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What is Next for Duncan Robinson and Kendrick Nunn in Free Agency?

Two fantastic stories, two fantastic players. Duncan Robinson and Kendrick Nunn went from un-drafted gems with the Miami Heat to off-season headaches with plenty of difficult decisions looming.

Of course the Heat front office would love to bring them back due to the personal connection, but sentimental Pat Riley seems to be out the window. It’s time to improve the team and make harsh decisions if they must be made.

The price of Nunn feels to be something that a bunch of teams would be willing to take a chance on as a fantastic offensive scorer who can just play freely in an offense to get buckets. With Miami needing to fill certain holes, it doesn’t seem like that money will be coming out of the Heat’s pocket.

Robinson, on the other hand, is a different story. The money range that he is looking for seems to be one that the Miami Heat expected. They’re not just going to let one of the league’s most lethal shooters just walk. But that doesn’t mean a sign and trade is impossible.

Like in every discussion, if the right deal comes along, the Heat should pull the trigger without including Jimmy Butler or Bam Adebayo. Would a deal that big actually enter the discussion over the next few weeks? Probably not, which means there’s a decent chance Robinson could be back in a Heat uniform next season.

Being in this position alone is a win for Nunn and Robinson. They’ve beaten the odds up to this point, and their NBA careers are still young. After the first big pay day, it’s then time to make the necessary leaps in their games to truly reach the next level of their respective skill-sets.

 

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A Look Back into the Second Year Burst from Kendrick Nunn

Kendrick Nunn’s situation this off-season regarding the Heat is a bit different from other players on the roster that I’ve discussed. Guys like Goran Dragic and Andre Iguodala have team options, meaning Miami dictates how they want to deal with them.

Somebody like Duncan Robinson is in a similar spot with Nunn, but obviously seems much more likely to be back on the roster next season with the Heat. After Nunn’s sophomore season bounce-back, following a tough run in the bubble and start to the season, he will now test the market to see what is out there.

To that point, it’s clear that many expect Nunn to take a much bigger deal from a team willing to give it to him. But the only way I can see him returning, would be if Miami pulled off a huge deal through trade. If they send out a bunch of guys through sign and trade, while there’s enough money to retain Nunn, then I would see them doing it.

Other than that, it’s just hard to say at the moment.

Anyways, this piece isn’t about projecting forward, it’s about taking a look back. Nunn made a bunch of strides this season to get to a point where a good sized deal could be coming his way, so let’s take a look at those primary areas…

An Interchanging Shooting Ability

Sometimes shooting numbers relate to the role you’re in, and Kendrick Nunn is the perfect example of that. Even though Miami is a position-less team, while Butler and Adebayo are the primary play-makers, Nunn is essentially the 1. To that point, he runs a lot of the Heat’s sets when he’s on the floor, which began to decrease a bit as the season went on.

And that’s a good thing.

Once he jumped into the starting lineup, his shooting from deep really progressed. The issue was that his pull-up threes weren’t falling. By that I don’t just mean transition pull-ups, but also the stop-and-pops out of the high pick and roll. That was his best three-point ability last season, shooting 37% on pull-up triples, which then plummeted to 27% this year.

If those numbers decreased so drastically, how did he become such a better shooter from the outside?

Well, insert the catch and shoot three. When I mentioned his role being so important before, that proved to be true within these numbers. He began to run a bunch of actions off the ball, even running some of Robinson’s sets when he exited the floor, which I called Robinson-lite.

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Roaming baseline off pin-downs or basic off-ball screens into a wing three became his specialty. The usual kick-outs became huge for him as well, which increased the chemistry of Butler and him offensively. That spot-up three allowed him to stay on the floor for increased minutes, and honestly, that will keep him on the floor wherever he lands in free agency.

Finding the Elbow

If you asked me what Nunn’s go-to shot was in his rookie year, it’s pretty obvious it was the elbow jumper. The question this season, once he regained his usual role, was if that shot would be sustainable along with the other attributes.

And yet, it was. 45% on mid-range pull-ups last season to 48% this year may not seem major, but it answered one of the main questions that we had.

Not to focus on the past post-season too much, but that’s why many people labeled him as a major X-factor for Miami to win the series. As I’ve called him in the past, he’s a drop coverage killer, but when that shot isn’t dropping, it allows a defense to completely dictate his shot chart.

Aside from that, the main reason this shot held such high important had nothing to do with the numbers. It was more self inflicted stuff, which is exactly what I will dive into here…

PnR Decision Making

The stats don’t tell the full story, since the true tell for mid-range excellence had to do with his decision making. One of his biggest downfalls in his rookie year was that he didn’t seem to know when to shoot and when to pass. It made his time in the PnR quite unexpected, since there wasn’t a high trust level with him in those spots.

But as soon as he filled into that starting spot early this season, things seemed to change. He knew when to pull-up at the free throw line. He knew when to throw a floater. He knew when to explode to the rack. And he knew when to throw the lob.

That was the element that would allow him to take that next step. And essentially, that’s the element that would get him that nice sized contract.

This whole discussion ties back to an overarching point that’s been harped on forever with Nunn: confidence. When he is confident in his scoring ability, he’s hard to stop. It’s why his end of the season struggles in his rookie season seemed to be dictated by the first shot of the game. If the ball wasn’t falling early, he wasn’t going to be effective.

