Playoff Capsule: Miami Heat

When the super friends joined forces in Miami, most expected their offense to be the primary driving force to the team’s success. As it turned out, they soon received league-wide acclaim for their suffocating defense and that eventually became Miami’s identity.

This season, Miami has embraced a high-octane offense, based on a pace-and-space approach. The team still ranks among the top defenses in the league, maintaining the ability to buckle down and string together consecutive stops in crucial situations, but on the offensive end Miami is at the top of a myriad of categories.

While the additions of Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis – along with Mike Miller’s return to health – have hurt the team’s defense, their shooting abilities have certainly added to Miami’s versatility in scoring the basketball. This season, the Heat are collectively shooting at a league-leading 49.5% clip from the field, and their stunning eFG% of 55.2% would be the best in NBA history.

So, what has allowed the champs to be this efficient? Well, it certainly helps that LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are all averaging career-highs in field goal percentage. As the three stars account for just under 60% of the Miami’s total field goal attempts, this has naturally helped the team’s collective efficiency a tremendous amount. But there is a lot more to it.

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Spot-up shooting

Spot-up shooting has undoubtedly become Miami’s primary offensive weapon. According to mySynergySports, 25.2% of the team’s plays end up in a spot-up. In these situations, Miami scores 1.09 points per play, which leads the league. While having great mid-range shooters in Bosh and Udonis Haslem helps this, it is the 3-point shooting that has been extraordinary. Miami converts at a blistering 42.2% rate from beyond the arc in spot-ups.

Where Miami truly excels is creating amazing looks in the corners. Above you can watch a little montage of this. What is most fascinating is that the Heat create these opportunities in so many different ways. Let’s break down a couple of these plays.

Look at how quickly Miami creates a look in the corner here.

Miami Heat SPOT 1 Here, Bosh gives the ball to Wade and sets a nice screen. Instead of using the pick, Wade changes direction and starts moving towards the basket. Notice how much space Wade has to his disposal here. All five players are focused on Wade here, and rightfully so — he can get to the basket at will, especially with such an open lane. Luke Walton notices this, and puts himself in a position to help.

Miami SPOT UP 2As Tristan Thompson is quick and athletic, he decides to switch and does a great job in closing down the baseline drive, but the defense has already been compromised — all five Cavaliers are staring at Wade. Notice how much space Walton has left between himself and Battier. Wade promptly finds LeBron at the 3-point line with a pass.

Miami SPOT UP 3 Normally, even Walton could probably recover to his man in time, as making a cross-court pass from the left corner to Battier would be quite hard. But here you can see the brilliance of James. This whole time, LeBron has been at the top of the 3-point line, inspecting the play. He knows exactly where Battier is, and barely even catches the ball before tapping a bullet pass to his teammate in the corner. What was a pick and roll, turned into a great 3-point look in the other corner in a matter of seconds.

Miami are also lethal when it comes to transition 3s. Look at this freeze-frame shot.

LeBron Transition As soon as the Heat get hold of the defensive rebound, LeBron is off to the races. Everyone does a good job in positioning themselves and James once again finds an open shooter in the corner, this time before the Cavaliers even get to set their defense.

Here is another great play.

Wade 1As soon as James hands the ball over to Wade, he retreats to the left corner, while Bosh remains parked in the right corner. With Wade at the top of the 3-point line, the Heat run multiple screens for him at the same time, opening up two potential routes to the basket (highlighted in green). He uses a quick first step and drives to the basket.

Wade 2 The defenders simply cannot catch up to Wade here, which forces two Cavaliers’ players to collapse in the paint in order to prevent an easy layup. While airborne, Wade has an easy decision to make, as both of his All-Star teammates are ready to launch an open 3-point shot. Bosh gets the ball and drains it. Miami can create open 3-pointers in so many different ways. Their crisp ball movement, lightning-quick transition play and ability to penetrate can all result in an open 3.

Here is a chart of Miami’s best 3-point shooters:

Miami 3P%

As you can see, Chris Andersen is an absolute beast from downtown, but to make the game more fair, he has only taken three attempts on the year. All joking aside, no team can boast with as many great shooters as the Heat can, having five players averaging over 40% from beyond the arc. That is a result of the above mentioned factors.

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It is hard to break down what Miami relies on, because they score in so many different ways. Synergy has the Heat ranking first in all of the following offensive plays: post-ups, P&R roll man, isolations and cuts. It’s up to you to pick your poison.

Most of these categories need very little explanation and are quite straight forward. Miami has Wade and James, two of the greatest slashers in our league, who can create their own shot anytime, anywhere. So it is no surprise that they rank first in isolation plays.

The fact that Miami’s roll man often scores at a high rate is no surprise either. Bosh sets most of Miami’s screens and his versatility often creates great looks in these situations. He can either slip to the basket or retreat to his beloved and treasured mid-range area, if the opponents decide to double the ball handler in pick-and-rolls.

Miami rarely runs a straightfoward pick-and-roll game nowadays. Instead, they focus on misdirecting their opposition with great off-ball movement and off-ball screens. They love running a couple of decoy plays, confusing the opposing defenders and only then getting to their actual play. Here are a couple of interesting examples.

First, Bosh sets a screen for James. He then sets two screens for Chalmers, who ends up cutting to the basket. Bosh’s defender has to take a step towards Chalmers, who has now gotten in front of his man. James opts to give the ball to Bosh, who darts towards the basket and takes an uncontested jumper. A lot of effort went into getting Chalmers relatively open, but his only goal here was to draw attention.

