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The Flexibility of Dragic, Iguodala Team Options

While the Miami Heat’s young free agency products this season will be testing the market, the veterans are being controlled by the front office. With team options being attached to Goran Dragic and Andre Iguodala’s final year of their deal, it’s up to Miami on what they elect to do.

The first option would be to completely opt out and work the free agency route. But other than a point guard addition, like Kyle Lowry or Mike Conley, is there somebody out there worth money that the Heat would have their eyes on?

That feels to be a no, which takes us into the second option of opting into the deals. This doesn’t mean that they would have to be back in Miami for another season, but it gives them flexibility to operate any type of trade deal with both of those salary fillers.

That is one thing the Heat lost when trading away Meyers Leonard for Trevor Ariza, since they no longer had that money chip to include in any sign and trade to equalize any salary in the deal. Now Dragic and Iguodala are those playing cards, but one seems to be much harder to move on from than the other.

Have we seen Iguodala’s final NBA season? Could he be back with a familiar franchise? Those questions have yet to be answered, while the questions on Dragic are much different.

After quite the ride in Miami, there’s no doubt that the Heat won’t be reluctant to move on and improve the team right now. Yes, Jimmy Butler would love Dragic back in a Heat uniform, but he also seems to like the idea of Lowry in a Heat uniform.

He’s going to have a point guard on the roster next season that he shares a close relationship with, meaning all eyes are on the decision makers in the front office to figure out the next move. The focus is on Butler’s window more than anything, and while the clock is ticking, a deal will most likely needs to be finalized in some fashion.

Taking a Look Back at Goran Dragic’s 2020-2021 Season

The Goran Dragic situation this off-season is quite complicated. This isn’t just an ordinary team option that can be explored as freely as a guy like Andre Iguodala.

For one, the ties to the organization over the last few years make it hard for them to easily move on, but clearly if the right deal comes along, it’s necessary. The reason that I said it’s complicated is due to it being more than a organizational relationship: it’s actually the bond with the team’s best player, Jimmy Butler.

Decisions are being made through Butler, since that was made clear when he first arrived here in Miami. And over the last two seasons, Butler has made it known how much he loves playing with Dragic in Miami.

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The Miami Heat lack a ton of salary fillers at this time, which means they must take advantage of the ones that they have, considering the most likely route that they end up going will be the trade market. As mentioned earlier, both Iguodala and Dragic have a team option, and currently are the only two players with that much money value to equalize a trade.

Anyway, we will have to see what happens with that off-season stuff once we get there, but for now, let’s take a look back at Dragic’s season. Even when many of us thought he had fully tailed off at certain parts of the season, he then showed a huge positive flash to make you think differently.

He caught some momentum to finish the season, which made many people hopeful of another post-season display. He did just that in game one, but clearly couldn’t produce as the series progressed with everybody else’s struggles. But aside from the playoffs, how did the primary areas of his game look?

Shooting From Deep

The three-point shooting is an important element to harp on for a 35 year old Dragic. If he can consistently hit the spot-up three ball, his game will age rather nicely.

When looking back at the shooting this year, the catch and shoot numbers beyond the arc made a huge jump. He shot 40% on spot-up triples after shooting 35% the year prior. As expected though, pull-up threes dropped from 37% to 32% this season.

I’m going to discuss his exact role in another section, but the lack of a true point guard didn’t allow him to play that spot-up role that he seemed to fit so well at times. Per usual, he was forced into a set runner and facilitating role, forcing him to take more shots off the dribble than he probably wished.

There was only one positive part of that off the dribble stuff, and no, it didn’t occur from beyond the arc…

Sustaining Elbow Pull-Ups

In some ways, that mid-range pull-up saved his offensive game this season. At many points of the year, he lacked a ton of burst to get to the basket and the three-point pull-ups just weren’t falling. So, that left him with only one of the three levels in a half-court offense: the mid-range.

It’s an exposable offensive tactic against drop coverage, which was a sticking point in their first round match-up with the Milwaukee Bucks. Dragic was the only one to take advantage of that spot of the floor to begin the series, leading to a situation that was less than ideal from a team perspective.

Aside from that, I can’t say that I expected a frequency increase from that spot of the floor this season, combined with a slight jump in percentage from 43% to 44%. All of this was done after an uneven start to the season with contact tracing, not playing back-to-backs, and just poor offensive play at times.

It was clear that running the same old sets for Dragic all year would absolutely plummet his effectiveness later in the season, which led to Spo tinkering for their veteran guard…

Sprinkling Creativity 

The internal question for the Heat about Dragic early in the season seemed to be: how can we maximize his play, keep his minutes down, and put the ball in his hands primarily every night?

Well, the answer to that question was some interchanging looks.

If I went through them all, this piece would probably be much longer than you’re willing to read, so I’ll limit it to the one that I didn’t see coming. He began to get some work in the high post when facing smaller guards, which fits Dragic’s offensive build so well.

