40 games into the NBA season and at the time of writing, the Miami Heat are currently sitting at 3rd in the eastern conference, despite losing Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo for a combined 39 games.
The focal point of these “Quarterly Takeaways” articles is ultimately to find trends that are valuable for the Heat in the regular season and somewhat predictive of the Heat’s potential success or shortcomings when the playoffs come around. Unfortunately, due to injuries and COVID, some of the trends found might not have any bearing on playoff success but will absolutely impact the Heat in this regular season and continue into the 2022-23’ season.
Here are some takeaways from the Heat’s second quarter of the season…
(A 21 game sample size was used ranging from 11/26/21 until 1/12/22)
1. Kyle F****** Lowry
When Butler and Adebayo went down, it was a foregone conclusion that the Heat would freefall down the Eastern Conference standings. A top-heavy team losing it’s two best players for a prolonged period of time is a potential death sentence for a team like Miami. But then we got to see Kyle Lowry, in his purest form, he doesn’t need to score 30 points every night, he doesn’t need to shoot hyper-efficiently (although it does help), all Lowry needs is the ball in his hands and the trust from his coaches and teammates that he will make the right play and put the team in a position to succeed. The offense, now built around Kyle Lowry, has changed into a solar system where Kyle Lowry is the sun and the other 4 players are planets in perpetual motion. The emphasis on motion around Lowry and Lowry finding the open man has led the Heat to the 5th most assists over the last 21 games
In the absence of other stars, many have stepped up in terms of production, but Lowry has been the one to take a step forward in nearly every individual advanced metric for the point guard position.
As shown in the chart above, Lowry has improved across the board in Usage %, Assist % and TS%. When called upon to be “the guy” Lowry has had the ball in his hands more, increased his assist production by about 20% and gone from “league average” to “Standard Kyle Lowry” as a scorer, from an efficiency perspective.
Lowry is a player who’s impact goes far beyond the box score, however, seeing notable statistical improvements from a shaky start is a breath of fresh air for Heat fans who might’ve been worried about the 85 million dollar commitment the Heat made to the soon-to-be 36 year old. A Lowry-centric offense means a ton of movement, both on and off the ball, which brings me to the next takeaway.
2. Analytic Ball?
An offense where the players are constantly moving and the ball mirrors player movement, pass then screen away, set hammer screens for corner 3’s, run Spain Pick-and-Roll (Occasionally), make good entry passes, drive and kick, put emphasis on moving the ball inside and out on nearly every possession, all of the things that you want to see an offense do, the Heat are doing.In spite of all of those great things, The Heat’s success is being chalked up to “analytic ball” by Eddie Johnson, former NBA standout and current color analyst for the Phoenix Suns.
Some salty announcer may foolishly attribute the Heat’s improved style of play to analytics, I will attribute it to coach Spo and general common sense. Butler, Adebayo, and Morris are all players who operate in the Mid-Post and do a lot of their scoring in the mid-range area or at the rim. Does it make sense for an offense led by Lowry, Herro, Tucker, Robinson, Vincent, Martin and Strus to play a physical “grind you down” offense? Absolutely not. Coach Spo understands this as well and has used movement to mitigate the lack of self-creating talent, while maximizing the level of complementary shooting talent with the playmakers that are Lowry, Herro and Tucker.
Since November 26th, the Heat have averaged 26.8 assists per game (5th most) and have completely changed their shot diet.
The Heat have limited their shots that the defense is comfortable with, Mid-range and short touch shots in the paint, and traded them in for a more methodical approach that might take more time and effort every possession, but fits the 3-point shooting skill set of the current talent on the roster.
This season might be Erik Spoelstra’s masterpiece for a multitude of reasons, but one of the reasons why almost any player has been able to come in and contribute is Spo isn’t asking them to do what the other guys do, he tells them to do what they are good at. Yes, very simple, but it’s something that some NBA coaches struggle with because they want to win their way. Spo simply just wants to win.
3. We got shooters… again.
Part of what made the Heat’s ceiling so frightening early in the season is the ability to win without the 3-point shot falling. The main reason that the Heat have been able to win games recently is the simple fact that the shots are falling, at an elite level. The emphasis on the 3-point shot has paid off in a big way as Miami has shot 39.9% on 38.8 3PA per game.
Of course the team shooting is reflective of the individual shooting, so here are some individual performances from 3 over the last 21 games.
