The Launching Pad: Duncan Making Defenses Scared, Is This The Best Team in the Butler Era? Orlando!

Insight3 months ago14 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!

A very short week when it comes to games. With the Heat unfortunately not in the in-season tournament, they did have four days off, which kind of was needed.

There were only games of Heat basketball. One was easily the worst loss of the season. The other one was an impressive shorthanded win because of three key contributors — none of whom were Jimmy Butler.

Duncan Robinson making defenses scared, Butler’s ISOs, Terrible defense vs the Indiana Pacers

On the bright side of this loss is the Heat’s offense can step up against bad teams and put up points. They did have a 134.3 offensive rating but with a 16.3-second pace(entirely different from how they generated offense compared to their first game against the Pacers).

Unfortunately, they somehow had a worse defensive performance in this game, where the Pacers were without Tyrese Haliburton. I always knew that TJ McConnell is the real MVP of the Pacers, especially when he plays against the Heat.

Let’s start with positives(kind of). Their offense was interesting because statistically, they did have an elite offense, but it still didn’t feel as if it was that great.

This was a balanced effort:

  • Jimmy Butler: 33 points
  • Caleb Martin: 18 PTS
  • Duncan Robinson: 17 PTS
  • Orlando Robinson: 16 PTS
  • Josh Richardson: 16 PTS
  • Kevin Love: 14 PTS
  • Jaime Jaquez Jr: 11 PTS

But as mentioned above, this didn’t feel elite and a lot of it had to do with where and how they got their points. They only had eight attempts at the rim! A big difference compared to their previous game where they had 24.

One of the reasons for that was this:

It was a lot of this forced isolation and honestly, struggling with it. The Pacers did a great job defending Butler, mainly with Toppin.

The positive on offense was Robinson leading both teams in scoring in the first half:

It’s honestly wild to see these types of shots from him. In the first clip, you have Duncan coming off a handoff from Orlando and he curls to the paint for the floater.

The fourth play is my favorite. Gets denied on the screen, so he counters by back-cutting (that could’ve and probably should’ve been a pass from Orlando). That doesn’t stop there with Duncan. He continues to move and when his defender thinks he can relax for a second, Duncan speeds up, comes off a screen from Richardson, into a dribble handoff with Jaquez, and again curls to the paint for the floater.

That constant movement with purpose, reading what the defense is giving you, and making the offense flow better by seamlessly moving into other actions and also getting into the paint is huge.

In the last two clips, that’s what you’re going to get once the defense is quite literally scared of Robinson.

This is how he’s being guarded many feet beyond the 3pt line. Then, once the screen comes, this is how the defensive big reacts:

LIKE WHAT?!

This is Duncan forcing the defense to guard him as if he was Stephen Curry. That opens up Orlando on the roll, he easily makes that pocket pass and that corner 3 from Jaquez is generated by Duncan.

Similar to the last clip, he’s also drawing two defenders with Martin screening for him:

That’s gravity for you.

They still lost, though. That was because this was one of the worst defensive performances I’ve ever seen. There were two biggest culprits on defense — point of attack and transition defense. I know they were without Bam Adebayo, but that doesn’t excuse everything else that happened.

This. All of that can’t happen. There shouldn’t be multiple possessions with players getting to the rim in less than eight seconds AFTER A MAKE. There was nothing good about the defense.

Orlando’s defense Vs Toronto Raptors

After a four-day break, we were gifted a road game against the Raptors(which we all know is going to the same game every time) without Adebayo again.

This was a tale of two halves for the most part. The first half, it was all about the offense for both teams — the Heat had a 133.3 offensive rating, and the Raptors with a 137.5.

For the Heat, it was all about Martin, as he scored 15 points of their 37. He was cooking from deep and capitalizing on advantages perfectly. A good reason for that was with the Heat pushing pace and being able to put the defense in rotations that way. Then, all Martin had to do was finish plays or take advantage of a moving defense.

The Raptors had a slower start — only hitting 3/10 to start the game. That had to do with the type of help they were seeing. On every drive and on post-ups, there were multiple guys in the paint. Though they quickly flipped with the Raptors then going 9-for-10. A lot of that had to do with the Raptors’ adjustment with having OG Anunoby being one pass away as opposed to Dennis Schroder. That either resulted in an open 3pt or took away that extra help.

Let’s not even get started on their defense in the second quarter where the Raptors had a 141.7 ORTG — that was as a result of giving up 2 3s in a zone, helping off the strongside corner, and poor point of attack, which created open 3s.

Once that first half ended, it felt like both the Heat and the Raptors remembered that this wasn’t their game, especially when they go against one another. The Heat’s ORTG dropped to 96.0 and the Raptors… 74.0.

A big part of that was turnovers for the Raptors, as they had a 22.0% TOV in this half, but it was more Orlando doing it all on defense. HE was the key reason for giving them elite possessions after possessions. This was one of his most impressive defensive games.

It starts early in the third(in the second clip). He doesn’t do anything that resulted in a stop(it was a travel on Scottie Barnes), but you can see he was there ready to help Duncan in case Barnes was going to drive. He recognizes that early is key going forward.

