The Launching Pad: What’s Going on with the Offense? Bam’s & Herro’s Improvement, Pace!
Welcome back to the first Launching Pad of the season!
We are just over two weeks into the season and currently, the Miami Heat are 4-4 and are tied sixth with four other teams. So, far, it has been quite of an unfortunate start for them, but have picked up some steam in the last three games.
And with there already being eight games played, there are a lot of things to go through. There have been plenty of positives, plenty of negatives, things to look forward to, things to be concerned about, and just about everything you can think of — just everything you can expect from the Heat. Nothing is ever so simple and easy with Miami.
That’s why they started the season with a grindy win against the Detroit Pistons where they almost blew a lead. Then followed that with a four-game losing streak. Only to then go on a three-game winning streak. They’ve been a strange team. They certainly have many issues, but there are times, where I think they can easily overcome it, but then show me some awful stretches.
A lot of the issues have come on the offensive end — there are many questions and concerns going forward there. Related to that, their fourth-quarter execution has come back to bite them again, even more so than before. But that can be explained quite easily, though that’s a whole other issue in itself.
A big part of it(probably more than anything else) has been roster construction and the team’s inability to get better talent to put players in their rightful roles — they still don’t have a starting point guard! Related to this has been the development of players who haven’t made a big enough jump to fill those roles.
There are still some work when it comes to figuring out the rotations and what lineups work early in the season. Some of the new additions haven’t worked out as well as they should.
But it hasn’t been all bad. There have been many pleasant surprises. Jaime Jaquez coming in and becoming my favorite already. Duncan Robinson having immense growth in his game. Both Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro improving their games. And certain patterns and trends that could be huge for this team going forward.
So, let’s go through all of the observations to start the season.
What’s Going on With the Offense?
We know this team has offensive issues. That has been apparent in each of the seasons with Jimmy Butler and it’s been more glaring in each playoff.
Last year, it was even worse with the whole shooting falling off. No team can have a good offense with consistently bad shooting because that bleeds into everything else. That makes the spacing worse because defenses have no reason to respect shooters. That hinders your pick-and-rolls, your isolations, your ability to get to the paint, and your finishing ability.
But this year, the Heat are currently sixth in 3pt percentage with 38.1%(though they are only 17th in 3pt made because they are 21st in 3pt attempted). And yet, they are 28th on offense with 106.8, per Cleaning the Glass. Of course, it’s still a small sample size and that can easily be skewed one way or another, especially if you have very bad or good lineups.
However, I don’t think this is just going through early-season struggles where the numbers will stabilize. This isn’t an eight-game sample with this team. It’s four seasons worth of games. And this only becomes clearer when those same issues show up again and again.
Everything with this team comes back to rim pressure. It honestly is that simple. That issue can be masked by very hot shooting(i.e. in 2020 and 2022) and by having Jimmy Butler play at an insane level.
I say “and” and not or because of this:
- With Butler on: 109.9 offensive rating with 39.8% from 3
- With Butler off: 104.8 with 35.9
This team is getting all of the hot shooting but is still struggling to score. This is kind of what happens when they don’t have Butler playing at his usual level — he’s been objectively bad for most of these games and involved less in others. Everything with their offense starts with Butler.
Currently, Butler is averaging 19.6 points per 75 possessions on 46.3% eFG & 53.5% TS with a 22.4% usage. He’s having a ROUGH start to the season. He’s having trouble finishing. He doesn’t get to the rim as much. He doesn’t draw as many free throws. And even outside of his individual play, he hasn’t been involved as much.
Stats compared from last year to this year:
Every stat has gone down except for the frequency going up for short and long mid-range. That’s not a good look. That has been the reason for their offense.
But that’s a problem in itself. They are still very Butler or bust when it comes to the offense. That’s now what you want for a team to have such a drop-off when that player sits, especially when he also hasn’t been himself when he’s on.
Though that issue is made worse with the roster construction. Although Kyle Lowry just had a great game, they don’t have a starting caliber primary ball handler on this team. Before the Memphis game, Lowry was averaging 5.4 points on 5.0 shots. That’s not what you want or need from a starting guard.