Dewayne Dedmon: 56.3% on 1.1 Attempts per game
PJ Tucker: 48% on 3.3 Attempts per game
KZ Okpala: 44.4% on 1.4 attempts per game
Caleb Martin: 44.2% on 3.7 attempts per game
Max Strus: 42.9% on 7.8 attempts per game
Gabe Vincent: 39.2% on 6.4 attempts per game
Duncan Robinson: 38.4% on 8.4 attempts per game
Tyler Herro: 37.5% on 6.5 attempts per game
Kyle Lowry: 34.6% on 6.7 attempts per game
Will this hot shooting continue for the remaining 42 games of the season? Doubtful. Quite frankly, I expect the return of Butler, Adebayo, and eventual re-integrations of Oladipo and Morris to give the Heat a bit of a shooting slump.
Over the last 21 games the unwritten mantra of the Heat from the 3 point line has been “Solid shooters should only take good shots, Great shooters should take any shot” and it has worked out nearly perfectly. The most important takeaway from this shooting stretch is the Heat surrounding their non-shooting stars with a plethora of solid-to-great shooters that can do more than just shoot… well, most of them. These elite percentages will inevitably drop, but as long as the process remains the same, the Heat should be in great shape offensively.
4. The Defense Firm of Vincent & Martin.*
In terms of production over expectation, Gabe Vincent and Caleb Martin have easily been the most surprising players on the Heat. While we could easily gush over their offensive contributions, what they bring on the defensive end has been nothing short of extraordinary.
Starting with Gabe, an aggressive PoA defender who doesn’t allow ball-handlers to comfortably get to their spots and has a combination of strength and quickness that allows him to fight through screens routinely, making him a tough matchup for any team that runs their offense through their guard. Gabe also has a willingness to switch onto forwards and centers and make them work to get positioning on mismatches, a valuable tool considering the Heat’s defensive scheme. While I do believe defense is more dependent on the eye test than anything else, the numbers do support Gabe’s case to not only be a good defender, but one of the best on the team. Over the course of the season the Heat have 15 3-man lineups that have played over 100 minutes together and posted a defensive rating of 100 or less, 9 of those 15 lineups include Gabe Vincent. The next closest is Kyle Lowry and Tyler Herro with 6.
There isn’t a statistical case to be made for Martin to be a top defender on the Heat, but anyone who’s watched him this season knows defense is clearly his forte. The ability to guard 1-3 and be able to match the strength and or quickness of the players in front of him is a marvel to watch. Martin, like Vincent, is willing to pick up the primary ball-handler before halfcourt and slows the actions the opponents want to run. Martin’s been able to successfully contain multiple primary shot creators like Khris Middleton to a 1 of 7 shooting, Bradley Beal to 0 for 4, Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan to a combined 1 of 4 night and most recently holding Steph Curry to 1 of 7 shooting and De’aaron Fox to 0 of 3. Having a defender get up for challenges like those and then win the matchup is something that is an absolute luxury to have when the all-defense level player in JImmy Butler is missing time.
*This takeaway is from the entire season, the sample size of Vincent and Martin being good on defense is not exclusive to the last 21 games.
* For a more in-depth break down on Caleb Martin’s defense, read this article from Brady Hawk
5. Top 10 ROTY Candidate: Ömer Yurtseven
When the Heat signed Yurtseven to a standard multi-year deal, there was a belief that in a perfect world, this would be a redshirt year and he ultimately would not see much run until the 2022-2023 season. Then came the injury bug. With Adebayo, Morris and Dedmon out, it was time to see what the 23 year old rookie had to offer. The production the big man has been able to give the Heat is nothing short of incredible. In his 11 games where he’s played 20 or more minutes, Yurtseven is averaging 9.9 points, 13.45 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1.2 steals. The ability to dominate on the boards against top tier rebounders such as Sabonis, Nurkic and Ayton has shown that Yurtseven has an elite trait in rebounding, and a rapidly growing game elsewhere.
While Yurtseven has had amazing moments, there still are areas that need to be worked on, specifically going into next season where he projects to have a larger role. The defense has been a concern since his Olympic qualifying games with Turkey, while there have been improvements, there needs to be a specific defensive coverage for Yurtseven to specialize in (Drop coverage makes the most sense). As for the offensive side, Yurtseven needs to work on his touch. He is currently shooting 46.8% from the field, a way below average mark for a center who takes 90% of his shots inside the paint. Once the shots around the rim begin to fall, there should be an emphasis on fine tuning the mid-range shot that Yurtseven weaponized in the summer league as a pick-and-pop big.
The last 11 games where Yurtseven has been heavily relied upon and played winning basketball has instilled confidence in fans that the Heat have a clear pathway to develop Yurtseven into a rock solid rotational player down the road with potential to be a starter if the Heat ever decide to size-up in the frontcourt.
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