Florida Panthers: Michael Matheson is upping his play

The Florida Panthers have benefited from his play over the past couple games.

As the Florida Panthers get ready to begin their road trip against the Detroit Red Wings, one Panther is looking to continue his hot streak. Michael Matheson has been playing well over the past couple of games. Now, he is looking to continue that hot streak.

Matheson has scored six goals and recorded six assists in 40 games this season. Notching 12 points, he has recorded three points in his last five games. Most recently against the Los Angeles Kings, he recorded a goal and an assist. Prior to that, he had a goal and an assist against Toronto on January 12.

His shot totals have stayed in the upper-20s range, and he is getting pucks to the net. Matheson recorded 23 shots against the Kings, and 25 against the Maple Leafs. He has been extremely active on the ice, and he has seen an increase in ice time. He was on the ice for 20:43 against Los Angeles and 21:00 against Toronto.

Panthers have golden opportunity

The Detroit Red Wings have one of the worst defenses in the league. Allowing 3.83 goals per game, that is last in the National Hockey League. Backup goaltender Calvin Picard is expected between the pipes against Florida on Saturday.  Picard is 0-2 against the Panthers the season.

The last time these two teams met, the Panthers beat the Red Wings by a 5-4 margin. Matheson had a shot in 21 shifts, equaling to 19:54 in ice time.

The stars are aligning for Matheson to have another big game. He has been a great secondary scorer for the team lately. The Boston College product filled a similar role in Chestnut Hill, and he is doing the same for the Panthers. It will be interesting to see what he can do against a Red Wings team that has been struggling as of late. Whatever he is doing right now is working well.

Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores

Miami Dolphins: Team goes backwards with coaching youth movement

The Miami Dolphins are bucking the trend with coaching hires.

The Miami Dolphins have hired two coaches in the past month who are on the older side of things. Offensive coordinator Chan Gailey is 68, while Steve Marshall, the new offensive line coach, is 63.

I have no problems with either of the hires, aside from the fact that age is an issue for me.

The Miami Dolphins have hired experience

Gailey has a ton of experience. Gailey began his coaching career at Florida State in 1974. He was a graduate assistant back then. Landing his first head coaching gig in 1983 for Troy State, he held the position for two seasons before moving on to Denver. Since then, he has gone through the football ranks rather rapidly, taking on different positions in the process. Most recently, he was the offensive coordinator for the New York Jets in the 2015-16 season.

Marshall has experience in the National Football League as well. He was an assistant offensive line coach from the time the Houston Texans were an expansion team until 2006. In 2006 , Marshall joined the Cleveland Browns. Since then, he has held different positions throughout the National Football League. Most recently, he was the offensive line coach for the New York Jets in 2017. There is a Jets theme to the staff.

Again, there is no doubt they have experience. However, the league is trending in a younger direction when it comes to coaches. That’s what makes me a little bit skeptical about these moves.

Recent coaching hires have gone the younger direction

Take a look at the Carolina Panthers, for example. They hired 30-year-old offensive coordinator Joe Brady for the same position. Brady’s ascent to the position was rapid. He began as a linebackers coach for William and Mary in 2013. He rose through the ranks of football, most recently as the passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach of LSU. He is credited with a ton of offensive success for the Tigers, and his presence helped this year as the Tigers won the National Championship.

From Sean McVay to Josh McDaniels, to even Brian Flores, the league is trending in a younger direction. From analytics to the fact that the NFL is becoming a passing league, the game has changed even since Marshall and Gailey last coached three years ago. Somebody younger might have been a better fit for Miami. I know a huge deal is made about the youth infusion and these young, “Wizkid” coaches. I believe there is something to that, however.

Nevertheless, we’ll have to see how these two do. I hope they do well. In this day and age of younger coaches, I believe that the Dolphins should hire younger coaches to keep up with the times. Even still, we must throw our support behind the coaches.

Guts Check: Try to win now or wait for 2021? Heat can do both

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:

  • Won at Indiana 122-108
  • Lost at Brooklyn 117-113
  • Lost at New York 124-121
  • Current Record: 27-12, 3rd in the East, tied for 4th best record in the league

 

Win Now or 2021 Plan? Or both?

 

Today a clip from ESPN’s Brian Windhorst began circulating regarding the Heat’s plans to build another super team. Which could as a surprise to no member of Heat Nation.

It was then punctuated by tweets from two former players that elude to the possibility of the best player on planet Earth (& current Milwaukee Buck) Giannis Antetokounmpo being the Heat’s top priority.

I think everyone realizes by now that every team will have Giannis as a top priority that summer. The mystique surrounding Riley, allure of Miami as a destination and the fact that Antetokounmpo & Heat star Bam Adebayo share an agent all have added flames to this fire.

However, as the Heat come off 2 bad losses to subpar teams, with question marks about the sustainability of their hot start and the current team’s ceiling, fans have been firing up the trade machine since Sunday evening.

Can the make a win now move without sacrificing 2021 plans? Some have been skeptical.