Flipping that switch this season into a competent reader in the pick and roll elevated his value, and of course, elevated his play.

A Free Throw Line Dip

The one negative aspect from his sophomore season that I expected to make a jump, but didn’t, occurred at the free throw line. Not about knocking them down at the charity stripe, but actually getting there.

He attempted 1.5 free throws a game in his first season with the Heat, and for a player who continued to flow downhill, it was going to be big for him to draw contact continuously. That was a theme for many of Miami’s guards, since a lot of them avoid contact at the rim instead of embracing it, which is odd due to the bull-dozing role model they have at the top of the roster.

Not only did the free throw attempts not increase this past season, but they dropped to 1.1 per game. Some of that may have something to do with that shifting role that I discussed previously, but still, the frequency at the rim didn’t translate to that number.

Maybe a bigger role with another team would lead to an increase in that stat column, but that should be a focus as he heads into his third year in the NBA.

Finding His Spots Instinctively 

To finish it off, the decision making wasn’t the only area of major growth, since his on-court instincts jumped off the screen. In a motion offense, you must be instinctive at times instead of continually being predictable with your movements.

We saw Nunn learn that over time, and the off-ball role really brought that alive. If you’re wondering what I mean by that, just take a look at the clip above. He looks at his defender, Trae Young, totally ignoring him on the wing as he’s focused on Adebayo with the ball.

As soon as he notices this, he darts to a dead spot on the floor in front of the basket, catches it, and scores at the rim. This may not look like a key play from the season or a big deal from an individual perspective, but it was a big deal for Kendrick Nunn.

These small elements add up, and we saw a much more complete player by the end of the season.

As stated earlier, the future of Nunn is unclear at the moment, but it is clear how he will treat it. Plenty of teams with money will be willing to give a skilled offensive player a good sized contract to possibly make that leap, and Nunn deserves that chance.

 

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Heat’s Tyler Herro and Kendrick Nunn Entering an Awaited Environment

This has been far from an ordinary two year NBA career for the rookies of last season, and more specifically, Tyler Herro and Kendrick Nunn. The only normality that they found over this past stretch of time was a Summer League in Las Vegas, where they first entered the scene for Miami.

After being thrown into the fire in their rookie season, it led to them trying to blend into a post-season environment like no other, the bubble. Herro stepping up and Nunn stepping down didn’t tell the full story of the futures of each prospect.

Playing in front of fans on a zoom call was far from being the real thing, and it’s something that Herro specifically has thrived off of his whole entire life. No matter if it was overrated chants in high school or doubters telling him he wouldn’t play when he got to Kentucky, the one place he always proved himself was in front of his home crowd on the big stage.

And well, he has that tonight.

Kendrick Nunn may not have the apparent bounce that Herro has in that environment, but it very well impacts him too, just in a quiet manner. When asked about the fans tonight, he responded, “I know it’s gonna be exciting, and we’re gonna feed off their energy.”

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Aside from the story-lines and boosts that these two will get, they’re in a unique spot at the moment. Both of Miami’s second year guys were the focal point in attacking the Bucks’ drop coverage in this match-up, since they’re the ones who can truly get to the dead spots on the floor in the mid-range area. But that hasn’t been the case up to this point.

After the struggles in games one and two, this game holds high importance for their post-season hopes. As Herro described it, “Our backs are against the wall and tonight is obviously a make or break game for us.” If they don’t take advantage of this opportunity tonight to get back into the series, the organization’s focus may have a major shift.

So, that seems like a lot on the shoulders of two inexperienced guys who are still adjusting to this fast-paced league. When I asked Goran Dragic about his advice to Herro and Nunn heading into this unique setting, his message was much simpler than expected: “Enjoy.”

That response may seem a little cliche, but that’s honestly the most useful advice that he could give. Both of them are at their bet when they’re confident and in rhythm, which is why enjoying the moment without getting caught up in the stakes is more important than anything else.

As Dragic said, if they do that, “I believe they’re gonna be ready.”

It’s not only on them to be ready, since the Heat’s stars, Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, will have to bring it after their struggles in Milwaukee. And if they do, that opens up the shooting of Herro and Nunn, which one shot dropping through the net is the only thing they’ll need to see to be fully effective in this environment.

There was pressure in the bubble, but this is much different. And yet, much more beneficial.

 

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Summer League Trio to Playoff Trio

When looking at the stories of Kendrick Nunn, Tyler Herro, and Duncan Robinson with the Miami Heat, they’re all clearly different. But they still ended up at the same starting point to end up where they are today.

It all started in Summer League, as the three of them were just trying to showcase their youthful skills to try and move up to the next level. Now, Miami’s heading into the playoffs with two of them as starters and the other as a sixth man scorer.

This has been a season of ups and downs, but now that every team has officially made it to the 72 game mark, it’s necessary to evaluate this trio of young guys and depict the biggest improvements that they’e made this season. So, here’s what stood out…

Kendrick Nunn:

Catch and shoot

When I say that I’m evaluating the biggest improvements this season, it doesn’t mean that I’m looking at the numbers to find an increase. But if there was any point that would be backed up by the stats dramatically, it would be this one.

Kendrick Nunn has pretty much been an on-ball guy since joining the team last season, but the reason for his latest surge has a lot to do with giving him time off the ball. Lineups with both Goran Dragic and Tyler Herro are much more possible due to that ability, and that ability is spot up shooting.

