The Launching Pad: Jovic’s Defensive Growth, the Lack of Spacing vs Cavaliers, Rozier’s Shooting & Duncan’s Ghost Screens

Insight2 months ago10 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.

Games from the week!

  • 108-95 win vs Detroit Pistons
  • 104-101 win vs Detroit Pistons
  • 91-98 loss vs Philadelphia 76ers
  • 107-104 win vs Cleveland Cavaliers

Stats from the week!

  • Offensive rating: 109.7(112.6, 110.6, 97.8, 118.2)
  • Defensive rating: 105.9(96.9, 107.4, 102.1, 118.2)
  • Net rating: +3.8 per Cleaning the Glass
  • eFG%: 50.4% vs 52.8%
  • TOV%: 11.1% vs 14.5%
  • ORB%: 24.1% vs 18.9%
  • FTr: 15.4 vs 16.7

This was a better week. They didn’t go a whole week without a win again. But as a whole, I have no idea how to feel about the Heat going forward in these last 10-ish or so games and everything has to do with health.

We’re having Patty Mills start and play 25 minutes. Thomas Bryant was a starter against the Cavaliers. Kevin Love is still not back. Tyler Herro is somewhere. Duncan Robinson is having back issues. Bam Adebayo is missing games now too. It’s been rough when it comes to their health — at least we have both Nikola Jovic and Jimmy Butler coming back… for now.

Every game matters right now for the Heat. They don’t have a cushion in the standings where they can afford to slip up. Every game matters. Currently, they’re 38-31 and are sitting in seventh place tied with the 76ers. But then you have the Indiana Pacers with 39-31 in the sixth seed or the New York Knicks with 41-28 in the fifth or the Orlando Magic with 42-28 in the fourth. There aren’t many games separating anyone and that’s five spots that are all in play.

A bad week can be the difference maker between being in the play-in and having the risk of missing the playoffs, plus having a tougher opponent in the first round, or taking that top five seed and having a much better chance of advancing.

Though I sometimes wonder how much of that matters with the Heat. They’re not in a place where they will get judged by advancing through the playoffs as success. If they beat any of Magic, Pacers, Cavaliers, or Knicks in the first round, I won’t see that as anything. They’re also in a weird place to me where I wouldn’t be surprised if they lost early either or if they make another run, but I don’t know how likely the latter is.

And because of that, I don’t look at their path in the playoffs to have another conference finals appearance. I just want to see them against the best earlier when they have a better chance of being healthy and fresh. A first-round series against the Celtics or the Bucks(whether win or loss) will be more telling of the team than going through the Knicks and 76ers for example again and lose in the ECF again.

I don’t need to see a run. I need to see them get over the hump against the best because I honestly don’t think they have any serious chances of going all the way.

So, let’s just hope they are healthy enough to get past this stretch to end, finish out the season strong and have some momentum going into the playoffs.

Jovic’s Defensive Growth

The question about Nikola Jovic getting consistent playing time always had to do with his defense. There were question marks on offense too, but there were always flashes and reasons to play him on that end just so you can give him the reps too. All of the stuff on offense almost never mattered if he was that unplayable on defense.

It was on that end where it felt like the game was just too fast for him — fouling too much, not being in the right spot or position, not sure where to fit on defense, and just making little mistakes that added up. All of that has improved dramatically to the point where he’s serviceable on defense at the minimum. There might be a case that in his limited minutes, he’s been a legit plus on that end.

And in the game against the Cavaliers, he had his best defensive game. There were so many things he’s done well in different ways that showed his defensive growth. His defense against drives, switching on guards, playing better in drop, and his IQ and awareness when it comes to helping.

The first thing that stands out about Jovic is his helping:

Making those rotations early is what stood out. He was there ready in the paint on tags and knowing when to help inside just in case. There wasn’t a case of him being too late whenever he needed to help. And in a lot of those plays, him being early is what deterred a shot in the first place. That’s preventing easy shots from being taken.

Then there was his defense on actual drives that showed encouraging stuff:

He stayed attached on these drives so well whether it was against Caris LeVert or Darius Garland — though there were two possessions where he got blown by. But most of the time, he still didn’t give up an advantage and I think that’s part of being 6’10 here. There were times when they got a drive, and seemed to have him beat but his size just took anything away.

There were a few possessions being switched on Garland, too:

Another thing that probably looks entirely different a few months ago. He held his own whenever getting switched onto Garland and forced a much tougher shot.

Finally, this is the play that stood out the most:

It’s Jovic making a snap decision to step in the paint to take the Garland, essentially peel-switching once Terry Rozier gets beaten. That’s great awareness and processing to quickly be in the right spot. That’s not happening at the start of the season.

Spacing is Important

Watching other teams spacing and then watching the Heat is watching two very different sports. The Heat simply don’t have enough guys that warrant the defense to respect them fully(nor, do they have the on-ball creators to punish defenses helping off).

It doesn’t matter if it’s Jovic, Jaime Jaquez Jr, Caleb Martin, or Haywood Highsmith. They will get defended as if they don’t matter most of the time. This is also not considering if Adebayo or Love are out too because with Bryant or Orlando, it’s much worse.

The lack of spacing allows defenses to help, pre-rotate, ignore players, and pack the paint without any reason not to. There will be at most two players as a threat in an on-ball action that will deserve attention, but then the rest will just help.

This was an issue against the Cavaliers

Whenever the Heat wanted to set up a Butler isolation or a post-up, that was made 100 times worse because you constantly had Jarrett Allen overloading the strong side. There were times, he literally just went over to the other side, out of the paint, and stayed in Butler’s way.

That is taking the Heat’s most effective option at getting any kind of looks is less effective. They’re already limited in the options that can provide rim pressure, collapse the defense, and open up shooters.

Even when it’s not just a Butler isolation, look how many players are in the paint constantly:

The defense wasn’t guarding Jovic or Jaquez. Whoever it is that wants to attack the paint, whether it’s off the dribble, drives, cuts, or slips, there will always be multiple defenders in the paint.

At the 17s mark, they tried to have Jovic in the strong corner to at least take away Allen from being able to help, but that doesn’t matter because there’s still Jaquez in the opposite side with Niang not respecting him.

You also had pick-and-roll actions being negated whenever Bryant was on the floor:

Where can you put Bryant on the floor? Unless he has the ball, there’s no space on the court for him that would take his defender away or open up anything else.

That’s something we’ve already seen with Adebayo too:

If those bigs don’t have the ball in their hands, that just adds another player you need to be smart with when it comes to where they should be positioned.

Things That Caught My Eye!

  • If there’s one thing that I’m certain of whenever Haywood plays is that there will be many possessions with him playing great defense:
  • Against the 76ers, there were many takes on my timeline about Adebayo and his shooting attempts. He was limited when it comes to even attempting to take shots, but that was because the 76ers executed it well with their doubles:
  • I love this action with Rozier and Duncan. It’s a simple ghost screen(either one setting). It’s mostly Duncan setting a ghost screen and popping out for 3pt. It either gets him a good look because it freezes the defense or like at that 15s mark, he draws 2 defenders and opens up Rozier. There are many ways to from just a simple action
  • Another play of the week is Adebayo making a great pass through a tough window to Robinson:
  • Went digging into some Rozier’s 3pt shooting. It’s curious to see how he’s been a much better catch-and-shoot guy over his career until last season. That’s where you have the drop-off. He’s also been a poor off-the-dribble shooter(and streaky) but has had a hot stretch this year

And that is all for this week’s Launching Pad!