The Launching Pad: Richardson Getting It, Whiteside’s Energy, Wade’s Slippage

Insight3 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: 19-19 (3-3, 6th in the East)

• Offensive Rating: 106.5 (110.5)

• Defensive Rating: 105.8 (106.9)

• Net Rating: plus-0.7 (plus-3.6)

• True-Shooting Percentage: 53.4 (54.9)

• Pace: 99.73 (96.58)

• Time of Possession: 14.7 seconds (14.9)

Lineup of the Week (min. 10 minutes)

Tyler Johnson, Josh Richardson, Derrick Jones Jr., Bam Adebayo, Key Olynyk

• Minutes: 18

• Offensive Rating: 133.3

• Defensive Rating: 105.7

• Net Rating: plus-27.6

• True-Shooting Percentage: 75.9

• Pace: 93.28

The Big Number: 34.2

Though Miami currently lacks a true defense breaker — a guy that can force help on any given possession — they still manage to generate a plethora of open threes. Whether it come via pick-and-roll or dribble-handoff, the Heat have been able to get downhill and create open looks from outside.

The problem, however, is that those shots just haven’t been going down.

Over the past six games, the Heat are shooting just 34.2 percent on shots defines as open (nearest defender 4-6 feet away) or wide open (6+ feet away). Things came to a head on Sunday night during Miami’s third (!!!) loss to the Atlanta Hawks this season. They shot an ungodly 5-of-33 (15.2 percent) on open or wide open threes.

It sucks. It’s frustrating. But that’s ultimately a case of (extremely) bad luck. Miami’s process has been fine for the most part; they just have to keep plugging away.

It is fair to point out that Miami’s best three-point shooter collecting dust on the bench is … odd. On the flip side, Miami’s turnaround, if you want to call it that, has been spearheaded by their defense. Wayne Ellington isn’t going to help that, and the backcourt is crowded enough as is.

Weekly Trends

1. Josh Richardson is finding his footing

Justise Winslow has been The Story for the Heat, and for good reason. With Goran Dragic currently sidelined, Winslow has finally (!!!) gotten to play point guard. Predictably, Rook 1 has looked a lot more confident on the floor, and that confidence has led to much improved play on both ends of the floor.

Even Eric Reid has gotten in on the #JustiseBetter movement:

Very quietly, Rook 2 has looked more comfortable over the last couple of weeks. With Winslow operating as the head of the snake, Richardson has fallen in line as a secondary attacker, capitalizing against bent defenses.

Richardson doesn’t have the shake to break down elite defenders one-on-one. He can absolutely do what he did in the clip above: pump-and-go, and knock down that trusty pull-up middy. His finishing at the rim has started to come around after a slow start. The three-point percentage has dipped some, but he’s still a threat.

What has started to stand out to me is how quickly Richardson is starting to process things as a passer. He’s not necessarily threading the kind of needles that Winslow (or Dwyane Wade) can, but he’s done a better job of keeping the chain moving.

At times, it felt like he tried a little too hard to probe and manipulate defenses, and that would leave him stuck. He’d take an extra dribble when he should’ve passed, or pick up his dribble before fully compromising a defense. Either action would make a window tighter in the process. Now, he’s making quicker and better decisions with the ball.

That lob to Whiteside isn’t a difficult play to make, but he just gets right to business there. He gains inside leverage on the drive, takes two dribbles and goes up. That decisiveness forces Serge Ibaka to commit, and that commitment opens up the lob.

He’s starting to find corner guys with more regularity:

Richardson has racked up 26 assists with only six turnovers over his last six games. That kind of assist-to-turnover ratio is indicative of an improved process. Here’s to him keeping it up.

2. Hassan Whiteside: suddenly spry?

Who the heck does this guy think he is?

That is some 2015 Hassan-type beasting right there.

Whiteside’s numbers haven’t been massive over the last couple of weeks (11.2 points, 10.5 rebounds, 2.0 blocks), but he’s just looked better lately. He’s moving better and playing with a little more force.

He has continued his run as one of the NBA’s best interior defenders. Beyond the blocks, opponents are shooting just 51.5 percent at the rim against Whiteside, the 3rd best mark in the league among players defending at least five shots at the rim per game.

Miami has been better on both sides of the court — plus-8.1 per 100 possessions overall — with Whiteside on the floor rather than off over the past six games. Those who have followed his Heat career know how big of a deal that is. He’s playing with more oomph, and the Heat have been better off because of it.

I’m not sure if it’s the fatherhood boost or what, but kudos to him.

3. Dwyane Wade’s (predictable) regression

As the saying goes, all hot starts must come to an end. Or something like that.

Dwyane Wade came out of the gates blazing from three, knocking down trey-balls at a higher clip — and with more frequency — than ever before. It was uncanny but yet fitting — Wade finding a way to prove the doubters wrong by reinventing himself.

It’s, uh, safe to say that run is over.

He’s shooting a smidgen over 18 percent from three over the last six games, and has settled into a 32.2 percent clip on the season.

It was fun while it lasted.

BONUS: Dion Waiters’ faux comeback

Well, at least he got one in!

After over a year of rehab, Dion Waiters made his return to the court against the Cleveland Cavaliers. He was predictably rusty, shooting just 3-of-9 from the field. He did give flashes of what he could bring to this Heat team: a pretty solid creator that can generate a look for himself or others.

With Waiters operating in pick-and-roll, the Heat posted a 128.6 offensive rating (9 points in 7 possessions). He showed that even with some rust, he has enough understanding and a sense of pace to capitalize on 2-on-1 situations:

Waiters has not played since, and it’s hard to get a read on when he’ll see the court again. For now, we just … wait.

Set Play of the Week

Flowing out of a Wide Pindown

There’s no need to rehash the polarizing nature of Tyler Johnson. You either like him because of his skill set and toughness, or dislike him because his talent doesn’t match his contract.

One thing that isn’t debatable is that, like Richardson, he’s much better when he’s able to attack off of movement. He’s improved enough as a creator and passer to take advantage of 2-on-1s. Much of Miami’s best off-ball stuff involves Johnson, and this wide pindown to get him downhill puts Minnesota in a serious bind.


The second Tyus Jones falls behind Johnson, the play is over. As Johnson receives the handoff from Bam Adebayo, Jones is further thrown behind by the impromptu screen. Karl Anthony-Towns is forced to step up to contain the drive, which gives Adebayo a clear path to roll to the rim. Johnson caps off the play by tossing a nice lob for the easy finish.

Advantage basketball, ladies and gentlemen.