He shot 35% on catch and shoot threes last season, which has jumped up to 42% this season. Spoiler alert: that’s a big deal.

One thing I’ve mentioned for quite some time is that he’s utilized in an interesting way when Duncan Robinson exits the floor. He basically becomes the Robinson lite in most of their offensive sets, which is something I would not have expected from him before the season started.

When I asked Nunn about the reasoning for his improvement in that area, he said, “I just put in the work to become better at catch and shoot, and obviously the results are showing.”

Yes, the results are showing, and it’s perfect for Coach Spo due to the fact he can utilize his starting guard in a much freer way on a position-less team.

Decision making in PnR

If you asked me what Nunn’s biggest struggle was last season, it would be the indecisiveness in the pick and roll. He never really knew when to pull that mid-range jumper with confidence or make the lob pass, which is an important trait with his current role.

But not only has he gotten better in that area, it’s actually become one of his biggest strengths. Coach Spo labeled him as a “three level scorer” the other day, and being a quick decision maker allows him to succeed at all three levels.

A quick decision maker doesn’t mean just as a passer, since as shown in the video clip above, the mid-range pull-up with confidence has a lot to do with his improving defensive reads.

The funny thing about these being two of his biggest improvements is that they’re total opposites. One highlights his off-ball abilities, while the other showcases his skill-set with the ball in his hands, and that’s the very reason he’s been rolling ever since being stuck in the starting lineup. This exact combo is a hard player to guard, and he will finally get his shot in the post-season to show that he can contribute on the big stage.

Tyler Herro:

Off-ball navigation

Tyler Herro has had an odd season individually, including injuries, slumps, and changing roles, but the improvements are still fluid. When I mention changing roles, I’m talking about being the starting point guard to begin the season, then shifting down to the bench when that didn’t seem to work out.

That’s not an easy thing to do, going from bench player to playoff breakout to starting lineup then back to bench. Nunn may have done it and thrived but he’s proved to be a different breed in mental readiness.

Through this roller coaster of a season for Herro, he’s finally found his role, and completely thrived. No matter if he’s had a dip in some of his numbers or not, he still gets the defensive respect from opposing teams. Everybody knows Tyler Herro, so everybody wants to shut down Tyler Herro.

The thing about that is it’s forced him to adjust his offensive game. Instead of the free flowing offense he played last season, it’s become working for a slimmer of space off the ball. As seen above, the use of off-ball screens on this team have allowed it, but he’s been figuring out some individual fakes on the run to get free by running his defender into the screen.

I asked Herro about the different defensive coverages recently, and he responded, “Obviously it’s a new year and things change. Different defenses are going to throw different things at you night in and night out, and you just have to adjust.”

Well, he’s done that pretty well to end the season, but the playoffs will be a whole other beast. Teams will be ready for his off the bench production, especially in a familiar town of Milwaukee.

Downhill passing

This improvement isn’t just recency bias from his career high assist night on the last game of the season, so it must be noted.

For one, some of the downs of Herro this season have forced people to forget the production to begin the year. His shooting numbers weren’t great, but he was getting to the rim pretty regularly and was highly efficient. He shot 51% less than 10 feet from the basket last season, which shot up to 57% this season.

The thing about that ability is it can easily be taken away when he doesn’t have a screen to navigate around. So, the next piece to add to the puzzle was going to be a reliable passing ability on the move, and he’s added that.

When I asked Herro about that ability, he said, “I came here and the coaching staff really helped me with my decision making and being able to make the right read.”

It’s pretty clear that his play-making abilities are at its best when he’s on the move downhill, since the key to his passing success is instinctive decisions. It’s something we’ve especially seen in the 3 games this season where the Heat had eight available players, while Herro was one of them.

Why is it that his downhill passing and lob is so effective in those settings? Well, it’s one word: freedom. When he’s playing tense, those passes become turnovers, which will be one of the most interesting things for him heading into the post-season, to see if he can sustain that ability in games being played in the half-court.

Duncan Robinson:

Individual defense

I am not going to lie, I did not expect to be discussing Duncan Robinson’s defense as the primary improvement this season, but here we are. Early in the season he had flashes of team defense expertise, due to his knowledge of when to double, splitting the difference between two guys on the weak-side, and his best possessions occurring in the zone.

But well, his one-on-one defense has made major leaps this season as well, even seeing the Jayson Tatum match-up for two straight games to end the season.

He’s always been a guy that offenses looked to force a switch and attack, or better yet search for him in the zone as shown above. But his length has prevented that overall bullying on a night to night basis, which is something else that changes things for the playoffs.

The utilization of Robinson last year was interesting, since his offensive gravity in the Finals was obviously needed, but LeBron James depicting the defense to put Robinson on whoever he wanted made it difficult.

Now, that can’t be used as frequently. Of course, he’s not this world class defender that is going to lock up his match-up every night, but he does have the necessary attributes to stay on the floor and not be a total liability.

I asked Robinson about the defensive leaps this season, which he responded, “It’s definitely been a process. There’s been highs and lows throughout the year…but I’m just trying to continue to build and improve. When I’m put in those situations like that, I’m just continuing to build that trust that the coaching staff and the team has in me to be solid.”

