Mac Hollins joins the Miami Dolphins after playing against them last week

Andy Ruiz Jr. vs. Anthony Joshua II: Going the Distance?

Where to watch: Saturday, December 7, 2019, Ad Diriyah, Saudi Arabia, Available on DAZN.

June 1st 2019, was like any of many forgotten fight nights where little to no interest was paid to Anthony Joshua defending his Heavyweight titles in Madison Square Garden. The opponent, Andy Ruiz Jr., to the layman, was an unknown. To the boxing aficionado, Andy Ryuiz Jr., was a legitimate opponent that would push Joshua, and possibly draw a great performance for A”AJ” under the New York City lights.

The fight arrives, and it’s Anthony Joshua’s crowning moment, fighting for the first time before an American audience, sure to become an American pay per view star (DAZN Subscription service) in front of a sold out MSG. The contrast could not be clearer. Joshua, can win a best body contest, anywhere. He is tall, good looking, has knock out power, he is what a Boxing promoter dreams of, and sure enough Eddie Hearn (AJ’s promoter) is happy, all smiles at ringside. Andy Ruiz Jr. on the other hand, is short, is not a best body contest winner (being kind), and by mere appearance, this is a mismatch.

Then the fight starts.

Andy Ruiz Jr. pressed the action, threw punches in bunches, and gradually wore down the much hyped “AJ”. Ruiz, after being dropped, then proceeded to put the finishing touches on a 4 knockdown, 7th round TKO victory to become the Heavyweight Champion of the world. Then the examination began. Who was this guy? Well, he was a volume puncher, who was 32-1 coming into the fight with 21 knockouts, and a serious contender. Anthony Joshua learned the hard way. The rumors then quickly came down that AJ had been knocked out in training that week, and was near/or had a nervous breakdown the day of the fight.

 

Now, the rematch.

They built an arena from scratch in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia. It seats 15,000. It has luxury boxes, wet bars, and fittings fit for a King, and several in his immediate family as well. The fight card will start at Noon on the east coast of the United States, with 3:30pm being the scheduled entrance of the main event combatants. Odd isn’t it? Well, No, it’s not, when you realize they have guaranteed in excess of $75 Million Dollars for Joshua, and a sum similar for Ruiz. He who bids highest, gets the event.

On the fighting front, Anthony Joshua has changed things. Gone is the devotion to strength and conditioning. New, is the constant attention to tried and true boxing drills, like the heavy bag, the speed bag, and hitting the mitts. Back to basics. Ruiz on the other hand, has been in the media limelight due to his life changing victory. He bought a Rolls Royce. His training regimen hasn’t changed too much. He is still a underdog (as much as +200 in some places), and the conventional thinking is that Anthony Joshua will correct the record this time around.

So what happens this time? Joshua is visibly slimmer, and less muscular/thick than last time around. The back to basics training regimen seems to have done wonders, and AJ seems poised to fight more technical, respectful fight, rather than expose himself to the combinations that cost him the last fight. Andy Ruiz Jr. looks the same, and his game plan is simple. Press the pace. Use your Jab to get inside. Throw a high volume of punches. Overwhelm AJ once again. Easier said than done, and I will join the conventional wisdom. Anthony Joshua has no pressure from a large crowd of his countrymen (England) or the pressure to perform in front of an American audience. The cold presentation of this event will serve him well. I believe Joshua gets back to basics and stays behind his Jab this time, smothering the shorter Ruiz at every opportunity. A grab and Jab strategy could be enough for Joshua to wear down Ruiz, and build a considerable score card advantage, while setting up the opportunity for a stoppage.

Prediction: Anthony Joshua Wins by Unanimous Decision, 12 Rounds.

 

Alfredo Arteaga (@Alf_Arteaga) is one-third of the trio that does the Three Yards Per Carry (@3YardsPerCarry) podcast.

Houtz Special: From the depths of the chart, our Laird has risen

With Kalen Ballage on IR, it is now time for Dolphins’ rookie running back Patrick Laird to become the savior we have long hoped for.