It’s pretty obvious that Dragic is a physical offensive player who likes to draw contact whenever he can. The issue is that the lack of burst that I’ve discussed limited that downhill scoring. Putting him in the post like they did against Minnesota allowed him to do all of the things they need from him: physicality in a unique way, facilitating from the weak side, and of course, different ways to score.

When I asked Dragic about generating offense from the high post after this game, he responded, “Spo said the other day that in the second unit they’re going to try to give me some post-ups, and I took advantage of that.” This statement didn’t feel like a spontaneous task for Dragic to take advantage of the smaller guard, it actually felt like a season long process to find sustainability for him offensively.

The issue is that the roster’s skill-sets forced Dragic to carry the weight in certain areas that he definitely shouldn’t have been carrying…

His Unfortunate Role: Fill Weaknesses

In simple terms, Dragic was basically given the role at times to fill the weaknesses of others. The issue with that isn’t just that he was 35 years old, it’s that those aren’t his strengths either.

As discussed throughout the season, most of Miami’s guards shared the same type of play-style. Offensive players who need a screen above the break to get downhill, or spot-up opportunities to catch some rhythm. Combine that with the team’s two best players being non-shooters who primarily like to play-make, and you have a veteran point guard forced to do things that he should not be doing.

Take a look at this clip above as an example. It’s the play I always come back to when discussing the team’s needs heading into the off-season. They were facing a depleted Chicago Bulls team, and somehow, they’re down 4 with 1 minute to go in need of a bucket.

The play consists of a Butler drive into a kick-out to reset the offense in the hands of Dragic. 9 seconds on the shot-clock and a similar theme is occurring: all eyes on Dragic. They seem to be waiting for him to make a play, like he did so many times in the past, specifically in the bubble.

He flows into a PnR, snakes inside, and throws up a wild scoop that misses badly. That’s not on Dragic. That’s on the team.

Evaluating Dragic this season is an interesting thing to do since I believe he was forced to adjust more than anybody, mostly since they trust him so much to do so. But if they do end up keeping him for the 2021-2022 season, that just can’t be the case.

No more subbing him into the starting lineup when things get tough. No more relying on him late in games when the team needs a bucket. Those are things the team must fill this off-season in order to compete next season, and well, if Dragic can be a part of the supporting cast with no additional tasks, then he will thrive in his role no matter the circumstance.

Heat’s Hidden Gem: Star-less Success

There’s been a lot of discussion about the Miami Heat lately, beginning with their star Jimmy Butler. He’s having a career year in field goal %, rebounds, assists, double-doubles, and triple doubles, while the Heat are 30-19 when he plays.

After an absolute dominant performance against Boston to say the least, he’s the clear headliner when discussing this Miami team. A close second would be Butler’s sidekick, Bam Adebayo, who was close to perfect on Sunday afternoon against the Celtics as well.

These two guys are at the top of the list when discussing the reasons for the team’s success, but the true reason for the latest spark has to do with when they are off the floor.

Some of Miami’s worst minutes this season came when Adebayo exited the floor, since there was a clear drop-off at the center position. But well, they cleared up that issue with the recent acquisition of Dewayne Dedmon.

The Heat originally approached the back-up big spot as a player that can try to mirror some of the things Adebayo does, but that didn’t really work out in the short term with Precious Achiuwa. The Dedmon pick-up showed that they were willing to go in the complete opposite direction instead.

He’s an interior force on both ends of the floor, who has a veteran play style, which tends to their playoff hopes. The other set of minutes that have had trouble is the non-Butler minutes, due to the fact his offensive abilities weren’t being reiterated by an aging Goran Dragic and inconsistent Tyler Herro.

The last set of minutes that were absolutely atrocious were the non-Butler and Adebayo minutes, which weren’t seen much throughout the season. One of the two making an early exit in the first, followed by one subbing back in as the other got a breather, became the new normal on this team, which didn’t seem like a winning equation.

But they’ve turned that around recently, and it’s the one hidden gem when discussing the Miami Heat’s success.

A recent Dragic surge and Herro comeback have been the main reasons for this, since that back-court tandem has been on a roll lately. They combined for an efficient 50 points against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night, which was an introduction to Miami’s new play-style.

Now, the Heat are able to leave Butler and Adebayo off the floor for longer periods than ever imagined, and not only have those lineups been stable, but they’ve boosted production. In the last two games, the bench lineup with Dragic-Herro-Iguodala-Dedmon, with Kendrick Nunn plugged in, has an offensive rating of 122 and a defensive rating of 97.

Although those numbers are exceptional, it’s a small sample size, but this shouldn’t be taken lightly. I don’t think anybody expected a lineup of Dragic, Nunn, and Herro to have a defensive rating of 97 over a two game span, but they’ve found a way through an effective scheme consisting of lots of blitzing and doubles. That defense also plays into their favor offensively while it allows them to get out in the open court and run.

The question now becomes, is it sustainable? It’s something that can’t be answered at the moment, but I will say that this Dragic run doesn’t seem to be temporary. The comfort levels with the three guard lineups have been a huge reason for the recent surge as well.