DHO to high PnR

It’s not everyday that you see a team base an offense around an undrafted shooter, but that’s exactly what the Miami Heat did last year. And well, it worked.

It actually worked so well that teams have schemed against it so much that Miami was forced to go away from it this season. So, eliminating dribble hand-offs from the offense would eliminate Duncan Robinson, right?

Wrong.

A straight catch and shoot player wasn’t expected to make improvements on the fly to impact games off the dribble, but that’s exactly what he did. He shifted into more of the high pick and roll sets, giving him more room to navigate and leaving the defense with a very difficult decision.

Do I lag behind and give him a good look on a pull up three? Do we double out on him and allow Bam Adebayo to run a 4 on 3? It’s a tough decision, but most times they’re choosing the latter, which just reflects his offensive abilities.

Out of all the improvements named in this article, I don’t think there’s one more significant than this one. Yes, others made some jumps in certain areas of their game, but nobody was forced to change their entire offensive game and absolutely thrive.

Nunn, Herro, and Robinson went from trying to prove themselves in a Summer League setting to being three of the primary elements to their offense heading into a very intriguing first round match-up. And the one thing all of them have in common: they aren’t one bit scared of the big stage.

 

 

Everything Tradeshows is a one-stop-shop for trade show exhibit rentals and custom exhibit display purchase solutions to companies of all sizes.

Visit them at http://everythingtradeshows.com or call 954-791-8882

5 Takeaways from Heat’s Loss to Bucks

The Miami Heat fell short to the Milwaukee Bucks after Jimmy Butler was a late scratch with a back issue. So, that means we’re going to see a lot more of these two teams moving forward, as the playoffs slowly creep up. Anyway, here are five takeaways from this game…

#1: An interesting starting lineup choice.

Well, the Heat were without Jimmy Butler on Saturday night against the Milwaukee Bucks, but the starting lineup went in a much different direction than originally expected. Nemanja Bjelica was inserted into the power forward position, which always seems to be the way Erik Spoelstra goes so he doesn’t mess up the rotation. The issue is that when the missing piece is Jimmy Butler, that theory should be thrown out of the window. That exact move forces everybody to shift a position, and not only positionally with Trevor Ariza to the 3. It leads to some weird offense after they’ve been so acquainted to small ball offense, and easily switchable defense. One of the most telling stats of the game was at the end of the first quarter when Bjelica had 4 shot attempts and Bam Adebayo had 1 shot attempt. But, that seems to be the case many nights.

#2: Kendrick Nunn doing his thing…but that’s about it.

A recap of Miami’s offense in the first half was Kendrick Nunn, Kendrick Nunn, and Kendrick Nunn. He scored 16 points and went 4 of 5 from deep, but the reason it stood out so much was due to the fact there wasn’t many other story-lines from the Heat that were positive. But since I’m going the positive route for a second, Nunn’s catch and shoot improvements are no joke. He shot 35% on spot-up threes last season and has shot up to 42% this season. The reasoning for that seems much more complex. It could be a slightly different role for him depending on the lineup that he is in, since he’s an on-ball guy with the starting lineup, then shifts to a Duncan Robinson lite role with the bench unit. The versatility that he currently brings offensively is one of the most underrated elements of his game.

#3: Hard to overcome non-Butler games without their bench back-court production.

As mentioned previously, the first half was a mess for the entire Heat team offensively, but one thing particularly stood out. When Butler is out, they need production from their offensive bench back-court, in Goran Dragic and Tyler Herro. Both of them came out firing, but not capitalizing, which is never a good combination with one-way players. Dragic and Herro have kind of gone back and forth with big games, and sprinkle in a game where both of them play well once in a while. The issue is that when both aren’t scoring, the surrounding pieces with Andre Iguodala and Dewayne Dedmon can’t make-up for that offense. Dragic began to get it going in the second half, while Herro shot 1 for 9 in the entire game. Obviously this bench play had nothing to do with Butler not playing, but it does show the hole this team can dig when he’s not out there to start.

#4: Oh yeah, Jimmy Butler’s pretty important.

There’s a common denominator when talking about the reasons things went wrong tonight, and they all come back to Jimmy Butler. In the big picture, this team hasn’t been able to survive many games without him, since this game puts them at 6-13 on the season when he doesn’t play. To look on the opposite side of things, that means Miami’s 33-19 when he plays, which just shows how things run so much smoother when he is on the floor. Another element to this topic is Bam Adebayo, since the shot attempts are not going to continually be harped on here, but it does relate to Butler being out. Adebayo doesn’t elevate to another role in those games, which means he’s still the play-maker at the elbow which gets exploited without a player with the downhill gravity of Butler.

#5: Prepare for a lot more of this match-up.

The reason that this game held such high importance was post-season match-up based, since if the Heat won out they’d be placed in the 4/5 bracket. This loss means that it’s likely they will see the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round with the 3/6 match-up. For starters, this indeed is not the same Bucks team, even though some seem to believe it’ll just be a reiterated version of last season. Jrue Holiday definitely makes things a lot more complicated on the defensive end, while they still have a very unique way of generating offense. Now, Butler of course changes things in this game, and especially in a playoff series with the fear he strikes when he’s the underdog opponent. Coach Spoelstra and the players don’t seem to be very worried about their playoff match-up and I actually believe that to be true. Coach Budenholzer’s same exact statement doesn’t seem to be as promising, since there’s a definitive preference among the Bucks personnel.

