that made the offense work. But also, throughout and at the end of the game, knew just when to pick his own spots.

  • JJJ’s highlights vs Kings

I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen a rookie or anyone this young look so damn good in the post, have great footwork and just look so unbothered. This whole game from Jaime Jaquez Jr was something else and the Heat really needed all of that tough shot-making from him