 The Miami Dolphins have been exceptionally bad at running the football in 2019. So bad, that the team is currently ranked dead last in the NFL—averaging 62.8 yards per game. Now, a lot of that can be accredited to the offensive line. However, a large portion of the blame can also be placed on second-year RB Kalen Ballage. After all, with Ballage now headed to IR, he finishes the season in the NFL record books, but not in a good way.

That’s right, folks. Ballage is the FIRST player in NFL history to finish the season with 60+ carries and an average of fewer than 2 yards per carry.

So, where do the Dolphins go from here?

Well, for starters the team just signed veteran RB Zach Zenner. They’ve also been very vocal about their plan to get rookie Myles Gaskin more involved. But the real talent in the Dolphins backfield and the player most fans are excited to see forge a role in O’Shea’s offense is The Intern, Patrick Laird. After all, his skill-set fits the mold of a New England-style RB. Laird is good at pass pro and can be a valuable asset in the passing game. He works hard every day and does all the little things right. He is a football player and one the Dolphins look forward to getting involved early and often vs New York.

In 2019, Laird has played only 89 offensive snaps and only touched the football 28 times this season. However, last week vs Philadelphia, Laird saw an uptick in production and scored his first career NFL touchdown. He then followed it up with a successful two-point conversion, the perfect scenario for a guy that many teams were scared to draft. His 14 touches and 42 offensive snaps (59%) indicate that he should get another chance to shine for the Jets this weekend.

Patrick Laird’s first career TD

Maybe, we’re getting a bit carried away about Laird. After all, he was an undrafted rookie from California. But then again, maybe we’re not. Laird once caught 48 consecutive targets at California. He’s an upgrade over the RBs Miami continued to trot out for much of the 2019 season. Best of all, he’s young and hungry. He also got quite a sense of humor. Earlier this week, he appeared on a Daily Fantasy podcast to discuss his growing success among fantasy owners.

The link to this podcast can be found HERE.

He also reflected on how he got his nickname, The Intern when he met with South Florida media yesterday afternoon.

 “So the story is I walked into the cafeteria that we have. I sit down with one of the operations guys and with him are some operations interns that were here during training camp. So I’m just talking and asking these guys questions. They’re all still in college and they’re undergrads, so I’m asking them what they like to do, what brought them here, how their time is going here, and then one of them goes: ‘So what do you do here?’

Oh, I’m on the team.’ And he was really apologetic. I didn’t take it – I wasn’t offended in any way. I thought it was funny, so I told that story to the team when I got called up one time, because they have the rookies come up during training camp just to entertain the team. So I told that story and people thought it was funny. Then the offensive coaches have been calling me that just for fun. They know I don’t take offense to it, so I think it’s funny. Then ‘Fitz’ (Ryan Fitzpatrick) mentioned that to the color commentator or the TV guys at some point. So they got a hold of it.”

No one knows how the reps will be divided in the Dolphins’ backfield moving forward. But Laird deserves a bulk of the opportunities. Sure, he may not be a three-down RB but he has done enough to be one of Miami’s RBs in 2020 and beyond. Remember Danny Woodhead? That is who I believe Laird best resembles, a faster, stronger Danny Woodhead. And for those that are old enough to remember, Woodhead was one of the league’s better pass-catching RBs for a short period of time.

Some may call Laird The Intern but the Dolphins defense has a much more fitting nickname for the rookie RB.

“Well the defensive side of the ball, I think they have a better nickname for me. They call me – the defensive guys – ‘White Lightning.’ Walt Aikens started that one.

We will see what White Lightning can do this week vs the New York Jets. Now if only the Dolphins can find their thunder because it appears they already have their lightning.

This article was written by Josh Houtz (@houtz) he believes in our Laird and Savior and has since the beginning of camp. Amen.

The Miami Marlins are moving in the fence 12 feet in center and right-center field.

Pressure Point: Marlins’ fences a good move; faux turf, we’ll see

Welcome to Pressure Point by Craig Davis, commentary and analysis from a longtime observer and reporter of the South Florida sports scene and its teams.

The Marlins followed this week’s acquisition of two power hitters by announcing alterations to Marlins Park (via the Marlins media blog) that will be conducive to what they do best.

