Over his time in Summer League, Max Strus has been putting on quite a show for the Miami Heat. Knock-down shooting, cold-blooded game winners in sudden death, and respectable leadership.
The best players in this environment can be picked out pretty quickly due to their being a major gap between themselves and the next guy. Surprisingly, Strus has been one of them.
And the more that we are seeing this offensive expansion, the more it shows that Strus can very well have a regular spot in the rotation next year for Miami. With a bench unit consisting of Tyler Herro, Markieff Morris, and Dewayne Dedmon, that ninth man has been quite the topic over the past few weeks, but he may be right in front of their eyes.
So, instead of continually talking about his overall skill-set, let’s take a dive into the ways he can be utilized on the actual roster next season…
This is not going to be a Max Strus-Duncan Robinson comparison piece, since frankly that comparison is extremely lazy, but it’s important to bring up in terms of his role. Yes, they can both shoot the ball from beyond the arc, but there aren’t many other parallels about their games.
Robinson being more of a lengthy and skinnier build, while Strus is more of a bigger and stockier build is a perfect starting point. Strus will be a perfect offensive tool for Erik Spoelstra in terms of screening, especially considering his overall physicality on both ends.
Looking at the play above, it’s something we see a lot with Robinson, but that won’t come with such ease for others. Robinson slipping a screen does wonders due to its’ pull on a defense when he sprints to the wing, but Strus will be used in a much different manner.
Early on, defenses weren’t even remotely worried about him popping out as seen in the clip. It allowed him to get into a rhythm of just catching and firing. Will he get that shooting label next to his name pretty quickly? Most definitely, and that is when the true difference can be made about his effectiveness.
Angling screens downhill for Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry on the ball will be home-base. Of course he will be in a Robinson-lite role by coming off screens, but it feels like Strus will be in the actions more than he is out of it. Once he gets extended run out there, the plans will change, but it seems like that will be the starting point of using his greatest skill to the offense’s advantage.
Strus entering the game for Robinson next season could be extremely beneficial for the offense, but how could things look with them both on the floor? The small sample size last season says it can look really good.
The reason for that is they can transfer Strus into Robinson’s off-ball navigation role, and totally maximize spacing with Robinson as a screener.
Looking at the clip above, this is the perfect starting point: Strus coming off a double off-ball screen with Robinson setting the initial pick. It loops into a Bam Adebayo dribble hand-off, which ended in Strus knocking down a good look from three. But that’s not even the most important part of the play.
The essential element is when Strus receives the hand-off. The closest defender to the goal is currently at the free throw line, with nobody in sight below the rim. That is what is meant by “maximizing spacing.” It’s why these minutes are so likely, due to Spoelstra’s willingness to become very creative with the combination of weapons and space.
Strus obviously won’t have a major role in the rotation next season, since they will simplify it down on offense as a spot-up shooter to start, but limitations won’t be placed on him. Some minor leaps from Robinson are expected, but Strus may be the key to unlock some of those things.
Many are aware these two can mesh on the offensive end, but the question becomes the defensive stuff that was harped on all of last season. But that should no longer be a worry…
For one, this isn’t the same Heat team as last year. They have added two strong wing defenders who can guard multiple positions, a veteran point of attack defender who will plug so many of Miami’s holes, and lost two guards who were known as poor defenders.
Worrying about certain lineups defensively won’t be as common, and it definitely shouldn’t be when discussing Max Strus. He’s definitely not a high level defender, but he’s clearly not a bad one. Even when being thrown into the fire last season, he found a way to survive on that end of the floor.
Strus knows how to use his bulky frame to defend bigger wings in the post, and has a great feel for dropping down off the perimeter for cut-offs in the paint or at the nail. That off-ball defensive role will be his usual placing anyway, when being surrounded by guys like Butler, Adebayo, Lowry, Tucker, and more.
Robinson made some minor improvements on that end last season, and there’s no doubt in my mind there are more to come. Non-defensive lineups won’t be common next season due to the current roster construction, and I’m not even sure I would bat an eye at Robinson-Strus minutes on that end. Around those other guys, there shouldn’t be many issues to make the coaching staff think twice.
Summer League Attacking isn’t Temporary
One of the first surprises from Strus last season with Miami was his ability to put the ball on the floor and get to the rim in a strong fashion. He had a few highlight reel moments, catching a body or two, and we’ve seen even more flashes of that in the Summer League.
But don’t let recency bias distract you from the fact it isn’t just the competition, it’s just the skill-set of Strus.
As I mentioned earlier, spot-up play will be where he finds himself often in the offense, but he’s going to catch people off-guard by using his body to float downhill and get to the rim with ease. He isn’t a flashy or smooth attacker, he’s just a solid attacker. And that is exactly what the Heat will need from him.
Looking at the roster, it seems like Lowry and Butler will have to carry a lot of the load as downhill threats. There are a bunch of different skill-sets on the team, but some guys like Tyler Herro or Strus will need to sprinkle in some effective drives to bend the defense slightly.
Robinson’s next step will most likely be the mid-range, and even though he’s been super efficient around the rim so far, it doesn’t seem like he will be getting down there much. If Strus can just barely improve his handle to be able to work stuff in the interior, it’ll make a lot of this stuff much more flexible.
And knowing Strus’ background of doing whatever the coaching staff tells him, it’s very possible we see that pretty quickly.
And finally, Strus’ wild-card ability. This entire piece has been about where he plugs into the offense next season in certain lineups, but this one attribute shifts the entire conversation completely.
Coming into Summer League, it was obvious he would be getting plenty of on-ball reps, forcing him to shoot off the dribble, create a bit, and facilitate in that leadership role. And he’s done all of that and more.
Not only is he running unexpected pick and rolls, but he’s throwing defenders all over the place to fire away from deep.
Looking at the clips above, this stuff should not be skipped over. The first play is not bad defense whatsoever. He covers him tightly as he mixes in some between the leg dribbles, before leaning right and firing over the top of his contest. Bucket.
Why do I feel like this stuff is sustainable? Well, the thing about this ability is it comes down to the player’s response to certain contests. And if there’s one thing I know about Max Strus after watching him in Summer League, it’s that he isn’t fazed by any shot contest when he’s behind the three-point line.
If this on-ball expansion is made, it makes a bunch of people’s jobs much easier. I wouldn’t expect to see it much, but that being in his bag somewhere can make the difference.
Miami now has the defensive group they always seem to like, but bucket getters are now a necessity. And well, Strus has proved to be quite the bucket getter over his time in Las Vegas.
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