5 Takeaways from Heat’s Win Over Timberwolves

The Miami Heat got a much needed win against the Minnesota Timberwolves, headlined by their back-up back-court. Both Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro returned to the lineup tonight, leaving only Victor Oladipo on the injury report. Anyway, here are five takeaways from this important win…

#1: Tyler Herro is….back.

Tyler Herro returned on Friday night against Minnesota with limited expectations. And that’s the best thing for Herro. He scored 14 points in the first half, including 4 for 4 from the three-point line. The one takeaway from that second quarter spurt from him is that he is such a rhythm shooter. When that first one falls, expect a few more to fall as well, since that type of lift and confidence translates to very good things. Herro’s role on this team must be that offensive boost that can be relied on nightly, since although spark scoring is obvious, consistency is next. Another thing to mention about his performance is that he did it in lineups without Jimmy Butler, which is usually some of his best minutes. If he can control lineups with Goran Dragic, who I will discuss next, this team can take that next step.

#2: Goran Dragic looks like a rejuvenated 35 year old.

After Goran Dragic turned 35 years old a day ago, he looked like a different player. He has caught some momentum over his past few games, but this was the icing on the cake. Although that impressive scoring stretch from Herro will be harped on, Dragic was the consistent offensive force that was looked to. Getting to the rim and making mid-range jumpers aside, one specific thing stood out in tonight’s game: he plays off of the defense. He was being guarded by a smaller Jordan McLaughlin, which means he adjusts his ways of scoring. An unexpected way tonight was in the high post, since the slight size advantage allowed him to not only find ways to score by backing him down, but also play-make with skip passes in the post. Dragic’s ability to adjust to a defense is one of his most underrated offensive abilities, and this corner he’s currently turning will further prove that.

#3: Miami’s bench outscores starters in first half, which is….different.

The starting lineup had 25 points at the half, while the bench ended up with 34, which is a very different scene on this Heat team. Miami went from trying to survive non-Bam and non-Butler minutes previously, to leaving them on the bench together for the longest period of the season. That just reiterates the first two takeaways of Herro and Dragic’s play, but don’t let Andre Iguodala and Dewayne Dedmon’s five combined points at the half confuse you. Iguodala was as active as ever on the defensive end, while Dedmon just mucked things up for Minnesota after Adebayo exited the game with some early foul trouble. The thing about these two guys is that they play their role perfectly, and it becomes even more apparent when their guard pairing among reserves really get going.

#4: A third quarter energy shift, sparked by Butler, Adebayo, and, oh, technicals.

When looking at the third quarter throughout the season, that’s usually Butler’s queue to begin to increase his aggression. Well, he did just that again tonight, mostly through Miami’s most effective bridge of offense, which begins on the defensive end. His defensive staple is the unexpected double on the perimeter to rip the ball away and play in transition. Adebayo also initiated offense a bit more after a tough first half for him, which seemed to be generated by some calls going in the opposite direction. And speaking of certain calls from the referees, some technical fouls were issued to a couple complaining Timberwolves, giving Miami some easy points, as well as D’Angelo Russell being ejected. One thing about this Heat team is that they thrive off of energy, and night’s like this further prove that point, no matter if they were facing a weaker match-up.

#5: Time to watch the standings.

As the Miami Heat are in play-in range, it’s important to keep your eyes on the teams that are fighting for those 4th, 5th, and 6th seeds. The Boston Celtics are the team to watch the closest if you’re Miami for a bunch of reasons. For one, they lost to the Chicago Bulls tonight, which means Miami’s currently in the 6th seed in the East. But once again, the next two games seem to be the deciding factor. The Heat’s next two games are the Celtics, meaning they must take care of business in those games and they can safely say that they get a week off while Boston’s fighting in the play-in. If anybody needs that extra time off, it’s this Heat team. Giving Butler and Dragic some rest, Herro some time to recover, and the entire team a mental reset will be huge if they want to make a push in the post-season once again.

Trevor Ariza: More than a 3 and D Guy

Meyers Leonard and a second round pick. That’s what it took to get one of Miami’s most important and consistent pieces, Trevor Ariza.

After he didn’t get any NBA run for over a year, he found a pretty good fit with the Heat this season, immediately being plugged into the starting lineup next to Bam Adebayo.

The public perception of his game has been that he’s a 3 and D guy, which is partly true due to his play-style, but that label would be selling him short. When I asked Adebayo about that label not saying enough about his overall game, he responded, “He’s definitely underrated. I feel the one thing that is underrated is his IQ. And most people think he’s 3 and D, but he can put it on the floor, defend, he can really shoot it, and he can also pass. He just makes our team better.”

So, to that point of addressing the things he does well, let’s dive into his game from this season. And although I want to look at elements aside from the 3 and D label, that part must be noted first…

– The Shooting Element

If you want an intro to the amount of impact Ariza can have for Miami’s offense as a shooter, look no further than the first couple minutes of the last game against the Dallas Mavericks, knocking down 3 consecutive threes to begin the game.

When looking at these three shots specifically, it shows the different ways that he’s capable of knocking it down. In the first clip, he looks to attack but notices the big switches onto him. He slowly pulls the ball back out to the three-point line, and knocks down an impressive triple.

The second and third clips show more of the catch and shoot element, which is his most frequent offensive role. Although he finds himself in the corner on most possessions as a spacer, this just shows the capability of pulling up over the top of guys in transition, as well as just catching and firing.

And by the way, the year off hasn’t slowed down that jumper one bit, due to the fact he’s shooting slightly over his career average from three since joining the Heat, which is a pretty ideal situation for Miami.

