Recency bias aside, it’s safe to say the Trevor Ariza trade was an outstanding acquisition. Meyers Leonard and a second round pick was the price, and he immediately slotted into the starting four spot next to Bam Adebayo to try and make a late-season run.
Before we address the next stages of Trevor Ariza, let’s take a second to look back at what he brought to the table in the regular season. No surprise here, it was exactly what he has done for a major portion of his NBA career…
We all know Erik Spoelstra loves to size down come playoff time, but the Ariza acquisition allowed him to integrate that lineup even sooner. The offensive mindset was to place him in the corner as a spacer, where he’s thrived his whole career, while also placing him in some DHO sets where he’d pop out to the wing.
He shot 37% on spot up threes in 30 games this season on 4 attempts per game. The high three point usage allowed him to run some more back-cuts as the year progressed, but it back-tracked once the post-season arrived. The Bucks mucked up the paint as much as possible, which meant Ariza and others would have to rely on the three-point shot no matter the circumstance.
The catch and shoot threes ended up plummeting to 25% in those 4 first round games, while the two point attempts were cut in half. Harping on playoff numbers are kind-of useless due to everybody’s number tailing off during that stretch, but the Jae Crowder effect forced that to become a sticking point.
For the record, Crowder is currently shooting 31% from three in the playoffs with the Phoenix Suns, which is why it’s not about him as a player, it’s about what he brought to the Heat last season. He shot the ball very well from beyond the arc in the first two playoff series in the bubble, adding a major element to the Heat’s offense.
This led to many discussing Ariza needing to bring that type of shooting in the first round, but it just didn’t occur. This shifts into my point about what’s next for Ariza and his role, which I will discuss down the line.
Shooting numbers may fluctuate, but his defensive presence was pretty consistent all season. The ability to hit passing lanes, create transition offense, alter shots with his length, and utilize quickness all played a part in Miami’s defensive explosion over a long stretch during the regular season.
There was a point when Ariza was guarding an opposing point guard every single night, which meant they could switch 1/5 PnRs more often than usual. But a common theme kept coming up, Adebayo can lock up the guard on the switch, but Ariza’s lack of strength on the block isn’t great against true bigs.
This was another one of those playoff discussions, since Ariza isn’t a guy that you can just throw on Giannis Antetokounmpo to slow him down. Antetokounmpo’s favorite offensive spots were Ariza’s least favorite defensive spots, which causes some issues.
Other than that, he played his role perfectly on that end of the floor, fitting really well into Spo’s altering defensive schemes with the 2-2-1 press, 2-3 zone, and others.
The last thing I want to touch on is the utilization of Ariza. There were moments when the offense generated for him were contested threes or unorthodox pull-ups. Most of the time that stuff led to points in the other direction, but there were also spurts where he was used in creative ways that I expected when he arrived.
As mentioned earlier, Spo loves the small ball four, and one of the reasons is that he can throw out unique offensive sets for the five on the floor. He’s an exceptional cutter, which led to plenty of wide open layups off DHO fakes and staggered screens, but take a look at the clip above as an example.
Jimmy Butler playing quarterback as Goran Dragic sets the back-screen. Ariza sprints off of it leading to an easy dunk off the lob. The point of the play was to give the offense some options. If one of the defenders, or both of them, dropped on the cutting Ariza, Dragic would have received the ball on the baseline off the Adebayo screen, resetting for plenty more options.
But as we know, we didn’t get to see many of these actions in the playoffs due to Brook Lopez socially distancing from the three-point line all series long. But is it time to go away from undersized, veteran fours in the starting front-court?
The next stage of Ariza has a lot to do with a new contract. I’m not exactly sure how that will look until time progresses into the off-season, but a minimum deal could very well be sitting there.
To that point, if they want him back on that cheap deal, it’s not to compliment Butler and Adebayo in the front-court, it’s to round out the bench unit. With Andre Iguodala most likely out, due to Miami’s best option being opting out of that unrealistic contract size or opting in to throw into a trade package as a filler, Ariza may be the perfect replacement with that group.
To be honest, Iguodala restricted a lot of Miami’s bench minutes this season, since guys like Dragic receive constant help off drives with defenders sagging off Iguodala in the corner. That wouldn’t be happening if that was Ariza in that corner.
This leads to finding some upgrades in the supporting cast, as well as a power forward or center starter next to Adebayo. It circles back to the positions of need, since although the front-court piece is on my list, a shot-creating guard must be a priority as well. The reason this is important to note when discussing Ariza is that his bench role should not be expanded upon.
It shouldn’t be Ariza trying to create for others or work drive and kicks with that bench unit. It has to be a guard that they trust to run their sets, as well as knock down some shots in open space without a screen. 28th in PPP when the ball-handler has the ball in a PnR is far from ideal. If that can be added, along with Ariza shifting down to the Iguodala role, that’s a good start from a team building perspective.
There are plenty of holes to fill on this Heat team, which means the front office will be looming in every aspect this off-season: free agency, sign and trades, and even undrafted guys. But as for Ariza, some of the base guys down the roster have to be ones that Butler and Adebayo trust, and both mid-season acquisitions fall under that category.
If they can retain them on cheap deals, they’re perfect complimentary pieces at the bottom of the rotation.