Tag Archive for: Max Strus

Five Takeaways from Heat’s Shorthanded Night in Washington

Well this was a wild one.

The Heat having seven available players battled like no other in Washington, really showcasing themselves individually on all fronts.

Yet they came up just short in OT.

Here are some takeaways…

#1: Throwback Kyle Lowry appearance?

This wasn’t a normal night in the NBA. Kyle Lowry was the sole veteran on the floor for Miami who had 7 available players, and he turned back the clock. After the extensive talks about his physical conditioning this off-season, he went out in Washington and played every second of that first half, dropped 14 points with 9 assists and 7 rebounds. But beyond the stats, he was the engine to every action they ran. Off a miss, he was running with the young guys breaking free in transition. In the half-court, they did what they always do without their main guys: run post splits non-stop. They used Lowry as a hub in that high-post to hit cutters off stagger screens, which is where the lay-ups and trips to the foul line were coming from. Good stuff.

#2: The rookie Nikola Jovic is here, and he shouldn’t be going anywhere in terms of this rotation.

Nikola Jovic has been given opportunity in the midst of the loaded injury report, and it might have just cemented his spot in the rotation for good. All teams need sometimes is an extra eye of game-time from a young guy, and that seems like the case for Jovic. He’s played a role he’s uncomfortable with to say the least, and still played it at a high level with zero experience. That’s usually the tell. Offensively he’s just a supreme talent. A skilled passer on the move or stationary, moves off the ball at levels that even I didn’t expect, and can shoot/score when put in a position to do so. Let’s save the starting four conversation for another occasion with deeper dialogue, but the rotation stuff should be a no brainer on this roster. He’s a lock in the big man room. (With more to explore next to Bam…)

#3: Orlando Robinson showing some skill.

Tonight’s game was one for the kids (which feels wild to say with them being older than me), and we got a deeper look into specific skill-sets at the end of the roster. The one who debuted tonight was Orlando Robinson, who we saw for a bit in Heat Summer League next to Jovic. But I’d say he was pretty solid in this one to say the least. Good looking foot-work, great use of shot fakes in the interior, and an overall slow-paced flow to him once he gained possession of the ball. We’ve seen a lot of guys debut and not really know where to locate on the offensive end, but Robinson fit right in and attacked. We will need to see more, but a pretty intriguing starter kit when the Heat need an extra push on night’s like this one.

#4: Max Strus deserves another segment of shine, but for a different reason.

When looking at Max Strus in this one, I can have a similar conversation that I have as of late. The shooting will always be there, but the development off the attack continues to impress. He was blowing by the point of attack consistently and finding creases around the basket with scoops and runners from all spots on the floor. But aside from me going on that tangent again, he needs credit for another reason: cardio. Not just because this group was playing high minutes, but combining that with Strus’ role in this one. There’s already an element of this where Strus has to non-stop move in this offense to create shots for both himself and others, but that was taken to new heights in this one. That led into him struggling in the second half with every shot being short, but tonight was unique all in all.

#5: Fourth quarter/OT watch.

Now getting away from the player story-lines, let’s get back to the actual game. Lowry sat for the first time with 1 minute left in the third quarter, which was long overdue, but one thing was clear: the offense would fall off a cliff in the time he sat. He re-entered with 11 minutes to go in the fourth, meaning he sat for 2 minutes, and we saw that flip with an 8 point swing. There’s nobody to emulate what he was providing. But once he came back in, he picked up right where he left off. Big threes, more paint touches on drives, and finding the balance of a settled offense with a faster pace. Eventually, the Heat found themselves in a tie game with 3 and a half minutes left. Haywood Highsmith was putting together a rough offensive night, but his rebounding was one of the keys to the game. I noted it prior, but at that point in the game, he got 2 offensive boards with one being a tip-in to take the lead. After some other necessary plays, he hit an open three to take the lead late, giving Miami real hope. A possession after this, Kyle Lowry went deep in his bag for a fadeaway baseline jumper to extend the lead to 5. Washington bounced back with clutch buckets themselves though, sending the game to OT. Some back and forth continued, with some questionable calls late, and Miami found themselves in an awkward position. Down 1 for a  good portion of time, they couldn’t get over that hump offensively with all shots coming up short: for obvious reasons.

Five Takeaways from Heat’s Loss to Raptors

The Miami Heat faced the Raptors in Toronto on Wednesday night, and well it was your typical Heat-Raptors game.

If you looked at a stat sheet, you would say Miami had no business being in that spot. Turnovers. Bad. Rebounding. Worse.

