The Reasons Behind Miami Heat’s Lackluster Offense

Insight2 weeks ago17 min readJohn Jablonka

Here’s the last part of the mini-series to figure out why the Heat have struggled to generate efficient offense. It started off: “The Struggle Without Butler On Offense” and was followed by two in-depth breakdowns: “Examining Bam Adebayo’s Role as a Creator” and “Evaluating Tyler Herro’s Impact as a Primary Creator“.  In the final piece, I go through all the reasons why the Heat’s offense has been lackluster – from 3pt shooting, no cutting, and weakside movement to lack of rim pressure, scheme stuff, and even Jimmy Butler.

Throughout the off-season, the Miami Heat were making it clear that they wanted to improve their offense. This has been said before the season started on Five Reasons Sports when they were doing their offensive projections.

That made sense. They replaced PJ Tucker with Caleb Martin, put Tyler Herro into the starting lineup, and there was potential growth from both Herro and Bam Adebayo. You’d think they’d at least keep up the same pace from last year.

But things couldn’t have gone any worse. Per Cleaning the Glass, the Heat went from having a 114.2(1.9 better than average) offensive rating to 112.2(2.0 worse than average). For comparison, the Heat led by Dion Waiters in 2017 were only 0.8 worse than average.

On the surface, that doesn’t make any sense. How can a team that has Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, and Tyler Herro all average over 20 points per game and be this bad offensively?

But looking in deeper, the reasons become clear and they are the same reasons that were here for the past three seasons, except they were masked by insane shooting.

Poor Shooting

This team has been limited on offense, whether that’s talent or fit, from the start. The only difference was in the first year, they had the second most efficient high-volume 3pt shooting from Duncan Robinson, and last year, they had the best team shooting season. It’s tough to have a poor offense when you’re shooting around 2.0 percent better on average.

This year, however, they’ve been one of the worst 3pt shooting teams.

  • 33.8% (26th & 1.9% worse than average)
  • 36.9 3pt per 100 possessions (7th)
  • 41.2% 3pt rate (8th)
  • 34.4% on open 3s (15th)
  • 16.5 open 3pt per game (4th)
  • 35.7% on wide-open 3s (25th)
  • 13.2 wide open 3pt per game (30th)
  • 33.3% on catch-and-shoot 3s (30th)
  • 1.00 points per possession on spot-ups (20th & down from 1.12 last year)
  • 0.84 PPP on handoffs (27th & down from 0.96 last year)

So, not only are they shooting poorly, but they are taking a lot of them. This combination is going to result in a bad, bad offense, especially if that’s what they’re looking to do. And that’s the thing about relying on a high variance shot — if it works, you can be elite, but if it doesn’t, the lows are extreme.

At the same time, though, this has been worse than anyone could have predicted. It was probably unlikely that they were going to remain shooting at an insane clip in three out of four years, but I don’t think anyone could have predicted this:

That’s not a normal regression — everyone regressed significantly.

However, the issue with the Heat’s offense is even if the drop-off wasn’t this significant, there would still be concerns. The shooting raises their floor slightly. Instead of the bottom five offense, they’d slightly below average. That’s still a pretty big jump, but average shooting would still not be enough to fix the offense.

It’s fair reasoning to blame the shooting for the lackluster shooting, but it hasn’t been close to the actual reason(and there are plenty) for the offense being this bad.

Lack of Creators & Rim Pressure

One of the main reasons has been the lack of a creator or someone that can provide rim pressure outside of Butler. I’ve written about this earlier in the season, where I talked about the struggle without Butler on offense.

The Heat don’t have anyone else that can pressure, bend or put the defense in any type of rotation without Butler. I can’t think of many actions that pressure the defense to the point where they must put two on the ball, defend aggressively, or even if they do, actually take advantage of it.

This has also been a recurring issue over the years:

This isn’t anything new. The Heat have always been significantly worse on offense without Butler because they never dealt with the issue by acquiring someone that can run an offense efficiently — all they did was hope for good 3pt shooting luck and bank on internal improvement. And just looking at the stats, it’s truly remarkable that the Heat have been able to have an above-average offense with Butler on as the only creator.

Here are the Heat’s finishing stats:

Having one reliable option that can not only drive to the paint itself but also generate consistent shots there(and draw fouls) is a recipe for a poor offense.

Most of the Heat’s rim pressure comes from opportunistic actions. They will run a lot of split actions, and a bunch of screens and cutting. There’s a ceiling on that, though. That can be neutralized easier — if the defense switches or they play off of someone and pack the paint, the options slowly die out.