Could they trade for a player that the franchise’s new superstar Jimmy Butler has advocated for – Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday – without sacrificing this shot (of all shots worth shooting) at the Greek Freek in summer 2021?

Let’s investigate.

First, we must establish that this reckless fake trade speculation is arriving on your doorstep in far less elaborate packaging than say the great Albert Nahmad has done here.

This is just rough math (let’s call it Culture rounding) aimed at giving you a snapshot at how the Heat could conceivably position itself to acquire a player such as Holiday before the February trade deadline and also preserve the flexibility necessary to sign Giannis.

To know how much the Heat will have to spend in 2021, we first would need to speculate on what contracts need to be included in the trade for Jrue Holiday.

For the sake of this exercise – let’s assume it takes at minimum a package that resembles Justise Winslow, Kendrick Nunn, Kelly Olynyk and a draft pick of some kind.

One important note about the following potential scenario – it would unfortunately make it hard for the Heat to retain Derrick Jones Jr and Goran Dragic – although there could even be ways of making that happen if the players and organization were aligned on plans.

If we then operate under the assumption that the Heat make no other long-term salary commitments prior to 2021, and renounce any lingering cap holds, this is what the Heat’s cap sheet would look like heading into that summer:

  • Jimmy Butler $36M
  • Jrue Holiday $26M (lets assume he opts IN – which could be considered unlikely)
  • Tyler Hero $4M
  • KZ Okpala $1.8M
  • Chris Silva $2M cap hold
  • Bam Adebayo cap hold $12.8M
  • Duncan Robinson cap hold $2M
  • Ryan Anderson dead cap $5M
  • 2020 1st Round Pick 2nd year salary: $2M
  • 4 minimum roster charges: $4M

That brings the total committed salary to $95M or so heading into summer 2021.

The salary cap for 2021 is projected to be $125M

That leaves the Heat with somewhere around $30M in cap space.

Giannis Year One Max is projected to be $37M.

So, the Heat find themselves around $7M short.

However, if you can find a team to take KZ Okpala and the player you select with your 2020 1st Round Pick (if it hasn’t been traded by then) you gain back $4M.

That get’s you to $34M in cap space.

Renounce the cap hold of Silva and you get to $36M – only $1 million short of the year one Giannis max total.

Then all that would be left to do is convince Giannis to do an unprecedented, unfathomable act, something that has never been executed in Miami Heat history.

He would have to sacrifice a relatively small amount of his year one annual income (relatively speaking) to land in Miami on a super team. And yes, seeing how this version of the Heat would have Butler, Holiday, Giannis, Bam, Herro & Robinson as its core – I think we could deem them a potential super team.

Sounds impossible, if we hadn’t already seen players do it to team up down here in the past.

What’s Wrong With the Miami Heat’s Defense?

This is bad.

A 1-2 road trip isn’t the end of the world. Heck, losing to the Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks (yuck) isn’t all that bad. They’re two losses in an 82-game schedule that, to this point, the Heat have probably overachieved in.

The way that those games were lost, however, is pretty frustrating.

241 American points were given up over the weekend, all in regulation. The Kyrie-and-KD-less Nets — with a rusty Caris LeVert to boot — probably shouldn’t have that sort of success. Neither should the Knicks, a hodgepodge of trade fodder surrounding a wet-behind-the-ears wing with a questionable jumper.

But alas, this is the way the Heat’s defense has been trending.

If you’ve been following The Launching Pad, you would’ve picked up on the Heat’s weekly defensive rating rising every week. Since December 1st, the Heat have a defensive rating of 111.3 (23rd). They’ve gone 14-7 in that stretch, but a 21-game sample means their defensive shortcomings don’t classify as a blip.

The Heat’s defense is like an onion — it stinks and it’ll make you cry, if it hasn’t already. More importantly for this discussion, there are layers to this problem.

Understanding the Scheme

DISCLAIMER: You’re more than welcome to skip the next section if you’re even marginally X’s & O’s inclined.

To understand where the cracks in Miami’s defense are coming from, you must understand what the Heat want to accomplish, and how they want to get there.

The Heat employ a “Drop” scheme against ball screens, which calls for the perimeter defender to fight over screens while the big man drops (aha!) into the paint. When done correctly, a drop scheme:

1) runs the perimeter player off the three-point line and funnels him inside

2) Puts the defensive big man in position to take away a (clean) rim attempt or a lob attempt to a rolling big

3) Allows help defenders to stay attached to guys in the corner, since pick-and-rolls are defended 2-on-2

4) encourages pull-up 2s or floaters, which are generally less efficient shots than 3s or shots at the rim

There are natural holes in that scheme. Pick-and-pops are coverage busters since the defensive big is tasked with hanging in the paint. It’s partly why guys like Karl-Anthony Towns are nearly impossible to deal with.

Pull-up artists — your Dames, your Kembas, your Trae Youngs — are particularly lethal if they can run their man into a screen. With the big in the paint, there’s no real chance for a contest on a quick pull-up unless you’re sending help elsewhere.