They stayed around even through that, but those things were the overarching issues.

So, here are some takeaways from this one…

#1: Nikola Jovic getting his moment.

With Bam Adebayo being ruled out tonight in Toronto, it raised an eyebrow for their big man room. Dewayne Dedmon was the sole big ready to play it seemed, and he was questionable up until tip-off. Yet Spoelstra did what he does best, make the unexpected move: Nikola Jovic as the starting five. And well, he had about as great of a start as you could expect from him. They were purposeful in getting him involved in that first quarter: pick and pops, dunker spot re-positioning, quick dives to the rim. He had 11 points in that opening quarter, but the bigger point was that he fit in. They were able to successfully run a 5 out offense, while his drop on the other end was solid with straight up contests. This was his first true showing in the regular season for Miami, and it definitely won’t be the last. He’s impressive.

#2: Max Strus’ offensive diversity stands out as he catches fire.

Max Strus walked into the second quarter with 0 points, while Miami knew they needed something from a shooter to create positive half-court offense. And he ended up finishing that quarter with a total of 15 points, including 2 triples and 5 free throws. Not the usual Strus shot profile, but that’s what stood out here. There was diversity in the sets they were running for him as the Raptors overplay with a ton of length and solid defenders. Curls, hand-offs, pick and rolls, paint touches, catch and attacks. You just didn’t know what was coming from possession to possession, and that’s why I say he’s improved more than anybody on this team. The guy literally threw down a poster dunk in the second quarter as well. He’s elite as a simple shooter, but we just have to quit stopping there.

#3: The take-away mid-way through this game: the transition and pace game.

When entering this game, the biggest X’s and O’s story-line for me was the battle of pace. The Raptors are the best team in the league in that transition department, meaning you just have to turn down turnovers and you’ll be in a good spot. If you allow them to get out and run, it becomes problematic for a few reasons: 1) they generate both rhythm and points when entering this mode and 2) once they start getting out and running, it’s almost contagious. In the second quarter, we saw Miami pushing pace in unnecessary fashion at times, simply falling into their play-style a bit. Kyle Lowry deserves a ton of credit for settling Miami in this one, which partly has to do with his familiarity with the Raptors, but they needed him to calm down the kids who were playing freely. A lot of the turnovers were the league sending an apparent memo to referees about travels (lol), but Miami also can’t produce this many against teams like this. It’s the main reason they dropped this one.

#4: The Raptors game-plan was simple for their 21-0 run: picking on a Heat big.

The Raptors went on a 21-0 run in the third quarter. For more perspective, the Heat didn’t score for 7 minutes straight. But I’m not focusing on the offensive issues right, since they were just playing high to not allow Miami’s shooting to redeploy. As for that 21 point spree by the Raptors, they played bully ball. Not by being physical, but because they were just picking on the Heat’s Dewayne Dedmon. As he entered the game in the third quarter, Toronto got ready to inbound. VanVleet yelled at Anunoby walked down the court to call out a play, which was essentially a curl to operate 2-on-1 with Dedmon. An easy bucket. Shortly after they went to that well for a bit, VanVleet entered his favorite mode: pick and roll against drop. They found a match-up they liked and went to it. This isn’t to just pile on Dedmon, since he actually got some buckets in that second half that were needed, but that was just Toronto’s perspective on offensive game-plan.

#5: An interesting style on the surface for Jimmy Butler usage.

As I said earlier, the Heat were without Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro tonight, arguably the team’s second and third best players. But well, they still have their best player to generate a good amount of usage, right? Wrong. As I went through early in this piece, the Heat’s box score was pretty spread around. Good start for Jovic, good second quarter for Strus, Martin and Vincent played very well offensively. Yet Butler only had 4 shot attempts halfway through the fourth quarter. And once he’s out of the mix in the offensive rhythm, it feels hard to just merge him back into things on the fly. Let me also add something of significance: Toronto was basically sending 3 guys every time Jimmy touched the ball. Hard to look past that. As the Raptors pulled away, Lowry was the one to keep piecing things together by getting to his spots, but it’s just an intriguing base on a night without two primary guys.

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.

Max Strus: Preparing for the Overplay

When looking for some breakout seasons in the NBA last year, the Miami Heat would be a good starting point.

Somebody like Caleb Martin, who signed on a two-way contract, earned himself a pay-day as the Heat retained him this off-season.

A guy like Gabe Vincent who has had his ups and downs, finally found himself as a high level role player in this league. After Kyle Lowry went down for extended periods in the post-season, he stepped into that starting spot, and ended up being one of few Heat players whose numbers didn’t decline.