When I asked Erik Spoelstra about the lineups with Goran Dragic and Kendrick Nunn being so effective, he responded, “It wasn’t like jumping off the screen or in our reports and reviews until about two weeks ago. We started to notice that combination was actually being pretty effective. So it’s something that we will continue to explore.”

Well they’ve continued to explore it, and even thrown Herro into the mix with them, which has posted an offensive rating of 120 since his return.

This team has needed one more guy to step up for quite some time, and they currently have every role player doing that at the same time. If this team can at least stay afloat when Adebayo and Butler head to the bench over these last four games, there’s no doubt in my mind that they’ll have a week off while other teams battle it out in the play-in.

It’s a hidden gem that’s becoming not so hidden. And once that ability is noticed in a playoff setting, it leads them right back into Butler or Adebayo takeover mode, which is exactly what they want. As Adebayo said, “When we’re clicking on all cylinders, we’re a hard team to beat.” And their cylinders are currently clicking, due to this very reason: star-less success.

5 Takeaways from Heat’s Win Over Timberwolves

The Miami Heat got a much needed win against the Minnesota Timberwolves, headlined by their back-up back-court. Both Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro returned to the lineup tonight, leaving only Victor Oladipo on the injury report. Anyway, here are five takeaways from this important win…

#1: Tyler Herro is….back.

Tyler Herro returned on Friday night against Minnesota with limited expectations. And that’s the best thing for Herro. He scored 14 points in the first half, including 4 for 4 from the three-point line. The one takeaway from that second quarter spurt from him is that he is such a rhythm shooter. When that first one falls, expect a few more to fall as well, since that type of lift and confidence translates to very good things. Herro’s role on this team must be that offensive boost that can be relied on nightly, since although spark scoring is obvious, consistency is next. Another thing to mention about his performance is that he did it in lineups without Jimmy Butler, which is usually some of his best minutes. If he can control lineups with Goran Dragic, who I will discuss next, this team can take that next step.

#2: Goran Dragic looks like a rejuvenated 35 year old.

After Goran Dragic turned 35 years old a day ago, he looked like a different player. He has caught some momentum over his past few games, but this was the icing on the cake. Although that impressive scoring stretch from Herro will be harped on, Dragic was the consistent offensive force that was looked to. Getting to the rim and making mid-range jumpers aside, one specific thing stood out in tonight’s game: he plays off of the defense. He was being guarded by a smaller Jordan McLaughlin, which means he adjusts his ways of scoring. An unexpected way tonight was in the high post, since the slight size advantage allowed him to not only find ways to score by backing him down, but also play-make with skip passes in the post. Dragic’s ability to adjust to a defense is one of his most underrated offensive abilities, and this corner he’s currently turning will further prove that.

#3: Miami’s bench outscores starters in first half, which is….different.

The starting lineup had 25 points at the half, while the bench ended up with 34, which is a very different scene on this Heat team. Miami went from trying to survive non-Bam and non-Butler minutes previously, to leaving them on the bench together for the longest period of the season. That just reiterates the first two takeaways of Herro and Dragic’s play, but don’t let Andre Iguodala and Dewayne Dedmon’s five combined points at the half confuse you. Iguodala was as active as ever on the defensive end, while Dedmon just mucked things up for Minnesota after Adebayo exited the game with some early foul trouble. The thing about these two guys is that they play their role perfectly, and it becomes even more apparent when their guard pairing among reserves really get going.

#4: A third quarter energy shift, sparked by Butler, Adebayo, and, oh, technicals.

When looking at the third quarter throughout the season, that’s usually Butler’s queue to begin to increase his aggression. Well, he did just that again tonight, mostly through Miami’s most effective bridge of offense, which begins on the defensive end. His defensive staple is the unexpected double on the perimeter to rip the ball away and play in transition. Adebayo also initiated offense a bit more after a tough first half for him, which seemed to be generated by some calls going in the opposite direction. And speaking of certain calls from the referees, some technical fouls were issued to a couple complaining Timberwolves, giving Miami some easy points, as well as D’Angelo Russell being ejected. One thing about this Heat team is that they thrive off of energy, and night’s like this further prove that point, no matter if they were facing a weaker match-up.

#5: Time to watch the standings.

As the Miami Heat are in play-in range, it’s important to keep your eyes on the teams that are fighting for those 4th, 5th, and 6th seeds. The Boston Celtics are the team to watch the closest if you’re Miami for a bunch of reasons. For one, they lost to the Chicago Bulls tonight, which means Miami’s currently in the 6th seed in the East. But once again, the next two games seem to be the deciding factor. The Heat’s next two games are the Celtics, meaning they must take care of business in those games and they can safely say that they get a week off while Boston’s fighting in the play-in. If anybody needs that extra time off, it’s this Heat team. Giving Butler and Dragic some rest, Herro some time to recover, and the entire team a mental reset will be huge if they want to make a push in the post-season once again.

