Tag Archive for: Jimmy Butler

Miami Heat X’s and O’s: The Defensive Shift

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.

 

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Five Takeaways from Heat’s Win Over Suns

Simply this game was insane. If you like scoring, this was the game for you.

The 4th quarter consisted of the Suns and Heat just matching buckets, but the Heat stayed the course with Butler, Bam, and Lowry all coming up big.

Here are some takeaways…

#1: The Heat getting good bench production early on.

This has been a season for Miami where bench production as a whole isn’t the hottest topic. Although guys like Max Strus have shined when entering and Gabe Vincent has vastly improved, we’re talking about a team that is currently rolling out an 8 man rotation. But well, those three bench guys tonight were heavily responsible for the early offensive push. Vincent had 8 points, 3 assists, and 4 boards in the first half, but the bigger point was his half-court control and paint touches. He was generating great looks against a top tier Suns defense. Duncan Robinson was the recipient of that, knocking down an immediate two triples, while mixing in an in-between floater. Lastly, Dewayne Dedmon even provided some serviceable minutes. They’re not looking for anything special from him, just be neutral before Bam walks back to the scorers table, and did that early on.

#2: A substitution change from Miami.

When documenting certain trends that we see from the Heat, the substitution pattern was one of them tonight. The main thing we’re used to is Jimmy Butler playing the entire first quarter after Bam Adebayo exited first, which just basically means those two are being staggered. Yet tonight, we saw a minor shift. Max Strus and Jimmy Butler exited at the 5 minute mark, as Adebayo anchored that first quarter lineup. Then after 3 minutes, he walked back to the scorers table with Dewayne Dedmon. The only main change there is Butler played 3 stretches in the half instead of the usual two. Will find out more on that adjustment, but stood out for now.

#3: I still believe defensive creativity should be coming.

When talking about the Heat defensively, we’ve seen them withhold the switching structure for years on end. But more importantly, they’ve always had the personnel to actually do it. Now that they lack the size, we continually see smart offensive teams punish Miami down low, as the Suns did with Kyle Lowry on Deandre Ayton. But more big picture, this defense needs to lose the predictability from night to night. They may lack size, but they do obtain versatility. We’re seeing them embrace some of that with the 2-3 zone, but we still need to see more drop coverage from Bam Adebayo than a possession here or there. They will lean offense, but still need to tinker in other piles once in a while. We saw a bit of that with Dewayne Dedmon blitzing in the second half, but Booker and Ayton picked that right apart. (Which had to do with Miami’s rotations for the most part.)

#4: Heat fighting through the random scrub Heat killer trend.

The Heat have this bit where random role players seem to dominate them, but it’s been quite some time since we’ve seen it last. Yet this one came in a massive wave. Duane Washington Jr, who I put out there could’ve been an undrafted option for Miami a season ago, came out on fire. 16 points in about 5 minutes of game-time in that first half. A lot of that can relate back to my last section of defensive lapses, but it’s also just a certain player getting hot at the wrong time. Chris Paul being out meant more playing time for him, while the Heat’s defensive game-plan to start was essentially very Devin Booker driven. Giving him the Joel Embiid treatment with doubles was a sign of respect, but Washington made them pay.

#5: The Heat embraced a certain offensive style in the 4th quarter.

The Suns began to takeover to begin the 4th quarter, appearing to fully pull away. Miami couldn’t get rebounds, stops, and were looking different offensively. By different I mean not slowing things down into the half-court. For a minute there that didn’t look like a good thing. Caleb Martin was forcing on the break, and it looked like Miami ran out of gas. But after a string of stops on the defensive end, Miami was getting out and running. More importantly, with Bam Adebayo having his hands on the steering wheel. He was attacking with purpose, including a big time and-1 to cut the lead to 3 halfway through the 4th. It just kept happening over and over: finally, the Heat were letting Bam just do what he does best. Operating in the open floor with the game in the balance.

Five Takeaways from Heat’s Win Over Hornets

The Miami Heat played the Charlotte Hornets again on Saturday night, but they had a new face in the fold: LaMelo Ball. Miami coming off an OT win, simultaneously including an unnecessary collapse.

Either way, they came away with a much needed win in this one as well, landing themselves only 1 game under .500. And the way the offense looked, it was a good momentum builder to say the least.

So here are some takeaways from this one…

#1: Miami’s opening stint showed off some of their intentional trends.