Then there’s Max Strus.

Somebody that mid-way through the season was viewed as a fringe rotation player. Can definitely provide shooting with the best of them, but where would they find playing time for him?

Spoiler alert: they found a spot for him. A starting spot at that.

Not only did he take advantage, but he excelled through and through. Somewhat saving a declining Heat starting lineup late in the regular season.

Fast forward to present time, things are viewed much differently around the league when it comes to Strus.

In a matter of months, he became the name nobody could pronounce correctly to one of the league’s most efficient volume three point shooters.

Last season, he attempted 6.5 threes a game and knocked down 41% of them. That only trailed Desmond Bane in efficiency with a minimum of 6 and a half triples attempted.

And to that point, he’s a known figure now.

Heat fans are familiar with this storyline slightly when it comes to Duncan Robinson. Specialist that nobody knows begins hitting the scouting reports.

It’s just the name of the game.

After Robinson struggled a bit this past season, it was clear there were a mixture of issues: a lack of confidence after some rough patches and teams simply overplaying him as a deep threat.

So that gets you thinking, during a point in the off-season where every evaluation must be in the minor crevices of player’s games: how is Strus going to deal with the similar overplay?

Well, let’s start by unpacking the dribble hand-off a bit…

 

 

Robinson perfected the hand-off on this Heat team, basically until defenses decided to completely turn the water off on him. Teams won’t directly approach that the same with Strus, simply due to the fact the DHO isn’t his homebase.

He has been more of a slip screen, spot-up, shoot in the face of his defender kind of shooter. Yet it should also be stated: Robinson and Strus approach the DHO much differently.

As many of you know, Robinson’s focus was to always stay glued to his screener after the catch. Stay locked shoulder to shoulder to eliminate the defender from slipping over the top easily, but that simultaneously means there’s less ground to cover.

Strus does the exact opposite.

He expands from the screener with an escape dribble, pretty much forcing his defender to pick up more speed. Why would you want that? Well, speeding up a defender means you’re taking away their control. Now you can make your next move as a counter.

By the way, both are good options. It just comes down to the comfort of the player.

Looking at the clip above, I show this because it looks like Strus’ training reps. When he works on his hand-offs, he stays loose and takes up major space with one or two lead dribbles, since that’s his primary comfort area.

You may be thinking, why does any of this matter? The answer is that minor tweak in his hand-off dissection will be the way he deals with defensive overplays in the natural flow of the offense.

Just take a look at this shooting pattern…

Other than the extra ball-handling reps in Summer League a year ago, Strus hasn’t been asked to do much with the ball in his hands. He attempted 6.5 triples a game last season, while 5.4 of those attempts he didn’t even put the ball on the deck before shooting.

Clearly that is no surprise, but it shows that he’s been planted strictly within his own role. And more importantly, he utilizes things that get him into his shooting rhythm.

But the catch high, keep high method hasn’t been the only thing to get him into a fluid shooting motion. While on a small sample size, he shot 41% from three following a single dribble, which included 44 shot attempts.

Much like his way of exploding from the screen on a DHO, this will be his way to create separation on over-plays. And trust me, there will be plenty of those over-plays next season.

Going back to some of the clips above, it’s a comfort process that is only growing this off-season: shot-fake, one-dribble side-step, and pull.

It’s pretty simple when breaking it down in these terms, but these are the things that will break him free as he rides the outside arc. Plus there’s the added factor that he is not fazed by heavily contested shots.

At all.

Hand in his face, two defenders blitzing. It doesn’t matter. He will shoot it the same way, with the same flick and the same lift. I’m very confident that teams won’t be able to eliminate him if it becomes a focus, but like I just pointed out, he’s going to have counters in the vault waiting.

The final counter may be the one that sees the biggest increase this season. While the roster doesn’t have a true 4, it’s obvious they do have an excess of guards. The way they will utilize them is to elevate the movement offense with extra mis-directions and motion with Bam Adebayo at the helm.

Meaning the higher the frequency in Strus mixing in these back-door counters, the better. Play-makers will be surrounding him in most of these lineups, so they’ll find him more times than not.

Lineup data is never a good starting point, but it’s always a good checkpoint to back-up a specific topic. When looking through some of the Heat’s best offensive duos this past regular season, there was a not-so undercover trend. (Minimum 400 minutes logged)

The top one was Max Strus and Bam Adebayo.

We’ve seen Bam dominate with prolific shooters around him before, so maybe this is just coincidental…

Number two was Max Strus and Jimmy Butler.