Outside of Butler, there isn’t anyone who can consistently handle the ball, break down defenses, get to the rim, and be a constant threat to score. That’s why everything starts with rim pressure(or lack thereof).
And because of that, that forces players that aren’t ready for that role to do so. That’s why you have Josh Richardson having high usage when it comes to handling the ball.
But this puts a lot more responsibility on Herro and Adebayo, more than they can handle and still be effective. This isn’t blaming them. It’s just the leap that matters for this team, they haven’t taken that. And this is more so on Herro because he’s the ball handler and it’s also tougher for a big to be capable of being an engine.
A lot of people will see this as hate or putting too much expectation on them. But this is the leap that you were hoping for. This is the type of leap that would make this team a legitimate contender. And it’s clear that the team believed that they could do so, but they just haven’t. At this point of the build, I think it was fair to hope that Herro could’ve taken that step to be a primary creator. It’s perfectly fine if that hasn’t happened or it may not happen, but it will mean that this bad offense will continue.
Take Herro’s stats with and without Butler:
There haven’t been many signs of improvement or encouragement that he’s ready for that role.
And with how the Heat have played with all three on, it’s no surprise that they are struggling.
Interesting stat that I think is a big reason for the Heat’s offensive struggles
This is their usage(+ TS%) when all 3 are on together this year vs last year
– Butler: 23%(52%) -> 23%(65%)
– Bam: 26%(64%) -> 23%(59%)
– Herro: 28%(57%) -> 23%(54%)
— John Jablonka (@JohnJablonka_) November 8, 2023
It’s clear that with Butler taking a backseat, the Heat are leaning more to Herro and Adebayo. But this will unfortunately mean this kind of struggles on offense will continue if the offense is run through two players that aren’t ready for that role.
This, however, should improve as the season goes on once Butler starts to play basketball properly. It has been a concerning start for him because this kind of start isn’t normal for him. And when will play better, this team should be much better because of the improvements to everyone else and better shooting.
This team has the potential to be better as long as Butler is himself. The only remaining concern then is the point guard play and what happens when Butler sits.
Bam’s and Herro’s Improvement
Now, I did just say that neither player have improved to be effective in a primary creator role that’s needed for this team. That’s just not what they are and so far in the season, none of the things that matter in that role has been improved.
But that doesn’t mean they haven’t improved or that it won’t be enough to make this team better in general.
They may not be ready for that much responsibility, but they have for sure added or improved on their existing skills that when they’re all together, it’s going to be better.
Here are their stats when they’re all on the court:
They all have significantly higher usage. They are showing that they are capable of being those scorers. Herro has been a deadly, deadly shooter from 3pt. Adebayo has made a huge jump in his ability to draw fouls:
Some fun Bam Adebayo stats!
– 8.7 FTA /100 poss(7th)
– 51% FTr(22nd & 3rd highest rate out of guys with 25%> usg)
– 22% FT freq on 3.0 ISOs(6th amongst 31 players with 3 >)
– 22% FT on 4.6 post ups(9th amongst 31 players with 2>)
Bam has been drawing fouls like mad!
— John Jablonka (@JohnJablonka_) November 10, 2023
That is the best improvement that he could’ve made this season and this is the type of growth that will pay off in the playoffs. This also isn’t something to brush off, this is ranking high compared to all the other stars. This foul drawing at its best.
Neither of them may be the primary guys that can lead an efficient offense because of their current skillset, but that’s less important when Butler takes charge.
This is similar to what was going on last year too, but it looks like Erik Spoelstra is leaning into that even more this year where they have a significant offensive load to be better in a lesser role. All of this is big for development. It may be a struggle in the regular season and it may cost them the season like last year, but it could have a high upside too.
I’m not sure how to feel about this, though, because the offense will continue to struggle like this. But the focus here is on the development in other areas and not necessarily to have them in those on-ball roles. It’s a risk.
Things that Caught My Eye
Now, let’s go through all the other little things, and let’s start with the positives.
I haven’t been more impressed than with Robinson. This isn’t the same Robinson that we’ve seen in any other year and those improvements are showing a lot.