Five Takeaways from Heat’s Loss to Dallas

The Miami Heat lost to the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday night, while Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro, and Victor Oladipo were all out. Those guys were definitely missed, since the offense was missing for many stretches, but some extra defensive weapons against the Mavericks’ offensive shot creators would’ve been huge as well. Anyway, here are five takeaways from this game…

#1: Trevor Ariza may be more than a 3 and D guy, but there was some emphasis on the three element tonight.

I’ve talked a lot recently about Trevor Ariza’s elite levels off the ball with his cutting, as well as his underrated passing and driving abilities, which Bam Adebayo echoed when I asked him about it. The reason this is important to note is that the three ball can still be his biggest offensive threat, as shown in tonight’s game in the first quarter specifically. Knocking down 4 straight threes early on in the first quarter, while three of them being consecutive in the first few minutes, was absolutely necessary due to the drop-off in scoring with the starting lineup. When looking at the way Ariza has shot the ball since joining the team, it’s pretty obvious that he is a rhythm shooter. And when talking about that spot in the starting lineup that Kelly Olynyk once filled, it’s important for Miami to have capable shooting, while sprinkling in the utmost disruption on the perimeter defensively.

#2: Some first half Luka Magic with….premier defenders on him.

Even without Jimmy Butler, it felt like a swarming rotation of Bam Adebayo, Andre Iguodala, and Ariza guarding Luka Doncic would be enough. But well, it didn’t seem to matter who was guarding him. There’s only a certain amount of disruption that can be caused against him, since he is able to create any type of separation on every spot of the floor. Miami began to throw some more of that press and zone at them when Doncic was off the floor, which worked for a long stretch, but then some more blitzing came into play. The Heat were blitzing two of their best defenders at Doncic in the half-court, which puts a lot of pressure on Miami’s weaker defenders to scramble into recovery mode. That led to Tim Hardaway Jr getting hot, which is what they had to live with many possessions to get the ball out of Doncic’s hands.

#3: Has Miami become too reliant on Kendrick Nunn?

Kendrick Nunn has been hitting major strides as of late, but he had a rough shooting first half tonight, and it seemed like that was a main reason Miami had the lead slip away. Once again, without Butler, the creation on the floor at all times is pretty scarce, which is why I discussed that Ariza run being so important. They needed that on-ball mid-range killer that they’ve seen recently, but when shots weren’t falling for him, the entire offense began to plummet. Goran Dragic stepped up as that type of player when he checked in, keeping Miami afloat for many spurts. Of course there are down games that occur for every player, but this kind of showcased this team’s overall reliance on Nunn every night, which leads to the continued watch of Victor Oladipo and Tyler Herro’s status. As much as the topic has become who is the odd man out, I truly believe those guys returning can take a ton of pressure off Nunn, and end up benefiting him majorly.

#4: The expected Bam Adebayo scoring breakout wasn’t the case.

Bam Adebayo has a tendency of reading the room when Butler is out, since he can elect to be much more aggressive offensively when they lack creators. There was a point in the third quarter when Adebayo only had two more points than Dewayne Dedmon in the single digit range, which just can’t be the case on nights like this. He filled up the box score in the assist and rebound category per usual, due to the fact that he’s such a high impact player, but the continued point will be that impact wasn’t the needed area tonight. They were in need of a young star who is capable of initiating offense at any moment, mostly since he’s more than capable of doing so, but that wasn’t the case. It’s the next step in his game that will continually be harped on, but once again, it comes down to self realization.

#5: So, Jimmy Butler gets 4 days off.

As mentioned a few times earlier, Butler didn’t play tonight after he had some flu-like symptoms, which was not Covid related. And Miami getting two nights off before their game on Friday means that he got a 4 day break, leading to a possible positive result in the long run. The hope for Miami is that they can get another week off by avoiding the play-in round, but that is all in question at the current stage. Either way, it’s important for him to get some extra rest before this final push with quite the layout of Eastern Conference talent, including Philadelphia, Milwuakee, and Boston twice. They’re going to need their leader and focal point well rested for those games, which looks like it will be the case now. Other than some individual takeaways tonight, there just isn’t much that can be looked at from a team perspective other than the lack of on-ball offensive weapons.

Five Takeaways from Heat’s Win Over Cleveland

The Miami Heat beat the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday night on the first night of a back to back. It was a pretty all-around scoring performance, which wasn’t headlined by Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo surprisingly. So, here are five takeaways from this game…

#1: Max Strus was indeed….loose.

The trio of Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, and Duncan Robinson had 1 more point than Max Strus at the half, and that just sums up this season for Miami. By that, I mean it just continues the discussion of inconsistencies and not knowing what you’re going to get on any given night, or from which individual player. But tonight, that player was Max Strus for many stretches. He’s a shooter, but that description would sell him short for his unexpected explosiveness when moving downhill. He sprints in transition, moves swiftly off the dribble, and even searches above the rim for put-backs. He’s an interesting player, but most importantly, he’s a spark guy, which is exactly what Miami needed tonight. The reason that he is so interesting, though, is that he can be plugged into Miami’s developmental system over time, which has proved to be so effective with players like himself.

#2: Miami wanted rookie year Kendrick Nunn and they got something better.