Before I get to how some of the things transpired in the first 24 minutes of basketball, I want to discuss some of the Heat’s intentional trends walking into this game. The first one was the Bam Adebayo element. They wanted him going at Mason Plumlee in the face-up game in that high to mid post. He can’t move his feet enough to stay with him, and it just unlocks so many things when Miami begins to move and cut like they did. Plus speaking of moving, the real takeaway from the initial game-plan was their pace. They clearly wanted to push in transition a lot more against this team that likes to do the same. It definitely wasn’t sustainable, but some interesting tweaks to keep track of.

#2: Well the defense has some cleaning up to do.

Although the Heat looked pretty crisp offensively to begin this game, it didn’t seem to matter. It didn’t feel like it at the time, but the scoreboard kept portraying that buckets were just being matched. The Heat were dipping off weak-side shooters and the Hornets continued to knock down shots. To put in perspective, Charlotte shot 54% from the field in the first half. That’s just tough to deal with mentally. To stray away for a second, that’s the reason I’ve said if a starting lineup shift was to be made, the move is to swap Caleb Martin for Max Strus. If the defense generally hasn’t been up to standards anyways, why not lean all the way into offense with Butler at the 4? It splits the reps of Strus and Robinson, pairs up Martin with his defensive pressure point buddy Gabe Vincent, and gives Miami a different dynamic. But hey, I guess that discussion is for another time.

#3: Aside from specifics, consistency and sustainability are the Heat’s main needs for fixing.

Big picture when looking at the Heat’s first few games of the season, we can discuss a couple different issues that need to change. The starting 4 spot, defensive liability, three-point shooting, etc. But the overarching point is that even when those things do make an appearance, it just can’t be sustained. As I stated in my first takeaway, pace was being pushed. Then it faded. Three-point shooting was there. Then it faded. Assisted field goals were at an incredibly high rate. Then it faded. That doesn’t mean things don’t need to be fixed up from the outside to propel this, but they just need to find a way to stop getting away from the intentional game-plans. If they can find that balance of consistent effort, they would be in a much different spot. Take the third quarter for another example. Getting back to the play-book, they scored 25 points in 5 minutes. That reflects the potential of a high powered offense. Yet once again, you can’t stray from that.

#4: Max Strus continues to do things.

While storylines have been flying surrounding this Heat team to begin the year, we haven’t had the time to truly discuss an internal roster one which is Max Strus. Who has improved the most from season to season? I would give that award to Strus this season, who has been one of their more trusted and consistent players. From hitting big shot after big shot upon entering off the bench to begin the year to the all-around polishing across the board, he’s playing at an exceptional level. We can talk about that “all-around game,” but the bigger point to make is he’s taking his role and exceeding expectations. And that role is three-point shooting. One thing you can bet on: Max Strus is going to get his shot off no matter what, and that’s the type of thing this offense needs.

#5: Some minor mental notes I took from this game: X’s and O’s.

We haven’t had a game in a while where I wasn’t spamming late-game execution in the final takeaway spot, but here we are. Instead, I want to just throw out some mental notes I took from this game on the X’s and O’s side. The first one includes the incredible movement we saw from the offense tonight, but more specifically Jimmy Butler. He’s never really a high usage cutter or mover in this Heat offense, but well, he was tonight. And that is the exact key to making the Tyler Herro starting lineup thing work. The second thing I noticed was more Bam Adebayo in drop. A trend that should not be a momentary thing. It works at a high level with his versatility, without shooting yourself in the foot with a smaller roster. The last thing I fed into a bit already, but this team is better scripted. Like a quarter back on that initial drive, this team operates better with structure. Tyler Herro sometimes makes those problems look smaller when he’s cooking, but staying with the game-plan will be a staple for me all year.

Five Takeaways from the Heat Escaping Charlotte

The Heat walked into this game against the Hornets really needing one, and it appeared that they’d be getting it.

Except we saw a repeat of the last few games again: falling apart late.

A 13 point lead beginning the fourth went to a Hornets lead to Jimmy Butler dominance to eventual overtime.

They escaped late to come out with the win, so here are my takeaways from this one…

#1: Duncan Robinson with a strong offensive first half.

Duncan Robinson was the leading scorer for the Heat at half, and easily their most intriguing player from that initial 24 minute stint. He had 11 points, and 1 three. Yes I know, that makes you think. With Tyler Herro being ruled out in this game, Max Strus stepped back into the starting lineup meaning one thing: more intentional reps for Robinson in the second unit. Flying off hand-offs and pin-downs is all cool, but turning those into pick and roll reps is what led him to that scoring mark. Blending into 2-on-1’s with Bam Adebayo inside the lane has been a fun development, especially since his in-between game has looked good. He works heavily on that floater, and we’ve seen it come into fruition a bit recently. When he can not only be that offensive punch off the bench, but also the offensive hub, it’s a good sign for the offense.