– Locking Up Guards and Wings Nightly

It’s not normal for there to be a steal and pick six on the first possession of the game, but that’s exactly the level of disruption that Ariza brings every night. The purpose of showing this clip is not because of the steal and bucket, but mostly due to his defensive placing.

He’s been guarding opposing team’s best guard on a nightly basis, but this proves his versatility being quite the formula for him defensively. He doesn’t defend guards due to an inability against bigger guys, but mostly since his biggest strength is when he’s wrecking havoc on the perimeter.

Another thing to note on this play that highlights his intangibles is his length leading to defensive success. The reason he’s so great at hitting passing lanes is due to the combination of quickness, length, and the one thing Adebayo mentioned is the most underrated, his IQ.

Now, this showcases Ariza against smaller guys, but also the things leading up to this defensive stop. Jimmy Butler, Adebayo, and Ariza in the front-court means they’re going to switch everything, especially since Butler and Ariza can handle bigs in the post. But the switching scheme is most effective when it’s Butler and Ariza thrown into a PnR as they can switch rather effortlessly.

Colin Sexton seems to beat Ariza initially to get to the rim, but that length allows him to recover and block the shot as Miami rolls right into transition. Speaking of transition, that has been Miami’s most trusted area of offense lately, and Ariza has a lot to do with it.

I’d pretty comfortably say that he forces the most fast-break opportunities when he’s on the floor, and that alone reflects the impact he has had to shift a team’s play-style upon arrival.

– The Effectiveness of the Attack

The main reason that I say Ariza is much more than a 3 and D guy is that his ability to put the ball on the floor and attack seems to be pushed aside. But it shouldn’t.

His dribble penetration is not only crucial for his own offensive success, but also the team’s success. On this play, he receives the ball on the wing with Luka Doncic defending, but that isn’t why he got to the rim with ease. It’s actually because he noticed he has Duncan Robinson sliding to the corner, which eliminates any chance of help defense on the attack.

Also, creating mismatches has been his offensive specialty many nights. Miami using him as a versatile screener for Robinson forces easier match-ups for the both of them, as shown on this play. And that attacking doesn’t let the defense get off the hook for that initial switch.

If you were to ask me, what is Ariza’s best play in a Miami Heat uniform, I’d probably show this clip. Not that it’s anything flashy. Not that it’s anything spectacular. But just because it defines Trevor Ariza.

The beginning of this play consisted of an Ariza corner three that he missed, but an offensive rebound led us right into this clip. He could’ve attempted that same shot in the corner when he received it, but he smartly put the ball on the floor to get to the rack. He flips up a wild left handed shot that goes in for a much needed bucket down the stretch.

Even though we’re coming off a monster three-point night from Ariza two days ago, I’d like to see that decision more often. Giving up a good shot for a great shot, especially while he’s proved to be very effective when he finds himself around the rim.

Here’s one more instance of him taking advantage of bigs rotating onto him. Not to shine any comparisons of Jimmy Butler onto his game, but he does have some methodical movements when going downhill in a similar fashion of Butler’s play-style.

The thing about those slower movements is that they’re usually used when a player lacks great speed, but as seen on this play specifically, he shows quite the burst on the initial dribble. The outside shot has become his comfort area over time, since the two point shot attempts have recently declined, but this may be key many nights to take advantage of opposing weaknesses.

– The Art of His Cutting

This article would be endless if I showcased the amount of cuts Ariza makes every night for easy layups or extra passes for buckets. But since there are so many, I’m going to just show this one that explains the reason for him being so great in that area.

The most important part of this play doesn’t come on the tough catch in traffic or impressive finish with the contest. It’s actually before the cut when he is standing in the corner. You can see him reading the entire situation before making that cut to the basket.

Low shot clock, his defender dropping off of him more and more, and Tyler Herro looks to be stuck. So, the only option is to make a play off the ball, which is exactly what he did. This attribute also refers back to the point about having a high IQ, since these aren’t just ordinary plays that he’s making every night. And well, they’re winning plays that truly can be a difference maker in important games.

– Sets that Benefit Him

Aside from evaluating his overall game, here are some of the set-ups that I believe can really maximize his play in the offense:

Jimmy Butler begins the possession in a familiar area in the high post with an empty corner. Ariza loops around as if the play was supposed to lead to an easy layup, but that was all a setup for the Dewayne Dedmon screen for an open look in the corner.

The Heat have gotten creative with their small ball four in a way they haven’t been able to with many of their past front-court mates. Just seeing them run stuff for him to get open looks shows the amount of trust they have in him already, and versatility of his offensive skill-set to be far more than just a decoy.

When he’s sharing the floor with a bunch of weapons like on this play, it makes him the real wild card. Bam Adebayo surveys the floor as some distractions are being made with a back-screen by Robinson for Butler, and Herro popping out to the three.

This creates chaos for the defense to communicate and pick a guy to switch onto. But the thing is, that switching confusion from that action means Ariza is wide open in the corner, leading to an open three. When Miami’s fully healthy, he will be able to benefit from lineups with offensive firepower, since the amount of open looks he gets will increase dramatically.

The final one is simple, but it also ties some of my past points together. Off-ball screening by Duncan Robinson usually means good things for the guy coming off that screen, especially when it’s occurring on the back-side with all eyes on Butler and Adebayo.

These actions also allow Ariza to get to his spots around the rim, which is when his passing abilities are on display the most. On this play, though, his craftiness with a couple pump-fakes allow him to get some space for the reverse.