Certainly, newcomers Jesus Aguilar and Jonathan Villar will be pleased to learn the Marlins are moving in the fences 12 feet in center field and right-center. So will returning hitters who have been stymied by vast outfield dimensions that make the Grand Canyon seem cozy.

It remains to be seen how much those same players embrace the other major change to the ballpark that was revealed Wednesday – that the team is installing a synthetic grass surface for next season.

This new Shaw Sports Turf is the same artificial turf as the Arizona Diamondbacks put in Chase Field before last season.

The Marlins are making the switch for the same reason. Like the D’Backs, they have struggled mightily to maintain a natural grass field in the retractable-roof ballpark in Little Havana.

Mixed reviews in ‘Zona

Arizona management is thrilled with the new faux field in Phoenix. Aesthetically, it’s a huge hit.

While D’Backs president/CEO Derrick Hall claims it to be safer and cuts back on injuries, the reviews from players – particularly outfielders – have been mixed. Some have blamed it for back and hamstring problems and report an overall physical toll on their bodies from playing on it regularly.

That raises concern for the Marlins, as the Arizona experience is the only gauge on this particular turf as the first test case. The Texas Rangers’ new ballpark opening in March will also have it.

“Turf is turf; it’s never going to be like real grass and everybody knows that,” Diamondbacks left fielder David Peralta said in an Arizona Republic story about the turf. “We just have to be smart. It can get you pretty good with your hamstring or back and everything.”

Fellow outfielders Adam Jones and Ketel Marte expressed similar views about the effects of playing on it regularly.

No question that the Shaw Sports Turf surface, known as B1K: Batting A Thousand, is much more sophisticated than artificial fields that have been used in the past. Much effort has been put into making it as close to the real thing as possible with current technology.

Arizona players have said they haven’t had a problem with bad bounces, but that the turf does play slower. The latter was supported by data showing a notable decrease in batting average on ground balls hit with an exit velocity of 90 mph or harder, according to Baseball Savant.

“Obviously, I think everybody would rather play on regular grass,” Diamondbacks shortstop Nick Ahmed told the Arizona Republic, while acknowledging the problems the team has had in maintaining live grass.

Some relief for hitters

The Marlins’ experience has mirrored that of Arizona. They’ve used grow lights at night. They have tried at least three different types of turfgrass – two strains of bermudagrass as well as a specialized Paspalum sod. They even tried using one type of grass in the infield and another in the outfield.

Unfortunately, none of it worked satisfactorily.

In the announcement of the switch, Michael Hill, Marlins president of baseball operations said, “While playing the Diamondbacks in Arizona, we were able to get a close look and examine the new surface at Chase Field. We agreed as an organization that this change was for the best after our players and staff had encouraging remarks regarding the playability of the playing surface.”

It will unquestionably be more pleasing to the eye. The field at Marlins Park always lost its luster as the season progressed, especially in the outer reaches of the outfield.

There will be less real estate out there with the fence moving in, and that is a welcome development.

Previous ownership miscalculated in their quest to tailor the ballpark toward pitching when it was built. Instead they created dimensions greatly out of proportion with most of Major League Baseball.

That has been a sore spot with hitters since the park opened, including Giancarlo Stanton, who hated the distant fences and even more so being asked about them.

The size of the outfield got into Christian Yelich’s head. No coincidence that he suddenly became a home run hitter playing in Milwaukee’s more comfy Miller Park.

Fairer dimensions welcome

“As we enhance the playing surface at Marlins Park, we felt it was also appropriate to take the opportunity to evaluate our outfield dimensions,” Marlins CEO Derek Jeter said in the statement. “We made the decision to adjust the distance of the outfield fence, which will now be more in line with the field dimensions you see across many of today’s ballparks.”

This will be the second time the fences have been moved (2016). The change will begin at the end of the digital scoreboard in front of AutoNation Alley in center field and extend to right-center at the start of the visitors’ bullpen.

The distance in straightaway center field will now be 400 feet with the gap in right-center at 387 feet.

It will still be a spacious outfield. And if the artificial turf does play slower it will still skew toward a pitcher’s park.

For a team intent on improving offensive output, bringing in the fences is a good move.

