The Launching Pad: Olynyk Filling Blanks, Ellington’s Defense, McGruder’s Slump

Commentary3 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: 9-13 (2-1, 9th in the East)

• Offensive Rating: 105.6 (105.9)

• Defensive Rating: 106.8 (103.6)

• Net Rating: minus-1.2 (plus-2.3)

• True-Shooting Percentage: 53.3 (52.6)

• Pace: 102.06 (101.33)

• Time of Possession: 14.1 seconds (14.5)

Lineup of the Week (min. 10 minutes)

Dwyane Wade, Rodney McGruder, Justise Winslow, Bam Adebayo, Kelly Olynyk

• Minutes: 22

• Offensive Rating: 124.5

• Defensive Rating: 89.6

• Net Rating: plus-34.9

• True-Shooting Percentage: 67.2

• Pace: 107.45

The Big Number: 46.7

Miami’s offense hasn’t been great this year. They rank 25th in offensive rating, mostly because they’re lacking in the shot creation department. With no Goran Dragic, they’ve relied on Josh Richardson and Dwyane Wade to carry the load. The results have been … pretty mixed.

Even with the lack of a pure go-get-it guy, they’ve still been able to generate good looks. Specifically, they rank 9th in the league in corner three attempts per game (7.5). They’ve been especially good from the left corner, draining a blistering 46.7 percent of those looks. If you take out the combined 0-of-5 clip from Hassan Whiteside and Bam Adebayo, that number nudges up to 49.4.

Five Heat players have knocked down at least six triples from the left corner: Wayne Ellington (8-of-15), Rodney McGruder (7-of-17), Kelly Olynyk (6-of-10), Richardson (6-of-9), and Wade (6-of-7). When McGruder is your worst high-volume left corner shooter at 41.7 percent, you’re doing pretty well.

Weekly Trends

1. Kelly Olynyk makes the Heat make sense

Every team needs a good glue guy — even a team full of glue guys like the Heat. McGruder looked like that connective tissue earlier in the year. He still is to a certain degree, but the Heat’s premium glue guy is Olynyk.

Olynyk is arguably Miami’s most unique player. He gives them a stretch element that nobody on the roster aside from Ellington (and, technically, Duncan Robinson) can replicate. That kind of shooting in the front court has inherent value. It’s a “drop” scheme buster because it concedes the kind of shot he wants to take.

Shooting isn’t the only thing he can do. He’s also a plus-passer, an effective screener, and a guy that can get you a post bucket if you need it. He gives the Heat the best of both worlds: a guy that can space and make things easier for their high usage players, but can also create enough to take pressure off the lower usage guys.

Olynyk has had a profound impact on Wade, which is honestly hilarious to type. When Wade and Olynyk are on the floor together, they’re generating an offensive rating of 111.1. With Wade on the floor without Olynyk, that number plummets to 98.8. They have begun to form a bit of a mind meld; they’re generating 1.14 points per possession when they hook up in pick-and-roll:


Olynyk has been just as good for #TheKids as he has for the vets. Olynyk paired with any of the three has produced a positive net rating, and the quartet has a plus-33.0 net in 17 minutes. How they’ve only played 17 minutes together is beyond me, but the unit certainly makes sense.

An important subplot to consider: Olynyk playing the 4 in two-big lineups allow Winslow to play — and most importantly, defend  — on the perimeter. I’ve been pounding the drum on Winslow needing to defend wings instead of bigs all season  Olynyk gives Winslow the opportunity to do just that, which can lead to more sequences like this:

Let’s go ahead round off the net rating talk. Olynyk currently leads the Heat in net rating differential (plus-11.8). Of Miami’s 15 lineups with a positive net (min. 10 minutes), Olynyk is featured in eight of them, including five of the top seven.

In short, Olynyk is good and important to what the Heat want to do.

2. Wayne Ellington’s hands-on approach

I am not here to make the argument that Wayne Ellington is a good defender. He doesn’t have great length, doesn’t move well laterally, and struggles to track guys around the same kind of screens that he feasts off of.

And yet … Ellington averaged 2.3 steals per game last week, and is leading the team in steals (1.4) this season. Not only would this be a career-high for him, it would be the first time in his career he’s averaged over a steal per game.

It’s cliche — God, is it cliche — but Ellington has offset his physical limitations by being in the right spot, giving great effort, and flashing his hands. Defense isn’t all about effort like some try to insinuate, but it goes a heck of a long way.

At the risk of triggering folks, I implore you to think back to Miami’s loss to the Atlanta Hawks last week. As frustrating as it was, Ellington was a bright spot, racking up a career-high five steals along the way. He picked some pockets, made calculated bets, and took advantage of ill-advised passes.

Hawks rookie sharpshooter Kevin Huerter isn’t a world beater off the dribble, but this is impressive work from Ellington:


Here is Ellington again, fighting over the screen and just picking at the ball until he gets a hand on it. No cookies for Mr. Bazemore:


Late in the 4th quarter, Ellington gets his most impressive steal of the night. He kicks off the clip by fighting over an off-ball screen from Dewayne Dedmon to stay attached to Taurean Prince. Then, following a Bazemore-John Collins pick-and-roll, Ellington “helps the helper” as Olynyk rotates over to cut off the drive. He darts in and saves a sure bucket with a timely interception.


Ellington overtaking McGruder’s role as the scavenger wasn’t expected, but good for him.

Speaking of McGruder…

3. Rodney McGruder’s regression

I hate to add insult to a literal injury, but, uh, it may be about that time for McGruder.

He was the pleasant surprise in the early goings of the Heat’s season. He couldn’t miss from three, started navigating pick-and-rolls with improved savvy, and gave his all defensively for 32 minutes a night.

Between his minutes, his defensive workload, and the scouting report getting out on him (teams are ducking under more of his screens), McGruder has gradually fallen off from his blistering pace. He’s shooting 18.2 percent from three over his last nine contests, and you’d have to go back to November 10th to find the last time he’s shot north of 40 percent from three in a game (3-of-6 against the Wizards).

McGruder has proven that he’s a sure-fire role player and a servicable fifth starter. You probably shouldn’t have him defending the opponent’s best player while also being a moderately high-volume three-point shooter and secondary playmaker. He’s been stretched a little thin. He should be fine moving forward, but it’d be nice to see a little bit of responsibility taken off of him.

Set Play of the Week

#TheKids snuff out Spain PnR

We’re going to switch it up this week.

Normally, I focus in on a set or action the Heat ran well for SPotW. There were a couple I considered, but ultimately, none compared to what the Heat did towards the end of the first quarter against the Utah Jazz on Sunday.

I’ve written about “Spain PnR” this year. I highlighted it because of Josh Richardson’s late explosion against the Detroit Pistons. If you remember, I mentioned that not many teams run that action better than the Jazz. Their attention to detail, combined with the inherent bang-bang nature of the play makes it nearly impossible to defend. But with around 50 seconds left in the first quarter, the Heat did just that.


The stars of the play, in order, are Bam Adebayo and Justise Winslow.

Adebayo does three things in about three seconds. He recognizes the action and communicates to Olynyk to switch onto Jae Crowder. Adebayo then back-peddles to take away Rudy Gobert as a potential lob target. As he senses Donovan Mitchell committing to the shot, he rotates over (timing it perfectly, by the way) and is in position to disrupt the shot.

Funny enough, he doesn’t have to do anything because Winslow has him covered.

Winslow originally finds himself out of position. His decision to spin under the screen like an undersized defensive lineman gives Mitchell a path to the basket. To his credit, he recovers nicely, then comes up with the block. Even when Winslow makes mistakes, it’s still fun watching him operate on the perimeter.