Once again, the 3 and D status for Trevor Ariza may not be wrong, but it definitely doesn’t tell the full story. The one thing that does tell the full story, though, is film displayed here.

The On-Court Production of Tyler Herro Needs Some Perspective

Expectations are a pretty interesting thing in the NBA. One day you’re being drafted number 13, which many labeled the wrong choice, and the next instant you’re being looked at to step up in an NBA Finals game with all of the eyes on you.

And then, the title begins to shift from Boy Wonder to “one year wonder,” which once again just further proves this odd thing called expectations. But there are many reasons that point to this sharp turn being highly unreasonable.

Let’s start with this. Kendrick Nunn has been on an absolute tear this season since being plugged into the starting lineup, and it’s pretty clear he has his spot locked up as much as anybody in that starting lineup this season. But somehow, he averages less points per game than Tyler Herro over the course of the year.

The difference is that Nunn has been much more efficient and reliant, but for there to be two completely opposite perceptions about two players, who are pretty similar in the scoring column which is their roles, creates for an interesting debate.

There is no doubt that Herro has had his fair share of down games and rough stretches, but isn’t that expected for a second year guy selected in the late lottery? His three-point shooting numbers have taken a major dip from 39% to 34%, but still sustained a mutual field goal percentage overall due to the increase in two-point attempts.

When the public perception really began to spiral out of control was a recent three game stretch that consisted of a 5 point night on 2 for 10 shooting, a 4 point night on 1 for 7 shooting, and a 9 point night on 4 for 13 shooting. But the interesting part about that stretch is that he had a pretty decent bounce back in the two games before going out with injury, including a 22 point night against the Spurs with a fourth quarter explosion, and a 12 point night on 50% shooting against the Hawks.

Speaking of that fourth quarter, this is what it looked like, and it continues the discussion of his game relying so heavily on rhythm….

Even though numbers have declined slightly and there’s an abundance of guards on the roster at the moment, it just doesn’t seem likely that this team will bail on Herro as much as many observers have. The rotations and minutes are an Erik Spoelstra problem, and I can guarantee that his worries don’t include if Herro should get a majority of minutes.

He will still be in the game for many fourth quarters, he will still be running many bench units with Goran Dragic, and he will still be a guy that the guys on this team trust. Of course this is barring a healthy return from this foot injury that hasn’t been updated much, but it just seems that we’ve seen this situation play out way too often.

Also, I think this time off can play a big role in his overall production. Sometimes the fix for a player is just playing time, which was the case for Kendrick Nunn, but I believe a mental reset may be the solution for Herro’s struggles.

It’s just going to be up to him to see how he responds, since he will be thrown immediately back into the fire against some of the Eastern Conference’s most elite teams down the stretch, then an immediate transition into playoff time. And if there’s any stretch of games that can spark something in Herro, it’s that type of competitive stretch where the odds are against them, which is just how both he and the rest of the team likes it.

Five Takeaways from Heat’s Loss to Dallas

The Miami Heat lost to the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday night, while Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro, and Victor Oladipo were all out. Those guys were definitely missed, since the offense was missing for many stretches, but some extra defensive weapons against the Mavericks’ offensive shot creators would’ve been huge as well. Anyway, here are five takeaways from this game…

#1: Trevor Ariza may be more than a 3 and D guy, but there was some emphasis on the three element tonight.

I’ve talked a lot recently about Trevor Ariza’s elite levels off the ball with his cutting, as well as his underrated passing and driving abilities, which Bam Adebayo echoed when I asked him about it. The reason this is important to note is that the three ball can still be his biggest offensive threat, as shown in tonight’s game in the first quarter specifically. Knocking down 4 straight threes early on in the first quarter, while three of them being consecutive in the first few minutes, was absolutely necessary due to the drop-off in scoring with the starting lineup. When looking at the way Ariza has shot the ball since joining the team, it’s pretty obvious that he is a rhythm shooter. And when talking about that spot in the starting lineup that Kelly Olynyk once filled, it’s important for Miami to have capable shooting, while sprinkling in the utmost disruption on the perimeter defensively.

#2: Some first half Luka Magic with….premier defenders on him.

Even without Jimmy Butler, it felt like a swarming rotation of Bam Adebayo, Andre Iguodala, and Ariza guarding Luka Doncic would be enough. But well, it didn’t seem to matter who was guarding him. There’s only a certain amount of disruption that can be caused against him, since he is able to create any type of separation on every spot of the floor. Miami began to throw some more of that press and zone at them when Doncic was off the floor, which worked for a long stretch, but then some more blitzing came into play. The Heat were blitzing two of their best defenders at Doncic in the half-court, which puts a lot of pressure on Miami’s weaker defenders to scramble into recovery mode. That led to Tim Hardaway Jr getting hot, which is what they had to live with many possessions to get the ball out of Doncic’s hands.

#3: Has Miami become too reliant on Kendrick Nunn?

Kendrick Nunn has been hitting major strides as of late, but he had a rough shooting first half tonight, and it seemed like that was a main reason Miami had the lead slip away. Once again, without Butler, the creation on the floor at all times is pretty scarce, which is why I discussed that Ariza run being so important. They needed that on-ball mid-range killer that they’ve seen recently, but when shots weren’t falling for him, the entire offense began to plummet. Goran Dragic stepped up as that type of player when he checked in, keeping Miami afloat for many spurts. Of course there are down games that occur for every player, but this kind of showcased this team’s overall reliance on Nunn every night, which leads to the continued watch of Victor Oladipo and Tyler Herro’s status. As much as the topic has become who is the odd man out, I truly believe those guys returning can take a ton of pressure off Nunn, and end up benefiting him majorly.