#2: More inverted pick and rolls.

There are a couple actions that I feel like I discuss more often than others: one being the post splits they run and well, the second being inverted pick and rolls. For starters, it’s the simplest way to try and get Bam Adebayo downhill. Instead of asking for straight isolations, it builds up some momentum for him down either slot as an attacker. But the other element of this involves Jimmy Butler. It isn’t to get him moving downhill like mentioned with Bam. It’s about creating advantages through mismatches when the guard screens. As we saw in the second quarter tonight, Lowry came to screen for Butler, who bursted to the middle of the floor as the defender cut him off. The point to make: he cut him off under the free throw line. Win for Jimmy. He then put him in a footwork blender leading to an and-1 at the rim. With an offense that has felt bland at time early in the year, more of this continues to create advantages for their main guys.

#3: Yes I’m going to do it again: some more thoughts on the 2-3 zone.

Something I harp on a ton when discussing the Heat’s 2-3 zone as of late: shifting the shot profile from the opposing team. It’s one thing for the Damian Lillard’s of the world getting to adjust their shot diet in a game, but when facing a team like Charlotte who routinely has one offensive base, it can really create chaos. Getting back to the basics, the way to beat the 2-3 zone is getting to the middle of the floor one way or another. Off the bounce, entry to the free throw line, etc. But even though the Hornets were executing that early in the game, betting on push shots inside the free throw line to fall consistently is an uneven bet. That’s what makes the zone so effective. My only problem is that we’re seeing them rely on it so heavily this early in the year, meaning teams will be ready for it in no time. But for now, it’s cool to watch.

#4: Jimmy Butler reliance tonight.

Heading into this game without a lot of hype around it, with the Hornets being the third worst offense simultaneously being without LaMelo Ball, Gordon Hayward, and Cody Martin, it was still clear the Miami Heat needed to get this one. And well, Jimmy Butler seemed to want this one. He came out defensively in a way where you know he’s locked in, but as I stated earlier, he was just putting on a footwork display inside the arc. His attacking was evident as he got to the line 12 times through the first 3 quarters, while acquiring 8 boards and 7 assists in the same span. When talking about energy, I do believe Jimmy Butler being locked in means others will follow closely. You don’t necessarily want him hitting the deck time and time again to get to the line against a bad team in Charlotte, but well, Miami needed him doing just that in a close game in the 4th. Isolation, low post, spin moves, buckets. We saw it all in this one. Should we have seen it all in this one though? Probably not.

#5: The continuation of late slippage.

As the Heat walked into the fourth quarter with a 13 point lead, it was certain they couldn’t do it again…to this Hornets team. With Butler playing the entire third, they can close it out early to give some of these guys rest. But well, the inevitable happened again. A 13 point lead turned into a 3 point lead in two and a half minutes. When trying to be in that elite tier of NBA teams, there just can’t be this seesaw of play and leads. Both sides of the floor once again turned off, as the Hornets began to turn up. When Butler is asked to re-enter into the game with 8 minutes left in the fourth in a game like this, there’s a problem. A big problem. Luckily he began bailing them out late in this game as I mentioned previously, getting them across the regulation finish line and into overtime. Miami somehow survived overtime with things going their way. It’s good they got the win, but far from a good win. This wasn’t a positive thing to see.

Five Takeaways from Heat’s Loss to Blazers

The Miami Heat played the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday night, and they played well for a major portion.

But well, that doesn’t seem to matter.

Late in the game, they fell apart on offense, while going away from the zone defensively.

They let this one slip away. Anyway, here are some of the takeaways…(some leaning into the early stages)

#1: A pull-up 3 point display against Portland’s drop.

The Miami Heat were 10 of 22 from three in the first half tonight, but that on the surface just doesn’t tell the full story. Kyle Lowry, Gabe Vincent, and Duncan Robinson all had 3 a piece, but with the exception of Robinson, almost all of these shots were pull-ups. High pick and roll, dropping Jusuf Nurkic, that’s usually a formula for Tyler Herro to dissect. Yet tonight, Lowry and Vincent picked up in that department, both taking them in transition and the half-court. Miami shooting this well from three-point land is always a good sign of offense and ball movement, which was the case early in this one, but I mainly direct the credit to a nod in the schematic department, as these guys knew coming in: that shot will be sitting there for me.

#2: The 2-3 zone just keeps on pushing forward.

