The Miami Heat finally know their first round opponent about 38 hours before game 1 tips off at FTX arena, and that team would be the Atlanta Hawks.
They took down the Cavaliers on Friday night in a pretty uneven game overall, showcasing both the strengths and weaknesses of this Hawks group.
They can score with the best of them, behind Young’s second half masterclass which landed him with 38 on the night. Yet, it’s simple to say their defense is pretty atrocious.
Now that we’re here, and have no time for dragging things out as the game is edging closer, let’s take a quick dive into the specifics of this Heat-Hawks match-up…
Pick your Poison with Trae Young:
Trae Young the scorer and Trae Young the passer are two completely different beasts, yet equally elite. He can set others up by collapsing the defense like he did against Cleveland early on with 9 assists, then explode in the second half as a scorer for 38 points on the night.
So, how do you stop that? Or more importantly, which do you choose to stop?
Heading into each individual game, that choice has to be made. Are you going to make Young’s life miserable by blitzing pick and rolls, doubling him on isos, and getting the ball out of his hands? Or, do you stay home on shooters and allow the in-action defenders to handle Young while eliminating the backside?
It’s a legitimate argument for sure. And the key to it all is being a “game-by-game” thing. Coach Erik Spoelstra is one of the best in the business at mid-series adjustments, including feeling out a player early on then piling on the counters.
Looking at the play above, we saw Miami’s plan in that first half about a week ago was to stay home on the shooters and eliminate weak-side kicks. For further reference, watch Duncan Robinson and Gabe Vincent in that clip.
Young gets to his spot in the middle of the floor, and they simultaneously step up for the cut-off on the perimeter. In that game, Atlanta shot 8 of 34 from deep, which is 24% shooting.
He does eventually score on this play, (which should’ve been an up-and-down), but it’s clear Miami likes their odds with a guy of Caleb Martin’s caliber trailing him after a ball screen.
Which transitions me into my next topic…
The Shifting Match-ups with Atlanta:
PJ Tucker takes the guard, Bam Adebayo trots next to the upcoming screener. Tucker slides down, Adebayo locks up the perimeter, and they collectively crash to help out on the boards.
In a single regular season game without the counters to your counters, that works perfectly fine. Yet at this time of year, you need a bit more padding than that.
Not that Spo was showing his cards in that meaningless Hawks game a week ago, but we got a glimpse of something that will stick.
Looking at the play above, take a look at those match-ups to begin the possession.
Martin on Young, which will be a staple for extended periods. Adebayo guarding that screener in Capela, who could potentially miss time. Jimmy Butler in his happy place of weak-side looming. Oh, and there’s Kyle Lowry battling it out in that mid-post with Danilo Gallinari.
With a 1 guarding a 4, they must’ve forced a switch, right?
When a team contains a stretch 4 like Gallinari, who isn’t known for his inside presence, the Heat’s coaching staff have shown that they aren’t afraid of those initial match-ups to begin a possession.
Lowry can deny an entry pass just enough, help down off a baseline drive, and have Adebayo cover all of that up with a perfect contest up top. That’s what this Heat defense is.
In simpler terms, the anti-Hawks defense. The rotations are always picture perfect, they have more counters for the hunting than you may think, and the versatility of this group defensively is greater than ever.
Adebayo, Butler, Tucker, Martin, Lowry, Vincent are just a couple names that could potentially see time on Young in theory, and that just speaks not only to the depth of this group, but what this one seed was built off of.
It doesn’t take a video of Miami’s pick and roll dissection against Young to realize that he will see blitzing at some point in this series.
But it’s not if he will see it, it’s when he will see it.
In terms of game preparation, one of the hardest things to try and get ready for is the timing for an adjustment. You can watch all of the game film in the world to know exactly what’s coming, but when that card is played in the third quarter of game 3, it isn’t easy to swiftly transition into.
With Spo, he won’t be eager to overplay this. This ties back into picking the poison of him as the scorer or the passer, but a lot of the time blitzing is utilized to hide something within the defense. Whether it’s to avoid the attack on a weaker guard, or send out a guy like Omer Yurtseven like they did during the season so he can’t pick apart drop, it just gets you further and further away from predictability.
Yet in this series, timing will be much more crucial than actual cards being played.