Five Takeaways from Heat’s Win Over Hornets

The Miami Heat got a very impressive win over Charlotte, as they won in demanding fashion on the second night of a back to back. Yet another night of all-around offensive play sparked some pretty great runs throughout for Miami. So, here are five takeaways from this performance…

#1: Bam Adebayo attacks mismatches early, which is a needed element.

Something I mentioned before the game is that Miami’s bigs would have to be the story of the game tonight. Bam Adebayo and Dewayne Dedmon would have frequent mismatches tonight with smaller guards rotating into the paint, as well as some lineups including PJ Washington at the five. Adebayo did that immediately, which is interesting since that’s something that he has struggled with at times in the post. He began the game 4 for 4, including some nice hooks over smaller guys and roaming the baseline as Miami swings the defense. Adebayo is discussed after every one of these games for obvious reasons, but a lot of these games down the stretch will have certain plans heading in that he must take advantage of. He did tonight, and he must do it moving forward.

#2: Goran Dragic having one of those lively offensive games.

Goran Dragic’s burst and speed has been in question lately, except when there are a few seconds left in a quarter, where you know he’s going to revert back to rookie year levels. That aside, he gave Miami some very effective minutes offensively in the first half, even though his status was in question up until an hour before tip-off. He was the leading scorer at the half with 14 points, while one of those shots being a catch and shoot three, which is usually the way his points are coming recently. The difference tonight is that he was turning the corner and getting to the rack at a very consistent rate, which hasn’t been something that many can expect every single night. But when he does bring it, good things happen for Miami, due to the continued theme of additional attackers allowing this team to generate offense at an exceptional level.

#3: Charlotte plays at a very high pace, but Miami’s interchanging defenses neutralizes it.

It’s no surprise that Charlotte plays at a much faster pace than the average team with the LaMelo Ball 80 yard bombs anytime the ball flies off the rim. The thing about Miami is that they have the defensive tools to counter this throughout a full 48 minutes. In the first half specifically, the speed of the game was playing in the Hornets favor, and Miami immediately switched into the 2-2-1 press and 2-3 zone, which definitely threw them off a bit. Another interesting point about the press is that Charlotte was throwing it right back at them, but it wasn’t nearly as effective. Even in a season without a lot of practice time, Miami dissected that press pretty effortlessly, which has a lot to do with the current understanding of their defensive scheme. When discussing pace, it’s hard to see it favoring the other team whenever Jimmy Butler is on the floor.

#4: Dewayne Dedmon’s minutes are effective, but not surprising.

Other than the fact that I said this would be a Dewayne Dedmon game, this has become the new normal for him on this Heat team in this role. He’s a spark player, who gets it done around the rim, which isn’t the traditional way of getting it done in today’s NBA. He’s a physical force down low who may get a few foul calls in the process, but ultimately they just need that presence in their outside based offense. Another interesting element to his game is his defensive abilities, which was the main area of question when he joined. He’s become quite the rim protector when people attack, but he’s also fit into Miami’s switching scheme. Not only can he handle his own on the perimeter against smaller guys, but he sure knows how to show and go to recover back onto the big. This type of action just gives Miami some diversity with the personnel on the defensive end specifically.

#5: Jimmy Butler looked just like….Jimmy Butler.

It wasn’t a game for Jimmy Butler that he out-shined others in the points column. It wasn’t a game that he needed to fully takeover. It wasn’t a game that he needed to play the fourth quarter. It was just a strong all around performance that was sparked by Butler’s all around play. He filled up the assist and rebound column with 8 each, and that doesn’t even almost describe the impact he had tonight. Other than his locked in mindset on the defensive end, he was just locked in all around from the jump, seeming to know the important of these games down the stretch. This was a glimpse of what he’s capable of doing in much win situations such as the playoffs, and it makes that a lot easier when his counter parts step up. This was definitely one of Miami’s most promising wins of the season, due to them winning by a decent margin.

Five Takeaways from Heat’s Win Over Brooklyn

The Miami Heat take down the Brooklyn Nets on a game winning jumper from Bam Adebayo. That one shot basically washed away everyone of these takeaways in terms of importance, but take a look at five takeaways from this game….

#1: Early Dewayne Dedmon minutes, effective Dewayne Dedmon minutes.

Something that wasn’t originally expected today was to see an abundance of Dewayne Dedmon throughout, especially immediately when Bam Adebayo exited. For starters, he gave Miami something that they’ve continually missed in a back-up big, which is consistency. Not consistency over a period of games, but consistency in his role. Precious Achiuwa has been a guy that you didn’t know what you were going to get on any given night, but Dedmon’s role was clear as soon as he checked in. A very smart rebounder, meaning he knows how to box out correctly and knows how to use his length to his advantage. The offensive boards was a particular area of strength, giving Miami extra opportunities, but he also showcased an ability to alter shots at the rim, which is quite the attribute for their back-up big spot.

#2: Trevor Ariza giving Miami the same thing every single game.