I feel like I land on this topic many nights, and maybe it’s nothing new since it’s becoming one of their base coverages, but I just can’t skip over what we’re seeing there. After most buckets in the second quarter, I was on Erik Spoelstra rotator cuff since he’d abruptly throw up the number 2’s in the air at the unit on the floor, meaning he wanted them to settle into that 2-3 press. The thing about that zone in this match-up is it messes up Portland’s usual gameplan. They’re 29th in 3 point attempts this year, which is essentially what that zone tends to give up. And the threes they’re used to are high PnR pull-ups from both Lillard and Simons. That zone mucked things up for a while there, and guys like Strus and Robinson deserve a ton of credit. We know what Martin and Vincent are doing at the top, but those bottom box guys being in correct positioning allows it not to bend. There is some real comfort in this coverage.

#3 Gabe Vincent deserves some words.

Although I touched on the overall shooting of this group and Vincent being a part of that, the specifics need to be discussed. He’s just been super stable in his role this year, which consistently includes heavy fourth quarter minutes. The way he can wreck havoc on elite guards on the perimeter is a gift in its own, but when he catches a rhythm offensively, he’s a tough player to keep off the floor. The pull-up three was falling, but he’s generating paint touches, feeding to rollers, and playing much slower than his past seasons. Another thing to note is he’s playing in some heavy creation lineups, which means his off-ball control is crucial. And while the spot-up three hasn’t been as elite as you’d want, he has still been a pressure point. Vincent is a back-up point guard right now, but starts are coming with Lowry’s rest days soon to come. And I know many are comfortable in him there, just as he did in the playoffs last year.

#4: We know this Heat team can force turnovers, but they’re turning the page on capitalizing off them.

As I talked about previously with their zone, plus Jimmy Butler’s passing lane masterclass on a nightly basis, it’s pretty obvious that this is a team that can force turnovers even considering being smaller. But the issue so far this year has been scoring off of those turnovers. They’ve never been a team that runs in transition too often, but it’s almost necessary when looking at the lineups they’re running of smaller/quicker guys. In this game, they were moving the ball extremely well in general, but that proved to be the case even more-so in transition to cash in on some easy buckets. If they can try and convert on this consistently, it makes things so much easier in their half-court creation.

#5: Ball movement and taking care of the rock early? Yes. Consistently carrying into late-game? Well, no.

With the ball movement looking as crisp as we’ve seen it tonight against Portland, I already know conversations are brewing surrounding Tyler Herro. Yet while I believe off-ball Herro movement is essential for this group, I’m not a part of that group of thinking. This formula transcends personnel. When this team gets paint touches on-ball, moves a ton off-ball, and takes care of the rock, this will be a familiar result. Turnovers are killer for this group, which always tend to follow heavy ball movement squads. Yet when you have a night to get the best of both worlds, it’s a great development for this team’s offensive trends. The only issue is consistency, which always feels to be the case. While all of that was true for 42 minutes, it stalled in the last 6. Portland fought back as Miami wasn’t generating the same looks. Simply, a major problem. The shot profile can’t be this flip-flopped depending on the time on the clock. While I hit on positives throughout this game, this takeaway of consistency is by far the biggest.

Five Takeaways from Heat’s Win Over Warriors

The Miami Heat faced off against the Golden State Warriors yet again, and well, we saw a different process for the Heat in general.

A better process.

With some great late game execution, they pulled out the win.

So here are some takeaways…

#1: Max Strus and Duncan Robinson coming up big early on.

As Max Strus walked to the scorers table of a messy Heat offensive structure, I sent out a tweet. Can Strus save this offense yet again like he has recently? Somehow, the answer was yes yet again. With 9 minutes left in the second quarter, he was up to 11 points, giving this group some life. But he wasn’t the only one. Duncan Robinson joined the party as well, and he shined in many spots. Spot-up shots, movement (which I’ll get to next), passing, and even some paint touches that generated a lob to Bam. When you are getting this type of production from your two shooters, it’s a perfect formula for this team’s best two players. But let’s just keep an eye on sustainability, since they can’t be reliant on this.

#2: The bench group differences.

Strus and Robinson tie into this a good bit, but the Heat’s bench grouping turned things around for Miami early. What started out as a stagnant offensive bunch, the bench came in for a nonstop function of dribble hand-offs. Here comes Vincent, then Robinson, then Strus. Oh there’s Martin open on a back cut. Everything just operates so much smoother with movement. They provided a necessary spark, but it felt like they also provided a blueprint I’ve been focusing on for a bit. Motion, motion, motion. Once that’s done consistently, specifically in the first unit, we are having totally different conversations about this group.

#3: Side track: a look into the Jimmy Butler three.