The Numbers

By virtue of their scheme, the Heat want to take away rim attempts first, corner shots second, above-the-break threes third, and let offenses feast or famine on in-between shots.

The Heat are doing precisely one (1) of those things well.

Via PBPStats, the Heat rank 9th in percentage of shot attempts allowed at the rim (30.6). They’re 26th in percentage of corner threes allowed (10.5), 28th in above-the-break threes (32.0), and don’t particularly force long mid-range shots either.

When you look at the efficiency of those shots, the story basically flips.

Despite the Heat limiting rim attempts, they’ve been the NBA’s worst defense at actually defending those shots (66.86 percent). Enemies haven’t had success on their above-the-break threes (31.9 percent, 4th), corner threes (35.1 percent, 4th) or long mid-range jumpers (37.3 percent, 4th).

That kind of split begs the question: why are the Heat so bad at shot prevention?

Problems at the head

It starts up top, figuratively and literally.

The key to a drop scheme is the perimeter defender staying connected to the ball-handler. If he doesn’t do that, the burden shifts to the rest of the team to scramble. With the NBA being spacier than ever, scramble drills feel like death sentences. Cracks turn to craters reeeeally quickly.

This isn’t an example of a scramble drill. In fact, I’d say this was one of Miami’s best defensive reps from the Nets game. Meyers Leonard does a surprisingly good job of meeting Spencer Dinwiddie at the level of the screen. He hesitates on the contest, and Dinwiddie makes the shot. That’s still a pretty solid process with an unfavorable result.

What this is an example of, however, is Kendrick Nunn dying on a screen. This has been happening quite often since the first month of the season. He started the season hot as a point-of-attack defender, often “jumping” the screen — feeling where the pick is coming from and getting into the ball-handler’s body before the screener can even make contact — and staying attached.

Teams got privy to that, and we saw more guards start to back-cut him. Since then, Nunn has been a bit slower in his approach to attack screens. It’s led to less backdoor cuts, but he’s allowed himself to get screened, putting the rest of the defense in limbo.

As productive as Goran Dragic has been offensively, he’s been … let’s say the exact opposite of that on the defensive end. Dragic’s inability to stay connected on screens is a big reason why he’s in a bench role to begin with.

Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson have been mostly fine as team defenders. They know when and where to rotate, and can execute simple dig-and-recover sequences when they aren’t directly involved in the action.

When they are attacked, either on or off ball, their lack of quick-twitch athleticism make them liabilities. Robinson in particular has struggled to stay connected. Here’s an off-ball rep:

Aaaaaaaand here’s a pretty important on-ball rep:

Not great!

The Nets sought out Robinson late in the 4th and essentially got what they wanted every time down. The clip above also sheds light on an obvious but not-discussed-enough fact of the Heat’s defense: they really don’t like switching.

Overcompensating

Super Bam highlights aside, the Heat want to keep things simple. Via Second Spectrum tracking data, the Heat have ranked 25th in screens switched per 100 possessions in each of the past two seasons.

That’s not inherently a bad thing. But when the crux of your defensive principle is staying attached, and your players can’t do that, you’re going to give up the shots the Heat have been giving up.

First and foremost, this is a fantastic set play from the Nets. A big reason this play works is because they knew Leonard didn’t want to leave the paint. Running Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot off a screen to occupy Bam was a smart wrinkle to take him and Leonard out of the play simultaneously.

Having Bam and Leonard switch that initial screen would’ve allowed Bam to hang at the top of the key to help defend the Joe Harris-Jarrett Allen action. Instead, Allen washes out Robinson with a screen, which leads to a scramble drill.

In lieu of switching, the Heat try to compensate by flooding the middle of the floor. I’ve talked a little about the Heat’s defense at the “nail” — the point of the floor slightly above the middle of the free throw line. Jimmy Butler has played a ton of free safety from that area this season, which has led to plenty of pick-sixes.

It’s a risk-reward dance that Butler has mostly won this season. In addition to jumping passing lanes, Butler also has the freedom to “dig” more aggressively into the paint for surprise strips. Things can go pretty poorly whenever Butler loses a bet.

 

The Heat’s commitment to taking away the middle is a big reason why they play so much zone. Having guys like Butler and Derrick Jones Jr. makes middle penetration and entry passes darn-near impossible. When teams are able to find the soft spot of the zone, bad things happen pretty darn quickly.

 

The Heat’s zone has generally been used as a change-of-pace option; as of late, it feels like its usage has come out of necessity.

How does it get better?

Depending on how you consume Heat basketball (or, I guess, basketball in general), this answer will either anger you or excite you.

This isn’t getting better without some personnel changes. It’s hard to imagine Erik Spoelstra deciding to get more switch-y. With this group, I’m not sure you can really afford to. Simplifying things can only take you so far.

If you guessed that this would be the section that I mention the name of one Justise Winslow, you would be correct!

It’s hard to overstate just how important a healthy Winslow would be for this defense. At his best, he’s the Heat’s second best perimeter defender and their best screen-avoider. Giving some of the Nunn, Dragic, Herro, or Robinson minutes to Winslow would be quite the upgrade.

