The Launching Pad: Where do the Heat Stand Now? Rim Defense & Defending Maxey Breakdowns

Insight2 months ago10 min readJohn Jablonka

Welcome, welcome, welcome! Here’s this week’s Launching Pad — a weekly round-up where you’ll get everything that you need to know about what happened with the Miami Heat. Everything here will bring you up to speed with all of the games and news you missed by expanding on all of that through deep dives, stats, discussions, analysis, and film breakdown.

The Heat You Missed!

This has been a good week! 3-0 and that’s all without Jimmy Butler. You couldn’t have asked for a better week because now the Heat are 19-12 with a +1.1 net rating, per Cleaning the Glass after dealing with all the injuries.

The stats!

  • 3-0 with +10.3 net rating
  • 120.5 offensive rating(123.2, 116.8, 121.7)
  • 110.2 defensive rating(113.0, 114.1, 103.2)

122-113 Win vs Hawks — Rim defense

Another impressive win without Butler. Right from the start of the game, the Heat felt in control and were for most of the game. In each quarter, they had someone stepping up on the offensive end — Herro’s 14 points in the first, Jaquez Jr’s 11 points in the second, and to top it off, 21 points from Robinson in the fourth. A balanced attack comes in differently, whether that is making tough pull-ups, getting to the rim at will, or doing it all.

But as good as their offense was, it was their defense that was arguably the reason they won. The Hawks are an elite offensive team and outside of the second quarter where their hot shooting helped, they were extremely limited. A lot of that had to do with the Heat’s elite rim protection. The Hawks attempted only 10 shots within four feet(tied for the fewest). This is a team that averages over 26.

A key principle on defense for the Heat is showing help early at the nail and sending help off the strongside corners, but in this game, that was obvious. There’s a reason why the Hawks coincidentally attempted the most corner 3s all season and had the highest frequency of shots in that area(except they shot only 29%).

Watch Lowry, Jaquez, and Herro in the first three clips. They aren’t bothered by their guy in the corner. Their job is to show help early to prevent the drive from even being attempted. As important as their strongside help was, it was also their nail, mostly from Herro and Jaquez. You can see throughout the clips that they’re stationed there at the nail early and are just standing there to make sure they’re seen that they’re there.

It was also their work against the PNR that was crucial. The Hawks run the third most possessions ending with the PNR ball handler at 19.9% and are also the best team when it comes to efficiency with 1.03 points per possession and 55.6% eFG. They’re also the third most efficient team when it comes to finishing as the roll man.

The Heat countered all of that by having Adebayo in drop and by shrinking the floor a lot. Watch how many times, there are 3-4 players in the paint at any moment against the PNR. There’s absolutely zero space for anyone to attack(that was mostly against Dejounte Murray, they had him in JAIL)

But none of that is possible without Adebayo. I feel like this was his best defensive game because of how effective he was in different roles. He was primarily in drop but he executed so well and had many plays where he stopped the drive, took away the pull up, showed hard, took away the roll, and still managed to come away with a steal because he blew up the play entirely. The reads that he was making were insane on defense.

With Adebayo, there’s also always an ace up their sleeve that is so effective. You will see throughout those clips, a few possessions scattered around with him picking up Trae Young, showing hard, or switching on him. That’s the Heat’s best defensive option. Switch Adebayo onto whatever player and that neutralises the entire play.

Win 119-113 Vs 76ers — Defense vs Maxey

They did it again! Another quality win without Butler and they did it differently again. Unfortunately, even on Christmas, the Heat couldn’t have given us a blowout win. No. We still needed to go up 21 points to going down & almost having another clutch game.

It was another one of those games where each team made a run in each quarter. The start of the game was all 76ers with easy looks to the rim. The Heat buckled up & took control with defense to end the quarter and throughout the second, as well as coming alive on offense and getting so many good looks. That was until the third quarter where they couldn’t have figured out how to beat a zone, settling at times for 3s(I say settle even though they were open looks). It also didn’t help that their defense started to look like they did to start the game. It didn’t matter in the end with them closing it out late.

But what stood out again it’s their defense, this time against Tyrese Maxey. They had a similar(almost identical) game plan against him as they did against Young and Murray.