I’ve spent plenty of time in these articles discussing Kendrick Nunn’s specific skill-sets or individual performances, but this must be evaluated in the big picture. Early in the season, many people were calling for rookie year Kendrick Nunn again after he didn’t look like the same player. Fast forward a couple of months and they have something much better than anything proven in his rookie season. Once again, I don’t think anybody expected this level of shooting from the outside, especially on a consistent basis. And although I’ve harped on his use off the ball lately, his eagerness to get the ball and search for buckets off the dribble basically saved this game from getting out of hand. Nunn said a while back that all he needs is playing time to prove himself, and he’s done just that.

#3: Trevor Ariza loves the three, but his attacking seems to be even more lethal.

Trevor Ariza had some great moments tonight, specifically to begin the game in the first quarter, but something must be noted about his offensive game. He’s labeled as a 3 and D guy, which is something he seems to live up to with the amount of three point shots he takes every night, but that doesn’t tell the whole story on the offensive end. When he attacks the basket, good things happen, and it’s really that simple. Combining his length with his patience off the dribble leads to a pretty positive result, but it just comes down to him searching for it more and more. He did throughout the first half tonight, and it led to an efficient 12 points in that span. It’s hard to point out things to add to his game when he’s one of the few guys clicking, but it truly is apparent.

#4: Duncan Robinson is the fastest player to hit 500 threes, and somehow his game is still growing.

The story of the night for Duncan Robinson is that he hit his 500th career three, which he was the fastest player to reach that mark in NBA history. Clearly that is quite the accolade, but this is just the beginning for him. Not only do I mean there are many more threes to come, but actually he has so much more room to grow in other areas. Although we can talk about his close to perfect three-point night, there was one shot inside the arc that occurred tonight, and that one stood out most. Mid-way through the third, Dewayne Dedmon rises up to the perimeter for a high pick and roll with Robinson. He avoids the screen, which eliminated his defender, and flows into the painted area where he rises up for a soft jumper for two. And those are the moments. Those are the flashes. Those are the shots. He has so many more limits to reach in his offensive game, and due to the amount of work he puts in behind the scenes, he will get there.

#5: On to the next one.

The final takeaway from this game has absolutely nothing to do with this game, since now it’s all about the next one. Miami plays the Charlotte Hornets tomorrow night on the second night of a back to back, and that’s a game that Miami will want to get when evaluating the standings. An important thing to mention is Jimmy Butler’s need tonight, since although the minutes weren’t an exceptionally low number, he didn’t have one of those takeover nights that extract a lot of energy. LaMelo Ball and Malik Monk returned tonight for Charlotte, which means Miami will probably need a different Butler tomorrow night. And well, essentially a different energy level after the ball is tipped, due to the fact it took Miami some time to bring that tonight. On to the next one.

The Continued Offensive Growth is Second to Nunn

Kendrick Nunn’s NBA career thus far has been a constant cycle of ups and downs. NBA starter to bench warmer then back to NBA starter has happened over and over and over, and yet, he’s still competing with the best of them whenever he gets an opportunity out on that floor.

It’s always the “now” when discussing Kendrick Nunn. Can he step up tonight? How much of a boost can he give this team at the current stage? But although he’s 25 years old, he is only in his second NBA season, and he’s still growing as a player.

Growing a lot.

It’s not easy to stay mentally or physically ready when you’re constantly being interchanged between roles, but not only has he stayed parallel to his old self, he has made necessary improvements that make him more than just a “spark.”

The Heat organization had many expectations placed onto players that were a bit unrealistic in hindsight. But they didn’t seem to put any expectation on the future of Nunn, and that’s worked out very well.

So, after yet another scoring explosion against the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday night, let’s take a look at what truly stood out on the offensive side of the ball.

– Punishing bigger defenders

Miami’s offense has obviously been inconsistent so far this season, but one area they’ve been highly effective with is transition offense. When a team relies on their defense on a nightly basis, that must translate to fast-break opportunities, and Nunn has been at the forefront of that.

As seen here, Bam Adebayo gets a steal and pushes the ball down the court as Nunn trails. He was forced to slightly reset after he caught the pass, and this is where an interesting growth in his game is apparent. He has the ability to take advantage of bigger defenders, not just through his speed, but through angles and body separation.

Although a quick crossover gets him this open look on the reverse, his ability to keep defenders on his hip as he rises up is something he wasn’t as comfortable with last year. An underrated element to some of the changes from last year to this year is headlined by his body language, since he’s playing at a completely different speed with a defined role.

– Tighter handles leads to more separation

When seeing Nunn’s confidence level rising in an empty corner in isolation, it just shows the type of rhythm he is in. The exact reasoning for this confidence rising has a lot to do with his improved attributes.

He is much more comfortable putting the ball on the floor since his handle seems a lot tighter. On this play, he keeps the dribble alive as he’s scanning toward the opposite side, before he realizes it’s time to just go. And when he’s moving left toward the baseline, you can almost guarantee he’s going to utilize the pull-back dribble into a jumper.

When talking about the lack of separation created between Miami’s guards, the evolving ball handle from Nunn can really change some things for him in the big picture.

– Reading each and every defender

As Nunn catches the ball on the wing with a short shot clock, his initial move is to read the first defender. Most player basically just flow into their comfort move, but not K-Nunn.