To stray away from game specifics a bit, a couple Jimmy Butler 3’s in the second quarter made me think a bit. Watching the Instagram stories of Butler in the off-season were always funny, since you always had these thoughts of “are these really things he will be doing in game speed?” The slow launching three without much lift or movement was basically the headliner of this. Yet when watching him play, it always seems as if he’s better in that spot. Not rushed, not forcing, just pulling up slowly with a sagging defender in his view. Fast forward to the third quarter, Butler ended up taking 3 semi-rushed wing threes. From the same exact spot. All seemed to come up short, which just weirdly shows that his long pause on the face-up is his way of gathering rhythm. But I guess focusing on the stuff inside the arc mainly would be a decent point to make as well.

#4: Dealing with the Warriors offensive structure.

When keeping an eye on the numbers throughout the game, everything was pretty close. Turnovers, rebounds, shot distribution. The only main difference following the third quarter was that the Warriors offense went into Warriors offense mode. Miami’s three point shooting began to dip, while the Warriors shooting shot up a bit. Simply, while I’ve been harping on the lazy rotations from Miami as of late, I thought they were quite good. Mixing from switching to drop to zone, they handled it decently well. There were definitely some miscues on some unnecessary doubles, since that’s when the Warriors offense will get you. Motion, back-screen, skip pass, screen, paint touch, three. It’s just the nature of that offense, and I don’t believe Miami did a bad job through and through.

#5: Late-game walkthrough…

Halfway through the fourth of a tie game, the Heat found a certain offensive opening. Robinson pindown or handoff, two fly to him, Bam with a lane for the bucket. It was there to spam, and they did just that. After a timeout, the Warriors adjusted, yet Miami embraced it. Now that they weren’t two out at Robinson, the shot was there, and he knocked it down to tie the game back up, after Curry went Curry mode the play prior. 2 minutes to go, Bam made a great play as the weakside defender to poke it away and get Miami in transition. They pulled it out, ended up in a Lowry force, but he actually forced something good. Came off the screen, got by Thompson, got the lay-in. Wiggins responds with a mid-range bucket. Back the other way, we get a look at a Butler iso. A nasty move and spin gets him to the cup for the and-1, as Curry goes back in the other direction for a 3 point answer. Went from a foul call to a coaches challenge to a call reversal. After some empty possessions on both ends with the Heat holding a 3 point lead, the ball ends up in Jimmy Butler’s hands with 30 seconds to go. Inverted PnR, gets into pull-up range, pump fakes, bucket. That’s game.

Five Takeaways from Heat’s Loss to Warriors

The Miami Heat played a back and forth game against the defending champs, Golden State Warriors, yet fell short on the second night of a back to back.

They got a very good version of Jimmy Butler, and a below average version of Tyler Herro.

That seesaw just couldn’t do it for them.

So, here are some takeaways from this one…

#1: A pulse check on some new rotation patterns.

With Dewayne Dedmon being ruled out tonight, and essentially out of the rotation for the time being, Nikola Jovic got some more run at the back-up 5 spot. What does that mean for rotations? Well, the first part of that begins with the Heat’s focus to place him next to Jimmy Butler when he is on the floor. As I said last night, they’re trying to lean into the Butler + 4 shooters method. With that said, we saw Butler basically play the entire first quarter, and I’m not sure that’s the long term plan of the regular season. The other change we’ve seen involves Tyler Herro and Bam Adebayo. Spo has been trying to mirror their minutes as much as possible, but things have changed in the search for Jovic’s placing. Just something to monitor…

#2: Jimmy Butler showing up at a familiar level.

Over these last two games, Jimmy Butler has looked like…a Jimmy Butler many Heat fans are used to. The way to clarify the version of Butler you are getting begins and ends on the defensive end. If he’s shooting passing lanes at a high level and rotating with a purpose, he’s hitting those strides. And for a better example of that, he had 4 steals in the first quarter alone. Something else that’s intriguing to keep an eye on is the three-point shooting. He shot 3-for-3 from deep to begin the night, mostly since his shot profile out there always looks the same: stand-still triple with a slow wind up since defenses will dip off of him when he isn’t on the ball. But simply, he clearly recognizes this team’s need for energy.

#3: The Heat’s 2-3 zone/2-2-1 press.