Their defense against Maxey was on point with him having his second lowest-scoring game, his worst game-per-game score, and the least efficient. They did the same thing they did with the Hawks.

114-102 Win vs Warriors

This is the fourth straight win where they’re just doing it differently and are getting contributions from a bunch of different players.

In this game, it was Jamal Cain giving you 18 points and great defense against Stephen Curry. It was Nikola Jovic giving you a solid defense and 11 points. As always, you had Tyler Herro leading the team in scoring and Jaquez giving you a spark on offense too by getting to the rim at will.

What’s Been Heating Up!

So, it’s past Christmas. There’s always a saying the NBA season starts at Christmas. That’s when you get past the 25-game mark and that’s when you have a bigger enough sample size to draw more conclusions.

After 32 games, the Heat are fourth in the league with 19-12 record(would be eighth overall in the league). Without any context, that’s a solid job. Being top four almost in the new year is a good sign. For comparison, the Heat were tied sixth this time last year, so there’s a clear improvement.

But when you add context that two of their best players missed 19 games and somehow are still top four, that becomes even more impressive. It makes even more fun because there were many talks about the Heat getting worse because they lost their starting backcourt.

Somehow they always do it. They’ve even surprised me. This is their record with their top 3 players:

  • Herro/Butler/Adebayo all played in the game: 4-3 with -1 net
  • 2 of Herro/Butler/Adebayo playing: 9-4 with +4
  • 1 of Herro/Butler/Adebayo playing: 6-4 with +2
  • 0 of Herro/Butler/Adebayo playing: 0-1 with -17

HOW ARE THEY PLAYING BETTER WHEN THEY’RE MISSING GUYS?!

That’s just how it is with the Heat over the years. They’ve always been able to overcome anything. This year a lot of that has to do with their 3pt shooting because that’s back! WE HAVE SHOOTAS! They are the best 3pt shooting team at 39.3% on 32.9 attempts(19th, so that’s quite low volume for them). That has helped raise their floor significantly. To me, their shooting was a significant reason why they struggled last year.

But a lot of it has to do with so many improvements across the board. You have Robinson being solidly in the rotation giving you almost 15 points per game shooting 44% on 7 3s! Herro jumped up to 24, whilst also shooting 43% on 8 3s. Adebayo is becoming a better shot creator and tough shot maker. Kyle Lowry has been good! And I think the biggest surprise has been how effective Jaquez has been, especially with his rim pressure. That’s 1, 2, 3, 4, 5! players that have been key impactful, contributors. This has clearly been a much deeper team that is able to provide on both ends of the floor.

So, where does this leave the Heat?

The more I watch, the better I feel. But there are still questions and that has mainly to do with the entire team being healthy and how will that look. Right now, they’re playing without Butler. We also haven’t seen Butler play well with everyone healthy either. We don’t know what that looks like yet. We know what that looked like early in the season where Butler tried to take over in the fourth and that didn’t exactly work out well.

Even not considering Butler, there are still so many moving pieces in the rotations and how they go about their offense with Herro needing touches, Duncan playing the way he does, Adebayo getting a lot of his touches in isolation or post-ups, and now also Jaquez Jr ascending. There are still questions about how to integrate all of that

But these are good questions to have. There’s still plenty of time left to get everything in order. The improvements are there in the vacuum for all those players. It’s now trusting Erik Spoelstra and the players to make whatever decision is needed to make all of this flow well and be effective.

We’re also heading into a new year with more players being available for trades(we’ll soon be entering the trade deadline period) and that also raises a few questions about what they could do. I do believe they’re still a move or two from solidifying their rotation, at least their closing lineup.

That’s mainly to do with having another competent ball handler and a legit closing-level four. I don’t want to rely much on Herro handling the ball, by committee or even worse, Josh Richardson. As for the four, I don’t trust Caleb Martin and Haywood Highsmith right now. I haven’t liked their season as a whole and I’m not comfortable with them being closers. This move or two could change everything.

As of right now, I like where the Heat are. They’re not crawling their way up from behind in the standings. They’re creating a cushion. There are key improvements. Many positives could help in the playoffs. At the same time, though, none of this still has changed a lot when it comes to their ceiling in the playoffs — that’s a TBD only for the playoffs.