The Launching Pad: Richardson’s Pace, Miami’s Bench Mob, Jones Jr’s Flaws

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: 31-35 (3-1, 8th in the East)

• Offensive Rating: 107.1 (111.3)

• Defensive Rating: 107.8 (111.9)

• Net Rating: minus-0.7 (minus-0.6)

• True-Shooting Percentage: 54.5 (57.4)

• Pace: 98.78 (97.13)

• Time of Possession: 14.8 seconds (15.0)

Lineup of the Week (min. 10 minutes)

Dwyane Wade, Rodney McGruder, Josh Richardson, Kelly Olynyk, Hassan Whiteside

• Minutes: 14

• Offensive Rating: 122.2

• Defensive Rating: 104.0

• Net Rating: plus-18.2

• True-Shooting Percentage: 54.4

• Pace: 89.4

The Big Number: 57.0

This is going to be a big week.

The Heat’s 3-1 run last week gave them a slight cushion, but there remains little margin for error. They currently sit 8th in the East, with a one game lead over the Orlando Magic. Over the next few days, the Heat will face off against the Detroit Pistons (7th), Milwaukee Bucks (1st), and the Charlotte Hornets (10th).

Even with the Hornets underwhelming at the moment (30-37 record), that’s a combined win percentage of 57.0 among those three teams. They’re all at home, but that hasn’t been a good thing this season. Not only are they the only playoff team a losing home record (15-19), they’re the only playoff hopeful with a losing home record.

A losing streak here would be devastating to their playoff chances. Depending on which segment of the fan base you ask, that wouldn’t be the worst thing. The team is clearly gunning for it, though. It would behoove them to beat the Pistons and Hornets at the very least.

Weekly Trends

1. The game continues to slow down for Josh Richardson

We’re going to start with this relatively mundane play.

It’s a simple high pick-and-roll with Richardson and Olynyk. What’s important here is the timing and where Richardson’s eyes are focused. He’s not going too fast, nor is he reading Olynyk’s defender. He’s reading Dion Waiters’ man, who takes a step away as Olynyk begins to roll. The second his body nudges towards Olynyk, Richardson fires the pass to the corner.

That isn’t as exciting as one of Justise Winslow’s cross-court bullets, but it’s just as important. It’s something I’ve written about before, but Richardson’s growth as a passer has been the best part of his season.

“He’s gotten better at it,” Erik Spoelstra tells Heat Beat during a shoot-around. “It wasn’t something we asked him to do much of early on in his career. This year he’s really watched a lot of film, film study with Coach [Chris] Quinn and Juwan [Howard]. He’s worked at it, understands different coverages and understands that he has to make deeper layers of decisions.”

“I’ve just been putting in time with film,” Richardson told Heat Beat before the Heat’s matchup with the Hornets last Wednesday. Richardson also credited Dwyane Wade as a mentor.

“He’s helped by slowing me down. Before, I’d play at a high pace — I’d play really fast. But he’s been teaching me different little things to pick up playing off ball-screens and getting the defense off-balance.”

Slowing down has led to better decisions from Richardson. He’s averaging a career-high in assists (4.0) and assist rate (17.8) while posting a career-low turnover rate (9.9). He’s racked up 17 assists over his last four games (4.3 per contest) while only committing two turnovers.

There’s still obvious room for growth. Richardson is thinking the game at a higher level, but you still want him to get to the point where he’s reading-and-reacting naturally. His hesitance against the Hornets and Raptors when they went zone highlights this. Still, this kind of leap should be applauded.

2. The Heat’s new super bench

With Winslow starting at point guard and the Olynyk-Bam Adebayo duo up front, the Heat have a lot of talent — and money — on the bench. Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside have joined the second unit, and the results have been … mostly fine!

The trio of Dragic, Dwyane Wade, and Whiteside posted a plus-2.8 net rating in 29 minutes together last week. Add Derrick Jones Jr to the mix, and the quartet has positive results as well (plus-4.6 in 27 minutes). Not so much for Rodney McGruder (minus-0.5 in 13 minutes), though him starting to make shots again — he drilled 38.9 percent of his threes (4.5 attempts) last week — is a big deal.

Wade continued his sneaky 6th Man of the Year campaign, slapping up 14.5 points and 5.0 assists last week. Dragic averaged 11 points while shooting nearly 53 percent from the field.

Whiteside was the leader of the pack. He averaged 10.3 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks in 19.1 minutes off the bench. He was a one-man wrecking crew in the paint, cleaning the glass, swatting shots, and dunking on poor fools that dared to challenge him.

One thing to monitor will be Whiteside’s happiness. He’s currently a more impactful player than Adebayo, even if his ceiling isn’t quite as high. For now, Whiteside seems content.

3. Derrick Jones Jr’s very noticeable flaws

It’s hard not to be excited about the idea of Jones Jr.

He’s an out-of-this-world athlete that the Heat smartly leverage as a vacuum on the offensive glass. He’s improved his shot to the point where corner three attempts are viewed as reasonable. At his best, he’s a guy that should thrive in the Morey Zones (at the rim or in the corners) while being an impactful defender on the other end.

There is just a lot of work to be done with the ball in his hands.

Jones Jr. doesn’t currently have two dribble moves he can consistently branch together. Non-dunk attempts at the rim have mostly been wild flings, relying on his hang time to last longer than his opponent’s. There’s no creation for others; he has 24 assists (and 37 turnovers) in 866 minutes. He’s basically unplayable against zone defenses.

None of this means Jones Jr is a bad prospect or that the Heat should give up on him. He’s the youngest player on the roster and there is plenty to like. He’s just incredibly raw offensively, and that will matter once or if the Heat make the playoffs.

Set Play of the Week

Heat Thriving With Spain

I’d say at least 70 percent of the league runs some variation of Spain pick-and-roll. It starts with high ball-screen action between a guard and a big, with another player (usually a spacer) screening the big’s defender before popping out to the three-point line.

A quick example:

The Heat have been sprinkling it in all season. It was mostly run by the second unit with Tyler Johnson (miss you!) as the benefactor. Now, it’s essentially the go-to “pet set” for Richardson, with McGruder soaking up the second team reps.

What’s made the play so effective as of late?

“Our attention to detail,” Winslow told Heat Beat. “We run everything with a purpose and with connection. We don’t try to mess up. We try to run it perfectly. Whichever way the defense tries to guard it is wrong. We just have to make the most of that and be ready for those opportunities.”

Olynyk and Richardson pointed to the frenetic nature of the action.

“It’s a lot of movement, lots of cuts and movement,” Olynyk told Heat Beat. “The more actions you have, the more opportunities you’re giving the defense to screw up or miss a coverage. I think that’s what [Spain action] does. It’s a lot of ball movement and body movement.”

“We got guys that can score so you have to respect them,” Richardson says with a smile. “They can get the ball back to the open guy really quickly, so the defense has to react very fast every time. If not, we’re going to get a good look every time.”

McGruder notes the synergy the play provides, which is fitting for a team without a true star.

“It’s just playing together as a unit,” McGruder starts. “We know each other’s strengths so we’re able to make the game easy for each other. When we make the game easy for each other, good things start to happen.”