#4: The expected Bam Adebayo scoring breakout wasn’t the case.

Bam Adebayo has a tendency of reading the room when Butler is out, since he can elect to be much more aggressive offensively when they lack creators. There was a point in the third quarter when Adebayo only had two more points than Dewayne Dedmon in the single digit range, which just can’t be the case on nights like this. He filled up the box score in the assist and rebound category per usual, due to the fact that he’s such a high impact player, but the continued point will be that impact wasn’t the needed area tonight. They were in need of a young star who is capable of initiating offense at any moment, mostly since he’s more than capable of doing so, but that wasn’t the case. It’s the next step in his game that will continually be harped on, but once again, it comes down to self realization.

#5: So, Jimmy Butler gets 4 days off.

As mentioned a few times earlier, Butler didn’t play tonight after he had some flu-like symptoms, which was not Covid related. And Miami getting two nights off before their game on Friday means that he got a 4 day break, leading to a possible positive result in the long run. The hope for Miami is that they can get another week off by avoiding the play-in round, but that is all in question at the current stage. Either way, it’s important for him to get some extra rest before this final push with quite the layout of Eastern Conference talent, including Philadelphia, Milwuakee, and Boston twice. They’re going to need their leader and focal point well rested for those games, which looks like it will be the case now. Other than some individual takeaways tonight, there just isn’t much that can be looked at from a team perspective other than the lack of on-ball offensive weapons.

Why Is the Miami Heat’s Press So Effective?

When a team claims that their overall identity is on the defensive end, it’s always important to check out their tendencies on that side of the floor, aside from the numbers that place Miami at 8th in the NBA in defensive rating.

For one, a defensive player of the year candidate, Bam Adebayo, at the forefront of Miami’s defensive success is a good starting point. Not many centers are placing themselves into every spot on the floor every night, but Adebayo is one of them.

Back-side help when he notices a mismatch on a smaller defender, the constant switching onto the perimeter to lock up any guard or wing, and many more areas that stand out. But ultimately, it wouldn’t be possible without two of his counter parts, Jimmy Butler and Trevor Ariza.

Speaking of backside help, the reason he is able to freely roam on many possessions is due to the confidence he has in these two guys to step up or double. And these descriptive layers are interesting considering the fact that this team didn’t seem to have the personnel to compete on that end of the floor to begin the year.

Instead of focusing on individual abilities, though, it’s essential to evaluate the defensive adjustments that seem to be awaiting in Erik Spoelstra’s pocket. That is headlined by the 2-2-1 press and 2-3 zone that are utilized in spurts when this team needs a boost.

The most crucial part about this adjustment isn’t the press itself, but actually the timing of it. In the Heat’s win over Charlotte on Sunday night, Coach Spoelstra threw it at them when they began to get into their usual fast-paced flow, which allowed Miami to flip the script.

The purpose of the press isn’t to just get steal after steal, even though Miami is hoping for that result. It’s actually to put pressure on a team, either speeding them up as they’ve done in the past, or slowing them down as they did last night against Charlotte.

On this play above, LaMelo Ball is able to push the ball up the floor to Terry Rozier as Andre Iguodala and Ariza are pressuring full court, which is quite the defensive duo. Charlotte went from controlling the pace of the game as the team ranked 4th in assists per game to a possession like this.

Ball to Rozier to Ball to Rozier to Ball in a span of eight seconds. Forcing teams to play hot potato on the perimeter leading to a contested three is exactly the reason Miami throws it at teams unexpectedly.

I asked Jimmy Butler about the effectiveness of the press and zone, as well as the timing of using it, and he responded, “It is very effective. I felt like we threw different types of defenses at them throughout the entire game, but we were locked in on where everybody was on the floor…Being able to mix and match these defenses can really throw people off.”

And well, that last part pretty much sums up last night’s game, since although the all-around scoring seemed to be the headliner, the way Miami forced Charlotte into the unknown every offensive possession was what actually stood out the most.

Another aspect to the usage of the press is when it is utilized against Miami. Usually teams that use certain defenses at a high rate are more likely to be better at breaking it down, but this is a unique season. The lack of practice time means that Miami doesn’t get the same amount of time on breaking down a press, since their time to figure it all out has been in-game adjustments.

But Miami has shown to do a great job of breaking it down in the limited possessions it has been thrown at them. On this play, Goran Dragic bounces it to the middle for Adebayo, which the next thing coming is usually the swing to the wing. Rozier knowing that predicts the pass and cuts off Max Strus, allowing Adebayo to do what he does best: put the ball on the floor and get downhill.

Bismack Biyombo steps up and Adebayo shovels it to Butler on the baseline, leading to two points. After Miami began to punish them on these possessions, Charlotte was forced to back out of it rather quickly.

When I asked Bam Adebayo if their comfort levels against the press have anything to do with them utilizing it nightly, he said, “We gotta be able to adapt, so when they went into the press, just try to put one man in the middle and tell him to go. When we’re in that situation, there is no play to run, you play off instincts and let talent be talent.”

The funny thing about his description is that he’s describing it in general terms, but it really reflects back onto himself. Just like in the play above, he’s the one guy in the middle who is forced to go, and that’s who Miami wants with it whenever it’s thrown at them.

Another intriguing element to his response is when he mentioned letting “talent be talent,” since those open court opportunities honestly do just that. And frankly, they allow Bam Adebayo to be Bam Adebayo. No team wants to see him moving downhill in the open court, which is why I wouldn’t expect to see much press being thrown back at Miami moving forward.