Not to harp on the adjective consistency too much, but that’s probably Trevor Ariza’s most unexpected attribute this early in his insertion. He is now giving Miami the same thing every game on the offensive end, since the defensive side of the ball was a given from the first game on. He’s shooting the ball very well, filling in the one thing Andre Iguodala minutes have missed at times, trusting the corner three kick-out. He’s also a pretty underrated passer, which is just a proponent of his IQ, which is something Jimmy Butler harped on recently when I asked him about Ariza’s defensive presence. And if the supporting cast elevates back into their usual offensive selves while Ariza keeps this up, it makes them a different team.

#3: Goran Dragic and Kendrick Nunn stepping up early…..in the game together.

Trevor Ariza wasn’t the only one to score 11 points in the first half, since Goran Dragic and Kendrick Nunn put up that exact stat-line. Dragic really needed this type of scoring stretch early, so he can get back into his usual trust levels in his jumper, since that’s the element he will have to rely on while age increases by the day. Nunn also looked good early, particularly as a deep threat as well, which is an interesting topic with Nunn. He’s been plugged into a starting point guard role for some time, running PnR’s, pulling up from mid-range, and getting to the basket, but he actually looks most comfortable when he can shoot on spot-ups when others attack. The surprising element with these two as well is that they’re doing it on the floor together, since that duo tandem struggled a lot last season. And due to Erik Spoelstra’s sudden urge to roll out 3 guard lineups, Dragic and Nunn clicking is crucial.

#4: The obvious observation: Miami’s offense clicking, but missing one thing….Jimmy Butler.

Miami’s shooting was off the charts for a good portion of this game, and that’s been something that hasn’t been a strength of theirs to this point. Now, it’s great when it is clicking, but when a dry spell occurs, it becomes a lot of looking around for an attacker that they don’t have, leading to Andre Iguodala pull-ups. It goes unsaid, but that’s where Jimmy Butler comes into play, or better yet, Victor Oladipo. There have been some pieces of reporting that have pointed toward Oladipo returning sometime this season, and when that type of attacking gets inserted into this type of shooting, that elevates Miami to an Eastern Conference threat. But for now, it’s all about awaiting the occasional Dragic drive-by or Herro open layup off of a cut.

#5: Miami doesn’t have that one player takeover, but playing incredible team ball through passing.

When the team is without Butler, it’s pretty clear that they were going to have to play team basketball to compete, or Bam Adebayo fully stepping up like he did against Brooklyn earlier in the season. They went the team ball route, assisting on a good portion of their field goal makes throughout. To that point, the unselfishness of this team automatically means ball flow is fluid throughout, sometimes too much. But that is what basically sustained that type of offense, that usually completely falls off of a cliff as the game progresses. The Heat were in need of a game like this that they can build off of, and most importantly, instill confidence in Butler that this team is capable of battling with the best of them.

5 Takeaways from Heat’s Victory Over Indiana

The Miami Heat got a much needed win against the Indiana Pacers, expanding their win streak to 2 games, gaining great momentum for Victor Oladipo’s debut tomorrow night. This game had its ups and downs like every other Miami Heat game, but the defensive side of the ball was quite impressive tonight. Anyway, here are five takeaways from the game…

#1: Duncan Robinson and Goran Dragic were the Heat’s offense early.

While I’ll dive into the negative aspect of Miami’s offense next, Duncan Robinson and Goran Dragic were huge positives in their own ways. Robinson is back to his usual shooting ways, which means there is no more discussions about shots not falling, since the attempts are the main topic again. The only time it felt Miami was getting a good shot in the first half, was when Robinson was letting a three fly, which the efficiency numbers basically prove that to be true. Goran Dragic basically carried the offense as well after Robinson hit two threes to begin the game. It doesn’t take Dragic very long to get back into a rhythm, since it only took him one game to utilize his strong ability to get to the rim and kiss the ball off the glass.

#2: Shooting roller coaster continues for Miami.

The offensive observation tonight was more than the actual field goal percentage numbers, since the amount of time that nothing was generated truly stood out. Although Butler wasn’t his usual self early on, they missed him when he went to the sideline since it basically eliminates their drive and kick game, due to the lack of an attacking sidekick, who will make his debut tomorrow. The length of time that they couldn’t get a shot to drop, while settling for contested three point jumpers, basically sums up the overall takeaway of their offense that is displayed on every one of these takeaway pieces. Another way to look at the first half issues begins with their two stars, which I will dive into next, since when they aren’t clicking, it’s hard for others to do so as well.

#3: Trailing by 2 at the half, while Adebayo and Butler don’t have a made field goal, is…..interesting.

Usually it’s the complete opposite takeaway with the Miami Heat, since Adebayo and Butler step up when needed, but the counter parts aren’t able to capitalize on their strengths. But well, it was the complete opposite tonight, since Adebayo and Butler did not have a made field goal through the first 24 minutes of basketball. Now, there are a couple ways to look at this, since the positive outlook is that they only trailed by 2 although all of that occurred. It was also a good sign to see the role players step up at times to make certain pushes to at least keep them afloat. The negative outlook is that you’re two best players should probably have a field goal in a whole half, which turns the eyes back to that aggression. Myles Turner had a lot to do with that, since his paint presence may lead to decreasing Miami’s downhill abilities, but through long droughts, the reliance should be on the key guys, instead of awaiting for an Andre Iguodala or Trevor Ariza triple to drop.