Well we know they have a great relationship off the floor, but it seems Strus was a good sidekick on the floor as well. Ah, maybe it’s just another coincidence.

Moving onto number three, we have Max Strus and Tyler Herro.

Hmmm. I know we’re strictly talking offense and Strus has told me in the past his focus on the floor with Herro is just to get him as many shots as possible, but it has to end there, right?

Wrong.

Number four ended up being Max Strus and Kyle Lowry.

All jokes aside, I know it’s just lineup data being revolved around the calculated offensive ratings with them on the floor, but I wouldn’t say this is way-off analysis. When going back through game logs, it was no secret things were clicking when Strus was waiting to take advantage of a defensive mistake.

But to tie this all back together, that most likely won’t be occurring as often next year. Defenses won’t adjust off of him, he will have to force the adjustment. We can go down the slippery slope of starting lineup hypotheticals, but stuff like this will be more crucial to keep an eye on.

Every shooter sees the overplaying defense after the breakout, but it’s just how you respond. Yet after laying it out there before, I’m confident he has the necessary counters to not only level out to last year’s version, but improve even more.

 

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The Vincent-Strus-Martin Ascension Spiraled into a Miami Heat Ascension

When covering the Miami Heat’s scrimmage during training camp, there were two names that I walked away from that game with that were clearly playing at another level.

Gabe Vincent and Caleb Martin.

One guy fresh off a two-way contract, and the other brand new to it.

Martin came as a surprise for many, as this athletic kid, that recently played for Charlotte, was showcasing to be much more than just a simple “athlete.”

He showed that his jumper was becoming more consistent, and wasn’t just some isolation player that some seemed to perceive him as coming in.

More than anything, he was a legitimate defensive piece that showed flashes of being a real rotation piece.

Then the month of January hit in the year 2022. His name was already getting more buzz after an electric performance against the Bucks mid-way through December, where his 28 points without Jimmy Butler or Bam Adebayo led to a much needed win over the defending champs.

But well, the calendar flip was pretty much a defensive tour.

He made De’Aaron Fox’s night uneven with a 5 of 12 night, but it was clear that they had something aside from the Adebayo and Tucker switches. Martin followed the Fox night up with the assignment of Steph Curry, which he bothered enough to shoot 3 of 17 from the field at home.

Yes, they ended up dropping both of those games, but something was brewing.

Shortly after that two-game stretch, he held Chris Paul to a 3 of 9 night, Trae Young to a 4 of 15 game, and Fred VanVleet went 6 of 16 from deep with only one 2 attempted.

The point guard tour was real, but it was the true understanding of what he could be on this team, combined with the overall improvements in his offensive game.

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Rewinding back to Gabe Vincent, there weren’t a ton of expectations coming into the season. He was a situational piece when guys went down, leaving many saying that a back-up point guard may be a neccessity.

People were right, they did need a back-up 1. But that guy was Vincent himself.

When he first signed with Miami, he appeared to be an undersized shooter who would play mainly off the catch, which he showed flashes of. But last season, he had an uneven year shooting the ball from deep due to some mechanical shifts.

Yet while some focused on those numbers, he was rapidly excelling at the all around parts of his game.

He became the staple of Miami’s 2-2-1 press that debuted last year next to Andre Iguodala, just due to the fact that his perimeter lateral quickness was for real, and he had a clear knack for the ball.

Coming into this season, he just bounced off that two-way contract, and the next step would be could he make minor improvements on the ball.

Well, the improvements weren’t minor.

He was pretty much thrown into the fire of point guard reps, and he proved that the off-season did a lot for his game. The pick and roll savviness was really something, the catch and shoot numbers jumped up from under 30% last season to 39% this year, and his mid-range/driving game had surged.

His mid-range pull-up stalled out at 29% last year, which spiked to 43% this season. That isn’t gradual improvement. That’s turning the whole page.

Plus, speaking of big games mid-way through December, Vincent led Miami to back-to-back wins with a 26 point performance in Philly, then a 27 point night against the Magic. As the top guys kept dropping out of the lineup, these guys were ready to step up.

Not only are they great fillers, but they’re now potentially in a playoff rotation.

And when talking about certain guys stepping up, Vincent’s two-way companion Max Strus is the perfect example of that.

I wouldn’t exactly say Strus’ scenario was completely aligned with the other two, since it was more about situation and opportunity for him. He constantly would get the same looks no matter if it was last year or this year, but the sample size being greater this time around allowed for a true evaluation period.

Among the top 50 players in 3 point attempts a game this season, which includes around 50 players, only one player shot a better percentage from deep than Strus, with the stipulation of playing at least half of the regular season games.

