When looking at the Miami Heat’s series against the Milwaukee Bucks last year, it’s pretty obvious that both teams are different from where they stand today. But the scheming on the other hand, may not look all that different.
I’ll dive into that a little later on, but the beginning phase of the Miami Heat’s offense in this upcoming series, that will open up on Saturday, is Bam Adebayo. It’s no surprise that he will need to step up in order for this team to win, but there are many more valid reasons this time than a random Tuesday night against Dallas with no Jimmy Butler.
It’s actually because of the coverage that will be thrown at him and the space he will be given. So let’s hop right into it…
Bam Adebayo Pulling the Trigger
I will mostly be showcasing some things from last playoff series and how adjustments will be made, but recency discussion is the most important thing when talking about Adebayo. Just over a minute into the game on Saturday night, Adebayo begins to face up per usual, but his defender does something a little bit differently.
He purposely trots back to the paint to let Adebayo know that he’s giving him that shot, a shot that he is very capable of knocking down. The issue is that he instead decides to force a pass to Robinson on the top of the key, which perfectly showcases why he’s the difference maker in the series.
It’s not even about adding two points to the scoreboard when that occurs. It’s just about forcing Brook Lopez and the Milwaukee Bucks to constantly adjust defensively, which is something Coach Budenholzer doesn’t like to do.
Oh, and it’s something Coach Spoelstra absolutely loves to do, and he will do offensively, as I’ll point out down the line.
Now, a few minutes later, Adebayo dribbles the ball down the floor, while Lopez is giving him as much space as he did in the prior clip. A different result occurs as he pulls up with zero hesitation, and knocks down his favorite elbow jumper.
Also, Adebayo’s effectiveness doesn’t just fall on the open mid-range jumper. Milwaukee’s defense is designed to pack the paint, which will obviously fall onto Miami’s three point shooters. But the next element to his impact is that once threes begin to fall for the Heat, it’s Adebayo’s time to shine from there.
One more thing on Adebayo in this series is that there will definitely be things run for him, much like this possession above. He has the ball in the middle of the floor, and Lopez seems to be giving him much different treatment when trailing 4 with 50 seconds left in game two.
The first thing mentioned about sets being run for him is about finding a way to get him moving downhill, but I’m not so sure that’s the way to go in this series. I actually feel we see him hit the floor with four spacers, and allow him to go one-on-one at the free throw line with Lopez. The creativity will be fluid with him in this series, which is why he must be mentioned first.
Kendrick Nunn: Drop Coverage Killer
Kendrick Nunn finally gets to hit the floor in a playoff series with a significant role, after last season’s lingering Covid effects left him with some restrictions. Now he’s absolutely rolling, and seems to be at the top of most people’s picks for the series X-factor.
The reason for that is pretty obvious: he thrives against drop coverage. Coach Spoelstra labeled him as a three-level scorer the other day, and this allows him to showcase every single level of his game with the ball in his hands. The mid-range jumper will be there, the floater has been dropping, and the threes have seen a major increase in numbers. But the most important element for him will be at the rim.
If he can finish at the rim early in the series effectively, everything will open up for him from there, and he really will become the X-factor to open up guys like Jimmy Butler late in games.
DHO’s: A Flash from the Past
Now that we got through the two obvious elements of the series, I think this is the first major adjustment we see from Coach Spo, and I believe it begins in game 1.
Miami’s offense last year consisted of dribble hand-offs, dribble hand-offs, and more dribble hand-offs, but teams began to figure it out which forced them to adjust on the fly. The thing is now they’ve already made those adjustments comfortably, and it seems they may revert back a bit to begin the series to truly maximize the offense.
Plays like this where they force mismatches off the ball with their off-ball screening, then fly off a dribble hand-off pin down and knock down a three. That was the formula, and it may just work at times again.
As mentioned earlier, many are aware that the Bucks like to pack the paint, while covering the three-point line means that they’re relying on a bunch of tight close-outs, which has worked pretty well. And that’s where these type of pin-downs come into play.
Tyler Herro’s latest three point surge definitely makes this change even more possible, and even Nunn has looked very comfortable in these situations. It doesn’t mean that it becomes their base, but it should mean that we see it early on as Miami expands back into their normal offense.
Here’s one more instance of the effectiveness, as Herro flies off an off-ball screen into a DHO, while Lopez drops down and gives him just enough room to pull.
Also, the focus isn’t on the personnel in the clips above. Two guys for Milwaukee and two guys for Miami are not even on the team anymore, but the offense being generating is what we’re taking a look at.