(I’d also encourage you to check out the timeline of our own Christian Hernandez — @ICanBeYourHerro — if you want some of the ugly lineup numbers the Heat have dealt with at guard.)

Sadly, Winslow is still dealing with a back injury. There’s no telling when he’ll be 70 percent, much less when he’ll be back to his calling-Ben-Simmons-a-BAN self.

Maybe another week of this convinces Pat Riley to hit up Pelicans GM David Griffin to inquiry about Jrue Holiday. On a less exciting note, calling up the Sacramento Kings to check in on disgruntled Dewayne Dedmon to beef up the front court would make some sense.

Until then, your best bet is to hope some rest, good ol’ fashioned film review yelling, and home cooking can reinvigorate this group.

Dolphins Chris Grier

Fresh Perspective: Potential new cap rules mean Dolphins should spend heavily

Several months ago, I wrote up a massive offseason plan based on both free agency and the 2020 NFL draft. The Miami Dolphins would have gotten star free agents, stud prospects, and a franchise quarterback in it. Not only that, I was about to redo that plan to reflect the confirmed draft positions. However, some new information has caused me to rethink the position I was preparing to take.

Evidently, there’s a real possibility that due to the expiring Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), there will be no cap carryover from 2020 into 2021. This information comes from Jason Fitzgerald at overthecap.com, whose specialty is explaining cap space.

In layman’s terms, any cap space that isn’t used in the current year can normally be rolled over into the next season to use then. That would give the Dolphins more room to spend on new players and extend homegrown talent. But if there will no longer be cap rollover, then where is the incentive to not spend up to the cap?

What it means for Dolphins

As it stands, according to overthecap.com, the Miami Dolphins have nearly $100 million in cap space available for 2020. Obviously, the ideal scenario is that things will continue as if nothing changed and allow teams to continue carrying over cap. But there’s no guarantee that will happen. Fitzgerald suggests that the best thing teams can do now is to put voids and buyback options into player contracts for this upcoming season.

But there’s a problem. No amount of buyback options or voids will be enough for the Dolphins to get to the point where they’ve used up all that would-be wasted cap space. How much money can realistically be spent? Using the plan I created, free agency would still leave approximately $25 million in cap space that would otherwise be wasted. So what are the solutions?

1. Spend More

On top of what was mentioned in the old offseason plan, Miami will need a stud running back. Derrick Henry may leave Tennessee and look for a huge contract after becoming the league’s leading rusher. The Dolphins could pay him and finally have the star they’ve been missing since the days of Ricky Williams in his prime. That makes things even easier, by the way, for whoever is anointed the team’s franchise quarterback.

Also, it might not be a bad idea for Miami to basically buy an elite offensive line altogether. Brandon Scherff, Anthony Castanzo, and perhaps sign Jack Conklin to be the right tackle. Jesse Davis is solid as depth, but he’s not an ideal NFL starter. So, make him depth again. A line of Castanzo, Deiter, Tyler Biadasz (Deiter’s old center from Wisconsin), Scherff and Conklin would be a solid team.

Sign both Yannick Ngakoue and maybe Kyle Van Noy or Arik Armstead to contracts. That would shore up the defensive end spots instantly. By the time the draft class is signed, the Dolphins should be right at the brink of their salary cap. Not to mention, the roster’s talent level will be so elevated by that point, the playoffs should not only be a goal, but an expectation.

True, it feels like a return to what hasn’t worked in the past. However, the reasoning behind it is completely different.

2. Front-Loaded Contracts

This other option would allow the Dolphins to save up cap space for the future while still using it up for 2020. With whatever contracts are signed this offseason, give a huge chunk of the money in the first year. It’s a simple idea, and has been utilized by teams for years. Just, in this case, make it a bit more top-heavy than usual.

It’s hard to imagine there will be any player out there who will turn down $20 million dollars in the first year of a new contract. Sure, the other years will be significantly lower, but instant gratification is a powerful temptation. It also comes with the added benefit of insurance. If a player doesn’t pan out the way they’re expected to, a much lower cap hit the next year means moving on from them should be much easier.

No doubt, it’s a gamble. But playing games with the salary cap isn’t as easy as it looks. It would be a waste to let that money go unspent if it’s going to just disappear.

Now, for all we know, news will come out later that the cap will be rolled over after all. Nothing is set in stone as of yet. But if push comes to shove, and a massive chunk of cash is about to be flushed down the toilet? Miami needs to be ready to seize the moment. Spend big on star players, or front-load deals for one year so the cap will be prepared for 2021.

Teams that are prepared win championships. Teams that get caught looking? Not so much.

Luis Sung has covered the Miami Dolphins for numerous outlets such as Dolphins Wire for six years. Follow him on Twitter: @LuisDSung

Should Miami Heat Embrace Villain Status Once Again?

Being the villain worked for the Miami Heat once, can it again?

The Miami Heat took care of another road win Wednesday at Indiana 122-108, but the storyline was not the result.