#4: Butler’s third quarter defense changes the pace of the game.

Butler’s third quarter defensive impact was much more than the two early charges on Domantas Sabonis to give Miami extra offensive opportunities. Although he began to score well in the third as well, the amount of times that he deflected a pass or got a steal was just constant, as he wrecked havoc on that end of the floor. It’s aside from the numbers, since he also has a tendency to force players into bad shots or bad passes, due to his presence making ball-handlers uncomfortable. It’s not an easy task to change the pace of the game on the defensive end, especially when offense is stagnant, but Butler found a way to limit the Pacers’ scoring and created fast-break opportunities for the Heat.

#5: The Nemanja Bjelica role currently different than expected.

Nemanja Bjelica did not get minutes in the first half, and then checked in for a quick 5 minute stint in the third. Although there may not be a lot to observe from his game once again, since he still hasn’t attempted a shot up to this point, there are some initial things that have been noticed. For one, he does look a bit slow on the defensive end, as he flew out for three point contests, and was basically eliminated from the play completely. He hasn’t truly fit in with the Heat yet in his minutes, but that is expected due to the lack of major minutes so far. Trevor Ariza went through a similar process when first joining the team, except it’s pretty clear that Ariza doesn’t have any issues with getting his shots up. Bjelica may not be utilized in the expected role immediately, but it’s still early, so predictions shouldn’t be flying at the current stage.

A Breakdown of Goran Dragic’s Fourth Quarter Display

On a night that Miami’s offense struggled the way that it did, I didn’t think I’d be discussing that side of the ball in a breakdown article today in a positive way. But well, then Goran Dragic happened.

Jimmy Butler carried the load for most of the game, but a fourth quarter explosion from Dragic, scoring 20 points, led Miami to a win. So, let’s take a dive into that late-game offensive spurt.

– Pull-up triples

After Dragic went scoreless in the first half, he got into a bit of a rhythm late in the second half. Pull-up threes have been a part of Miami’s offense that not only struggled last night, but all season.

The Heat have always been a team that works drive and kicks in transition or straight up pull-ups from deep. On this play, the Bulls defense is scrambling, while two bigs are at the forefront of stopping the ball. Dragic noticing this, immediately pulls up from the top of the key in rhythm, which is exactly the type of shot that can spark his game.

Another thing to note is the arc on his shot on this play. You usually can tell the way Dragic shot is going to drop, due to the fact he has a high arcing shot, which usually drops in, or if he misses will bounce around the rim a few times. But when he’s off like he was in the first half, it just comes down to a flat-footed or straight on jumper.

– Offensive actions for Dragic

Even though it wasn’t a normal night for Dragic early on, the team could tell the way it was trending, since even Butler told him to takeover late. And as seen here, it’s more of those non-Butler minutes, which means the ball must be in Dragic’s hands to create offense.

On this possession, Miami flows immediately into a double screen for Dragic, giving him just enough space to pull. It seems like Patrick Williams read the scouting report on him, since he tried to angle inside to cut off a mid-range jumper. One thing about Dragic is that he always takes advantage of younger players who still are adjusting to the NBA level, which leads to an immediate change into a three pointer.

It’s not ideal to run constant offensive sets for your 34 year old veteran when Butler is off the floor, since Tyler Herro should be the guy at times taking over that role, but on a night that he had it absolutely rolling, it doesn’t seem necessary to discuss.

– The downhill Dragic effect

There are a couple layers to this play all together. For one, Miami has truly lacked a second guy who can put pressure on the rim consistently, and although the jumper was most linked with Dragic last night, the driving led to that.

But take a look at the Bulls’ defense on this play. Every player has their eyes on the scorching Goran Dragic, especially Denzel Valentine. Duncan Robinson notices this and sinks to the corner to be aligned with the ball. Dragic makes the right read to pass out to the corner, while Valentine closes out, and Robinson nails a very tough corner triple.

It’s usually Butler who is making those plays on drive and kicks, which is why Dragic is so important even when shots aren’t dropping. Also, that Robinson jumper is probably one of his most effective shots, since when he catches it higher, the better the release.

– Veteran moves

As I mentioned previously, there’s just something about Dragic when he’s guarded by inexperienced players. He just knows how to keep them where he wants, allowing him to get to his favorite spots.

On this play, Dragic and Chris Silva run a pick and roll, while Dragic utilizes a snake dribble to slide over. He does that to keep Coby White on his hip, or better yet his back, but White somehow recovered. He flows into a turnaround mid-range jumper with zero hesitation, which basically solidified this incredible offensive run.

Although Wendell Carter was doing his job to contain, it seemed like he was overestimating the offensive abilities of Chris Silva, since he was a bit too worried about him on the baseline. Dragic took advantage of that indecisiveness for a very tough bucket.