These two defensive sets aren’t the only thing that can be thrown at teams as a surprise, since I can guarantee that Miami has something up their sleeve in a playoff setting to throw teams off a bit. Maybe that surprise defensive gem is Victor Oladipo, or possibly an Adebayo-Dedmon tandem, but either way it’s going to be something, and the press and zone is quite the introduction to that.

Five Takeaways from Heat’s Win Over Hornets

The Miami Heat got a very impressive win over Charlotte, as they won in demanding fashion on the second night of a back to back. Yet another night of all-around offensive play sparked some pretty great runs throughout for Miami. So, here are five takeaways from this performance…

#1: Bam Adebayo attacks mismatches early, which is a needed element.

Something I mentioned before the game is that Miami’s bigs would have to be the story of the game tonight. Bam Adebayo and Dewayne Dedmon would have frequent mismatches tonight with smaller guards rotating into the paint, as well as some lineups including PJ Washington at the five. Adebayo did that immediately, which is interesting since that’s something that he has struggled with at times in the post. He began the game 4 for 4, including some nice hooks over smaller guys and roaming the baseline as Miami swings the defense. Adebayo is discussed after every one of these games for obvious reasons, but a lot of these games down the stretch will have certain plans heading in that he must take advantage of. He did tonight, and he must do it moving forward.

#2: Goran Dragic having one of those lively offensive games.

Goran Dragic’s burst and speed has been in question lately, except when there are a few seconds left in a quarter, where you know he’s going to revert back to rookie year levels. That aside, he gave Miami some very effective minutes offensively in the first half, even though his status was in question up until an hour before tip-off. He was the leading scorer at the half with 14 points, while one of those shots being a catch and shoot three, which is usually the way his points are coming recently. The difference tonight is that he was turning the corner and getting to the rack at a very consistent rate, which hasn’t been something that many can expect every single night. But when he does bring it, good things happen for Miami, due to the continued theme of additional attackers allowing this team to generate offense at an exceptional level.

#3: Charlotte plays at a very high pace, but Miami’s interchanging defenses neutralizes it.

It’s no surprise that Charlotte plays at a much faster pace than the average team with the LaMelo Ball 80 yard bombs anytime the ball flies off the rim. The thing about Miami is that they have the defensive tools to counter this throughout a full 48 minutes. In the first half specifically, the speed of the game was playing in the Hornets favor, and Miami immediately switched into the 2-2-1 press and 2-3 zone, which definitely threw them off a bit. Another interesting point about the press is that Charlotte was throwing it right back at them, but it wasn’t nearly as effective. Even in a season without a lot of practice time, Miami dissected that press pretty effortlessly, which has a lot to do with the current understanding of their defensive scheme. When discussing pace, it’s hard to see it favoring the other team whenever Jimmy Butler is on the floor.

#4: Dewayne Dedmon’s minutes are effective, but not surprising.

Other than the fact that I said this would be a Dewayne Dedmon game, this has become the new normal for him on this Heat team in this role. He’s a spark player, who gets it done around the rim, which isn’t the traditional way of getting it done in today’s NBA. He’s a physical force down low who may get a few foul calls in the process, but ultimately they just need that presence in their outside based offense. Another interesting element to his game is his defensive abilities, which was the main area of question when he joined. He’s become quite the rim protector when people attack, but he’s also fit into Miami’s switching scheme. Not only can he handle his own on the perimeter against smaller guys, but he sure knows how to show and go to recover back onto the big. This type of action just gives Miami some diversity with the personnel on the defensive end specifically.

#5: Jimmy Butler looked just like….Jimmy Butler.

It wasn’t a game for Jimmy Butler that he out-shined others in the points column. It wasn’t a game that he needed to fully takeover. It wasn’t a game that he needed to play the fourth quarter. It was just a strong all around performance that was sparked by Butler’s all around play. He filled up the assist and rebound column with 8 each, and that doesn’t even almost describe the impact he had tonight. Other than his locked in mindset on the defensive end, he was just locked in all around from the jump, seeming to know the important of these games down the stretch. This was a glimpse of what he’s capable of doing in much win situations such as the playoffs, and it makes that a lot easier when his counter parts step up. This was definitely one of Miami’s most promising wins of the season, due to them winning by a decent margin.

Five Takeaways from Heat’s Win Over Cleveland

The Miami Heat beat the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday night on the first night of a back to back. It was a pretty all-around scoring performance, which wasn’t headlined by Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo surprisingly. So, here are five takeaways from this game…

#1: Max Strus was indeed….loose.

The trio of Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, and Duncan Robinson had 1 more point than Max Strus at the half, and that just sums up this season for Miami. By that, I mean it just continues the discussion of inconsistencies and not knowing what you’re going to get on any given night, or from which individual player. But tonight, that player was Max Strus for many stretches. He’s a shooter, but that description would sell him short for his unexpected explosiveness when moving downhill. He sprints in transition, moves swiftly off the dribble, and even searches above the rim for put-backs. He’s an interesting player, but most importantly, he’s a spark guy, which is exactly what Miami needed tonight. The reason that he is so interesting, though, is that he can be plugged into Miami’s developmental system over time, which has proved to be so effective with players like himself.

#2: Miami wanted rookie year Kendrick Nunn and they got something better.

I’ve spent plenty of time in these articles discussing Kendrick Nunn’s specific skill-sets or individual performances, but this must be evaluated in the big picture. Early in the season, many people were calling for rookie year Kendrick Nunn again after he didn’t look like the same player. Fast forward a couple of months and they have something much better than anything proven in his rookie season. Once again, I don’t think anybody expected this level of shooting from the outside, especially on a consistent basis. And although I’ve harped on his use off the ball lately, his eagerness to get the ball and search for buckets off the dribble basically saved this game from getting out of hand. Nunn said a while back that all he needs is playing time to prove himself, and he’s done just that.