Instead the focus was on a battle (one-sided) between Jimmy Butler and Indiana’s T.J. Warren.

 

Butler goaded Warren into an ejection after an offensive foul on Butler drew taunting applause from the Indiana forward.

The two were going at it all game and the physicality finally reached a boiling point.

Perhaps Warren did not realize that Butler is probably only the third baddest you-know-what on the Heat.

 

Butler’s teammates have quickly rallied behind their leader, while social media has been in a frenzy about it.

Meanwhile some, let’s say, old school basketball minds think Butler was in the wrong.

A bad example for the young fans of the National Basketball Association.

 

The league office took notice as well.

 

Perhaps you receive less punishment if you forget the whole thing ever happened.

 

Fans of teams from Butler’s past (cough…Philly) have continued to perpetuate the false narrative that Butler is a bad teammate.

A problematic malcontent.

Except he isn’t.

 

The thoughts of those outside the Heat organization typically hold little to no influence on those inside.

Yet the us-against-the-world mentality has not exactly been a burden either.

When Lebron James and Chris Bosh joined the Heat in 2010 after the infamous “Decision”, it manifested into a polarizing era.

The ceremony with proclamations of multiple championships drew the ire of many.

ESPN’s “Heat Index” consumed every ounce of Heat Culture during the Big 3 Era, and rightfully so.

That Heat team was not a lovable champion to a lot of NBA observers outside of Heat Nation.

Instead a juggernaut formed with a singular end goal, that was ultimately achieved twice.

The venom fueled Lebron to get his first two championship rings.

So why can’t it do the same for Jimmy Butler?

This Heat squad is a much different team, a group already ahead of schedule.

The early success this season has drawn a lot of positive praise nationally.

While Butler has been under the microscope for his shooting, despite his team’s success.

Why?

Butler fits the Heat model to the tee, a selfless general with only one goal.

His actions in Indiana were savvy and galvanizing to his team.

But he didn’t make any friends in the Hoosier State.

They can take a number behind those in Philadelphia, Minnesota, and Chicago.

Because Jimmy Butler and the Heat don’t care.

Get ready for more contentious nights on the hardwood before this season is complete.

Just how we like it.

 

Guts Check: Harmless Hassan Heckling, Airplane Mode, Justise Better

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:

  • Won vs Toronto 84-76
  • Lost at Orlando 105-85
  • Won vs Portland 122-111

Heat record: 26-10, 3rd in the East, 4th best record in the NBA

Harmless Hassan Heckling

A portion of the Heat fanbase, and media for that matter, certainly took a strange position this week.

It appears they reprimanded Heat fans for jeering and booing Hassan Whiteside during Sunday night’s Heat victory over the Portland Trailblazers. Some even accused Heat fans of acting as ugly as Cavs fans did to LeBron James when he visited Cleveland (as a member of the Miami Heat) for the first time after leaving his home state in 2010.

Give me a break.

No batteries were thrown, no obscenity laced outburst in the tunnel, no middle fingers from the stands, no signs with bold insults. Boos and a “We got shooters” chant pale in comparison to anything the folks up in Cleveland dished out towards LBJ. Making the comparison is downright laughable.

Heat fans wanted to give Hassan that type of ovation long before he was traded away.

Whiteside had the opportunity to be the greatest example of Heat Culture in franchise history. He had all the tools, the things you can’t teach, yet appeared unwillingly to learn the things you can.

Heat fans wanted it to work out. I, for one, was in favor of maxing Whiteside in 2016. We saw the triple doubles with blocks, the dominant stat lines and the playful personality. However, all that is endearing if the team is winning and it’s happening within the team construct. Those moments were few and far between.

Heat fans will move on. Don’t flatter the Whiteside apologists by allowing them to think the fanbase is going to acknowledge the Hassan era with a decade of boos. It will only be for the few initial visits.

There just wasn’t enough accomplished on the court or off for Whiteside to remain some type of villain in Miami long term.

The Heat fan’s contempt for Whiteside is much more rooted in disappointment and frustration than malice or ill will.

How ironic is it that Hassan’s reaction to being traded was “We got shooters” and now the Heat having its best collection of shooters since the Big 3 era.

We wish Hassan Whiteside all the best in his life, but we are also happy he is on a different team.

Airplane Mode Activation in Chicago

I have gotten a lot of questions related to the tweet shown below.

Listen, DJJ hasn’t gotten the official invite yet. (reminder – nowhere did I mention anything about an invitation) So I totally understand the push back and mildly frustrated comments that have came my way regarding my declaration that DJJ will participate.

However, I stick by what I tweeted, that he will participate this February in the Slam Dunk contest. Be a bit more patient for things to become a bit more official. Same goes for Duncan Robinson in the the 3 point shootout.

Healthy Heat? Fingers Crossed

Sounds like the Heat could play their first game fully healthy all season on this upcoming trip. All indications are Jimmy Butler and Justise Winslow will potentially return to the lineup tomorrow in Indy.