Desmond Bane edged him out, but Max Strus trailed him with a 41% shooting season from beyond the arc.

It’s not easy to be that spark shooter who has to consistently perform as a guy with zero rhythm prior to entering, but he proved himself. Now he finds himself sitting in the starting lineup less than a week away from the start of the playoffs.

These 3 guys are extreme success stories for this Miami Heat developmental program, but they’re also examples of putting in the work, and performing at the highest level.

From fillers to playoff rotation.

It isn’t everyday that you see that, but from the Heat’s perspective, they aren’t surprised when it happens.

 

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Five Takeaways from Heat’s Win Over Trail Blazers

The Miami Heat played another late night West Coast match on Wednesday night, but got the win this time around against the Portland Trail Blazers.

This was an interesting one with an early Kyle Lowry ejection and a late ejection for Tyler Herro, but either way, Miami escaped with a much needed win in this tough stretch of games.

So, here are some takeaways from this one…

#1: Max Strus comes out of protocols, Max Strus comes out firing.

After missing the last 7 days in the health and safety protocols, Max Strus found himself in the starting lineup in his return. And we saw a recurring theme within his game, which is that he never misses his first shot. Ever. Aside from that and his high level confidence from deep, it’s always much more big picture when bringing up this specific name. The reason is that with a healthy roster, which shouldn’t ever be an expectation in this unique time, Strus would most likely be shelved with all of the other talent on this roster. The thing about that is there’s absolutely no way humanly possible that could occur if Strus is playing the way he is at this exact moment. Who is the guy on the team that you expect his shot to drop every time he shoots? Well, that guy is Max Strus every time I watch these games, and it fits with the current clip he’s shooting at. And more importantly, he’s proven to be a clutch time shooter.

#2: Miami’s intriguing offensive sets in life without Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo.

I constantly touch on mid-post touches when one of Bam Adebayo or Jimmy Butler are on the floor, but what does offense look like without the both of them? Well, it’s much simpler. Aside from the base perimeter sets like pick and rolls, hand-offs,  and drive and kicks, Miami’s found a unique formula with more shooting on the floor. One guy will set up on the wing with the ball in his hands in play-making mode, as the other 4 guys line up on the weak-side. Now, the next step is usually two flares and two off-ball screens, as one shades up to the top of the key and the other crosses to the strong-side, then layers are added from there. That base is so interesting with the many options within it, but it wouldn’t be possible without PJ Tucker. Who would’ve thought Tucker would be that on-ball wing play-maker at times? But well, he has been at times, and it has worked extremely well.

#3: Kyle Lowry ejected?

Kyle Lowry was going to be a takeaway of mine either way tonight, since it was originally expected that I’d be discussing his on-court play with 9 assists in 16 early minutes. Since for one, that is quite impressive. But the reason we’re bringing up Lowry now is due to his unexpected ejection in the second quarter. The first one was deserving after his extended chirping at the officials following a foul, which we’re used to. But the second technical came when he tossed the ball lightly at the referee. Literally. With the official not expecting it, he immediately reacted as if he threw a fastball down the middle, and ejected him from the game. Like I said, we’ve seen tech after tech on guys like Lowry and Tucker all season for obvious reasons, but this one wasn’t even close to being warranted. Yet on the bright side, some much needed extra rest came Lowry’s way, as his other top level teammates have gotten much more of that sideline observing.

#4: The flipping offensive nature that is PJ Tucker.

Seeing PJ Tucker in play-making mode as he is without Butler and Adebayo is one thing, but mid-post behind the back passes for layups is another thing. That leads us back a few years, where his name coming up always led to the label of “offensive limitations,” which would make you scratch your head a bit if your first time watching him was in a Miami Heat uniform. Not only as he surpassed that label, but he’s doing something that literally nobody could’ve predicted. No matter who exits the lineup, he fills the role. Only one guy can semi-emulate the game of Adebayo, Tucker can save them. Mid-post play-making in a Butler way, Tucker is there. You need him to play center for most of the game down so many bigs, he’s your guy. Versatility, comfort, and the trust factor: the story of Tucker’s season.

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#5: 10-days are dwindling, but is this the end for all?