When facing an offense as dynamic as the Golden State Warriors, defensive adjustments on the fly are necessary. And well, that just so happens to be Erik Spoelstra’s specialty.We saw a good amount of zone early on, and that wasn’t just to make up for defensive deficiencies, since they were running it with Bam on that low side plenty of the time. They definitely stayed with it for a bit, and the Warriors’ shooters began figuring it out and finding a rhythm, but the point was that they weren’t just staying with the same soft switch game-plan all night long. The other side of things was the 2-2-1 press, which always has my attention. Gabe Vincent and Caleb Martin pressuring up top, while the goal isn’t to generate a steal. Of course that would be nice, but it’s to make the offense play against the clock. Variety will be needed on that end this season.

#4: Tyler Herro not finding any rhythm.

In a game that included the Heat’s offense pretty much flowing throughout, Tyler Herro was the one true sore thumb on the floor for the Heat. His shot wasn’t falling from deep, which hasn’t been a great start to the year from that range in general, and that bled into the other parts of his game. Golden State did a good job of keeping him out of the paint, while also hedging hard to initiate that pass on his part. But simply, Miami can’t survive many games against teams like the Warriors when Herro looks like *this.* The main issue with it is that this type of stuff then blends into the defensive end, plus leaves him reluctant with good looks on following possessions. It was just a tough night, as everybody on this Heat roster has had to this point, but pretty obvious to say they need just an average offensive Herro and they would be fine on nights like this.

#5: Max Strus and Gabe Vincent deserve some words.

When talking about “true takeaways,” this would have to be at the top of my list on not only this game, but this season. The previous two-ways Max Strus and Gabe Vincent are obviously playing big roles this season for Miami off the bench, but the bigger point is that they just keep coming up big. Same thing occurred a night ago against Portland, but everybody was playing good against Portland (lol). Yet in this one against Golden State, it’s not as much the amount of shots they’re hitting, but instead when they are hitting them. The Warriors begin to punch them in the mouth a bit, and well there’s Gabe Vincent with a tough left wing step back with his back against the shot clock. Butler can’t get anything going on a possession half-way through the 4th, and there’s Max Strus to shoot over the top as a bail out three. I must say that I was a bit surprised to see Tyler Herro entering for Vincent late in this one to close. Kind of thought Herro’s struggles and Vincent’s play earned him the closing spot for the night. Especially considering the way he was hunted by Steph Curry late.

Five Takeaways from Heat’s Win Over Blazers

The Miami Heat played their first road game of the season Thursday night in Portland, and they seemed to find their identity a bit.

The defense stepped up, and individual players such as Kyle Lowry, Max Strus, Gabe Vincent, Caleb Martin, and others really made a major impact for this group.

So here are some takeaways from this one…

#1: Max Strus: the revival of the Heat’s offense.

As the same topics loomed for this Heat offense early in the game, it was clear they were going to need somebody or something to spark them. More movement? Better transition play? Or the answer could just be Max Strus. It isn’t the first time I’ve brought up the fact that Strus was the one keeping Miami’s half-court offense afloat. Staying set, pulling with no reluctance, and providing the necessary gravity from beyond the arc. Plus he’s been better defensively. rebounded well, and played better inside the arc with some increased paint touches. But frankly I don’t care about the extracurricular stuff right now. His role is to shoot, and he’s doing that at an extremely high level at the moment.

#2: Nikola Jovic minutes.

Something I stated before the game: if there was a night to play Nikola Jovic, it was this one. The reasons included the poor play from Dewayne Dedmon, not wanting Damian Lillard and Anfernee Simons to torch them in drop every minute Bam isn’t on the floor, and the Trail Blazers also play a bit smaller off the bench. Well, we got a look at it. He did get a quick tip-in for his first points at the NBA level, but the energy pretty much shifted at that point in time. The lineup included Jimmy Butler and 4 shooters, which is a complete formula for success. Jovic ended up racking up 4 first half fouls, mostly since he needed to get his feet wet in defensive coverages at the 5. Simply, it isn’t easy playing in that center role on the defensive end when you aren’t accustomed to it. The only way to get him up to speed, though, is playing time and the ability to get these reps.

#3: Can Jimmy Butler get some space?

As I just hinted in the last section about Nikola Jovic, the lineup in the first half with Lowry-Herro-Strus-Butler-Jovic created an energy shift. On paper we would say, ‘well that’s not ideal defensively’ and you would be right. But I just truly believe they need to find an offensive flow by any means. Aside from that, it’s eye opening when evaluating the game of Jimmy Butler. When constantly playing next to Dedmon who plants on the weak-side box, every Butler drive down the right slot ends in two defenders flying at him around the rim. If you want to maximize Butler on that end for long periods of the regular season, the guy needs space around him. Allow him to go 1-on-1 to the basket any time you can. It feels like a clear equation to positive offense when needed, and yes, they clearly have been needing it.

#4: Kyle Lowry stepping up.