– More sets for the Dragon

Before diving into more of Dragic’s play, Silva’s understanding of the offensive and defensive scheme must be noted. He hasn’t had much run at the NBA level, but his dedication in practices have heavily carried over to games, since he was in the right spot basically every possession, which is the one downfall of KZ Okpala.

Anyway, Butler just checked back in at this point, which made the defense question if they would go to the hot Goran Dragic or the semi-unstoppable Jimmy Butler. Dragic curls off of an off-ball screen from Silva, and Butler immediately fed him the ball for an easy floater.

This is another example of the Bulls not really knowing much about Silva as a player, since they were constantly reluctant to step up on Dragic since they didn’t want to leave Silva’s side. It was a major reason for Dragic’s fourth quarter explosion.

– The definition of a tough shot

There are some plays where you can point to offensive reads or a slight pump-fake, but there are also times when it’s just a very tough shot that ends up dropping.

On this possession, it’s another pick and roll, this time from the corner, and Dragic gets to the mid-range and pulls with White right in his face. There’s nothing else to really point to with Dragic here, other than the fact that he was just in an incredible rhythm.

Also, take a look at Butler on this play. He starts on the opposite wing, and begins to walk towards the rim. Not to get the ball to score, but to try and get a rebound. He knew Dragic was shooting that shot as soon as he got the ball in the corner, especially since he was the one who told him to take initiative.

– The biggest change from half to half

One of Dragic’s biggest strengths is his ability to find and attack mismatches on bigger or slower defenders. He got the Lauri Markkanen switch many times in the first half, but he seemed a step too slow each time, leading to contested three-pointers.

But when he got that switch in the second half, it was a completely different story, since he did what he has done his entire Miami Heat career. In the first clip, everybody cleared for him to take it to his strong side, and he went into his signature behind the back cross, stopping Markkanen in his tracks and knocking down the jumper.

The second clip was the same exact shot he was attempting in the first half, except this one had much more bounce and a lot higher arc. That combination right there for Dragic usually leads to many positive outcomes, which is exactly what that fourth quarter was.

5 Takeaways from Heat’s Win Over Bulls

The Miami Heat took down the Chicago Bulls late, after a rough offensive first half. While Jimmy Butler controlled throughout, Goran Dragic stepped up late to pull them away. So, here are five takeaways from this game…

#1: Rough overall offensive flow in first half, except when Jimmy Butler has the ball.

It’s a similar theme every single night, since the offensive production heavily decreases when Jimmy Butler exits the floor. But tonight was much different, since there was absolutely nothing being generated when he was off the floor. Pretty decent ball-movement on the perimeter leading to contested three-point attempts, which mostly clanked off the rim. We can discuss Miami’s three point shooting being bad as of late, but there just has to be an alternative. Attacking the basket off the dribble should be utilized a lot on nights like this, but the personnel just doesn’t allow them to do that. Goran Dragic seems a step slow at times to completely get downhill consistently, while Tyler Herro just doesn’t seem to have that in his arsenal at the current stage.

#2: Kendrick Nunn seems to be the only comfortable role player.

While guys like Dragic and Herro seemed a bit out of whack in the first half tonight, Kendrick Nunn actually appeared to be the complete opposite. Even when offense is stagnant, he finds ways to generate offense for himself, which is the most important thing right now. He got to the mid-range early, and knocked down two nice looking triples to bail Miami out of empty possessions. Once again, talking about Nunn in this fashion is much different compared to a couple months ago. He’s become a consistent figure for this team, who is much more comfortable in different spots throughout the game to keep the team flowing into efficient offense. Playing in his hometown of Chicago aside, he has done this every single night since being inserted into the starting lineup, which has mostly translated to wins.

#3: Chris Silva inserted into the game before Precious Achiuwa.

Although Chris Silva and Precious Achiuwa played the same amount of minutes in the first half, which was a whopping 3 minutes each, it was quite interesting to see Silva get thrown in first. Since Bam Adebayo was out again, it seemed like it would be Achiuwa’s first chance to get some increased run at the NBA level, but somehow that didn’t happen. Now, on a night Miami struggled offensively, it wasn’t like Achiuwa would fix that majorly, but Silva essentially gives you the same exact thing. The pick and roll seemed worthless early on, but Achiuwa had a nice finish on a lob as soon as he checked in, which makes this decision very interesting. There might be more to this continued decision, but the overall trust level has surprisingly decreased since the beginning of the season. Coach Spo went to Silva in the second half as well, and he gave them some quality minutes as they made their fourth quarter run.

#4: Kelly Olynyk stepping into Bam Adebayo’s role yet again.

Kelly Olynyk has been a real bright spot in the games Bam Adebayo has missed, mostly since he’s been utilized in a different way than usual. Instead of being the offensive floor spacer, he has actually been the guy they work their offense through on the perimeter. And since he’s playing that role, the play-making abilities have continued to be on display. Not just through the constant action where there’s an off-ball screen for Butler leading to a lob, but also finding cutters when he’s in the post. As I discussed earlier, the offense looked very rough throughout the night, and without Olynyk generating offense when Butler wasn’t on the ball, it could’ve looked a lot worse.