Many 10-days have already been shut down as guys exit the health and safety protocols, such as Aric Holman, Nik Stauskas, and Heat fan favorite, Mario Chalmers. But there are a few others that are still getting chances and showcasing their skills. One of them is Chris Silva, who actually gave Miami a decent hustle boost in this one tonight, but doesn’t seem to be a fit for the future with his current skill-set. Kyle Guy is the hot topic among that group, who continues to showcase an offensive skill-set that stands out with his efficient scoring, flashy passing, and a surprising downhill threat and attacker. Lastly, Haywood Highsmith continues to get run even with Tucker back with the team, and I must say, I’m not surprised at all. When he was signed, that was the name I said to watch for. Not for a second 10-day potentially, but to see him back in the future. Miami always circles back, and this feels like another example.

 

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Five Takeaways from Heat’s Win Over Pistons

The Miami Heat played a wild one against a depleted Detroit Pistons team, but don’t let that distract you from Miami being just as slim.

Some big shots from Tyler Herro and Max Strus down the stretch iced it for Miami.

So, here are some takeaways from this one…

#1: Down another body.

The Miami Heat have been dealing with availability issues recently, and not in the same way the rest of the league is. It’s not that they’re covered in health and safety protocol tags, but instead pure injuries. And well, it was a rough start to this one as another front-court guy on this team went down, and a pretty important one at that. Dewayne Dedmon going through his usual sets as the roll man, yet this specific play he ended up on the floor in a ton of pain. He ended up getting up on his own power and walked straight to the locker room, which ended up being called a knee sprain. Obviously Miami slightly dodged a bullet since it could’ve been a lot worse, but it’s yet another hurdle that Miami will have to leap over and monitor. The theme of their season.

#2: Three-point shooting comparison quite unbalanced. 

At the half, the Detroit Pistons were shooting 11 for 21 from beyond the arc, while Miami was 5 of 19. The interesting part about those numbers was Miami slightly padded theirs a bit to end the half, behind Tyler Herro and Max Strus explosions which I’ll get into next. The threes being generated on both sides were quite different as well. Detroit was just picking apart Miami’s zone and finding the open man, which was spread around equally as every Piston starter had at least 2 threes at the half as well. Miami, on the other hand, just couldn’t get them to drop within the offense, leaving them with 4 starters half-way through with no made three. When two teams are down so many guys like these two teams are, usually the team with the better outside shooting numbers has the lead. And well, when they’re that one-sided, you put yourself in a tough spot.

#3: The Tyler Herro-Max Strus show early.

Aside from all of the struggles I discussed in the last section, Max Strus kept them afloat early and Tyler Herro took the keys from there. 33 of 55 first half points from Miami were scored by Herro and Strus. The role of Strus early was intriguing, and it led to a 7-0 run from him. As he’s slotted into starting power forward, he began merging into that role a bit. Baseline roaming, dunker spot reps, which led to an easy dunk early in the first. Herro was just doing Herro-like things. Really carving things up inside the arc, leading to tough mid-range fades and nice lay-ins around the rim. But most of all, his control stood out. Running certain lineups that many of us thought we’d only see in Summer League, yet he’s still playing within the offense. And well, that’s an improved player.

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#4: Udonis Haslem, the spark.

With Dedmon going down early, Miami had to quickly transition into a strict, and small, 8 man rotation for a good portion of the game. Well, that was until Erik Spoelstra gave Udonis Haslem the look to enter the game late in the third. After some rough possessions to start, he quickly gave Miami some production, aside from the big time home crowd spark. One immediate and-1 after the whole team did some complaining on the other end, and a nice face-up jumper down on the box right after. Like I said, sometimes that stuff doesn’t even truly matter in games like this. Instead, it leaves many looking around for the ignitable piece to get a group going. And UD can do that rather quickly, as Miami finished the third quarter strong.

#5: Marcus Garrett giving Miami some underappreciated minutes.

Whenever Marcus Garrett has gotten some run over this recent stretch, his stat-line has never really popped at all in any category. Why is that? Well, he’s another one of those Heat guys that doesn’t get rated upon numbers on a piece of paper, especially considering the main part of his game is on the defensive end. And tonight was a game where he really showed out as a pure ball-hawk. Not only in a Gabe Vincent-like way from baseline to baseline, but by cutting off simple reads in pick and rolls at the top of the key possession after possession. Haslem may have been the spark to finish the third, but Garrett was the spark to kick off the fourth. One play where he forced Cory Joseph into a quick pass and Herro stole it and dunked it was the fire setter. Yet, shortly after, he found himself in perfect position for a much needed charge. That stuff speaks volume.

 

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Five Takeaways from Heat’s Win Over Magic

The Miami Heat take down a banged up Orlando Magic squad on Friday night, as guys like Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro add another recovery day to the catalog.

The two-ways of last season, Gabe Vincent and Max Strus, come up big as Miami coasts to another much needed win.