This hasn’t been an issue in the two years where they shot incredibly well. In the first year, the dribble-hand-off actions with Robinson were one of the most efficient actions in the league. That opened up other actions and created spaces for others. Last year, it was a collective job where everyone shot well on high volume.

Now, you were hoping one of Adebayo or Herro could have provided that. I’ve recently gone through each of their game in-depth and evaluated their role as a creator, which you can find Adebayo’s analysis here and Herro’s here.

Unfortunately, I don’t believe either of them is ready for that role yet. Both of them don’t pressure the rim enough to generate efficient offense, which already will limit the impact they can have on offense. But in addition to that, their passing and playmaking skills aren’t good enough for the primary role either. I’m yet to see either of them as a reliable second option on offense behind Butler.

So, the Heat lack that second guy that can first force the defense to adjust and maximize on that change. That’s been the main issue why their offense has been bottom five throughout the season, especially in the minutes without Butler — it’s a talent issue.

Because of all this, the Heat are in a bad cycle of trying to create offense, and that’s where the shooting makes it worse than it is.

If the Heat aren’t able to pressure the rim without Butler, they have to find other ways to do so, which is through cuts and screening. If that doesn’t work, the only thing to resort to is spam DHOs and go 3pt hunting. And if you’re shooting isn’t there, you’re left with no shot being created and the ones you do create are 3s that you constantly miss.

Those misses will then allow the defense to help off and pack the paint. So, whatever actions you can run with Adebayo, Herro, or Victor Oladipo, their life is now harder and those actions are less effective. Everything here is connected to each other.

Scheme & the Little Things

On the other hand, as much as talent has been an issue, I can’t say that whatever talent they have has been maximized.

How I see it is, when the team is playing without Butler, the issue is primarily the talent and the lack of a player that can bend the defense. With everyone healthy, the issue is more on the scheme, where it doesn’t maximize the players or actions, and all the little things that players can do but don’t.

Let’s start with the one I truly don’t understand — lack of weakside action or movement. Whenever there is an action, whether it’s a PnR, isolation, or a post-up, everyone else is spaced out around the perimeter just standing there:

Now, I get the whole idea of wanting as much spacing as you possibly can, but you also need to have the right players for that — Adebayo or Herro aren’t that type of passers yet, and as much as I love Butler, I also don’t believe he’s an elite guy when it comes to punishing help.

This does work if you have a Nikola Jokic or a Luka Doncic. They will find the open man before the defense can even realize it. No one on the Heat can do that consistently.

So, by having everyone spaced out with little weakside action, there will be tons of help coming to take away any easy shots inside. Once that happens, because of the lack of movement elsewhere, there won’t be any options left or any man to kick it out to. And even before the help comes, by having that weakside action, you open a lot more space for the main action!

Watch this action. Before this, the Heat spammed Adebayo-Herro’s pindown, so the defense was expecting that. Because that defense is already focused, you can see Caleb Martin setting an exit screen for Max Strus, which gets him an open 3 in the corner. They created a high-quality shot because of a simple screen that required little effort.

That’s where the team (and I) miss PJ Tucker the most:

He was an elite screener. He had a great feel for when to screen and how to screen. You would rarely find him standing around in space — there’s an action going on elsewhere, great, I’ll go set a random screen here. I’m not sure how many open shots Tucker created because of that.

The next thing that I rarely see players do is cutting when the defense is overhelping. There are too many times where the defender turns his back completely and sags off, but the player is still spaced out a couple of feet outside the 3pt line. But on the few times they do, you get plays like these:

Outside of Butler(and maybe Oladipo recently and Martin), no one really is that active when it comes to cutting — Only Butler and Jamal Cain average at least 1.0 cuts per game.

With such little cutting, the offense will get stagnant because no one is forcing the defense to work. If you don’t punish the defense for overhelping or for ball-watching, they will continue to do that. There is nothing that stops multiple players from averaging more cuts and it’s such a simple thing to do.

Next, I’m not a fan of how they handle closeouts and I think that’s the worst one out of these little things they don’t do. For a team that already doesn’t generate shots at the rim or much rim pressure, they don’t do enough to help themselves.

There isn’t anyone that can consistently beat a defense off the dribble to get into the paint, so, the most logical thing to do is to attack a moving defense more. There’s Butler, Adebayo, and recently Herro that can draw some kind of help — whether it’s a double in the post, pre-rotation, or nail help.