Seeing his defender running at him full speed, he flows into a slow pump-fake to truly sell it, and it eliminates him from the play. Now, it looks like he has his favorite mid-range jumper with nobody in sight, but he immediately reads the next defender.

Keldon Johnson is forced to split the difference between him and Jimmy Butler, and you can see there’s a slight hesitance from him to fully lock on Nunn. So, he rises up for a smooth finger roll at the rim, just further showcasing the most crucial attribute of all: reading a defense in fast motion.

– A mixture of the past three things discussed

After touching on his success against bigger defenders, an increased handle, and reading his defender, here’s one play that shows all three of those elements.

Jimmy Butler begins the possession in the high post, which is where he finds himself frequently lately, as Nunn circles around to find an opportunity with the Trevor Ariza off-ball screen. Now, as he receives the ball on the wing, he patiently reads the defender, gives a slight jab left knowing that he can take the bigger defender off the dribble, and uses his body to create separation for the open layup.

The reason this play is important to show is to prove the fact that these moments aren’t one time instances, and actually are things he’s incorporated into his game every night.

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– Diversified scoring, drop coverage killer

Before last night’s game, I mentioned that it could set up for a big time Nunn performance due to the Spurs drop coverage that he always loves to exploit from the mid-range area.

Since last year, he’s always been a good mid-range scorer, but he’s actually controlled that area of the floor a lot more than usual. Instead of awaiting an open jumper to present itself, he searches for it and finds his favorite spots in any of Miami’s normal sets.

On this possession, he gets to his spot and rises up for the bank-shot, which just shows his soft touch and diversified scoring abilities as time goes by. And the most important thing to observe here is his eye level. An issue lats season was his hesitance in a pick and roll, not knowing whether to make the pass or take the shot. Now, he seems to know exactly what he’s going to do every possession.

– Some catch and shoot excellence

There’s nothing to over-analyze on this play specifically, but it’s important to note the big picture improvements with catch and shoot opportunities. He shot a little under 35% on catch and shoot threes last season, which has shot up close to 42% this season on the same amount of attempts.

But the numbers aren’t the only thing that has shown this, since the eye test has pointed toward the different ways he’s being utilized, even as a Duncan Robinson type off-ball runner at times, which is interesting to say the least. An unexpected story line this season is that he’s been their best three-point shooter among the other small guards, and frankly, he’s been the best player overall.

– The Goran Dragic-Kendrick Nunn minutes are……effective?

Something that has stood out to me lately has been the amount of minutes Goran Dragic and Nunn have played together, and better yet, how good that they’ve been. When I asked Erik Spoelstra about their minutes together lately, he said, “Until about two weeks ago, I started to notice more and more that combination was actually being pretty effective, so it’s something we’ll continue to explore.”

Now, it’s necessary to evaluate why it has been so effective all of a sudden, and the reason for that is no surprise, Kendrick Nunn. As mentioned previously, Nunn has been involved in a lot more off-ball sets due to his increased catch and shoot abilities, meaning Dragic can direct traffic, or even vice versa.

This play was an example, as Dragic turns the corner for a hard attack, then floats it over the top to Nunn on the wing for the three.

These not so minor improvements from Nunn should not be swept under the rug, since he’s basically been that one steady rock to give them offense on any given night, which is why we’re approaching him being a closer from here on out.

Five Takeaways from Heat’s Loss to Depleted Hawks Team

The Miami Heat were looking to expand their winning streak to four games against a Hawks team without Trae Young and Clint Capela, but Atlanta just seemed to want it much more in simplistic terms. These type of losses just further magnify the issues of this current Heat team, which leads us right into the five takeaways from this game…

#1: Miami’s first half defense was not their strong suit.

On a night that Atlanta was without two starters, in Trae Young and Clint Capela, it seemed like defense wouldn’t be as much of an issue. John Collins would have to see Bam Adebayo for valued minutes, instead of him being glued onto Capela, but he got his way anyway. The Hawks were forcing switches leading to mismatches time and time again, and did a great job of taking advantage of Miami’s blitzing, swinging the ball to the open shooter. And the thing about that open shooter is that this Atlanta team didn’t miss much in that first half. Lucky for Miami though, they were knocking down shots as well, but it’s not ideal that you’re identity is the point of inconsistency against a depleted Hawks team.

#2: Tyler Herro and Kendrick Nunn take turns generating offense.

There have been some discussions lately about the long term options of Kendrick Nunn and Tyler Herro, which has caused these two to be compared constantly. But something that must be noted, is that they can actually be impactful together. Nunn kept them going early by knocking down some shots from the outside, but an interesting element is him becoming the Trevor Ariza of the three-guard lineups, when he should actually be the Kendrick Nunn. Goran Dragic and Tyler Herro struggled on blow-by’s, while it shined light on the fact that Nunn should be the on-ball option. Herro got into a flow in the second quarter, once again, as an off-ball option. Some of his movement led to open space on the perimeter, which is what he will have to do until he becomes comfortable again on drives to the basket.

#3: Duncan Robinson doing the same thing he does every night. Oh, except shoot the deep ball well.

It may become a bit repetitive when reading about Duncan Robinson on everyone of these pieces, but truly, that just showcases his level of consistency since the trade deadline. He obviously didn’t shoot the ball well from deep tonight, but it’s so intriguing when watching the differences in his offensive sets. He’s running much more stuff out of the high pick and roll, which gives him much more room to navigate, and ultimately, forces him to drive more. And a driving Robinson isn’t the worst thing in the world, since he seems to be getting more and more comfortable in that area every night. When I asked Bam Adebayo about his decision making in those spots, he highlighted Robinson’s level of work everyday to improve, and that seems to be exactly it with this level of improvement.