As for giving up on real grass, there is reason to be skeptical about that.

Jake’s Take: DeVante Parker shining after four seasons clouded by doubt

After four seasons of underwhelming performances, injuries and benchings, wide receiver DeVante Parker is playing like a first round pick.

The Dolphins entered the 2015 draft needing a game-changing wide receiver. Parker was described as a player who can dominate with his 6’3” frame and 33-inch arm length. The Dolphins saw his strengths in performances against New York and Baltimore in his rookie season. He caught seven targets for 143 yards and two touchdowns in the two-game span.

Parker’s weaknesses were also on display. He struggled with injuries in his senior season at Louisville and quickly developed a reputation as an injury-prone receiver.

“I was perceived as a bust,” Parker said after Sunday’s win over the Eagles. “The thing has changed now.”

The Dolphins cleared out Adam Gase and his coaching staff after a disapointing 2018 season.

Owner Stephen Ross mentioned on how he wanted the Dolphins to build a team the right way. General Manager Chris Grier and coach Brian Flores spent the offseason searching for players with low risk and high potential — without breaking the bank. Despite remaining in Miami, it was a fresh start for Parker with a new coaching staff running the show in Miami.

“They gave me another chance,” Parker said. “They didn’t have to.”

After declining Parker’s fifth-year option, Miami signed the 6’3″ receiver to a new two-year deal worth $10 million with a team option for 2020.

After a bumpy start, Parker is showcasing top-tier talent.

Miami lost to the Chargers back on Sept. 29, but Parker had a solid day catching all four of his targets for 40 yards and a touchdown. It was followed by a 28-yard performance against Washington. However, Ryan Fitzpatrick entered the game late in the third quarter, Parker brought down a touchdown.

For just the second time in his career, he had touchdowns in back-to-back weeks.

While the performances were encouraging, it was a story that we’ve heard before. Nobody ever doubted Parker’s talent, it was the consistency that was questioned.

Parker provided an answer the following week with 55 yards and another touchdown against Buffalo on Oct. 10. For the first time in his career, Parker had touchdowns in three straight weeks. To put that into perspective, Parker played 24 games in the 2017-18 seasons and finished with a combined two touchdowns.

“He’s worked extremely hard,” coach Flores said. “This is very important to him. Football is very important to him. He’s a guy who puts the team first, and we’re really happy with the way he’s played in games; but also how he interacts with the team and how on a day-to-day basis, he’s really shown a professional approach to how to do this.”

The three-week stretch with touchdowns was a great sign for Parker. However, Parker was drafted in the first round because he is capable with much more. Parker entered Sunday’s game against the Eagles with at least 55 yards in seven-straight weeks. Keep in mind, he was yet to completely take over a game — like most scouts believed he was capable of.

To solidify his arrival of a top-tier receiver, Parker needed to dominate a game and that is just what he did against Philadelphia. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick connected with Parker for seven receptions on 10 targets for 159 yards and two touchdowns while averaging 22 yards per reception.

“It felt great. I’m still here,” Parker said. “I know I still have the ability to make plays and do whatever I can to help the team.”

“He’s been playing great all year,” tight end Mike Gesicki added. “I couldn’t be more happy for his because he’s taken a lot of criticism that he didn’t deserve in the past and he’s been making a ton of plays, so I’m really happy for him.”

Whether Parker has put it all together in his fifth season or offensive coordinator Chad O’Shea is using him correctly — it is time to view Parker as a top-tier receiver.

With four games still remaining in 2019 Parker has 53 receptions for 854 yards and six touchdowns. He is four receptions from topping his career high back in 2017 and has already secured a new high in both yards (previously 744) and touchdowns (four).

His most impressive stat highlights his consistency. Parker has converted 42 first downs in 2019, cracking his previous high of 34.

“As you get older in this league, you understand that those things are very important and that everything you do counts,” Flores said. “I think there’s a level of maturity that if you can – if we can get guys to mature as quickly as possible, that’s the goal for each staff on every team. I think he’s – I wasn’t here with him prior to this – my dealings with DeVante have been very good, and I think he’s really taken a professional approach and he’s done a very good job.”

