The Launching Pad: Whiteside Conundrum, TJ Struggling, & Dion Becoming A Reliable Rim Finisher

Insight5 years ago7 min readNekias Duncan

Welcome to The Launching Pad, a weekly roundup of Miami Heat basketball. Who’s playing well, and who should pick it up? What numbers should you be watching? What was that beautiful play Miami ran in the second quarter? You can find all of it here, every Monday.

The Stats (weekly stats in parentheses) 

• Record: 6-7 (2-2, 10th place in East)

• Offensive Rating: 100.5 (97.1)

• Defensive Rating: 102.6 (99.2)

• Pace: 100.15 (100.76)

• True-Shooting Percentage: 54.8 (53.3)

All stats through 11/13/17

Lineup of the Week (min. 10 minutes)

Goran Dragic, Dion Waiters, Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow, Hassan Whiteside

• Minutes: 35

• Offensive Rating: 109.9

• Defensive Rating: 69.4 (nice)

• Pace: 105.55

• True-Shooting Percentage: 58.8

The Big Number: 8.2

Miami didn’t make big changes to their roster this summer, so one would imagine they wouldn’t alter their approach much. They’re still a drive-and-kick offense, but they’ve gone about it a little differently. They’re relying less on the pick-and-roll; instead, they’re attacking more from dribble-handoffs.

Through 13 games, 8.2 percent of Miami’s offense has come from DHOs—the second-highest mark in the league—and up from last year’s mark of 5.7 percent (seventh). They’re generating 0.93 points per possession on those—also good for seventh in the league.

James Johnson and Kelly Olynyk have been Miami’s primary weapons. Both have a way of completing the handoff while also screening the guard’s man, creating open looks. Olynyk’s ability to fake and move has proven to throw defenders off.

More, please.

Weekly Trends

1. The Hassan Whiteside Conundrum 

FACT: Hassan Whiteside is one of the most talented centers in the NBA. He’s currently one of the best finishers, rebounders and shot blockers in the NBA, and has worked incredibly hard to expand his offensive repertoire. When he’s on his game, there aren’t many bigs that can affect a game like he can.

FACT: Whiteside botches so many of the simple things. His impact often falls (well) behind the numbers he puts up. Even though he has undoubtedly improved from a skill perspective, he doesn’t always run the floor hard, doesn’t work to establish deep positioning and his effort and decision-making wanes when things don’t go his way.

He played 16 minutes against Golden State on Nov. 7 because of his poor effort. He rarely screened, took bad shots and just looked … out of it. Fatigue played a factor, but some of the stuff we saw was inexcusable.

Look at these shots:

Look at the “screen” and how “hard” he “rolled” to the basket here:

If Whiteside made any sort of contact on the screen, it would’ve given Goran Dragic a one-on-one against Zaza Pachulia. Maybe Dragic gets to the rim and finishes, or maybe he takes a pull-up jumper. Heck, even if he missed the shot, Pachulia would’ve had to contest, which would’ve opened up an offensive rebound opportunity for Whiteside against a smaller defender.

Peep this play from Miami’s epic third quarter against the Utah Jazz on Friday:

Whiteside sets, and holds, a good screen to spring Dion Waiters free on the pick-and-roll. Waiters missed a tough shot at the rim against Rudy Gobert, but Gobert’s contest took him out of position for the rebound. Whiteside was matched up against Joe Ingles under the rim and things went about how you’d expect it to.

Whiteside only scored eight points against Utah, but that was probably his best game of the season. He grabbed 20 boards, swatted three shots and challenged many others. He sprung guys free with screens and didn’t force the issue himself.

Miami needs Whiteside to stay within himself like that. Screen hard, roll harder and clean the glass if the opportunity is there. Defensively, get in a stance, rotate on time and contest everything. The occasional mid-range jumper, turnaround jumper or catch-block should be considered a bonus.

2. Should we be worried about Tyler Johnson?

This is a big year for Johnson. His contract balloons next year, so this season will go a long way in determining if Miami should keep him for the remainder of his deal or if he can boost his trade value enough to move him for something solid at the deadline on Feb.8 (two weeks earlier than last season) or later on this summer.

Johnson has been fine defensively. He’s nearly averaging a steal and a block and has hounded guys on the perimeter. His wingspan will always be a problem, but he makes up for it with a never-ending motor and improved discipline.

Offensively, Johnson has been a bit of a mess. He’s only shooting 35.4 percent from the field and 30.4 percent from deep. His true-shooting percentage (48.0) is by far the worst of his career and it’d be even lower if he wasn’t hitting free throws at a career-high rate (92 percent).

Johnson has been uncharacteristically bad on open looks. He’s shooting a combined 24-of-75 (32 percent) on “open” (nearest defender four-to-six feet away) and “wide open” (nearest defender six-plus feet away) shots so far, including a 31.4 percent clip (16-of-51) from 3-point range.

That should pick up just off the strength of regression, however, the more concerning thing to me is how he’s been used.

Johnson isn’t a backup point guard. He doesn’t have the vision to throw guys open, nor does he have enough shake to generate good looks for himself. He’s a secondary attacker that can feast when defenses have already been shifted.

James Johnson pretty much monopolized the ball with the second unit last week and it paid dividends for Tyler (41.7 percent from 3). This is worth tracking moving forward.

3. Dion Waiters is finishing at the rim

Before this season, Waiters had never finished at the rim at a high level. He had never finished at an average level. In fact, he had been well below average in every season of his career. Here are his percentages on shots inside of three feet, courtesy of Basketball-Reference:

• 2012-13: 53.8 percent

• 2013-14: 52.5 percent

• 2014-15: 50.8 percent

• 2015-16: 51.5 percent

• 2016-17: 50.7 percent

• 2017-18: 65 percent

I’m not sure what’s more ridiculous: The fact that Waiters has jumped darn-near 15 percentage points from last year, or the fact he had never converted 54 percent of his shots in any season? I’m leaning towards the latter.

All signs point to this number dropping quite a bit as the year goes on, but I’m pretty optimistic. He looks to be more in control on his drives and his release point is higher. The fact that he’s not flinging off-balance layups from shoulder-level is encouraging.

Set Play of the Week

Justise Winslow (finally) running a high pick-and-roll

The play kicks off with Dragic running an Iverson cut from the left wing. Phoenix snuffs it out, likely anticipating Miami to flow into a side pick-and-roll. But to be fair, Miami runs similar action for Dion Waiters out of timeouts all the time, so it wouldn’t be a stretch for Dragic to get a look there.

Instead of making the pass to Dragic, Winslow initiated a high pick-and-roll. He faked left as he was going to use the staggered screens, then drove hard to his right before finishing with a smooth euro-step.

Sure, it was against the Suns, a poor defensive team. Sure, the individual culprits were Devin Booker (not the best defender) and Marquese Chriss (also not the best defender), but the process is what stood out. Winslow can make these reads; he needs more of an opportunity to do so.