The Launching Pad: The Kids Can Defend, Richardson’s Pull-Ups, Whiteside’s Thievery

Insight3 years ago8 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: 3-5 (0-3, 9th in the East)

• Offensive Rating: 109.9 (111.0)

• Defensive Rating: 109.2 (119.3)

• Net Rating: plus-0.6 (minus-8.3)

• True-Shooting Percentage: 54.7 (57.0)

• Pace: 102.56 (103.5)

• Time of Possession: 13.8 seconds (13.8)

Lineup of the Week (min. 10 minutes)

Dwyane Wade, Tyler Johnson, Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow, Bam Adebayo

• Minutes: 23

• Offensive Rating: 121.3

• Defensive Rating: 116.3

• Net Rating: plus-5.0

• True-Shooting Percentage: 59.3

• Pace: 101.05

The Big Number: 48.1

Miami’s defense has been a mess by their standards. They were especially bad over the past week. I talked about the flaws of their base defense here, so I won’t rehash all of it.

Their “drop” coverage is, and has been susceptible to pull-up looks all year. They’ve run into more trouble when they try to collapse in the paint after middle penetration is allowed. So far this year, opponents are shooting 48.1 percent on corner threes — a full 12 percentage points better than their mark last year.

Three point percentage has randomness in it, and that number will surely regress. Still, miscommunications and poor defense at the point of attack has led to Miami giving up some incredibly open looks. That can’t continue if they hope to get the defense on track.

Weekly Trends

1. #TheKids can defend

Hat tip to Heat Twitter President @Alf954 for the name.

As we know, Josh Richardson, Bam Adebayo, and Justise Winslow are the young core. They’re the future, unless (or until) they’re packaged as part of a trade somewhere. All three have intriguing skill-sets on the offensive end, but defense is where they’ll set their mark.

So far, they’ve done just that. In the 46 minutes they’ve played together, they’ve allowed 97 points with a 41/22/78 (though they can’t control that part) shooting split. Their defensive rating of 95.1 is Miami’s third best combo among those that have logged at least 40 minutes.

It’s easy to see the allure of those three playing as much as possible. When locked in, Richardson can guard 1-through-3. Winslow can go 1-through-4, depending on the lineup. Adebayo can switch out against just about anyone.

We got to see how dominant they could be in their last game against the Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks scored at ease in the first half (142.3 offensive rating), but saw things sputter in the second half (98.0).

#TheKids played a big part in Atlanta’s struggles. When Richardson, Winslow, and Adebayo were on the floor together in the second half, the Hawks generated a little over 72 points per 100 possessions. All three were flying around as Miami ramped up their defensive pressure, particularly in pick-and-roll.

We’ll start with Adebayo, who really made this all possible. His ability to defend in space allowed the Heat to play Atlanta’s pick-and-rolls higher than they could when Hassan Whiteside or Kelly Olynyk were in the game:


This is good defense by Derrick Jones Jr (and a weak screen-and-slip from Dewayne Dedmon), but notice how Adebayo is prepared to help on the drive if Kent Bazemore turns the corner. Adebayo then drops back to take away a potential pass to Dedmon, then steps up to contest the shot after Bazemore commits.

That’s good stuff.

Richardson had his star hat on, walking the tightrope between carrying the offense and clamping up whoever was in front of him. Sometimes, that meant literally:


I’m not sure what Jeremy Lin could’ve did better there. He comes around the pick, puts Richardson in jail, and still gets blocked. That’s just a darn good job by Richardson to stay attached and attack the shot without fouling.

Of course, there’s Winslow, who had a ridiculous two-way half of his own. Winslow defended all over the perimeter, but did some of his best work against Trae Young. According to’s matchup data, Young shot 2-of-7 when defended by Winslow.

His most impressive play, however, came against Hawks wing DeAndre’ Bembry:


Winslow’s ability to avoid screens has been apparent since his rookie year. Here, gets over the Alex Len screen, stays attached, blocks the shot, then catches it off the second jump before tossing it off of Bembry’s back.

2. Josh Richardson is still pullin’ up

Richardson is coming off of his best offensive week as a pro. In three games, he averaged 26 points while shooting 48.1 percent from the field, and an absurd 45.8 percent from three on eight (!!!) attempts per game.

The biggest addition to Richardson’s offensive tool kit is the pull-up three. As I’ve tweeted before, Richardson only made five pull-up threes last season. He’s made nine of his 24 attempts (37.5 percent) so far this year.

There’s a level of comfort Richardson is showing that should scare defenses. Just being willing to take those shots give defenses something else to account for. The fact that he’s making them could mean a shift in how teams defend him across the board.

Before, a defender with length could afford to duck under a screen under the assumption that Richardson would try to get to his pull-up jumper or finish at the rim.

Now, he has this in his bag:


Good luck.

3. Hassan, they’re on your team

Hassan Whiteside has been very good at basketball this year. He’s second in the league in rebounding (14.6), third in blocks (2.8), and the Heat have been a net-positive with him on the floor. He’s been slamming home lobs, cleaning up the glass, setting good screens, and generally has given great effort when he’s been on the floor.

Seriously. He’s been very good. He deserves praise for that. Genuinely.

If I may nitpick for a minute, I’d like just like to ask one thing: why?


It would not have hurt to let Olynyk get that rebound. He almost trampled the poor Canadian lad. This is not the first time he’s done something like that this year. Heck, this isn’t the first time he’s done it to Kelly!

While the Heat (and everyone else, really) appreciate the value he adds as a rebounder — Miami’s rebounding percentage drops quite a bit with Whiteside off the floor — it should not come at the expense (or risk!) of his teammates.

I can’t believe I’m typing this.

Set Play of the Week

Hit ’em with that Flex

Flex action is incredibly hard to defend, especially with the new freedom of movement rules. A well-timed screen can a guy downhill in the blink of an eye. Any blip of miscommunication can, and likely will lead to an easy shot.

Miami busted out a simple-but-effective ATO against the Hornets on Tuesday night. The ball would be inbounded, flex action would occur in the corner, and it’s up to the high-post man to find the cutter if he’s free.

Roll the tape!


Simple enough, right? Tyler Johnson (he’s heating up, by the way) sets a beautiful screen for Dwyane Wade. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was at least aware of what was going on; Nicolas Batum was not. Wade flashes (heh, Flash) to the rim, and Winslow picks him out for the easy dime.

You would think Charlotte would’ve learned their lesson. But sure enough, Miami ran the exact same play, with the exact same cast of players later on in the game.


I’m not quite sure what Kemba Walker thought was going on, but it was the exact opposite of whatever he thought.