#4: Mistimed third quarter decisions led to Miami’s drought.

It’s hard to pick out some of the small things when a team is just absolutely shooting the lights out, but there definitely were some signs in that third quarter that played a part. Bam Adebayo was having trouble on the boards, which led to an early insertion of Dewayne Dedmon, who always seems to give them good minutes offensively around the basket. The only issue with that was it was clear Miami was heading toward that surprising 2-2-1 press into a 2-3 zone, but they may have gone into that a bit too late in the quarter. When going zone, Dedmon probably isn’t the best big man option due to limited mobility, which forces the lower tier defensive assets to have more of a load. And that right there is the point of the zone, meaning that exact timing of subbing and defensive adjustment was a bit off in that stretch.

#5: This game was……well, predictable.

If there’s anything that is widely known about this Heat team, it’s that they truly rise up when facing the best teams in the NBA, while fall short against depleted rosters or lower tiered teams. Well, that’s what happened tonight, since they played like the team without two starters. The main theme of this game tonight was to instill a certain level of consistency after finally getting into a rhythm over the last few games. And even though shots were falling at a good rate throughout, everything else basically fell apart. A bad defensive performance, tough time on the boards, and an odd passing display with a team that usually looks so crisp with their ball movement. Jimmy Butler said a few weeks ago that you don’t know what team you’re going to get whenever they play, and that once again shows to be the case.

Five Takeaways from Heat’s Shorthanded Win Over Rockets

The Miami Heat got a win over the Houston Rockets on the second night of a back to back, without Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, and Tyler Herro. The entire supporting cast stepped up on the offensive end all the way through, headlined by a pretty impressive night for Kendrick Nunn. Anyway, here are five takeaways from this game…

#1: Kendrick Nunn stepping up early as expected, continuing his catch and shoot clinic.

Since Miami was far from complete on Monday night, Kendrick Nunn was one of the few names that stood out when evaluating a possible explosive performance on the ball. And as expected, Miami relied on him heavily whenever he was on the floor, and he produced. He was forced to become even more involved as a passer, as the PnR’s were used over and over with Precious Achiuwa as the sole lob threat. But his offense that has really stood out lately is his shooting from the outside. This was mentioned after yesterday’s game as well, but it really unlocks a lot of things for this team when fully healthy. If he can be utilized as an off-ball threat next to a guy like Duncan Robinson, it makes their offense pretty interesting while Victor Oladipo is out.

#2: Andre Iguodala: The one calming hand.

Andre Iguodala was labeled as questionable before tonight’s game, which seemed as if he would be ruled out on the second night of a back to back. He did end up suiting up though, and it was definitely for the best when looking at Miami’s offense when he was on the floor compared to off of it. Many would expect that drop-off to occur on the defensive end, but it was actually that facilitating presence on offense that kept Miami going. He is actually capable of getting guys different looks other than the normal PnR, and more importantly, everybody just seemed much more comfortable when he was on the floor. Although some of the pull-up jumpers could’ve been eliminated tonight, he gave Miami an offensive element that they obviously missed.

#3: KZ Okpala truly misses those extra reps away from actual NBA games.

A pretty obvious takeaway is the fact that KZ Okpala really could’ve used those extra reps in a Summer League or G-League atmosphere. All of his experience has been him getting thrown into odd situations, which he’s far from being able to fill. One game he doesn’t look at the rim at all, while other games he looks at it a bit too much with the amount of space he’s given when standing beyond the arc. He’s clearly talented, but he just doesn’t seem to know how to use that talent at this stage, which is expected. One thing that is widely known is that he’s not a catch and shoot player, but he always seems to be plugged into that type of role. He won’t truly make a leap in impact until he’s able to play his own game, when playing freely off the dribble and in transition, which once again, will not occur until he gets additional opportunities in other areas.

#4: Dewayne Dedmon playing his role to perfection.

When Erik Spoelstra made the comments about utilizing youth before tonight’s game, it was pretty obvious he was going to insert Precious Achiuwa into that starting role, and keep Dewayne Dedmon as the back-up big. And the same thing stuck out tonight as it did yesterday, which is Dedmon plays his role to perfection, doing what he does well consistently. He truly battles on the boards, but most importantly, the constant effort on the offensive glass creates extra opportunities for the Heat’s offense. He’s also a very good defender in the paint, since he does a good job of contesting attackers without getting off his feet to foul them. There’s zero doubt that Dedmon has that back-up big spot for good with the way he’s been playing lately.

#5: Duncan Robinson showcasing an unfamiliar attribute: Shooting.

Most of these takeaway pieces involving individual player evaluations consists of discussion about the undercover areas of their games. But tonight, the most obvious attribute for Duncan Robinson cannot go without discussing, since he was lighting it up from deep on a night where the defense was expecting it even more. He’s on the top of the scouting reports every night, but when Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler aren’t next to him in the starting lineup, it felt like a lot of those looks generated by Adebayo screens would be out the window. But they weren’t, and in fact, this may be the type of game that gives him a bit more variety moving forward with his scoring abilities.