The focus of the Heat’s issues have been heavily looming over Kyle Lowry as of late. For good reason, the consistency and intention of his game hasn’t been up to the necessary standards. Yet we saw Miami lean into a much more comfortable role for Lowry in this one: off-ball dictating. If he can hit the spot-up triple consistently, it changes things. The ball can operate through Butler and Herro, consequently forcing weak-side help to peel over. And well, that’s exactly what happened tonight. The opportunities were there for him to take advantage of, and he did just that. Moving well, pulling up with confidence, and most of all, he was really engaged. When that’s the case, his impact is evident.

#5: The defense finding themselves a bit.

If the Heat scored 60 points in a game and lost, you would probably hear Erik Spoelstra after the game saying they could’ve played better defensively. It’s just the way they are wired. Yet they’ve had some issues on that end to begin the year. Is some of it the size deficiency? Yes. Is some the constant soft switching no matter the screen? Also yes. But they just need to be active and rotations must be crisp for this defense to get back to similar levels. That happened in the third quarter tonight. Jimmy Butler steam rolling for double teams, Caleb Martin being pesky on-ball, and Miami’s role players staying in the correct spots for help. When they’re gelled and connected like this, they can still be disruptive on that end of the floor.

Five Takeaways from Heat’s Loss to Raptors

The Miami Heat fall to the Toronto Raptors this time around, after some back and forth late.

Heat now 1-3.

Some takeaways from this one…

#1: A look into an interchangeable defensive system for Miami.

As the Miami Heat trailed 48-43 at half, it always gives you a moment of reflection as to what the primary issue is. Both ends of the floor had problems in prior games, but the defensive end seemed to be cleaned up generally early in this one. From a positive perspective, I thought we finally got the defensive mix that you would be looking for with this Heat group. The first few possessions included some Bam Adebayo in drop, which I’ve been asking for. It then altered back to the soft switching, while shading help over for double teams more often than not. Following those sequences, Miami leaned into the 2-2-1 press and 2-3 zone when Gabe Vincent and Haywood Highsmith were at the top of it. The point is that Miami’s defense was problematic when it was one dimensional. Being creative and unpredictable is all you can ask for.

#2: The Dewayne Dedmon element.

While we imagined Bam Adebayo would be gunning for the DPOY award this year, I didn’t think Dewayne Dedmon would be given any credit for that. But when you open up the on/off numbers, or simply the plus/minus, the Dedmon stuff jumps off the page. But even more-so, it jumps off the game-tape when watching. He can’t truly move at this stage, which creates problems for this team on both ends. He doesn’t have the back-pedaling quickness to fully contain in drop, while his offensive role is just to simply “float” after a screen. Not much intention, not many positive outcomes. Simply, the minutes have looked bad to begin this season, and the status of Omer Yurtseven on the injury report becomes more and more intriguing.

#3: The Heat aren’t being quiet about the offensive combo that works best.

Something I’ve been discussing all off-season for Miami, when projecting the starting lineup on the season, was the Tyler Herro-Bam Adebayo pick and roll connection. And well, it’s lived up to the hype early in the season. Herro has recorded 1.47 points per possession on 61% shooting as the PnR ball handler, which only ranks behind Luka Doncic and Jaylen Brown. Adebayo has recorded 1.25 PPP on 68% shooting as the PnR roll man, only ranking behind John Collins. But the bigger headliner is that they aren’t afraid to lean into it. Heavily. The entire offense seems to be operating around that two-man action, and we’re seeing minor layers added to it and it’s only game 4. One of the more fun X’s and O’s story-lines to follow for this team.

#4: A very great Jimmy Butler approach.

As the Heat made a solid third quarter push, it required us to zoom out a bit. Bam Adebayo with some highlight-type strong attacks. Tyler Herro continues to be the shining piece. Yet Jimmy Butler was just quietly coasting to having a pretty great game. Trips to the line, a couple triples, mismatch hunting, solid facilitating, and great efficiency. We know what the role of Butler in the regular season looks like compared to the playoffs, but this is a great example of him not having to do *too* much while still putting up numbers. Combining my last takeaway with this one, a specific Herro-Bam PnR stood out late in the first half. Butler set-up at dunker spot for interior gravity, while he roams from box to box. Herro hit Butler who knocked down the floater. The shot profile mix is a healthy one.

#5: Late-game execution.