Once the help comes and they make a kick, everyone needs to be beating that closeout immediately. Too many times, someone will pump fake, be out beyond the 3pt line too far, or hold the ball to decide what to do for too long. But that split second is enough for the defense to recover, and once they do, any kind of advantage that was initially created goes away because they can’t continue it.

Look at all the shots you can generate either at the rim yourself or create another open kick by beating the closeout. After a drive and kick, the aim shouldn’t always be to shoot, but sometimes to keep the defense in rotation by attacking it to find a look elsewhere. And that’s where the Heat have been struggling the most.

Lastly, the Heat have been slow! That’s also been a big factor in why they’ve been struggling. Per PBP, the Heat rank 27th in offensive pace with 15.26 seconds on offense — that number goes up to 15.53 with Butler on.

They’ve always been a slow team and it’s not reasonable to expect them to change overnight, but they can go a bit faster without changing how they play. There doesn’t need to be a drastic change in pace or how quickly they get up the floor. There doesn’t need to be any change in how fast they go.

What does need to change is how quickly they get into sets once they cross the half-court. There is a lot of time wasting and standing around before getting into any kind of set. If they were going into a post-up, there are zero reasons for them to waste around 10 seconds standing with the ball before getting it into the post.

They are making their lives harder just for the sake of it. By getting into sets late, they are preventing themselves from getting another action happening if the first one doesn’t work out. Now, if nothing comes out of the initial action, they will have to force up a tough shot.

Butler’s Limitations

Butler’s limitations are part of the reason why the offense isn’t as great. It’s tough to be a highly impactful offensive player without a 3pt shot. Luckily, he makes it up by being great at the rim, drawing fouls, and this year, he’s been deadly in the mid-range.

With him providing that rim pressure and being such an elite foul drawer to the point where he can efficiently give you 25 points without you even noticing it. There are a lot of things that Butler does well that puts him in the top-10 caliber tier and why he was able to perform at a top-5 level in the playoffs.

But considering the context surrounding this team and you can see those limitations being highlighted.

Take his PnR actions. That to me is quite limited where it doesn’t pressure the defense as much. The defense is able to go under, ICE, or at times switch, without needing to send any help. These actions can be defended straight up and that limits what can come out of it:

These shots are exactly what you’d want from a defense defending a PnR. This is the same reason why the Milwaukee Bucks were able to defend these actions in the 2021 playoffs so easily.

To counter all of this, there need to be more re-screens, being more aggressive, and more actions on the weakside to help maximize those PnRs.

One of the actions that they go to a lot with Butler is matchup hunting. He has one of the best footwork in the post and he’s able to muscle his way through to the rim. Except, Butler is very methodical and patient, and because of that, you get possessions like this:

Too many times, he attacks too slowly, which allows the defense to recover. Butler and the Heat don’t do a great job executing attacking mismatches. Against lesser teams, you can get away with that, but with a good defensive team, they will be able to kick out whatever matchup you wanted. Now, the mismatch is gone, you’ve drained time on the clock, and have little time to do something else.

This is an issue where your two main actions involving your best player can be neutralized like that. He’s still “Jimmy freaking Buckets”, but it’s hard to count on those heroic performances night in and night out.

Wrapping Up

So, there are a lot of issues with the Heat’s offense. It’s not as simple to blame the shooting, even though it’s technically right. The hot shooting simply masked all of these issues as well as it could. But now that they’re shooting one of the worst in the league, it’s like “oh, ohh, ohhh, there are a lot of issues”.

Without it, it’s clear that they lack a second option behind Butler that can bend the defense and put some rim pressure and because of that, it creates a chain reaction for the next set of issues.

It makes this team highly dependent on 3s,  forces them to hunt DHOs, and makes them vulnerable to defenses that can switch and have good rim protection. So, if the shooting isn’t there, they’re out of luck — especially without Butler.

It, unfortunately, highlighted that neither Adebayo nor Herro are ready to have an offense run through them and produce efficient results.

But despite the talent issue and rim pressure, Erik Spoelstra and everyone else hasn’t helped themselves. This is highlighted by Spoelstra’s lack of creativity on offense, lack of weakside movement, and not maximizing the stars. And when it comes to the players, they aren’t helping the offense by not cutting, not setting screens, not attacking closeouts consistently, and getting into sets late just because.

And finally, as great as Butler has been and as great as they’ve been on offense despite it, there is still some clunky-ness, fit issues, and some limitations that prevent him from carrying an offense to that high level. His primary actions can be defended much more easily. There are ways to make adjustments on defense to make it harder for him.

All of that combined is why the Heat have had one of the worst offenses, not only this season but in franchise history.