This hasn’t been the Miami Heat defense we’re accustomed to. Currently sitting 17th in defensive rating, they’re leaning heavily into the offensive side of things with this roster, which has essentially led them to a very strong 3 game win streak to get back to .500.
Yet while the box score would suggest it was all scoring, the film would tell you the opposite.
We often focus on the possessions where opposing teams draw a mismatch off a switch and get an easy bucket, making a total observation off a very small sample size. But in reality, they’re currently mixing up their scheme more than ever, and it’s giving me more hope that this team will be just fine for the time being.
We’ve seen them lean heavily into the 2-2-1 press and 2-3 zone, which off first glance makes you say: well they’re just doing that because they don’t have the personnel to guard straight up.
On some night’s that actually is the case, but the real reason for the heavy reliance is due to the Heat trying to find their defensive base in the meantime.
If you played basketball at any level from little league and up, there is always one primary principle taught when approaching a 2-3 zone: “flash middle.”
That essentially opens up and breaks the zone once the sides pinch in to the ball at the free throw line, leading to easy kick-outs for threes. But here’s the thing with the Heat defense: they don’t pinch in.
They stay home on shooters basically daring you to take that inefficient push shot in the middle of the floor time and time again. If you hit that enough to beat Miami, well then take the win.
I talked to Gabe Vincent for a bit after the Hornets game where we discussed the 2-3 zone, and I asked “is this your guys’ comfort zone now defensively?”
He responded, “Nah, everybody just struggles with it. I don’t think it’s our comfort zone, I think they just struggle with it.”
Bam Adebayo then joins in on my right: “If it ain’t broke, don’t break it.”
So I dug in a bit deeper. I asked him about that exact push shot that Miami keeps forcing within the 2-3 zone, and he said “that’s the stat guys upstairs.”
“For every organization, nobody likes that shot I guess,” he continued. “Percentage wise it’s a great shot for the defense, but for the offense it’s not as great of a shot.”
But the key point here to make is that this isn’t just a “2-3 zone” thing anymore. It’s becoming a man to man thing as well, as Miami has altered back into some of their drop coverage with Bam Adebayo. (Something I’ve been calling for a while now.)
Just take a look what Miami did to Cameron Payne in their win against the Suns:
They aren’t going to obtain this same coverage when a guy like Devin Booker is coming off a ball screen, but they will when it’s an inefficient shooter like Payne or Terry Rozier from the night’s prior.
This is a coverage that the Milwaukee Bucks have fully mastered. Since they have an elite rim protector in Brook Lopez, the ideal weak-side roamer in Giannis Antetokounmpo, and one of the best screen navigators in Jrue Holiday, they basically force one single shot as much as possible.
They shut the water off on threes and shots around the rim, forcing mid-range pull-ups all night.
And well, this is a variation of that.
Whoever is guarding the “Payne-like” handler will fight over the screen to force him downhill. Adebayo’s job is now to contain with a back-pedal, where he’s playing back to cut-off the pass or the full-out drive.
And as you saw when viewing that plethora of clips from last night, they just kept baiting them into the same shot.
You may be wondering, well what if they just begin attacking the rim relentless anyway? Well here’s what happens:
Now let me just reassure you that this isn’t a one game sample size thing. They did it in their two-game set against Charlotte as well, but we were just so focused on the fact that they almost blew the game on a night that flowed into OT.
That extra stuff disguised a major shift that we’re seeing at this moment in time. Just take a look at the shot profile in this two-game set as well:
Guys like Kelly Oubre and Terry Rozier were being forced to take shots they didn’t want to. But the bigger point here, Bam Adebayo in drop is just as elite as Bam Adebayo on switches.
Actually he may be more elite.
Yes it’s fun to watch clips of Adebayo clamping up your favorite guard or wing in isolation, but that’s not what makes him arguably the league’s best, and most versatile, defender.
The reason is because he can switch 1 through 5, back-pedal in drop, sit on the bottom box in a 2-3 zone, blitz and recover, or simply rotate at a very high level. Putting all of that stuff together is actually what gives him that label.
When I talked to Jimmy Butler post-game, he gave all of the credit to Bam “back there being an anchor on defense.” He’s the guy that they’re forming this all around, and as seen over the last three games, this shift could really be something that sticks long-term.
Video Version Here:
The Heat have altered their defensive scheme
They're baiting inefficient shooters into a specific shot profile, and it's actually led them to a 3 game win streak
On that inefficient floater that they're forcing
— Brady Hawk (@BradyHawk305) November 15, 2022