Attacking the Bigs…Differently than You’d Think
When bringing up the attack on the Atlanta Hawks front-court, it should be noted quickly that this isn’t a normal Hawks front-court. No John Collins, and possibly no Capela, means that we should be seeing a lot more Gallinari, Onyeka Okongwu, and Gorgui Dieng.
We can attack those 3 names from three different angles, but I’ll start with Gallo, since that’s the one Miami has shown the most interest in exploiting.
A lot of the time we sit back and talk about attacking Young, which I’ll address later, but Miami has found a liking to drawing Gallinari out and going at him, specifically during times of need in the clutch.
Looking at the plays above, Lowry was able to force the switch and break him all the way down for the eventual spin around jumper late in the fourth. A staple of his game in these scenarios.
But on par with “staples” of certain guys games, there’s a common thread when Herro sees an uncomfortable big drawn out to the perimeter: a jumper from deep.
That usually isn’t the product of seeing that develop in front of most guards, since they quickly rely on a burst to the rim for obvious reasons. Herro, on the other hand, gets the feeling that he can rise over the top of him with zero way to a fast recovery, which he displays in that clip above.
Now, Okongwu could end up bringing a bit of a different look to this Hawks defense, but the striking weakness with that would be inexperience, quite simply. And when a guy like that gets bumped up a spot, somebody behind him is doing the same thing.
In this case, that guy is Dieng. After Duncan Robinson has so often seen flying doubles when getting schemed against, the play-book may be opening up for him in this first round.
His minutes would seem to be mirrored with Dieng early in the series, leading to a drop big sagging way back for Robinson to take advantage of. He’s one solid screen away from an open triple off a curl, which has made him so effective up to this point.
And getting him going early in this playoff run could be major.
Now zooming out a bit from specifics, guys like Max Strus, Robinson, and other shooters have to be enjoying this outcome. Well, at least they should be.
If you watched the Cavs-Hawks play-in game, you may have walked away from the game with an abundance of takeaways. But one of the main ones had to be that this Hawks defense ranks in the bottom 5 for a reason.
Not even looking at personnel, they just allow open three after open three, strictly based off poor help decisions and even worse rotations. Most of the time they turn around watching that shooter take their time before the triple, just as you or me are while sitting on the couch at home.
The point is that shooters will thrive, and guys like Butler and Herro will be the reasons.
Just take a look at this possession for example, as four defenders collapse on a Herro drive, leading to an incredible find for a Vincent corner three. This isn’t one of those random plays that pop up that you won’t see again.
Trust me, we will see a lot of this, which has me eyeing increased assist numbers from both Herro and Butler in this series. The question becomes: who will be the shooter who steps up more than the others?
Robinson? Strus? Tucker? I guess only time will tell.
Hunting Trae Young or Eliminating Trae Young…Both are helpful for an offense:
Lastly, we must finish off with one of the more widely used phrases when bringing up playing the Hawks, which is the idea of hunting Young defensively.
It’s definitely something that will occur, which will be hugely based off Butler’s inverted pick and rolls, so he can get him on his back in that mid-post before continuing to make a play.
But a twist from Atlanta’s side in that last game against Miami is an important element, yet equally as exploitable.
Late in the game, the one guy who wasn’t a true offensive shot creating threat was Strus, who was in there solely for spacing purposes. So, they consequently placed Young onto him in the corner, basically eliminating the idea of him being hunted in theory.
But the thing about that is that could be used to your advantage just as well. If Young is in that weak-side corner, what does that also mean? You guessed it, that Young is also the weak-side helper. It allowed Miami’s lanes to open up much more in that game, which is another scenario of picking your poison.
Would you rather force the attack onto him, or allow a spaced out 4-on-4 on that back-side?
We will see what they choose once we get there, but the point of all this is that they have plenty of options on both sides of the basketball. When heading into that first round series against the Bucks last year, there weren’t a variety of choices on both sides.
It was a whole lot of individual match-ups with holding your ground, plus trying to dissect drop at the elbow over and over and over. Yet if the defense stopped that, we saw they had nothing else to get to.
This team, though, has a whole lot. And while we may not see it all in this first round, it’ll all be laid out there at one point or another.
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