Duncan Robinson’s drive stats this year vs last year:
– Drives: 4.9(4th on team) -> 2.1
– FGA: 1.6 -> 0.6
– Passes: 2.8 -> 1.3
– Points: 1.9 -> 0.8
Immense growth from Duncan
— John Jablonka (@JohnJablonka_) November 9, 2023
These are his drive stats. Everything going up a lot. The drives, the shots off drives, the passes, and the points. So far this season, I honestly think he’s given this team more value with his off-ball cutting and drives than with his 3-point shooting.
Because this isn’t your usual a couple of drives or cuts here and there on a lucky possession. These are becoming more common. But more importantly, it’s how he’s getting those drives. He’s doing it when he’s beating closeouts, off-ball curls, and self-created drives off isolations and PnRs.
In the previous years, you can see the gradual improvement in those areas, but they all felt very reactive. You can see the hesitancy and only happening when it was the only option. Now, he’s doing it on the go with confidence. It’s not always looking for a 3pt, but instead going straight into a drive
Next, it’s Jaime Jaquez Jr. I loved him after the summer league. I knew this wasn’t going to be a usual rookie. I fully expected him to get rotation minutes this year and be impactful as a rookie. But I don’t know if I expected this.
He’s impressed me on both ends. On offense, he’s doing all the little things with cutting. He has a great feel in that area(hello, Mini-Jimmy). He’s shown his post-up ability(hello, Mini-Jimmy, again). But I think I’ve been impressed with what he’s been doing on defense the most. He’s holding his own against everyone. He’s active with his hands and looking to do that dirty work.
These two have certainly been the highlight of the season so far.
But there are also the lows. The off-season additions haven’t been great. Neither Thomas Bryant nor Josh Richardson have impressed me at all.
With Bryant on, they have a minus 17.7 net rating in 117 minutes with a 97.9 offense and a 113.9 defense. With Richardson on, it’s minus 15.3 in 117 minutes with 100.8 offense and 114.4 defense. Obviously, these are just single net ratings with a lot of context needed. It’s not entirely their fault that this is this bad, but it’s not a good sign either.
And for all the talk about these additions in the off-season, it’s been severely underwhelming.
When it comes to Bryant, I just don’t get these types of bigs as the backup. They need a defensive big because whatever upgrade they are offensively, it doesn’t matter for this team. Bryant being a much better offensive option than Dewayne Dedmon is irrelevant here because that’s not changing much for this team. Their offense will always be bad, but they can make those minutes better with their defense.
On the topic of bench units.
I NEVER want to see Butler with Bryant, Richardson, Dru Smith, and Haywood Highsmith ever again. That was horrible to watch against the Memphis Grizzlies.
But the minutes with Butler and Bryant have been awful too. Minus 25.9 in 49 minutes with an 89.9 offense. That’s a lot on Butler playing poorly, but these lineups aren’t doing him any favour. There’s absolutely no spacing.
One thing that really caught my eye is their pace. The Heat have always been a slow team. Even with peak LeBron James, they weren’t that fast. But that seems to be trending in a positive direction, especially with both Butler and Adebayo on:
Miami Heat’s pace with both Butler/Bam on:
– Season: 15.1(16.0 in the 4th)
– Vs Mem: 13.6(12.2)
– Lal: 15.9(18.3)
– Was: 14.7(17.5)
– Bkn: 14.5(14.4)
– Bos: 14.8(13.6)
– Det: 16.6(20.3 LOL)
— John Jablonka (@JohnJablonka_) November 9, 2023
They have been gradually looking to pick up the pace and that’s been working. They get much better looks when they push the pace. And pace has been a killer for them in the fourth, which has been a killer this season.
For the season, they have 107.5 offensive rating. Here is their offensive rating by quarter:
- 1st: 118.9
- 2nd: 101.5
- 3rd: 113.0
- 4th: 96.5
And through three quarters, it’s 111.1. That’s almost four points better than their average. That’s the difference between 26th and 15th best offense. Their fourth-quarter execution needs to be better because it’s what’s been hurting them this season.
But that is all for the season’s first Launching Pad.