So, here are some takeaways from this one…

#1: Oh hey Max Strus.

A 20 point second quarter was just Max Strus’ way of making Erik Spoelstra’s life much harder from a long term sense. But in all seriousness, it is something to keep track of with Strus, Caleb Martin, and Gabe Vincent switching off big time nights. Whenever we talk about Strus getting hot, the funny thing is his film looks so similar side-by-side. Why is that? Well, his simple methods keep it looking so identical. He’s not navigating as many screens as Duncan Robinson, or feeling out screens on the ball like a Kyle Lowry or Tyler Herro. He’s just either pulling up with a defender right in his face, or he utilizes his slight pump-fake and pull-back to get just enough space to fire. Max Strus is a simple guy, who plays with a simple style. And looking at some of the guys on this roster, simple is great as a plug-in guy.

#2: My nightly takeaway without Bam Adebayo: Dewayne Dedmon’s high level production.

Even after writing a Dewayne Dedmon piece early in the day, it still isn’t enough praise for this solid spot starter. At halftime, he had 11 points on 5 of 7 shooting, just continuing to take whatever the defense was giving him. For example, above the break transition threes. To dive into his three-point shot profile a bit more, it’s pretty clear the corners should be avoided with him. His comfort looks right at home from the top of the key, or right/left wing, almost as the anti-PJ Tucker from beyond the arc. Being able to be relied on from night to night in this way, after only playing 16 regular season games the season prior, just isn’t a normal occurrence. Dedmon has headlined the drop coverage phenomenon over the month of December for Miami as well, almost providing an unlocked door to Adebayo’s defensive role upon returning.

#3: My microscopic takeaway: Heat are zone providers, but being tested as zone consumers.

In games where the opposing team’s entire bench just got signed to some 10 days from the Lakeland Magic squad, microscopic views are necessary. The one I picked up on tonight was the way Miami handled the zone when it was thrown at them, since before Spo called the timeout, it surprised them the same way they do to others. Much of the issue had to with personnel at the time. KZ Okpala was immediately used as the middle man on the insert pass, which led to a turnaround mid-range fade-away with nobody on him. And down so many guys, the name I brought up was Max Strus. That’s a guy you can trust to hit that elbow turnaround or make the easy kick-out read, but overall, Spo getting some of these ATO and set-up reps against it is important. The zone is rising rapidly across the league.

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#4: The Gabe Vincent game turns into the Gabe Vincent stretch.

This type of play from Gabe Vincent was definitely unexpected, but it was kind of inevitable. Shooters don’t just forget how to shoot. Slumps occur, tweaks are made, then in a matter of time, the shot returns. But the difference with Vincent is that he elevated every other part of his game throughout the struggles. He shifted his strengths in many ways, turning into a defensive first guard, with an ability to switch on and off the ball with ease. And like I said, now the three-point shot is here, and the confidence is the headliner. All that is needed for shooters like himself is a reference point, and that is what this week will be for Vincent as he moves forward. This isn’t a temporary thing. Of course he won’t always shoot the three-ball at this clip, but he’s officially found himself as a rotational NBA player.

#5: Heat rolling through the easy December stretch.

Yes it’s only 2 wins in a row for Miami, but this is just the beginning as an easy slate of games lie ahead: Detroit twice, Indiana, Orlando, Washington, San Antonio, and Houston. Jimmy Butler or not, that’s a lot of very winnable and favorable games for this Heat team as they enter the new year. Erik Spoelstra’s continued phrase throughout the season, “we have enough,” is in full effect at this time as well, since while many would question the Heat being “favored” in many of these games, it wasn’t expected that Vincent and Strus would go from two-ways to starter level products. After completing this next slate of games, they should be hovered right around that three seed, in a period that was supposed to be a state of survival.

 

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Max Strus: “People Kinda Know Who I Am Now”

Max Strus and Tyler Herro are going to be the two youthful pieces off the bench this season for Miami, but that isn’t the only comparison those two draw. Even without the experience compared to those around them, both of them ooze confidence in similar ways.

I talked to Max Strus for a bit after practice, where he discussed some things heading into the season opener this Thursday.

When I asked him about being that run igniter and offensive spark most nights for this team, he responded, “If I’m open, I’m gonna shoot every time. I have the confidence in myself, my teammates have the confidence to put me in those situations to shoot and score.”

“But I’m still trying to find my role with everything,” he continued. “And obviously the second unit is to get Tyler going and just for me to provide spacing for him. But any open shot I’m gonna take.”