#3: Trevor Ariza loves the three, but his attacking seems to be even more lethal.

Trevor Ariza had some great moments tonight, specifically to begin the game in the first quarter, but something must be noted about his offensive game. He’s labeled as a 3 and D guy, which is something he seems to live up to with the amount of three point shots he takes every night, but that doesn’t tell the whole story on the offensive end. When he attacks the basket, good things happen, and it’s really that simple. Combining his length with his patience off the dribble leads to a pretty positive result, but it just comes down to him searching for it more and more. He did throughout the first half tonight, and it led to an efficient 12 points in that span. It’s hard to point out things to add to his game when he’s one of the few guys clicking, but it truly is apparent.

#4: Duncan Robinson is the fastest player to hit 500 threes, and somehow his game is still growing.

The story of the night for Duncan Robinson is that he hit his 500th career three, which he was the fastest player to reach that mark in NBA history. Clearly that is quite the accolade, but this is just the beginning for him. Not only do I mean there are many more threes to come, but actually he has so much more room to grow in other areas. Although we can talk about his close to perfect three-point night, there was one shot inside the arc that occurred tonight, and that one stood out most. Mid-way through the third, Dewayne Dedmon rises up to the perimeter for a high pick and roll with Robinson. He avoids the screen, which eliminated his defender, and flows into the painted area where he rises up for a soft jumper for two. And those are the moments. Those are the flashes. Those are the shots. He has so many more limits to reach in his offensive game, and due to the amount of work he puts in behind the scenes, he will get there.

#5: On to the next one.

The final takeaway from this game has absolutely nothing to do with this game, since now it’s all about the next one. Miami plays the Charlotte Hornets tomorrow night on the second night of a back to back, and that’s a game that Miami will want to get when evaluating the standings. An important thing to mention is Jimmy Butler’s need tonight, since although the minutes weren’t an exceptionally low number, he didn’t have one of those takeover nights that extract a lot of energy. LaMelo Ball and Malik Monk returned tonight for Charlotte, which means Miami will probably need a different Butler tomorrow night. And well, essentially a different energy level after the ball is tipped, due to the fact it took Miami some time to bring that tonight. On to the next one.

Answering Your Questions on the Miami Heat

There haven’t been many practices for Miami this season, as well as other teams, but the Heat were able to get one in this morning after having the second day off in a row. They will hop right back into it on Saturday night, then follow that up on Sunday, which is why these two days off are so crucial.

Anyway, this piece is about you guys. Let’s take a look at some of the questions about the Heat’s current state…

Even though the headliners today for Victor Oladipo include “injury update,” there really wasn’t any update on his injury status. Coach Erik Spoelstra did not add anything differently, other than the occasional, “He’s making progress,” which people seem to be running with right now. Spoiler alert: Don’t do that from that single comment.

I can’t give a direct answer if he will play again this season, since honestly, I don’t believe that the Heat know at the moment. But, due to your question asking whether he will play another game with the Heat, I’d lean yes, being you didn’t mention anything about this season.

The off-season will be quite interesting, and although Oladipo’s contract may not be the primary focus right now, it’s lingering throughout the higher ups. There won’t be many teams throwing themselves at the likes of Oladipo this off-season, leading to the overall answer that Miami could have him back next season on a very generous salary.

Ah, the KZ Okpala vs Precious Achiuwa debate.

I don’t think there’s any question that both of these guys need time and G-League, which is why the adjective “potential” is currently being linked to them. But, when looking at the way this Heat team is constructed, KZ Okpala seems like the clear answer.

Not only do I believe he has more potential, but I believe he has a much higher chance of having a role on this Heat team in the future. Precious Achiuwa has had his moments and has a chance of becoming a solid back-up big for Bam Adebayo, but the fact of the matter is Okpala doesn’t have a franchise centerpiece standing in his way for the starting spot. (No I didn’t forget about Jimmy Butler and yes I believe Okpala would play the 4)

Even though Pat Riley said on draft night that the goal is to play Adebayo and Achiuwa together, that boat seems to be docked and doesn’t look to be sailing anytime soon. The only way that becomes a viable option is if Achiuwa develops a trusted jumper, which is not the developmental programs current focus.

So, Okpala wins the potential battle.

The interesting part about talking role players on this Heat team is that there is a lot of them. Emphasis on a lot.

When I hear role player, I think about anybody not named Butler or Adebayo, meaning Duncan Robinson, Tyler Herro, and Kendrick Nunn fall under that category. But well, I’m not going the route of any of those guys.

When thinking about playoff situations, I immediately think about who is closing games for this team. While last year Andre Iguodala was that guy many nights, there were many restrictions on what he brought offensively. And well, that leads us into my answer.

Trevor Ariza.

They’ve got their guy at the four spot that they can trust on both sides of the floor. And the price to obtain him? Oh yeah, for nothing. And if I’m going to bank on a role player stepping up in a post-season match-up, it’s going to be one that is playoff tested, like Ariza.

To be honest, I just don’t think there’s one single thing to improve this team’s offense. For one, Oladipo would do wonders to input that secondary attacker that they’ve missed, which is why they went after him in the first place. But when looking at current personnel, it’s just about the half-court offense, and frankly, the Duncan Robinson effect.