#5: Goran Dragic gets hot in the fourth after tough first half.

The overall consensus in the first half when the offensive struggles occurred was when Goran Dragic would step up per usual, or if he would ever step up. Everybody’s always awaiting that stretch where he tails off a bit due to his age, but just as that showed for some time, it all turned around. Yet again, Dragic did what he does best late in the game, which is bailing the team out when they need it most. Hitting much needed triples, as well as getting to the rim consistently to generate offense for others. The non-Butler minutes will continue to get harped on due to the clear fall-off that occurs when he exits, but if Dragic can sustain it while Adebayo is out, the team will be in good shape.

5 Takeaways from Heat’s Victory Over Pelicans

The Miami Heat finished off the first half of the regular season with a win over the New Orleans Pelicans, getting them to .500 before the All-Star break. A late-game Jimmy Butler takeover led to Miami pulling away, and an Andre Iguodala slam sealed it under a minute to go. So, here are five takeaways from this game…

#1: The Kelly Olynyk show early on.

As I’ve discussed many times in the past, Kelly Olynyk finds himself on one of these takeaway pieces once every few games, since he always has that one breakout game where he can’t miss. And well, that game was tonight. The scoring obviously must be noted first, since he exploded early on, scoring 13 points in the first quarter while the entire Pelicans team scored 15. As I noted before the game, Olynyk was going to have an advantage on the perimeter against the Pelicans’ drop coverage, especially since Steven Adams was dropping. And as expected, he had plenty of open opportunities to begin the game. Instead of discussing his scoring tonight, his passing must be mentioned as well. With Bam Adebayo out, they missed the facilitator in the middle of the offense who can hit back-door cutters in stride, but Olynyk became that guy quickly with high arcing passes time and time again for Miami’s offensive flow.

#2: A smooth running offense is the Jimmy Butler effect.

Coach Erik Spoelstra mentioned after Miami’s strong first quarter that the spacing was looking good. And the reason for that was Jimmy Butler, plain and simple. The last game against the Atlanta Hawks proved that offense can’t flow without a downhill presence and their primary play-maker, in Butler, which bounced back as soon as the ball was tipped. Other than his effortless 11 points in the first half, his 7 assists in that span speak major volume. Miami began to get into their drive and kicks once again, which allowed even more open threes for guys like Olynyk, due to the drop coverage collapsing completely on Butler when attacking. The offense was running quite smoothly on a night without Bam Adebayo, which pretty much proves the amount of impact Butler can have just by his presence.

#3: Precious Achiuwa getting thrown in the fire off the bench, blending in quite perfectly.

It’s not easy to be a starter from middle school to high school to college, then get thrown into the NBA without a Summer League and get placed into a bench role. But well, that’s been the situation for Precious Achiuwa this season, and the adaptation he’s made to that role continues to be very impressive. As soon as he enters the game, his presence is felt as a constant energy and rim runner, while putting major emphasis on runner since he never stops moving. Another thing is that he is totally locked in on his individual job as a screener and roller, while never straying off into other areas in a fast paced game, which most young players tend to do. That point right there highlights his mindset and focus to understand who he is as a player and what benefits the team, and that continued bench role benefits this Heat team majorly.

#4: The natural KZ Okpala roller coaster game.

There’s a lot to dive into when discussing the young career of KZ Okpala. He’s had a few stints throughout the season, and the same negatives and positives continue to pop out. On the negative side of things, the lack of playing time has led to his hesitance in the offense. Almost every time he receives the ball, he doesn’t even almost look toward the rim to try and score. Now, that has a lot to do with just trying to fit in, instead of playing in a free and natural way. But although he may think that unselfish play will lead to increased playing time, it may be the complete opposite. That takes us to the positives in his game, which always come when he avoids that hesitance. The third quarter showed that when he came out immediately and shot a contested three, which although it missed, it’s clear coaches or players got in his ear about it. That led to a very impressive side-step three in the corner, and a nice up and under layup in a solid spurt on both ends, which showcases an expected roller coaster on a nightly basis when he takes the floor.

#5: The non-Butler minutes a worry without Adebayo, which leads to more Dragic.

Non-Jimmy Butler minutes and Goran Dragic pretty much go hand in hand. He’s always been the trusted guy to keep his unit afloat while Butler takes a breather, which is what he did early in the fourth tonight once again. Three-pointer to mid-range jumper to getting to the free throw line. He’s a guy that has been incredibly good at finding mismatches, which is even easier to do against this Pelicans team. On a night that Tyler Herro struggled again, Dragic was going to be needed to get downhill and generate offense, and he did just that. Crafty pump-fakes and footwork around the rim when the defense collapsed, occurred possession after possession. There’s only so much that he can do in those non-Butler spurts, but it’s very promising to continue to see him step up in those spots, then handing the keys back over to Butler to close. And well, he took the keys and drove this team all the way home.