It is hard to imagine Miami declining his 2020 player option. In fact, the Dolphins are projected to have over $100 million in cap space next season. Grier and the front office may look to lock up Parker as the team’s number-one receiver for years to come.

Whatever direction the Dolphins decide to go, it is safe to say that Parker has arrived as a top-tier receiver in the National Football League.

 

 

Pressure Point: Marlins finally giving fans reason for hope

Welcome to Pressure Point by Craig Davis, commentary and analysis from a longtime observer and reporter of the South Florida sports scene and its teams.

Jack McKeon had a saying he repeated often during his second tour as manager of the Marlins in 2011: “The worm will turn.”

Ol’ Trade Jack was betting that the team’s fortunes would eventually change for the better.

They never did in that 72-90 season. Nor have they in the eight seasons that followed with the move to Marlins Park the following year.

The Miami Marlins haven’t had a winning record during their time in Little Havana. The recently completed 105-loss season was the second-worst in team history.

But the long-downtrodden franchise may finally be ready to fulfill McKeon’s prophesy. Entering the third year of the Derek Jeter/Bruce Sherman regime, there are signs the worm is beginning to turn.

Moves add pop to lineup

The moves Monday that netted proven power hitters Jesus Aguilar and Jonathan Villar – both were All-Stars within the past two years – without sacrificing any of the valuable young talent in their system were the latest indications that times are changing.

Notably, they were willing to pay Villar a salary expected to be in the neighborhood of $10.4 million next year when his previous team, the Orioles, were not.

Villar isn’t a past-prime package. He’s 28, a switch-hitter coming off a season in which he batted .274 with 24 home runs and 73 RBI while playing all 162 games for Baltimore. He’s a legitimate leadoff candidate who had 40 stolen bases and scored 111 runs.

His WAR rating of 4.0 last season was the same as Freddie Freeman and Anthony Rizzo, and better than Michael Conforto, Gleyber Torres and Jose Altuve, according to Fangraphs.

Villar can also play throughout the infield and in the outfield.

Miami gave up minor-league lefty Easton Lucas to get him. Lucas wasn’t among their top 30 prospects.

Aguilar, 29, comes as a bargain, the slugging first baseman claimed off waivers from Tampa Bay. He is projected to get about $2.5 million via arbitration and is one season removed from hitting 35 homers for the Brewers.

Granted that was playing in Miller Park – see Christian Yelich’s power numbers in Milwaukee compared to Marlins Park. But Aguiliar offers the sort of pop Miami’s punchless offense lacked the past two seasons.

Roster trending upward

It is always a bit surreal when the Marlins open their checkbook. Before Monday they had the projected lowest payroll in the minors.

But Jeter and Co. already made the surprising move of eating $22 million to dump useless lefty Wei-Yin Chen to open a roster spot for a young player who can be a future asset.

Acquiring Villar and Aguilar were smart yet thrifty baseball moves for genuine major-leaguers who can upgrade the most anemic lineup in the game. Villar essentially inherits the salary the Marlins were paying Starlin Castro, and there are more dimensions to his game.

This is not to suggest the Marlins are ready to challenge the World Series champion Nationals and NL East-winning Braves in the division.

Nonetheless, these upgrades fit into a trend of encouraging signs that Jeter’s rebuilding plan is headed in the right direction.

Notably, 24 of the players on the current 40-man roster have been obtained since the ownership change just over two years ago.

Presumably, an effort will be made to address needs in the bullpen and for another bat in the outfield at the Winter Meetings next week in San Diego.

For the first time in too long there is reason to watch instead of averting your eyes.

Patience showing promise

Suddenly, Marlins followers finding reason to feel frisky on Twitter for a change. Good to see their faces unobscured by paper bags.

Everyone else responds with mild shock spiced by well-worn digs. What, the blind squirrel got an acorn and didn’t choke on it?

The Marlins, with their long track record of being chintzy and out of step with the rest of baseball, will be regarded as suspects until they prove otherwise. As well they should.

They don’t have to be forever Sisyphus in knickers, though.

Jeter’s rebuilding plan is starting to take on an encouraging form. Ultimately, the fate of this rebuilding effort will depend on the young prospects panning out.