This is the moment the front office has been waiting for – that Heat fans have been waiting for – to see the full compliment of talent.

Justise Winslow’s productivity and potential fit will be spotlighted. As the swiss army knife player this Heat rotation needs, Winslow has the chance to put all trade rumors to bed if he comes back and flourishes.

An added benefit to a fully healthy roster, comes the opportunity for the front office to evaluate this roster as a whole. To identify the ceiling and what pieces are truly expendable.

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t excited to get some extended looks at the trio of Winslow, Adebayo and Butler.

If his twitter activity is any indication, #JustiseBetter now, Better Now.

Tua Tagovailoa announces that he will enter the NFL Draft.

Pressure Point: Tua presents difficult draft dilemma for Dolphins

Tua Tagovailoa, the quarterback of Dolfans fantasies for much of the past year, may well be there for the taking when the Dolphins make their pick at No. 5 in the 2020 NFL draft.

The Dolphins may be wise to take a pass.

What, after the incessant #tankfortua talk and all the offers of selling souls for a chance to select the talented Alabama quarterback?

It’s not only the serious hip injury that required surgery in November that makes Tua a risky pick.

There was the high (right) ankle sprain that prompted a surgical procedure in October. That was the bookend to the same injury and surgery on his left ankle in December 2018.

The latter came on the heels of a sprained knee followed by a quad injury earlier in the 2018 season.

All of which must be of major concern to any NFL team considering investing a top-10 pick on Tagovailoa.

Tua bandwagon an easy ride

It is easy for fans and media to say unequivocally, ‘hell yeah, Tua or bust!’

It can’t be an emotional decision for the Dolphins in the early stages of trying to lay the foundation to break from a long pattern of losing.

A landmark offseason for Miami was assured when Tagovailoa confirmed Monday that he is foregoing his final season at Alabama.

It prompted the immediate assumptions that: 1) Miami is the likely destination for Tagovailoa; 2) The Heavin’ Hawaiian will be the same player that made him the likely first overall pick before he dislocated his right hip Nov. 16 against Mississippi State.

Neither can be verified at this point. But the Dolphins will have a chance at Tua if they want him.

There is no question about the talent or the character. Elite on both counts. Tagovailoa is the model for what any team would want to build around.

The hip injury (dislocated right hip and posterior wall fracture) was the game changer, though. It is a rare football injury and there is little basis to predict how a player will come back from it.

As Tua said Monday, “I don’t think any of the doctors can tell the foreseeable future.”

That sets up a dilemma that is so Dolphins.

Pitfalls from the past

Imagine the fallout if they shy away from Tua and he goes on to a long and spectacular career. Much like they did with Drew Brees amid concerns about his shoulder in favor of Daunte Culpepper, who lasted all of four games with Miami.

At the same time, they can’t afford to follow the path of the Redskins, who bet the farm on Robert Griffin III and got burned when a seemingly transformative QB began to break down after one superlative season.

Sure, Tua is a different type of quarterback than RG3. But the accumulation of lower-body injuries in college raises durability issues that can’t be overlooked.

Finding a franchise quarterback isn’t just about evaluating talent. It’s about projecting longevity.

It’s not just about whether Tua can get back to a semblance of the special player he was. It’s about, can he last?

Different options for Miami

When he spoke in early December about his recovery, Tagovailoa acknowledged, “I don’t think I’d be the same again because there’s, like metal in here, you know? I lose some rotation inward, so I won’t be able to twist as much inward and whatnot.”

No team can be sure prior to the draft what they’d be getting if they pick Tua. The stakes become even higher for the Dolphins if it becomes necessary to trade up from the No. 5 spot to get him.

They do have three first-round picks, and 14 overall in 2020.

They also have a lengthy shopping list of needs to reach respectability — offensive line help, pass rushers and run stoppers, secondary and a primary running back, to name a few.

Fortunately, they don’t have to make the call on Tua right now. More medical information will be available on Tagovailoa’s progress before the draft in late April which could provide a clearer basis for a decision.

Flores-Grier tough to figure

Meanwhile, it would be fascinating to eavesdrop on the discussions taking place among the Dolphins braintrust between now and then.

It may not be at all along the lines of what is being posited on social media or major media sites.

What has become apparent through the first year of the Brian Flores-Chris Grier leadership tandem is it is unpredictable. The abrupt dismissal of offensive coordinator Chad O’Shea and hiring of Chan Gailey out of retirement is only one example.

It is possible they have a totally different read and plan on the quarterback solution. Maybe they have their eye on someone other than Tagovailoa.

Maybe their emphasis is on building other parts of the team first and adding a quarterback later, relying on a veteran stopgap such as Ryan Fitzpatrick in the meantime.

Whatever they decide on Tua, it will be a significant turning point in the ultimate success or failure of this Dolphins regime and its rebuilding plan.

Craig Davis has covered South Florida sports and teams, including the Dolphins, for four decades. Follow him on Twitter @CraigDavisRuns

Houtz Special: Tua Tagovailoa, No Matter What

Alabama QB Tua Tagovialoa has officially declared for the 2020 NFL Draft and the Dolphins should draft him-NO MATTER WHAT.