The third clip stood out too. He was defending Jakob Poeltl near the wing. Butler sunk to take the drive. Orlando was able to deter a pass enough from the corner by being around that area, but still be able to take the second pass and deflect it for a steal(he had four deflections).

In the fourth clip, you can see the importance of what he was doing in the first clip. There’s a mismatch with Kyle Lowry and Barnes. Barnes is in the exact position he was against Duncan, but that doesn’t matter because Orlando is there READY to help and deter a shot at the rim. Same thing in the following two clip. He’s there ready to contest and help against a mismatch and to force a steal.

But it was the clip at the 40s that impressed me the most. It starts with Orlando in a drop against Schroder. That advantage is gone. Then, he’s able to recover back to the roll and take the second advantage. Poeltl kicks it out. Pascal Siakam has an open drive, so Orlando is there to help and deter another shot. That’s THREE different advantages all being taken away in one possession.

This defense kept them in the game until the Robinson brothers saved the game in the fourth(more on that below).

This was as good of a game as you can get missing Adebayo and Butler not being his usual self. This was your typical Butler coasting and getting others involved type of game.

What’s Been Heating Up!

The biggest story that’s going to be quite concerning is what happens with Adebayo missing time. If it’s anything like the few games so far this season have shown is it’s troubling.

These have been the stats in games with Adebayo not playing. Currently, this season, it’s looking like:

  • 2-3
  • +0.6 net
  • 119.8 ORTG
  • 119.2 DRTG

It’s interesting to see how everything flipped so far in this season(albeit a small sample). In previous seasons, it was usually the offense that fell off in games without Adebayo, but their defense remained quite easily above average. That’s nowhere near the case so far. They’ve had much more defensive issues with or without him.

They have almost 120 DRTG in those five full games without Adebayo. That’s unprecedented. That’s kind of a significant worry if he continues to be missing time. I’m not sure if banking on their offense being this good(it’s also inflated going up against the Pacers and two wild games against the Bucks and the Cavaliers).

Staying on this point about defense, I wonder if a lot of that has to do with them not switching as much. They’ve gone away from that significantly compared to previous years and I can see arguments why they did so.

I do think this adjustments makes them worse statistically in the regular season but I also don’t think this is a bad adjustment either. Switching constantly tires everyone out and this could’ve been a reason why everyone was struggling shooting last year. Maybe this is a short term loss and a tradeoff for better shooting and an adjustment saved for the playoffs.

But what’s also been encouraging when it comes to the Adebayo news is Orlando has been looking pretty damn good. It’s a small sample that can be easily skewed but the Heat have a +17 net in 129 minutes with Orlando on. They have 108 defenses, allowing 66% at the rim on only 19 attempts.

I’m not saying he’s going to save them but as we can see with their stats without Adebayo in previous years, they did survive with less.

This kind of brings me to the last point that I’ve seen on Twitter. This is the best team in the Butler era, but the only thing that’s hurting them are injuries.

So, I looked into their stats when both Butler and Adebayo are playing and when they’re all on the court together:

It’s interesting how the team is better but simply according to net rating, they’d be the third-best team.

Things That Caught My Eye

Okay, we really need to be talking about Duncan a lot more. He has been getting more recognition. I am seeing way more Duncan praise from so many different accounts on Twitter and even through national media people. But at the same time, it still hasn’t been said enough about what he’s been doing.

Everyone now is aware of his improvements, how his game has changed dramatically, and how we’re basically seeing a different Duncan. But it’s what that translate to the team that’s now impressive.

We’re seeing multiple games where he won the Heat the game in one way or another:

This happened against the Raptors. He did his thing in the fourth where the game was still within reach. He was coming off staggers flowing into DHOs with Orland and finding him on the roll or against a mismatch. It was him hitting two key 3s. But it was also that last play that showcase his IQ and his willingness to be a great off ball player. He goes to set a double screen for Butler. Schroder decides to come up early, and that was all Duncan had to see for him to make that read and cut instead.

These are his stats as a starter!

  • 20 points per 75 possessions on 64% eFG and 65% TS
  • 54% on 7 2pt per 100 with 58% being assisted
  • 47% on 11 3pt with 79% being assisted

The Heat are also +11 net with a 124 ORTG in 354 min with him on.

I’ve talked about Orlando multiple already but he has impressed me a lot, outside of just defense. He’s been looking great on offense too, doing his job just as he should — nothing more, nothing less, and is doing all the little things that you’d need from a backup big.

In the last two games, he’s combined for 31 points on 8-for-15 2pt, 4-for-5 3pt, and 3-for-3 FT with 7 assists:

I found this interesting when I was going through a bunch of Herro’s stats:

His efficiency on different 3pt looks — off the dribble, no dribble, catch and shoot, and pull-ups. There are significant drop-offs whenever it’s him attempting to create a shot.

Finally, now that we’ve passed the 20-game mark, this is how the Heat have looked compared to previous years:

Quite disappointing and it’s looking awfully similar to last year, except their defense and offense flipped…which is another strange reason.