The Struggle Without Butler on Offense

Insight2 months ago6 min readJohn Jablonka

The Miami Heat’s offense sucked this week. There is no other way to describe that offense. That has been the common trend for the Heat this season, but it’s particularly worse when Jimmy Butler doesn’t play and this has been on full display in the last four games.

Before diving into this week specifically, I want to provide some context on how important Butler is to the offense.

Per Cleaning the Glass, the Heat have a 119.9 offensive rating(92nd percentile) in 929 possessions with him on. When he sits, that number drops all the way to 101.3(3rd percentile).

Now, there is some 3pt shooting noise. The team is shooting 38.4% from deep with him and 29.5% without him. Even if you’d want to adjust the shooting so that both have the same percentage, the offense would be 10 points better in general, but almost nine points worse than with Butler on.

So, with some shooting luck, the offense is slightly below average, instead of one of the worst. Though, the overall trend would still continue. The Heat can’t generate offense without Butler and I don’t think that’s because of anything that they do scheme-wise. This is concerning talent.

Granted, this week was tough. Everyone was on the injury report, which meant a lot of minutes going to Jamal Cain, Haywood Highsmith, and Orlando Robinson. What’s concerning, though is almost every lineup does poor and it doesn’t matter who’s on.

So, let’s dive into some of the reasons why the offense struggles without Butler. Per InStat, the Heat’s play types without Butler playing:

  • Catch & Shoot: 14.7% frequency, 0.87 points per possession
  • Pick and Roll Handler: 12.3%, 1.01 PPP
  • Transition: 12.0%, 1.04 PPP
  • Cuts: 9.3%, 1.19 PPP
  • Isolation: 8.8%, 0.69 PPP
  • Pick and Roll Roller: 7.8%, 0.78 PPP
  • Screen Offs: 7.5%, 0.79 PPP
  • Catch and Drives: 7.5%, 0.85 PPP

The shooting has been the main disappointment and as mentioned earlier, that’s why their offense is just terrible. But that’s also in a way because they can’t generate anything else.

Which player outside of Butler can consistently force the defense to react, force rotations, or make the defense pay in any way? I don’t think there’s anyone or a certain action that can bend a defense in any way that would then generate open looks.

When looking at this team, there are three players that could do something with the ball to create for themselves or others — Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, and Kyle Lowry. And all have struggled to do so without Butler.

As you can see, the next most frequent play type was the PnR and that hasn’t been particularly good.

Take this action with Lowry and Adebayo. What does that accomplish? A tough step-back or a pull-up 3 from Lowry? A pocket pass to Adebayo for a long pull-up 2?

None of the plays made the defense do something. It’s easy to defend those and even if those shots go in, they are low-percentage shots that the defense will live with. It also doesn’t help that everyone else is stationary elsewhere.

Lowry isn’t able to turn the corner or blow by anyone, so the only option for him out of a PnR is to set up someone else or take a long pull-up himself. But to make life easier for others, you need to be a threat yourself.

Recently, however, Lowry has technically been able to get to the paint more, he’s been driving more, and making more kick-outs. And yet, I don’t think it’s made a dent in the defense or helped the offense significantly.

Because of his drives, he doesn’t always get by the player completely to force the weakside help. Sure, he technically gets into the paint, but that drive is perfectly defended by his defender. His defender is able to recover easily to stop any potential advantage.

Even on the odd time when he does score, he finishes so poorly that the defense will take that.

We also got to see Herro’s last game. Unfortunately, he also didn’t seem to have helped with creating advantages.

Herro is an interesting case. On one hand, his PnR numbers are elite — he’s scoring 1.15 PPP, which puts him in the 93rd percentile. On the other hand, I don’t see that being translated to better team offense.

He was involved in a lot of PnRs against the Washington Wizards, but rarely did you see an advantage being created. All the Wizards had to do was switch and it stopped the entire action.

Herro can punish certain coverages:

If the defense doesn’t switch and if he’s able to reject the screen, he can make the defense pay. He’s able to blow by, get to the rim and force the defense to help to open up a kick out. The issue is what happens if they switch?

And that’s the most significant issue when Butler isn’t playing. No one else can draw two on the ball, provide consistent rim pressure, punish one type of coverage consistently, or can’t break down the defense one-on-one.

That’s one of the reasons why plays like post-split actions don’t work as well.

I’ve read a great piece from Joe Viray about the Golden State Warriors’ need for rim pressure, and he said it perfectly:

“Relying on opportunity is a thin line to tread; those opportunities won’t always be there, and if teams are sitting on those opportunities to shut them down, how else can they generate advantages?”

All those actions are opportunistic cuts, slips, or dives. And if the shooters are also struggling shooting, those opportunities become less and less and less, until you have a stagnant offense because the defense isn’t worried about anything.

And finally, it’s concerning that this team isn’t able to capitalize on however many advantages they can actually create. They score 0.85 PPP on catch and drives because they can’t keep the advantage going.

Once a kick is made, the ball will stick for a second too late, they won’t be able to attack the closeout or make the extra pass. Too many times someone drew the defense, whether it was a double or kick-outs, everyone else is standing around.

So, there are major issues with the offense, even if the shots start to fall more. That will help in many of these areas, but I think there’s a ceiling to how much. There still needs to be one other player that can make the defense do something. And when that does happen, there needs to be movement off the ball.