The Launching Pad: Haywood Closing, Lowry’s Non-Stop Screening

Insight2 months ago9 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

Yet another winning week. Last week, we saw both Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro getting back on the court, and now we finally had Jimmy Butler step on the court for the first time since November 16th.

And good things happen when this team is healthy, as they’ve won four out of the last five. Since that first win against the Washington Wizards, the trio of Kyle Lowry, Bam Adebayo, and Tyler Herro have a plus 8.8 net rating in 123 minutes.

I know, it’s surprising that the team plays better when their top guys are actually playing.

Across that five-game stretch, the defense has stepped up. In the last two weeks, they have a top-six defense, which puts them in the top-10 for the season — again quite surprising that the defense gets better once Adebayo plays.

The issue still remains on the offensive end though. Where they ranked 20th in that span and are 24th in the season. Currently, they are two points worse than the league average and are worse than the Los Angeles Lakers, Oklahoma City Thunder, Minnesota Timberwolves, and Toronto Raptors.

There are significant questions that need to be addressed, but they are showing that they aren’t that team that’s closer to the lottery or that they’re losing on purpose.

Going to Boston and splitting the two games against the best team in the league, whilst being close in the game they lost is impressive!

Right now, all this team needs is to stay relatively healthy during this stretch.

Looking at some stats:

  • Record: 2-1 (W vs ATL, L vs BOS, W vs BOS)
  • Net Rating: +1.0 (per Cleaning the Glass)
  • Offensive Rating: 112.7
  • Defensive Rating: 111.7

Haywood!

During this stretch, I don’t think there’s a player that I’ve been more impressed with than Haywood Highsmith — based on the expectations.

On November 21st, I tweeted out a bunch of offensive metrics that all painted Highsmith as arguably the worst offensive player in the league. That wasn’t some analytics being wrong, either. There were valid reasons that he’s a completely negative player on offense.

That hasn’t flipped completely. He’s still a significant liability on that end, but what he’s shown on defense may offset that.

Against the Atlanta Hawks, he was all over the place. That’s what he provides on defense. There’s not one particular thing he does that makes him stand out, but a bunch of different things — and in most cases, it’s all the little things:

In the first clip, he gets over the screen and stays attached to Trae Young. That forces the ball out of his hands, which is already a big win for the defense. But when Jamal Cain is beaten on the closeout, he recognizes that quickly and goes to contest.

He has a great feel as to when to help his teammates and when to double. It’s his help at the nail and those late switches to contest that is key. But he’s also able to hold his own against Dejounte Murray or De’Andre Hunter.

His defense was the reason that Erik Spoelstra decided to close with him against the Boston Celtics.

This was the most impressive possession. He defends Malcolm Brogdon one-on-one and prevents him from getting deep inside the paint. But what he does next is high-level IQ. Derrick White is able to beat his closeout and have a clear line drive. If he had decided to go with Brogdon, it would have been a tough recovery from Adebayo to leave his man in time.

Instead, he instantly decides to switch on to White, absorbs the contact, and completely walls him off for a solid contest.

But it was this, this was my favorite play:

He was everywhere on defense. He had a great stunt on Jaylen Brown, then managed to recover to two different players in time. That level of energy can be contagious.

And he was doing that throughout the game. That’s the reason why he’s been averaging over 25.5 minutes per game this week, including 10.5 in the fourth(second highest on the team).

But one thing that also stood out is his confidence on offense:

None of those possessions resulted in him scoring, but they are small improvements that we haven’t seen from him consistently in the regular season. They aren’t complex plays either, but you can see he’s able to beat the closeout better, knew when to slip the screen, and make a kick-out.

The Heat don’t need him to do much more. He needs to be able to continue an advantage and be active as a play-finisher.

In the Celtics game, though, he also flashed what he showed us in the pre-season:

It’s these fake dribble hand-offs that showcase his increased confidence. Maybe the trust from Spoelstra that got him playing crucial minutes is the reason for that.

Lowry’s Non-Stop Screening

From the available tracking data regarding screening, Lowry doesn’t grade out particularly high. He only has 11 screen assists for the season. None of the publicly available stats show how active and effective of a screener Lowry is.

Most of the time, his screening is setting a cross screen for Adebayo in the paint and then going to set another screen for one of the players near the elbow or the perimeter. Here, he sets a backscreen for Max Strus, which the Atlanta Hawks clearly didn’t want to switch, so now you have an advantage there.

Another cross-screen for Adebayo. He immediately tries to set the usual backscreen for Strus. He quickly changes his mind and sets a screen for Gabe Vincent at the elbow. All these screens keep the defense on its toes, guessing to see what the offense is going to do. It doesn’t allow them to just stand there doing nothing.

Even if the screen itself doesn’t open up the player, that’s still an effective way to make the defense work. Nothing was there on the second screen, so Lowry slips, which draws the weakside defense to collapse. Unfortunately, Adebayo missed the open pass to Caleb Martin.

But the action doesn’t stop there. Nothing came from the slip, so Lowry again continues to move and this time sets a pin-in screen on Jayson Tatum to open up Martin in the corner.

These slips have been quite common with Lowry. He makes the pass inside to Adebayo in the post. They go into a post-split action. Lowry goes to set a screen for Tyler Herro but immediately slips the screen. That forces the defense to collapse and again opens up a kick-out to the corner.

It’s these constant screens and slips that create great ball movement and an efficient offense.

Let’s Watch Some Film!

At the end of these round-ups, I’ll be going over random, key, and favorite plays that have impressed me, caught my eye or was a big error.

I’m confused with everything that happened in this possession. It’s early in the third quarter, and that’s usually been a spam Herro-Adebayo empty side pick-and-roll time.

That’s what they seem to go into. They clear the entire side for them to flow into that action. But the problem comes with the positioning of everyone else.

Why is Butler around 30 feet? Why is he one pass away? Why is Lowry literally right next to him?

Because of Butler, when Herro tries to use the screen, Brown is able to completely ignore Butler and stunt to prevent the drive. If that’s not enough Marcus Smart is also near the elbow in case he gets by.

Herro then decides to snake the PnR and dribble to the empty side, which forces Adebayo to roll toward the middle instead of the empty side. But now that also allows White to recover quickly to Herro.

And wait a minute, why is Butler also cutting across the paint? That completely takes away any space for Adebayo to roll into.

Lowry is also in the corner setting a pin-in screen for Martin, but that’s in a way useless if Adebayo’s roll is negated. Even with Martin shaking up, if he were to get the ball on the catch, there are four defenders practically in the paint.

That spacing and positioning looked awful. You’re not going to create any quality looks from any actions if it’s that easy to negate because of spacing issues.