Listen to the latest episode of 3 Yards Per Carry HERE

Now that Tua Tagovialoa has officially declared for the 2020 NFL draft, we can all start fighting over whether or not he’s worthy of a top-5 draft pick. Truth is, if Tagovailoa is cleared medically, there will be several teams interested in trading up for his services. Which not only means the Dolphins will have to draft him at #5, it means Miami could very well have to trade up to guarantee their chance at the Alabama QB.

So, what should the Dolphins do with an important decision looming?

My answer:

I repeat, TUA TAGOVAILOA NO MATTER WHAT.

For twenty years, the Dolphins have been searching for their next Dan Marino. And no, there won’t ever be a QB in the history of the world quite like him. But drafting prospects like Ryan Tannehill proved to be a failure. John Beck, Chad Henne, and Pat White were too. Signing Daunte Culpepper didn’t work out and neither did trading for A.J Feeley. The cold hard truth is that Miami has been incapable of finding its next great signal-caller for nearly two decades.

So again, Tua Tagovailoa, no matter what.

Now don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty to be worried about. For starters, good things don’t happen to the Dolphins. Next, there’s a possibility that Tagovailoa could never be the same again. But I’d much rather Chris Grier take a risk on greatness than sit idle as this franchise has done in the past. IF, Tua is the quarterback this team has truly coveted since the beginning of the year. IF, he’s the QB that this front office-assembled with some of the top GMs in all of football-believe is the guy, then you do whatever it takes to make it happen.

I can’t pretend to predict what a trade might cost. After all, in 2012 the Redskins gave up 3 first-round draft picks and a second, to move up four spots to draft RG3. And according to Jimmy Johnson’s prehistoric trade chart, Miami would only have to give up the #39th-overall pick in 2020. I hate to the bearer of bad news, but it is going to cost a whole lot more than a second-round draft pick.

But what if Tagovailoa isn’t their guy? What if the team prefers Jordan Love, Justin Herbert, or one of the immensely talented QBs in the 2021 class? Personally, I couldn’t fault Miami, if they truly felt that strongly about one of those prospects. However, for a guy that has watched all of these QBs play. For a guy, that thinks he knows what the Dolphins covet in a franchise QB. I think Tua Tagovailoa is their guy.

All-Twenty Tua

In the end, one of the 32 NFL teams will take a risk on Tagovailoa. Whichever team does, will be getting a player that completed 474/684, 7,442 yards, 87 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions over his collegiate career. A player that has proven time and time again to be everything a franchise is looking for in a QB. Prior to the injury, Tagovailoa appeared to be the frontrunner for the Heisman and the best QB in college football. He may not have won the Heisman, but I still believe he is the best QB in the country. And for a team in dire need of a franchise QB, you do whatever it takes to get your guy, no matter what!

This article was written by Josh Houtz (@Houtz) and he thinks the Dolphins should complete the Tank for Tua. Photo Credit Matt Smith @TheYea

 

Launching Pad: Derrick’s Drives, Dragic’s Dimes, Olynyk’s Out

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: 26-10, 3rd in the East (2-2)

• Offensive Rating: 110.0 (102.1)

• Defensive Rating: 106.5 (103.2)

• Net Rating: plus-4.5 (minus-1.1)

• True-Shooting Percentage: 58.5 (53.3)

• Pace: 99.14 (96.48)

• Time of Possession: 14.7 seconds (15.0)


Lineup of the Week (min. 10 minutes)

Goran Dragic, Kendrick Nunn, Tyler Herro, Derrick Jones Jr., Bam Adebayo

• Minutes: 16

• Offensive Rating: 90.6

• Defensive Rating: 67.7

• Net Rating: plus-22.9

• True-Shooting Percentage: 43.7 (????????)

• Pace: 92.5


The Big Number: 63

Seems like an odd number, right?

First off, it quite literally is an odd number (sorry, had to). To narrow it down a bit, it’s especially odd in reference to James Johnson.

He logged roughly 22 minutes in Sunday’s not-as-close-as-it-looked victory over the Portland Trail Blazers. It was the first time Johnson had eclipsed the 20-minute mark since November 3rd, 63 days ago. Heck, it was the first time Johnson had played at all since November 27th — eight throwaway minutes during the Heat’s fake-comeback in their loss to the Houston Rockets.

Johnson and Dion Waiters have been in the proverbial doghouse all season long. Waiters has a laundry list of reasons explaining his absence in the rotation; Johnson’s case is a bit more peculiar. Not only has not been in trouble as much, he’s been a great teammate and locker room guy by most accounts. On top of that, you’d think he’d have the clearest path to a role considering …

[waves wildly at the non-Bam Adebayo true bigs on the depth chart]

But alas, Johnson has been more myth than match-up piece.

If his outing proved anything (12-6-2 with two blocks), it’s that he can still bring some positives if he’s given the opportunity. It might be time for that to happen more often.

