To start this off, Damian Lillard to Miami may be a long shot. First, he must actually express to the Portland Trail Blazers that he wants out. Then, he would have to list Miami as a primary location. And of course, they’d have to evaluate the pieces and assets that are out there for a guy of his caliber.
With that said, it’s the off-season for the Miami Heat, and as long as Pat Riley is steering the ship, anything can happen. The part that I want to dive into here is strictly basketball based. The actual acquisition stuff is unclear and a bit tricky due to the lack of major assets that the Heat have.
Does Bam Adebayo being listed as an untouchable piece pertain to Damian Lillard? Would that be a possibility? Do they think it could be done without him?
There are a lot of angles to approach this, but let’s take a look at how he would look in the Miami Heat offense next to Jimmy Butler and company…
Double Drag Killer
Before looking a little deeper into Lillard, a big reason that the Heat had so much success in the bubble was obviously due to the high level play they got from Goran Dragic. But I don’t believe it was that simple.
The reality is that he had enough burst to run Miami’s base sets at a highly effective rate, leading to good things when shooters were knocking down shots. The main action I’m referring to is double drag, since they ran that into the ground in the bubble, but were unable to do so this season since, well, they didn’t have anybody to truly run it.
Yes, Goran Dragic could get to the rim occasionally and throw up a lob pass.
Yes, Kendrick Nunn could pull-up at the elbow in space for a mid-range jumper.
Yes, Tyler Herro could stop and pop at the three-point line when defenses went under the screen.
And yes, Jimmy Butler could make the right read to feed the popping shooter, diving roller, or make the skip pass to the corner.
But the issue is that they didn’t have a guy who can do all of those things. Spoiler alert: Damian Lillard can.
The Heat’s current personnel consists of a bunch of guys who do one or two things really good, but nobody expresses the whole package. For one, nobody on the Heat’s roster is getting blitzed in this type of fashion, from the clip above, out of a double drag. That type of attention, combined with exceptional patience, leads to a good look from three.
When I was asked about Miami’s biggest needs this off-season, I didn’t have a big in the top two. Half-court shot creator and point guard were above that on my list, and Lillard fits both of those labels quite perfectly.
Butler/Lillard PnR = Good Things
Not to over-emphasize the Dragic element, but it’s necessary with the amount of weight he had on his shoulders this season as the ball-handler. Looking back on it, it wasn’t ideal that one of Miami’s best actions late in games was Butler/Dragic PnR’s, both regular and inverted.
It just worked. Butler trusted Dragic in those spots, and it allows Butler to get downhill on the angled screen while Dragic pops out to the top of the key. It was simple.
But look at the clip above, when Miami was facing a not-so-good Chicago Bulls team earlier in the season. Butler trying to create offense without a screen. Didn’t work. Dragic flowing into a pick and roll with Bam Adebayo. Didn’t work.
This was the way Miami was trending all season, and it’s honestly crazy that many of us thought this would all go away by playoff time.
To that point, a Lillard-Butler combo at the end of games would be a hard one to stop with Erik Spoelstra scheming stuff for them. The only equivalent set we saw to this was the screen and rolls with Duncan Robinson, since defenses had to make a choice to recover on Butler or fly out at Robinson.
The difference is that Robinson can’t really put the ball on the floor, and it got taken away pretty quickly. As we all know, talking about running sets for Lillard down the stretch may seem foolish, due to the fact there’s nobody better than putting the ball in the basket when the team needs it most.
And that exact description is what Butler needs. He’s not a primary scorer, and that type of play is not trending upward as he continues throughout his career. He needs to be the situational scorer and primary facilitator who takes care of business on the defensive end. The Lillard example may be a bit extreme, but any high level scorer can take that role on this roster.
Able to Play Off the Ball
A major theme when looking at ways the Heat could use Lillard is that Erik Spoelstra would have a field day with him. He has had guys who vanish when being stuck off the ball, while others aren’t able to be on-ball threats.
We all know what category Lillard lands in, but I believe the most underrated element about him is his work off the ball. That was a sticking point from his match-up with the Heat on the night of the trade deadline.
He gets a wide open layup on this play after the pass and sprint off the screen. That’s the Heat’s offense, but I just don’t think they had as much flexibility to do so as they did in past years. With the inability to locate offense without a screen, defenses were almost predicting it, meaning they didn’t get anything close to this much space around the rim on these actions.
Lillard obviously changes that completely. I’m not sure how the rest of the lineup would look if this did occur, emphasis on if, but this would be able to eliminate any type of offensive spacing issues that occurred in the first round against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Spo didn’t have many options this time around except the awaiting emergence from Adebayo, but this move makes those options close to limitless.
Speaking of off-ball stuff, Lillard in this offense does not eliminate Butler’s effectiveness at all, it actually increases it. On this play, he positions himself on the wing as the focus is on the high PnR, leading to a catch and shoot three, which he finds himself doing a lot.
Now, go re-watch the play again and imagine that CJ McCollum is Jimmy Butler. We all know the gravity that Butler holds when moving downhill, and it leaves defenses with having to pick their poison. You may be thinking, doesn’t Robinson do that for them already? Yes, but once again, the ability to put the ball on the floor or shoot off the dribble when they fly out is a completely different ball game.
Although I called this the “Off the Ball” section, it can also be named “Erik Spoelstra’s playground.”
Oh, a Scorer in Space
Heat fans may not be very familiar with this type of offensive play, but take a look at Lillard scoring in space with ease. Many may think that a screener is mandatory when a guard is surveying the floor at the top of the key, but well, it’s not. And that type of play just isn’t ideal.
Slight hesitation, drive, contact, bucket. That’s what the Heat need. That’s what Spo needs. That’s what Jimmy needs.
This piece may consist of stating the obvious or diving into plays a little deeper, but the truth is that it’s not very complex. Anybody can use a Damian Lillard, but it’s actually the exact player build the Heat have been looking for.
As described in the beginning of this article, the idea of that happening may be a long shot. He’s very loyal to his city and team, while he seems content with the notion that he’ll win a championship in Portland. But if that first step I pointed out comes along, which is him expressing a want to leave, I’d expect Pat Riley and company to be ringing that phone line off the hook.
Once again, we’re speaking about the unknown, which is the exact description of the NBA off-season most of the time. But the one thing that is known in this topic is that he’s the perfect fix to their offensive struggles at the moment, since frankly, every NBA team is a Damian Lillard away from a championship.