When looking for some breakout seasons in the NBA last year, the Miami Heat would be a good starting point.
Somebody like Caleb Martin, who signed on a two-way contract, earned himself a pay-day as the Heat retained him this off-season.
A guy like Gabe Vincent who has had his ups and downs, finally found himself as a high level role player in this league. After Kyle Lowry went down for extended periods in the post-season, he stepped into that starting spot, and ended up being one of few Heat players whose numbers didn’t decline.
Then there’s Max Strus.
Somebody that mid-way through the season was viewed as a fringe rotation player. Can definitely provide shooting with the best of them, but where would they find playing time for him?
Spoiler alert: they found a spot for him. A starting spot at that.
Not only did he take advantage, but he excelled through and through. Somewhat saving a declining Heat starting lineup late in the regular season.
Fast forward to present time, things are viewed much differently around the league when it comes to Strus.
In a matter of months, he became the name nobody could pronounce correctly to one of the league’s most efficient volume three point shooters.
Last season, he attempted 6.5 threes a game and knocked down 41% of them. That only trailed Desmond Bane in efficiency with a minimum of 6 and a half triples attempted.
And to that point, he’s a known figure now.
Heat fans are familiar with this storyline slightly when it comes to Duncan Robinson. Specialist that nobody knows begins hitting the scouting reports.
It’s just the name of the game.
After Robinson struggled a bit this past season, it was clear there were a mixture of issues: a lack of confidence after some rough patches and teams simply overplaying him as a deep threat.
So that gets you thinking, during a point in the off-season where every evaluation must be in the minor crevices of player’s games: how is Strus going to deal with the similar overplay?
Well, let’s start by unpacking the dribble hand-off a bit…
Robinson perfected the hand-off on this Heat team, basically until defenses decided to completely turn the water off on him. Teams won’t directly approach that the same with Strus, simply due to the fact the DHO isn’t his homebase.
He has been more of a slip screen, spot-up, shoot in the face of his defender kind of shooter. Yet it should also be stated: Robinson and Strus approach the DHO much differently.
As many of you know, Robinson’s focus was to always stay glued to his screener after the catch. Stay locked shoulder to shoulder to eliminate the defender from slipping over the top easily, but that simultaneously means there’s less ground to cover.
Strus does the exact opposite.
He expands from the screener with an escape dribble, pretty much forcing his defender to pick up more speed. Why would you want that? Well, speeding up a defender means you’re taking away their control. Now you can make your next move as a counter.
By the way, both are good options. It just comes down to the comfort of the player.
Looking at the clip above, I show this because it looks like Strus’ training reps. When he works on his hand-offs, he stays loose and takes up major space with one or two lead dribbles, since that’s his primary comfort area.
You may be thinking, why does any of this matter? The answer is that minor tweak in his hand-off dissection will be the way he deals with defensive overplays in the natural flow of the offense.
Just take a look at this shooting pattern…
Other than the extra ball-handling reps in Summer League a year ago, Strus hasn’t been asked to do much with the ball in his hands. He attempted 6.5 triples a game last season, while 5.4 of those attempts he didn’t even put the ball on the deck before shooting.
Clearly that is no surprise, but it shows that he’s been planted strictly within his own role. And more importantly, he utilizes things that get him into his shooting rhythm.
But the catch high, keep high method hasn’t been the only thing to get him into a fluid shooting motion. While on a small sample size, he shot 41% from three following a single dribble, which included 44 shot attempts.
Much like his way of exploding from the screen on a DHO, this will be his way to create separation on over-plays. And trust me, there will be plenty of those over-plays next season.
Going back to some of the clips above, it’s a comfort process that is only growing this off-season: shot-fake, one-dribble side-step, and pull.
It’s pretty simple when breaking it down in these terms, but these are the things that will break him free as he rides the outside arc. Plus there’s the added factor that he is not fazed by heavily contested shots.
Hand in his face, two defenders blitzing. It doesn’t matter. He will shoot it the same way, with the same flick and the same lift. I’m very confident that teams won’t be able to eliminate him if it becomes a focus, but like I just pointed out, he’s going to have counters in the vault waiting.
The final counter may be the one that sees the biggest increase this season. While the roster doesn’t have a true 4, it’s obvious they do have an excess of guards. The way they will utilize them is to elevate the movement offense with extra mis-directions and motion with Bam Adebayo at the helm.
Meaning the higher the frequency in Strus mixing in these back-door counters, the better. Play-makers will be surrounding him in most of these lineups, so they’ll find him more times than not.
Lineup data is never a good starting point, but it’s always a good checkpoint to back-up a specific topic. When looking through some of the Heat’s best offensive duos this past regular season, there was a not-so undercover trend. (Minimum 400 minutes logged)
The top one was Max Strus and Bam Adebayo.
We’ve seen Bam dominate with prolific shooters around him before, so maybe this is just coincidental…
Number two was Max Strus and Jimmy Butler.
Well we know they have a great relationship off the floor, but it seems Strus was a good sidekick on the floor as well. Ah, maybe it’s just another coincidence.
Moving onto number three, we have Max Strus and Tyler Herro.
Hmmm. I know we’re strictly talking offense and Strus has told me in the past his focus on the floor with Herro is just to get him as many shots as possible, but it has to end there, right?
Number four ended up being Max Strus and Kyle Lowry.
All jokes aside, I know it’s just lineup data being revolved around the calculated offensive ratings with them on the floor, but I wouldn’t say this is way-off analysis. When going back through game logs, it was no secret things were clicking when Strus was waiting to take advantage of a defensive mistake.
But to tie this all back together, that most likely won’t be occurring as often next year. Defenses won’t adjust off of him, he will have to force the adjustment. We can go down the slippery slope of starting lineup hypotheticals, but stuff like this will be more crucial to keep an eye on.
Every shooter sees the overplaying defense after the breakout, but it’s just how you respond. Yet after laying it out there before, I’m confident he has the necessary counters to not only level out to last year’s version, but improve even more.
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