It may come down to guys like Herro knocking down these good looks, but I believe that’s a result Miami will live with to begin the series in Milwaukee.
Duncan Robinson Adjustments
If you’re wondering what Coach Spo’s awaiting pocket adjustment is in this series, it’s Duncan Robinson. This is the element that refers back to my previous Adebayo point, and it comes down to seeing how the Bucks choose to play their hand.
This play seen above was basically an introduction for what was about to come for Duncan Robinson this season as he transitioned into a different offense. The DHO’s have been eliminated by defenses whenever he tries to run them, which means his new scheme consists of high pick and roll after high pick and roll. And well, they’ve been highly effective.
When looking at this possession though, Lopez once again drops even lower than usual as Adebayo and Robinson do their thing on the perimeter, leading to a nice looking triple on the wing. The next thing we must take note of is the game they’re currently playing, since it’s game two. That may not seem like a crucial point, but it is, and I’ll show you why.
Now, here we are in game three. Robinson may have gotten those open looks in game two, but take a look at the game and time in this very moment: game three, 40 seconds into the game.
That’s been the Robinson effect all along, and this is where Adebayo’s effectiveness comes into play. Robinson has basically perfected the pocket pass, for obvious reasons, which usually means that Adebayo is on the receiving end. It allows him to begin moving downhill and make the right decision with the 4 on 3.
On this play above, there’s one defender guarding two guys on the perimeter, which leads to a pump-fake to the wing and pass out to the top of they key for a three.
As I mentioned earlier, it’s on the Bucks to choose how they want to handle it. Do they drop low like they did in the first two games last year? Do they blitz Robinson on the perimeter out of the gate?
Either way, Miami has a solution, which is why Robinson is Spoelstra’s main adjustment.
The last thing that must be noted about Robinson is that the pocket pass on the doubles isn’t the only solution. He’s a much better passer now than he was the last time he faced the Bucks, and those reads were even occurring then.
Double. Patience. Kick-out. Three. That’s the formula, and even though many believe his threes falling is the most essential thing against a team that allows three-pointers, it may instead result in triples for the surrounding cast.
And if the primary evaluation for his contract this off-season is 3 point makes in this series, your evaluation is way off if they do end up finding a way to win the series.
Extra Useful Sets
Finally, there were some extra offensive actions that seemed to work well against Milwaukee, and Miami may be better suited to run it with their current roster. So, what do those look like exactly?
One of Miami’s most used lineups recently has been the three guard lineups. Herro’s play-making moving downhill and Nunn’s catch and shoot leap have really made that possible, leading to these situations.
Miami ran a double drag with Nunn as the initial screener and popper. They even had respect for Nunn at that time, leaving Herro with a 2 on 1 opportunity, ending with a lob and dunk, which Herro has shown major growth in down the stretch of the season.
Miami’s guards obviously aren’t going to be taking anybody off the dribble to create offense, but the young guys on the move like this will lead to great things for Miami. And when looking at Herro specifically, he totally thrives off confidence, and these type of reps might be the best thing for him to find a rhythm.
This may not be anything spectacular, but this is just one quick example. The Bucks were going under screens constantly in this series when Lopez wasn’t on the floor, leading to possessions like this.
When Lopez is on the court, their deep drop means that Jrue Holiday and others fly over screens then recover while Lopez awaits at the free throw line. But when that’s not the defensive scheme they’re facing, the guards must pull whenever a slimmer of space is given after a defender dips under.
When I asked Adebayo earlier in the season about his message to shooters no matter what, he responded sternly, “If you’re open, shoot it.” And I believe that’s the motto in the locker room before this series.
The last set that must be used fluidly consists of Butler, Adebayo, and three floor spacers. Miami usually waits to utilize their most effective set, Butler-Adebayo PnR’s, late in the game when they need a bucket. But during playoff time, that will be used right out of the gate.
Although this play ended in a dump-off play from Butler to Adebayo for a dunk, there’s just so many options that they have. For one, that elbow jumper we discussed for Adebayo could’ve been utilized, as nobody would’ve been in sight if Butler decided to kick it back out.
Also, whenever this play was ran, Robinson always found himself in that corner, which eliminated any type of help defense onto Adebayo on the roll.
Anyway, Miami’s offense is clearly based around a lot of guys heading into Saturday, while you may be wondering why most of these breakdowns didn’t include Jimmy Butler. That’s because there won’t be many changes in how he is utilized, and frankly, we already know what he’s going to bring to the table.
It just comes down to the other guys, and each of them have multiple ways of being effective, especially if Miami makes that initial back-track with DHO’s to begin the series.
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