The Launching Pad: Winslow’s Fit, Richardson’s Regression, Ellington’s Conundrum
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.
• Record: 6-10 (1-3, 10th in the East)
• Offensive Rating: 106.4 (103.2)
• Defensive Rating: 107.7 (109.1)
• Net Rating: minus-1.3 (minus-5.9)
• True-Shooting Percentage: 54.4 (55.3)
• Pace: 102.09 (101.88)
• Time of Possession: 13.9 seconds (13.8)
Lineup of the Week (min. 10 minutes)
Goran Dragic, Tyler Johnson, Rodney McGruder, Josh Richardson, Hassan Whiteside
• Minutes: 10
• Offensive Rating: 126.1
• Defensive Rating: 68.2
• Net Rating: plus-57.9
• True-Shooting Percentage: 61.0
• Pace: 108.11
The Big Number: 30
Miami’s roster can be described as a lot of things: expensive, mismatched, cluttered, old (guess who has the second oldest average age in the league?), and boring. The one (1) saving grace should be the young trio of Josh Richardson, Bam Adebayo, and Justise Winslow.
So of course, they aren’t playing together all that often.
After averaging 8.0 minutes together last season, that total has been bumped to … 9.0 per contest this year. That is Miami’s 30th most-used three-man combo.
Just from a development standpoint, that’s unacceptable. You need to see what you have in those guys. Once you add in the fact that they’ve been good together (plus-7.9 net rating), it really becomes hard not to criticize the coaching staff or the front office.
Heck, both, honestly.
1. What is Justise Winslow?
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s dig in a little.
Winslow’s season has been, in a word, frustrating.
He hasn’t been able to build on his strong second half from last season, or his fun playoff series against Ben Simmons and the Sixers. In many ways, he’s regressed: his finishing is down, three-point percentage has plummeted, and he hasn’t consistently made an impact on the defensive end. This is a multi-pronged issue with plenty of blame to go around, but it has to start with the man himself.
We are in year four (4) of his Heat career and he still doesn’t seem to have much of a plan when attacking the rim. He’s not an explosive leaper, nor does he have great touch. He either needs to compensate with Wade-like footwork, Dragic-like physicality, or a mixture of both to create easier looks for himself. Right now, he does neither.
His attempts to bulldoze guys on the gather (hi, Goran) leaves him off-balance, and his flips after the contact typically go short. He hasn’t found real comfort with a simple 1-2 gather, and, again, he doesn’t have the springs to go off one foot and glide like Richardson does with his scoops.
From my eye, Winslow has had more success with two-foot gathers than others, but then you see stuff like … this:
That’s a horrid miss from a guy that should be better in that particular area.
He can’t make shots at the rim. There’s no intermediate game to think of, and that’s mostly because he doesn’t even try. It’s somewhat understandable, but ultimately it’s counterproductive. Winslow’s ability to hit guys out of pick-and-roll mean nothing if he can’t create those angles.
Guys are going to continue to dip underneath screens because he isn’t a pull-up threat. If he can’t make them pay with floaters, can’t finish with a head of steam, or doesn’t seek out contact (like Bam, funny enough), where does that leave him in a playoff series when (smart) teams will scheme for him?
That has to be sorted out. Period. I’m not worried about the three-point shot; he’s getting good looks and is taking them in rhythm. That should be fine. The finishing? Calling it a red flag might be conservative at this point. He just has to be, well, better.
The defense is where Winslow deserves some slack. As it stands right now, Miami has been nearly 10 points better per 100 possessions with Winslow on the bench. For a guy that is, at worst, Miami’s third best perimeter defender, that’s almost unfathomable. But, goodness, there’s only so much Winslow can do when he’s being utilized poorly.
He’s not a 4. He’s a guy that can switch actions and can hang with guys in a pinch, but he should not be the “drop” man in pick-and-roll. Ever. He should be hounding ball-handlers over screens and making them uncomfortable. He should be guarding your John Walls and Victor Oladipos, not your Markieff Morrises and Thaddeus Youngs.
To a degree, Winslow has been forced to play the 4 because of injuries. James Johnson just got back on Sunday, and the alternatives beyond him were Kelly Olynyk (not great), Derrick Jones Jr. (hahahahaha), Udonis Haslem (please don’t make me say it), and, I guess Yante Maten?