They must be a team that gets into transition more, since that is when the offense really starts flowing. They have the defensive tools to do it, but being 17th in the NBA in transition frequency just won’t cut it. And 29th in the NBA in field goal percentage in clutch time basically seals that conversation of half-court trouble.

Now, you may be wondering what the Duncan Robinson effect is, and other than the offensive rating going from 118 when he’s on the floor to 103 when he’s off of it in the month of April, it’s about that guy being inserted for him. Obviously his gravity is tough to mirror in the NBA, let alone this Heat team, but all they need is one bench player to give them something from the outside.

Can it be Herro? Can it be Dragic? I’m not sure, but it has to somebody if they want to see some gradual changes in production.

The Heat have done a pretty good job of maximizing their small guards on the defensive end. The 2-3 zone was basically an introduction early on that they were going to hide their weaker defenders, and even the constant switching means that there are limited possessions that they’re stuck on an island.

Now, maximizing them on offense is a different story. It’s not only about individual skill-sets, but also the Heat broadening those skill-sets, like they did with Robinson on the fly this season. We’re beginning to see that with Nunn as well now, especially in the lineups with Dragic. The reason for that is he’s playing a lot more off the ball, and almost running Robinson-lite type of actions.

We’ve seen how point guard Herro turned out, and he faded into a bench scorer. We’ve seen point guard Nunn who has played the role well, but shows to be a much better scorer. And although Dragic has taken on that duty, as he’s aging off-ball catch and shoot threes will be his best friend. If Miami continues this trend, that’s how they can maximize them this season.

This one is pretty simple: it’s very vulnerable from that aspect, but it has it’s pros and cons. Although many question the switching scheme on night’s when the win column has an L, it should get the same level attention after a win.

Yes, some nights the constant switching against two bigs, like Nikola Vucevic and Daniel Theis, becomes a major headache for Miami, but what about the nights against Brooklyn or Portland or Golden State? Do you find anything similar between those teams? I do.

They all have star point guards, and that is when Adebayo just has a field day out on the perimeter. You can live with a pocket pass to Blake Griffin since you know the rotations will be there on the help side. And most teams that they will see in a playoff series will run their base offense around a perimeter player.

So, it does take a hit in the rebounding section, but there’s a huge boost in defensive efficiency, or as pointed out in a question earlier, third in opposing points per game.

It may have pros and cons, but the pros outweigh the cons with this personnel.

Jimmy Butler: Bam Adebayo is “Damn Near Unguardable”

The Miami Heat are 12-5 this season when Bam Adebayo attempts 7 or more free throws, and well, one of those 17 games was last night.

When I asked Jimmy Butler about the difference in offense when Adebayo is attacking like that, he responded, “He’s damn near unguardable whenever he’s playing like that, because now, you get into the paint, everybody’s gotta help. Now, you’re kicking it out to your shooters. We want him to play like that.”

There are many reasons that everybody wants him to play like that. For one, as shown earlier, it translates to wins, which it’s pretty hard to find things relating to wins with the Miami Heat this season. But more importantly, it takes a lot of weight off the guy talking about him, Jimmy Butler.

Butler has plenty of stretches of complete takeover mode, while Adebayo’s list of moments have been a lot shorter, and frankly, his list of well rounded attributes are a lot longer.

Now, the well known reason for that is that’s not Adebayo’s game. As Butler illustrated last night, when continuing to speak about Adebayo, “The crazy part is that he’s a pass first player, so as soon as he gets in there, he’s probably looking to pass before he’s looking to dunk on somebody like he did tonight.”

And that right there is the one hurdle many are aware Adebayo is awaiting to leap over. He has the improved jumper. He has the ball handle. He has the quickness and versatility. He has any possible attribute that you’d want in your star player, but it’s time for the primary passing element to be knocked down to secondary.

These flashes of energy he provides with the nightly put-back posters are basically an introduction to that, while the jab step blow bys are the real story teller when watching a game progress.

The thing about his description is that everything people say about Adebayo, has been said about Butler. He has moments that he’s too passive. He has moments where he must rely solely on “bully ball” and getting to the rim. And of course, neither skip a beat on the defensive end.

When discussing Butler’s passive stretches at times, he’s countered that with takeover and dominant stints to will the team to win, and that’s the one obstacle that is much more mental than it is physical for Adebayo to overcome.

To continue on the defensive end, when I asked Butler about Adebayo’s defensive impact a few night’s ago, he said, “He takes the challenge of being able to guard whoever in this league…Around here, we know he’s really good at it. It’s not always him getting a stop or a block, it’s tough to have to be in a spot and help, then close somebody out and be able to guard them. I think that’s what people really overlook.”

Every detail of the picture Butler paints is exactly correct. The switching defense forces him to guard probably every player on the floor at one point or another throughout 48 minutes of basketball, and he continues to humble opponents with his suffocating perimeter defense.

Although the free throw attempts and late and-1’s were harped on after the win against the Spurs, his defense last night was absolutely terrific, and really forced San Antonio into a lot of their droughts.

The point of all of this is that Butler notices some of the things about Adebayo that he doesn’t realize himself. The truth is that he is “damn near unguardable,” but it comes down to him putting himself into enough scoring positions that he truly gravitates toward that label.

“We want him and need him to be that way,” Butler said. But now it’s up to Adebayo to want to be that way, and then the “no ceiling” title will be in full effect.

The Continued Offensive Growth is Second to Nunn

Kendrick Nunn’s NBA career thus far has been a constant cycle of ups and downs. NBA starter to bench warmer then back to NBA starter has happened over and over and over, and yet, he’s still competing with the best of them whenever he gets an opportunity out on that floor.