Weekly Trends

1. Derrick Jones Jr. is expanding

It feels like I’m writing about Jones Jr. every week at this point.

He’s doing his usual work as the Venus fly trap of Miami’s 2-3 zone. Erik Spoelstra has given him more reps against elite perimeter scorers as of late — peep his work against Damian Lillard on Sunday. His discipline has gotten much better, on and off the ball. It’s why he’s pretty much match-up proof at this point.

The offensive fit has always been the bigger question. Entering the year, he wasn’t a good enough shooter to be a mismatch-4, nor did he have the ball skills necessary to provide plus-value at the 3. Within that lens, he looked more like a “sell high” candidate rather than a core young piece.

Let’s just say the tides may be changing.

The biggest development of the season might just be Jones Jr. being able to dribble. It’s an admittedly simple thing — dribbling shouldn’t be hard — but it’s unlocking his potential as a finisher.

Jumping out of the building is a fun trait, but that trait doesn’t matter if you can’t get to the rim without traveling or dribbling off of your knee. Being able to chain together two or three-dribble drives is wildly important for him, particularly because it doesn’t take much for him to explode at the rim.

Via Synergy, Jones Jr. is converting 65.4 percent of his shots at the rim in half-court situations. That’s a sizable bump from last season’s mark (60.9 percent).

The shooting absolutely has to bounce back, though. In addition to converting just 22.6 percent of his threes, he’s somehow shooting 19 percent from the corners. That just can’t happen. He does seem much more comfortable taking them in rhythm, which can’t be said about certain All-Stars in Philadelphia.

Good on Jones Jr. for stretching himself – and likely making himself quite a bit of money this summer.

2. Goran Dragic: Droppin’ Dimes

It’s hard to overstate how good the bench role has been for Dragic. He’s averaging 16 points, 5th in the NBA among reserves (min. 20 games). His 41.5 percent clip from deep isn’t just efficient, it’s quite impressive once you consider the volume (5.7 attempts) and the difficulty of the looks. The rim-finishing has bounced back in a major way, giving him some equity as a 2.5 level scorer.

That kind of thing shouldn’t be shocking. A lower burden against lesser competition can explain some of the juice. Dragic essentially reinventing himself as a (pick-and-roll) passer is … confusing. The comfort he has tossing lobs is a bit jarring.

 

When he’s in a groove, Dragic gets a bit … flashy? He gets a bit flashy!

Via Synergy, Dragic is generating over 1.12 points per pick-and-roll pass, placing him in the 68th percentile. That number goes up to nearly 1.2 points when he’s hitting a big on the roll. His chemistry with Bam Adebayo in particular has been a joy to watch.

I’m old enough to remember a time when Dragic was getting slandered for not threading the needle on pocket passes. He’s doing that — and more — with relative ease this season.

3. It’s about *that time* for Kelly Olynyk

Remember the note from, like, two minutes and 48 seconds ago about James Johnson playing 22 minutes on Sunday? Let’s put that number into further context: Kelly Olynyk played 18 minutes this week.

Three games. Six minutes per. The math is as clean as it is ugly.

Olynyk has done his usual screening goodness. The improv in dribble-handoffs (DHOs) was a bit off to start the season, but gained some steam in November. He’s shooting a career-high from three (41.5 percent), which seems to have been largely ignored in discussions of Miami’s offensive renaissance.

But, good lord, has the defense been capital-A awful this season.

He’s an eye sore in space, mostly “meh” on the glass, and can get bullied at the rim. Positioning only matters if you can get to spots before the offensive player does; Olynyk has not been able to do that consistently.

In light of Meyers Leonard being better this season, Bam Adebayo playing like a star, Jones Jr. soaking up minutes at the 4, Chris Silva doing stuff*, and Johnson getting dusted off on Sunday … what exactly is the path for Olynyk to regain his place in the rotation?

If the defense doesn’t pick up to “below average”, Olynyk may make more sense as a trade candidate than a match-up dependent piece.

Set Play of the Week

Rolling to Spain

If you’ve followed me or my work for any amount of time, you know that there isn’t anything I love more than a well-executed Spain pick-and-roll.

For those who aren’t familiar with the action, it kicks off with a traditional pick-and-roll. As the big transitions from screener to roller, a second player — normally a shooter — sets a screen on the big man’s defender before flaring out to the three-point line.

The benefits are obvious. The guard clearing out the big man’s defender will give the big a clear lane to the basket, or a mismatch against a guard, assuming he drops or switches to help. If the guard is stuck trying to defend the rim, that either means the big that got screened is stuck guarding the shooter who screened him, or he’s in No Man’s Land, which means the shooter is open.

This is what option one looks like.

Tyler is the Herro on this play. Not only does he make solid contact on the screen, he also holds it long enough to stonewall Hassan Whiteside and freeze his defender () in the process. Adebayo is able to rumble down the lane unimpeded. No help comes from the corner, which makes the Dragic lob to Adebayo an easy one to make.

Beautiful. Basketball.