The best indication is that the farm system, which was as empty as the bleachers on a weeknight when Jeter started, is now ranked fourth by mlb.com.

There are intriguing arms at all levels of the system, and now some promising hitters are rising toward the top of the pipeline.

That is not to say they are all budding All-Stars. And the process of blossoming young talent is always painstaking and often painful, as evidenced by the struggles of Lewis Brinson and Isan Diaz to find their way in the majors.

Nonetheless, on the brink of a new decade, there is reason to believe the Marlins outlook is beginning a turn for the better and to actually look forward to spring training.

GUTS CHECK: Dragic Delivers, Herro Heroics, Jimmy the Closer

Welcome to Guts Check by Greg Sylvander. A weekly Miami Heat column aimed at bringing readers my perspective on all the hot topics surrounding the team. You can expect a regular balance of sourced information, analysis and feeling the Heat down in my soul. In the name of Trusting the Spocess, let’s call these weekly columns position-less.

Since we last touched base:

  • Lost at Houston 117-108
  • Won vs Golden State 122-105
  • Won at Brooklyn 109-106

Current Record: 14-5, 3rd in the Eastern Conference

 Goran Guts

After seeing Dragic nearly dealt this summer I was resigned to the possibility that Dragon was the player most likely to be traded out of everyone on the entire roster. A $20 million dollar expiring contract? Former All Star, veteran point guard available via trade? It felt inevitable he would be a hot name on the NBA trade rumor mill all season.

Forgive me Gogi! I was so wrong.

Dragic is flat out balling. Nearly indispensable most nights, he has proven to be a key cog off the bench in this new role. Goran Dragic is doing the things that earn you Heat Lifer status.

Dragic is firmly in the early race for 6th man of the year honors, particularly if the Heat continue to win at it’s current mid .700% clip.

Forget a mere expiring contract, barring an unforeseen star level talent becoming available, I don’t see a reasonable scenario where it make sense to trade Dragic. He’s been a Top 3 player since Opening Night.

It helps that Jimmy is in Goran’s corner in such a major way.

Did anyone see that coming? Does anyone even have the guts to tell Jimmy otherwise?

Seeing Dragic accept whatever role necessary to help impact winning, approach this season with vigor that is showing by virtue of the rejuvenated shooting touch (among other things) really begs the question – will Miami explore retaining Dragic on a team friendly deal (if possible) this summer?

An argument could be made that the emergence of Kendrick Nunn, combined with the commitment to Justise Winslow makes the idea of retaining Dragic long term appear far-fetched. However, I think we might be surprised at what unfolds in that regard when the time arrives next summer.

Herro Heroics

I don’t really have a bunch of stats handy to support this next statement but here goes…

Tyler Herro is going to be a star. A STAR.

He is the most polished Heat rookie in the history of the franchise. Yeah, it’s precisely like that.

Kid is so smooth. Absolutely insane body control, footwork, ability to maintain his follow through no matter the circumstance. I think I’m in love.

The way he raises up and gets his looks despite sometimes being pressured (at an athletic disadvantage I might add) is straight out of the Ray Allen book of shot making.

For now, the Heat should consider Tyler Herro the closest thing to an untouchable player they have on the roster. (Jimmy & UD excluded).

Meyers Leonard for the Culture

5 on the Floor podcast extraordinaire Alphonse Sidney’s main man is earning Heat Culture clout left and right.

That comment makes Heat fans want to run through walls for Meyers. Who knew the Heat would get such a significantly better fit both on and off the court when they swapped Whiteside for Leonard? We all did.

Shame on us for not identifying a young player playing for a contract who is taking advantage of the Culture.

Box score watchers will scoff at Leonard’s ability to secure a long-term deal of any significance this summer. However, if he works together with the organization on a potential one-year deal, he could conceivably secure a wink-wink mid-level exception pay back in summer 2021 from the Heat. They love what he brings to the team.

Always Be Closing: A Butler Chronicle

What we watched unfold at the end of the game in Brooklyn was the living embodiment of why you obtain the Jimmy Butlers of the world. Why you do it at all costs. Having a player that can impose his will and steal games, particularly on the road, is not quantifiable on the stat sheet.