But, again, Winslow’s best skill (screen avoidance) has been completely wasted. He’s been asked to bang with guys like Blake Griffin (he was good, fwiw), chase stretchier bigs like Morris, and protect the rim if one of the guards get beat. That’s not him, and it should come as no surprise that opposing teams are shooting better from two and from three with Winslow on the floor.
Winslow has his flaws on both ends of the floor. He has to answer for the finishing. He has to turn the shot around. But he also needs to be put in a position to succeed, particularly on the defensive end.
At his best, he’s a point forward that can dazzle in transition, spray it to either corner in pick-and-roll, then defend 1-through-3 at a high level. We’ve seen enough to know he can be that guy. It’s going to take a group effort to pull that out of him more consistently.
To put it another way: it’s up to Winslow to raise his ceiling, but it’s up to the Heat — on the sideline and in the front office — to make sure he reaches his floor.
2. Josh Richardson is starting to make the shots he’s supposed to
On balance, Richardson has been incredible. He’s averaging a career-high 20.4 points with a 57.9 true shooting percentage. He’s one of nine players shooting at least 40 percent from three on over six attempts, and he’s also been pretty efficient from mid-range (42.6 percent) on modest volume.
The biggest mark against Richardson’s offensive explosion (by his standards, of course) has been an odd inability to finish. He didn’t just see a slight drop due to volume — he flat-out started botching bunnies. Entering last week’s slate of games, Richardson was converting a career-low 44.2 percent of his shots at the rim. Even Emmanuel Mudiay thought he needed to clean things up.
Richardson had a bit of a bounce-back week, making eight of his 11 shots at the rim, and shooting 12-of-20 in the paint overall. The biggest development: the lefty-scoop is BYKE.
Richardson bumped his rim efficiency by over five percentage points. 49.1 percent is obviously awful, but two or so more weeks of positive regression should have that figure more in line with his actual ability.
Miami has a three-level scorer on their hands.
3. The Wayne Ellington Conundrum
The Heat have missed Wayne Ellington.
On a team full of overlapping talent, Ellington stands out as one of Miami’s (very) few unique pieces. It’s not that he’s the best shooter on the roster; the diet of twisting, contested triples that he lives on is pretty much irreplaceable. You can ask Duncan Robinson to knock down shots off of flares, but you can’t ask him to do this:
At his best, he’s a guy that can bail the Heat out of stagnant possessions because he can knock down contested BS. His gravity helps open up the offense, particularly with nifty screeners like Kelly Olynyk and James Johnson (welcome back!) in the game. Those two pulled off plenty of fake DHOs just off the strength of Ellington scaring people.
Ellington has been as efficient as he’s ever been, knocking down 41.3 percent of his threes on seven attempts a night. But yet … the Heat’s offense is almost 10 points better with Ellington on the bench this season.
This past week, the Heat had a 98.4 offensive rating with Ellington on the floor. That’s not all on him, of course, but it did highlight something that’s been nagging at me since Ellington joined the team: the lack of simultaneous action is pretty jarring.
Nobody moves more than Ellington, but at times, nobody moves but Ellington.
First, that’s an easy shot for Ellington, but that isn’t the issue. Winslow is chilling in the dunker spot. That’s cool I guess. But what’s with Olynyk and Tyler Johnson not doing anything?
Why not run some flex action with those two to at least make the defense think? A hard cut from Johnson would probably require Winslow to drop back to the corner for spacing — or that could turn into a back pick for Johnson to relocate to the left corner.
I’m not obviously not a coach, nor do I want to come across like I know more than Spo of all people. With that said, it’d be nice to see more than one action going on at a time. The Heat lack a dynamic creator right now; creating creases with constant movement has to be the wave.
Set Play of the Week
HORNS One Flare
We’re going back to the HORNS well this week — this time, with a variation of a very common set.
In HORNS Flare, one of the screeners (stationed at the elbow) runs across the opposite elbow and receives a flare screen in hopes of generating an open three. Most of the time, though, it simply flows into a pick-and-roll. Again, every team in the league runs it, so it’s unlikely to catch anyone off guard.
Miami flipped the script a little against Brooklyn.
Instead of Ellington running off an Adebayo screen, Tyler Johnson dumps the ball off to Adebayo and receives a block from Ellington. Shabazz Napier is caught completely off guard, thus leaving Johnson wide open for the three if he wants it.
Instead, Johnson pumps to throw a scrambling Napier even further off balance. Johnson uses the clear driving lane to his advantage and cashes in on one of his easiest buckets of the night.