The Miami Heat’s Real Reason for the Rotation Changes

As the Heat walked away from a Saturday night stomping by the Brooklyn Nets, where they essentially trailed by 30 for a portion of the night, it was the final smack before wake up time.

They dropped their fourth game in a row, which included a week of a flamed up bench altercation between Jimmy Butler and Erik Spoelstra.

It was clear that change was needed. Not just individually, but on the surface.

As the starting lineup tweet was released on Monday afternoon ahead of Heat-Kings, one face was a bit of a surprise: Max Strus slotted into the spot of Duncan Robinson.

Since that change, Strus is averaging a little under 4 threes a night on 50% shooting, and all of the best two man combos seem to include him. In terms of the starting lineup, it looks like it just works, as Miami has blended into a 5-0 stretch since the changes.

But if all they did was replace shooter with shooter, how did that improve the spacing or overall production in that starting unit? Well, that’s because it’s not about Robinson or Strus themselves, but who they’re playing next to.

One of the most lethal offensive combos over the years has been Robinson and Bam Adebayo, since they mastered the dribble hand-off that constantly had defenses in a scramble from night to night. One single action and two individual players reshaped the way the Miami Heat ran offense.

Well, until teams adjusted.

While opposing teams began to adjust, it felt like Miami was a bit delayed on the adjustment on their part. Grabbing a true point guard, in Kyle Lowry, allowed them to reshape in a different manner, but it was clear that Bam Adebayo needed to be unleashed from hand-off searching sideline to sideline.

Before the all star break this season, Adebayo and Robinson were playing 22.3 minutes a game together, which sounds about right since Miami wanted to mirror them as much as possible.

But the new shift to bring Robinson off the bench, has another game-plan in mind.

Since the Heat shifted the rotation, Robinson and Adebayo are averaging 8.1 minutes a game together, which is not only intentional, but one of the main reasons they switched the places of Strus and Robinson.

The new substitution pattern is to insert Tyler Herro off the bench for Jimmy Butler, so that Adebayo and him can get some run in space. Yet after a few minutes, Butler enters back in next to Herro with some of the bench group. And in the category of “bench group” lies Duncan Robinson.

Yes, the DHO’s of Adebayo may have propelled Robinson’s shooting in a positive direction, but it’s pretty clear that slotting him next to Butler and Herro is the better call right now. Those are the two guys on the team that can consistently draw two defenders on an attack, which consequently leads to uneven rotations and an eventual open shooter.

Robinson hit 7 threes last night in the win over the Charlotte Hornets, and 5 of them were assisted by Butler. Coincidence? Maybe a little, since that Hornets defense basically gives up open threes all by themselves, but we can’t overlook the power of this trio.

That three man grouping of Herro-Robinson-Butler played 9.1 minutes a game together prior to the all star break, which has now skyrocketed to 19.1 minutes a game since the changes. Yeah, it’s pretty safe to say that this stuff is intentional.


The rotation or starting lineup shifts aren’t the focal point of things clicking. It’s more about the substitution patterns and overall lineup combinations.

Yet while Butler moving over a position to the 4 feels to be the change discussed most, the starting lineup change is much more calculated than you may think.

At first it felt like it was as simple as letting Strus get a shot throughout Robinson’s shooting struggles, but it’s actually about maximizing both of them in their primary areas. Strus as a guy who can get shots up in any lineup and can provide a tad more athleticism. And Robinson as a guy who can find himself open more often next to his key sidekicks: Butler and Herro.

This isn’t to say that Robinson won’t still struggle from time to time in his role, but it’s more about setting these guys up in the best possible ways. Herro has sacrificed for the team by being a 6th man even though he’s valued much more than that. Guys like Oladipo, Vincent, or Martin have all sacrificed their rotation spot at one point or another.

Now, it’s Robinson’s turn.

Just looking at the Martin brothers who faced off a night ago, sometimes it’s clear that branching off is the best thing for a player’s success. After playing with each other since birth, this is the first time they aren’t on the same team, and each are playing the best basketball of their life.

Same goes for Robinson and Adebayo.

Not in terms of changing teams, but just eliminating the constant reliance on one another. Both of them finding their place without each other not only elevates the play of them individually, but for this team.

It isn’t a coincidence that these numbers have shifted this dramatically. It was purposeful, and it’s clear that it’s for the best.


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1 reply
  1. Arlene
    Arlene says:

    I love the Robinson’s explanation. That it’s his time to sacrifice his rotation and that he had to be separated from Bam.


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