Jimmy took complete control of the end of the game against Brooklyn in a way that was downright comforting to watch. The way he dictated tempo and forced the refs to make decisions was the stuff Heat Culture Alphas are made of. We finally have that guy again!

As always, IRWT.

That’s it for this week, but let’s say it loud and clear…all in together now….

This Heat team is for real.

Launching Pad: Bam’s Barriers, Winslow’s Return, Herro’s Happy Feet

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.


The Stats (Weekly stats in parentheses)

• Record: 14-5 (2-1, 3rd in the East)

• Offensive Rating: 109.5 (114.3)

• Defensive Rating: 103.5 (107.0)

• Net Rating: plus-6.0 (plus-7.3)

• True-Shooting Percentage: 59.1 (59.6)

• Pace: 101.1 (99.8)

• Time of Possession: 14.5 seconds (14.7)


Lineup of the Week (min. 10 minutes)

Goran Dragic, Tyler Herro, Justise Winslow, Bam Adebayo, Kelly Olynyk

• Minutes: 10

• Offensive Rating: 160.0

• Defensive Rating: 109.5

• Net Rating: plus-50.5

• True-Shooting Percentage: 77.2

• Pace: 98.73


The Big Number: 31.1

You can bank on three things in this thing called life: death, taxes, and the Heat having one of the best defenses in the league.

As of today, the Heat rank 7th in defensive rating. They’ve done so behind a “drop” scheme that has effectively kept opponents out of the paint (7th fewest rim attempts allowed). On the other hand, they’ve also bled three-point attempts, particularly above the break. Opponents are attempting nearly 28 above-the-break triples per game, the 6th most in the league.

The good news: teams are only converting 31.1 percent of those looks, a number that only ranks behind the Chicago Bulls (31.0) and the Denver Nuggets (30.5).

That specific portion of the Heat’s defense will be tested this week with match-ups against the Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics, and the Washington Wizards. All three squads have pull-up artists that can make the Heat pay from deep if the ball pressure isn’t there.

Weekly Trends

1. Bam’s half-court struggles

We talked about Miami’s half-court offense in last week’s edition, but mostly within the context of their loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. The general verdict was that the Heat needed more on-ball juice from the perimeter, and there needed to be some sort of plan for Bam Adebayo.

It’s safe to say we got a glimpse of that in Sunday’s match-up against the Brooklyn Nets.

The Nets bigs, as they generally do against non-shooters, basically ignored Adebayo in the half-court. Their “one-man zone” kept Jarrett Allen or DeAndre Jordan at the basket while Adebayo operated from the perimeter.

Just look at the contrast between how Adebayo guards Jordan, and how that flips on the other end.

 

 

For the most part, the results weren’t great. Adebayo missed some jumpers, forced some passes, and ultimately looked flustered. The fact that he finished with 17 & 16 is a testament to his never-ending motor.

There’s some work to be done here. A bunch of this rides on Adebayo and his confidence. He needs to become respected as an on-ball threat. That won’t come without reps.

If teams are going to instruct their centers to basically ignore him outside of the paint, he needs to do one of two things for himself. Either he has to pull the trigger on more mid-range attempts (he’s 15-of-31 on shots between 10-19 feet), or he has to use the runway teams are giving him to explode to the basket.

More of that, please.

The Heat also need to also need to make sure they’re putting Adebayo in positions to succeed when teams employ that strategy. If they aren’t going to break from their handoff counters (which isn’t a bad thing), we’re going to need to see more of the Tyler Herro-Adebayo pairing. Herro is the best pull-up shooter the Heat have, and will be able make aggressive “drop” defenses pay if they play with a huge cushion.

2. Justise Winslow’s return

Miami’s favorite enigma returned to action on Wednesday against the Houston Rockets. His minutes haven’t exactly been limited since he’s been back (30.3), but Erik Spoelstra has notably (and, to this point, correctly) decided to bring Winslow off the bench.