It’s always the “now” when discussing Kendrick Nunn. Can he step up tonight? How much of a boost can he give this team at the current stage? But although he’s 25 years old, he is only in his second NBA season, and he’s still growing as a player.

Growing a lot.

It’s not easy to stay mentally or physically ready when you’re constantly being interchanged between roles, but not only has he stayed parallel to his old self, he has made necessary improvements that make him more than just a “spark.”

The Heat organization had many expectations placed onto players that were a bit unrealistic in hindsight. But they didn’t seem to put any expectation on the future of Nunn, and that’s worked out very well.

So, after yet another scoring explosion against the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday night, let’s take a look at what truly stood out on the offensive side of the ball.

– Punishing bigger defenders

Miami’s offense has obviously been inconsistent so far this season, but one area they’ve been highly effective with is transition offense. When a team relies on their defense on a nightly basis, that must translate to fast-break opportunities, and Nunn has been at the forefront of that.

As seen here, Bam Adebayo gets a steal and pushes the ball down the court as Nunn trails. He was forced to slightly reset after he caught the pass, and this is where an interesting growth in his game is apparent. He has the ability to take advantage of bigger defenders, not just through his speed, but through angles and body separation.

Although a quick crossover gets him this open look on the reverse, his ability to keep defenders on his hip as he rises up is something he wasn’t as comfortable with last year. An underrated element to some of the changes from last year to this year is headlined by his body language, since he’s playing at a completely different speed with a defined role.

– Tighter handles leads to more separation

When seeing Nunn’s confidence level rising in an empty corner in isolation, it just shows the type of rhythm he is in. The exact reasoning for this confidence rising has a lot to do with his improved attributes.

He is much more comfortable putting the ball on the floor since his handle seems a lot tighter. On this play, he keeps the dribble alive as he’s scanning toward the opposite side, before he realizes it’s time to just go. And when he’s moving left toward the baseline, you can almost guarantee he’s going to utilize the pull-back dribble into a jumper.

When talking about the lack of separation created between Miami’s guards, the evolving ball handle from Nunn can really change some things for him in the big picture.

– Reading each and every defender

As Nunn catches the ball on the wing with a short shot clock, his initial move is to read the first defender. Most player basically just flow into their comfort move, but not K-Nunn.

Seeing his defender running at him full speed, he flows into a slow pump-fake to truly sell it, and it eliminates him from the play. Now, it looks like he has his favorite mid-range jumper with nobody in sight, but he immediately reads the next defender.

Keldon Johnson is forced to split the difference between him and Jimmy Butler, and you can see there’s a slight hesitance from him to fully lock on Nunn. So, he rises up for a smooth finger roll at the rim, just further showcasing the most crucial attribute of all: reading a defense in fast motion.

– A mixture of the past three things discussed

After touching on his success against bigger defenders, an increased handle, and reading his defender, here’s one play that shows all three of those elements.

Jimmy Butler begins the possession in the high post, which is where he finds himself frequently lately, as Nunn circles around to find an opportunity with the Trevor Ariza off-ball screen. Now, as he receives the ball on the wing, he patiently reads the defender, gives a slight jab left knowing that he can take the bigger defender off the dribble, and uses his body to create separation for the open layup.

The reason this play is important to show is to prove the fact that these moments aren’t one time instances, and actually are things he’s incorporated into his game every night.

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– Diversified scoring, drop coverage killer

Before last night’s game, I mentioned that it could set up for a big time Nunn performance due to the Spurs drop coverage that he always loves to exploit from the mid-range area.

Since last year, he’s always been a good mid-range scorer, but he’s actually controlled that area of the floor a lot more than usual. Instead of awaiting an open jumper to present itself, he searches for it and finds his favorite spots in any of Miami’s normal sets.

On this possession, he gets to his spot and rises up for the bank-shot, which just shows his soft touch and diversified scoring abilities as time goes by. And the most important thing to observe here is his eye level. An issue lats season was his hesitance in a pick and roll, not knowing whether to make the pass or take the shot. Now, he seems to know exactly what he’s going to do every possession.

– Some catch and shoot excellence

There’s nothing to over-analyze on this play specifically, but it’s important to note the big picture improvements with catch and shoot opportunities. He shot a little under 35% on catch and shoot threes last season, which has shot up close to 42% this season on the same amount of attempts.

But the numbers aren’t the only thing that has shown this, since the eye test has pointed toward the different ways he’s being utilized, even as a Duncan Robinson type off-ball runner at times, which is interesting to say the least. An unexpected story line this season is that he’s been their best three-point shooter among the other small guards, and frankly, he’s been the best player overall.

– The Goran Dragic-Kendrick Nunn minutes are……effective?

Something that has stood out to me lately has been the amount of minutes Goran Dragic and Nunn have played together, and better yet, how good that they’ve been. When I asked Erik Spoelstra about their minutes together lately, he said, “Until about two weeks ago, I started to notice more and more that combination was actually being pretty effective, so it’s something we’ll continue to explore.”

Now, it’s necessary to evaluate why it has been so effective all of a sudden, and the reason for that is no surprise, Kendrick Nunn. As mentioned previously, Nunn has been involved in a lot more off-ball sets due to his increased catch and shoot abilities, meaning Dragic can direct traffic, or even vice versa.

This play was an example, as Dragic turns the corner for a hard attack, then floats it over the top to Nunn on the wing for the three.

These not so minor improvements from Nunn should not be swept under the rug, since he’s basically been that one steady rock to give them offense on any given night, which is why we’re approaching him being a closer from here on out.