We often see Miami run Bosh-Wade high pick-and-rolls as well. Both players are extremely versatile and can hurt you in so many ways. Double Wade, and Bosh gets an open jumper. Switch, and Wade has a massive speed advantage over his opponent. Fight over the screen and the above scenario happens. Wade just dribbles the ball into the corner, as he has nowhere else to go. He gives the ball to Bosh, who fakes Carlos Boozer into the air and drives for a dunk. Bosh is extremely good at showing his shot, and his pump fake looks almost identical to his real shot.

This is a another example of how Miami mixes it up in their pick-and-roll play. After coming off a screen out of the corner, Miller collects the handoff and uses two screens set by James and Bosh to separate himself from his defender.

PNR MIAMI

Bosh does not really set a hard screen, but positions himself in a way that forces the defender to change direction, albeit slightly. Bosh then sprints to the basket and receives the pass for a dunk. In total, Miller used three screens to free himself from his defender, which forced Boozer to come over and help. At this point, Miller has the option to either pass to Bosh under the basket, or to LeBron for an open 3.

Look at how many screens Mike Miller uses here. After giving up the ball, Chalmers goes to the corner to set a screen for Miller, who collects the handoff from Lewis. Miller gets two more screens from Lewis and Haslem, which inevitably forces Charlotte to switch. The whole play, Bosh is waiting in the corner, and as soon as the ball is in his hands he gets past his man for an easy dunk, while Haslem is boxing out the only player who could realistically help. Everything that was done until Bosh got the ball was simply designed to create chaos in the Bobcats’ defense.

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What can be a little surprising is the fact that Miami is so good in the post. The Heat lack a natural dominant center, who mostly plays with his back to the basket. Sure, Bosh can play in the post, but you rarely see him banging in the low block. Instead, he prefers operating in pick-and-rolls, while also spacing the floor with his lethal mid-range jumper at the elbow.

What truly makes this big of a statistical difference in this category, is James’ ever-improving post game. LeBron ranks 14th in the league in points per play on post-ups, according to Synergy.

James has become as unguardable in the post as anywhere else on the floor. He has become a lot better at putting down his shoulder and muscling past his man to the basket. He has also become almost automatic with his turnaround jumper. When Miami’s opponents feel unusually optimistic and opt for single coverage on James, he makes them pay. He reads every situation, forces his way into his sweet spots and has the ability to spin both ways, and either get past his defender for an easy layup, or a create a decent jumper for himself.

As James is always a mismatch, most teams bring a second defender to help in the post. But even then, LeBron finds a way to punish his opponents with his excellent court vision and remarkable passing ability. Take a look at this play.

First off, Ray Allen passes the ball to LeBron, who posts up Marquis Daniels.

Post 1

As soon as he gives up the ball, Allen takes off to the right corner, in order to give LeBron more room to operate with. The Heat heavily overload the weak side here.

Post 2

James has already started making his move, and Brandon Jennings has a decision to make. If he does not help, LeBron will most likely create a shot opportunity for himself, just as you saw in the previous video. If he comes over to double, James will look for another option, and Chalmers is fully aware of this.
Post 3

Jennings does come over to help, and as soon as he gets close, James delivers a bounce pass to Chalmers, who now has all the room and time in the world to get off a clean shot at the top of the 3-point line.

LeBron’s individual evolution into a dreaded post player is precisely what has made the Heat into a formidable post-up team. James has never looked for the ball as much in the post as he has this season, and it is paying dividends. While most of Miami’s post-up play is focused around LeBron, Wade also puts himself in similar situations every so often.

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However, none of these offensive weapons are as important to Miami’s success as their transition game. They score 1.21 points per play in transition (rank 2nd, per Synergy) and when they hit the open floor, you are in for a tough night. We have all seen the Wade-James (or vice versa) full-court alley-oops that have graced the highlight reels. If you allow Miami to run instead of forcing them into executing their half-court sets, you have already dug yourself a bottomless pit to fall through.

Whether it’s a LeBron/Andersen chase-down block, a steal or a defensive rebound, Miami looks for every opportunity to initiate their transition offense. James and Wade often like to start running before their opponents have even released their shot, which has sometimes hurt the team. While it is a little bit of a gamble, the amount of easy points James and Wade score just by setting off and leaving their man early makes it all worth it.

The number one rule of playing Miami is to take care of the basketball and force them to execute in the half-court. The Heat rank third in the league in points off turnovers at 18.6 per game. Teams like the Memphis Grizzlies have had some success this year in setting an uncomfortably slow pace to the game, limiting Miami to just 12.6 points off turnovers in their two meetings.

James and Wade, among others, love intercepting the passing lanes. Because Miami’s defensive rotations are extraordinary, they can afford to gamble on defense and try to come up with steals. This tendency has them ranking third in the league in steals, which directly translates into wins — Miami is 39-3 when they record nine or more steals.

Even if you stop Miami’s transition game, you still have a lot to worry about, but if you don’t, you have practically no chance to beat them. The Heat offer a high basketball iq, great shooting and supreme athleticism all in one package. That is what makes the champions the most complete offensive team in the NBA

@VytisLasaitis

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Comments

  1. Good post. It is great to see their defense has become a lot stronger even though they have been known for their strong offense. Thanks for sharing.

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