Jimmy Butler walks to the scorer’s table of a close game with 5 minutes left in the 4th. A bit of a back and forth pursued with some forced offense from Miami. A perfectly executed Spain PnR turned South late as Bam took off too early and it clanked off the rim. Raptors started to get some easy buckets down low, seemingly putting Miami in an awkward position with Butler entering with 3 mins left in the quarter. Fast forwarding a minute of a 6 point game, the Heat force a miss and run into transition. Tyler Herro, in Herro fashion, pulls up for three on the break to cut the lead to 3. All of a sudden the ball ends up back in their hands with a little over a minute to go, and we get another Spain PnR siting. Perfect result with VanVleet switching onto Bam, yet Herro shoots a tough shot that just misses. On the other end, Vincent did his best to contain, but Siakam got to his sweet spot for the mid-range bucket. 5 point game. Good play-call out of the timeout for Butler to drive on a curl screen for the easy lay-in. Yet as good of defense they played on Toronto following that play, Gary Trent just hits an insanely tough shot in the deep corner. Ends in a loss for Miami.

Five Takeaways from Heat’s Win Over Raptors

So the Heat bounced back on the second night of a back to back against the Toronto Raptors, getting a much needed win to begin the season.

This game wasn’t a very normal or consistent one, since while they were clicking on all cylinders in the first half, it tailed off and ended up being a close game.

Either way, here are some takeaways of both the good and the bad…

#1: The return of the offensive movement.

A question I posed exactly 24 hours ago was a rather simple one: where is the movement? Two-man actions were being run for this Heat offense against Boston, but not many more layers added on. Tonight, though, they showcased a total flip in that nature through the first 24 minutes of basketball. The first element of movement simply involves the ball. When things got stale, it was because isolations were most of the time the end result. This time around we saw a good amount of extra passes and necessary swings to keep the defense honest. The second element of Miami’s movement regards just bodies roaming. Off-ball screening, simple back-cuts, and perimeter hand-off searching is the engine to positive half-court offense. It was obviously the primary intention heading in, and they responded with a 71 point first half.

#2: Max Strus: doing the *other* things more consistently.

We know what Max Strus is at this stage. He’s a guy who fits next to anybody, and can shoot the heck out of the ball no matter the contest. But while watching this game tonight, I’m sure some other stuff caught your eye. Step 1 included his weak-side defense and timing. I’m not going to sit here and act like the Heat’s defensive rotations were where they want them to be, but Strus showcased incredible help timing to muck up straight line drives and account for some charges. The other main part of his performance ties back to my previous takeaway of movement and cutting. He’s just hard to continually account for. Guys find him around the rim a ton since he’s not a standstill threat. Keys to staying on the floor late in games.

#3: Kyle Lowry the off-ball threat/Tyler Herro the rim threat.

When zooming out career wise, we know Tyler Herro as a high level outside shooter or developed into an elite off the dribble scoring threat. We also know Kyle Lowry as a consistent creator both for himself and others, while always mixing in elite efficiency numbers as a spot-up threat. But sometimes the simple and original read of a player finds it’s way more consistently again. That was one of my primary takeaways tonight, as Herro pretty much continues to soar as a true rim pressure threat. He’s slashing on the ball in ways that make it so much tougher to guard within that two-man action. Lowry, on the other hand, was definitely going to be getting extra off-ball reps with the amount of creators on this roster. But 3 for 3 in the first half on spot-up triples proves this theory to be correct. Catch and shoot Lowry combined with relentless attacking Herro is a formula for very good offense.

#4: Caleb Martin with an ejection…and a lifetime Heat contract?

So things picked up a bit in the third quarter as Miami possessed a pretty comfortable lead. Some emotions were rising as Tyler Herro and Paschal Siakam got tied up a bit after the play. A few minutes later, *the* play happened. What seemed like a usual foul down low turned into a linebacker shooting the gap of the o-line. Caleb Martin stood over the top of Christian Koloko, leading into a body slam takedown into the courtside seats on the baseline. Both players ended up being ejected, but it was an interesting twist to this game. Martin may have gotten thrown out of this one, but he simultaneously may have been thrown a lifetime Heat contract after that display of emotion and toughness. Well, for the moment. It ended up being pivotal in terms of the Raptors storming back in the second half, but Miami pulled it out.

#5: I’m still watching the turnovers.

A consistent theme across all 3 games of Heat basketball this season has been turnovers. They actually forced Boston into double their number last night, but they’re still putting up a pretty uncomfortable number. Some of that is fine if it’s occurring through an offensive process of risk taking in the half court, but I don’t truly feel that’s been the case. Many of them are just playing at a different speed than the next guy, or forcing stuff that is so clearly not there for them. If this team ends up in the bottom 10 in pace again, which will be the case, a high turnover outcome can’t be the result on a nightly basis.