Nothing from Winslow’s three-game stint should be surprising. The playmaking flashes have still been there:

 

 

He’s defended pretty well when he’s been on the perimeter. His 4th quarter defense against Spencer Dinwiddie on Sunday was particularly impressive. Winslow remains quite good at wiggling through screens and staying connected to ball handlers.

On the flip side, Winslow hasn’t had much success at all as a scorer. He’s hit half of his shots at the rim (4-of-8) and has been a disaster outside of the paint. The three-point shot isn’t just off right now; it looks different.

I’m no shot doctor, but it seems like he’s tinkered with his release point in an effort to speed things up. It may very well pay off in the long run, but it’s hard not to cringe at stuff like this:

 

 

Winslow coming off the bench has also meant playing a ton of minutes at the 4 defensively. It … hasn’t looked great. Winslow at the 4 should be complemented by a shift towards switching. Instead, the Heat have mostly elected to maintain their “drop” principles, leading to some pretty ugly miscommunications.

Time will heal some of those wounds. As ugly as it’s been for Winslow at times, the Heat have still been much better with him on the court since he’s returned. The offense plays faster and shoots better from the field. The defense is stingier and has a higher success rate ending possessions.

It’s okay to be concerned with Winslow’s half-court fit, but just remember there’s a multi-year sample at play with the Heat outscoring their opponents with Winslow on the floor.

Be patient.

3. The balance of Tyler Herro

Tyler Herro was rightfully dubbed with the “knockdown shooter” rep coming out of Kentucky. Some of us [coughs] questioned what else brought to the table, and he’s mostly shut some of us [clears throat] up with plus-passing feel and a growing catalog of get-out-of-my-way contested rebounds.

Still, the shooting is the calling card. Herro’s numbers are almost unprecedented for a rookie. They include, but are not limited to:

-a 40.4 percent from three on over five attempts

-a 1.57 (!!!) point per possession clip on spot-ups (99th percentile, via Synergy)

-an 82.7 adjusted field goal percentage on spot-ups

-a 1.83 point per possession clip on unguarded catch-and-shoot jumpers (98th percentile)

Herro isn’t just a great shooter; he’s (statistically) on the path to become a true defense shifter in that regard. It’s easy to be impressed by his touch, but his footwork (settle down, Mr. Ryan) is what really steals the show when you watch. It doesn’t take much time or effort for him to set up shop, and that allows him to flow into pull-ups or side-step attempts easier than most.

 

 

Whew.

Bonus: Kelly Olynyk has found his groove

If you thought a six-minute outing against the Nets would prevent me from talking about Kelly Olynyk, you are sadly mistaken.

(His section was replaced by Herro’s, so I guess you weren’t that mistaken.)

Olynyk struggled to adjust to Miami’s screen-heavy offense in the early goings of the season. Over the past week or so, he’s found ways to inject his brand of spontaneity. The pitch-and-go chemistry with Winslow has picked up where it left off. He’s drilling above-the-break threes. Heck, his willingness to take them is a breath of fresh air in comparison to Miami’s starting center.

His play-style is plodding and weird. It never looks like it’s supposed to work, but it just … does?

 

 

The Heat have been nearly 19 points per 100 possessions better with Olynyk on the floor over their last five games. It’s safe to say he’s back in the flow of things.

Set Play of the Week

Draggin’ along

If you paid any attention to the Heat this preseason, you would’ve immediately picked up on their increased frequency of pick-and-rolls featuring two screeners. “Double Drag” is a common action across the league; Heat fans in particular should remember Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks doing whatever they wanted out of it last season.

The fundamental purpose of Double Drag is to strain multiple defenders at once. Against (what’s left of) the Golden State Warriors, the Heat added some decoy action to further scramble them.

The possession begins with Winslow bringing the ball up the floor. Goran Dragic executes an Iverson cut (running off two staggered screens) before receiving a pass on the right wing. The drag screen action then begins with Herro and Chris Silva as screeners.

The starting position of the pick-and-roll is already unusual; the added wrinkle of a spacer (Herro) slipping the screen is something that Steve Kerr would specifically appreciate.

The Warriors end up committing two to the ball, leaving Herro open in the corner. Dragic finds Hero, who caps off the possession with a pump fake, a side-step, and a rainbow.