Relating Strus’ situation to Duncan Robinson over and over can get a bit old, but the early stages definitely are similar. Robinson jumped into a starting lineup, while opposing defenses didn’t even know his name. Fast forward to today, it’s a completely different story.

When I asked Strus if he’s being defended any differently from his minutes last season to this preseason, he said, “People kind of know who I am now. You can tell when I’m running down the court other defenders are yelling ‘find Strus, find Strus.’ So yeah you can definitely tell that teams are starting to find out what I do and what I’m good at. So I’m definitely getting guarded a little bit differently, not as bad as Duncan yet, but we’ll see if it gets there.”

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One thing about this team is that it’s a very vocal group. They’re loud on the floor, they’re loud with each other, and that trait definitely fits the Miami Heat way.

I asked Strus if he notices these practices being louder than they were previously, and if he fits that mold of holding others accountable and being in each other’s ear constantly. He responded, “I want to win. We all want to win. So communication, putting each other in the best situation possible to be successful is what we all want to do. Having guys like that who are here to help, here to make you better is right where I want to be.”

Lastly, a lot of these guys have their circle of players in the league that they watch film on to try and learn from or pick-up specific skills. When I asked Strus who those guys are, he said, “I’ve watched a lot of Klay Thompson.”

He also mentioned Joe Harris is somebody he’s honed in on, saying “I’ve gotten Joe Harris a lot, and I’ve gotten to know him pretty well too.”

The interesting thing about Strus focusing on these guys is that it’s not all about shooting when evaluating them: “Defensively, like Klay Thompson was an elite defender, so trying to learn from him. Just where to be in the right spots, and Joe Harris is actually a pretty good defender too. So those guys are great all-around players, so I’m just trying go through them and watch and learn from them.”

Max Strus is going to be in a pretty favorable role this season. Weak-side offensive spotting, waiting for the multiple initiators on the floor to hit him in his spots, and ultimately being that spark that he knows he can be on this team.

“People kinda know who I am now.” Yes, they do. And that X on his back is only going to grow this season.

Yet, he’s somehow ready for whatever is thrown at him, since he “wants to win. We all want to win.”

 

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Breaking Down the Dynamic of the Heat’s New Bench Unit

There was a lot to takeaway from the first Heat preseason game in a positive manner, but it’s important to have a realistic approach to it as well. We may have seen the baseline to what the team could look like when they’re clicking, but it’ll take all of the preseason games to really give us the plot on this Heat roster.

I touched a lot on that starting lineup from Monday night, but the bench guys truly had their moments as well. And up to this point, that’s been the one part of the roster that many have been skeptical about.

So, let’s touch on some of those guys who will be seeing the floor quite frequently this season…

Gabe Vincent Balancing his Role On/Off the Ball

When I talked to Gabe Vincent earlier in the week, I asked him a lot about balancing that on/off ball role. The reason for that is he’s been primarily used off the ball in past situations, while Coach Spo has fully used him as a true point guard to now back-up Kyle Lowry.

But I also don’t believe it’ll be as much on-ball reps as originally expected.

When I left the Miami Heat’s scrimmage last Friday, there was one takeaway that stood out from the others: Tyler Herro will have the ball in his hands a lot. And with Vincent and Herro currently consisting of that back-up back-court, it’ll make for an interesting dynamic.

As seen in the first clip above, it was good to see Vincent shooting the ball from deep at a good rate off the dribble, especially since that was a major off-season focus. And in many ways, that three-ball could ultimately determine his minute distribution.

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Bam Adebayo-Duncan Robinson DHOs are not going to be spammed as frequently this year, but as seen in that first game, it’s going to be a role player staple. In that second clip, Vincent flows right into the hand-off with Herro on the right wing, leading to an immediate fire.

Oh, and by the way, that ball spinning off the fingertips with 19 seconds left on the shot clock is something new.

Some were a bit worried about shot-creation off the bench, but if Herro plays like that while Vincent’s jumper is revived, there’s nothing to be skeptical about as they await the return of Victor Oladipo consequently.

Max Strus….Still Getting Loose?

When bringing up scrimmage takeaways, Max Strus was one of them in a totally different manner. He didn’t totally pop out with extreme play, but his all-around consistency spoke major volume.

We know the efficiency will be there from beyond the arc to a certain degree, and you don’t usually have that immediate trust in a guy that literally just received his first official contract following the two-way deal.

Strus did his thing in that first preseason game, while they utilized him in different ways throughout to generate good looks. They ran plenty of staggers for him to fly off pin-downs to fire immediately, but a specific usage stood out more than the others.

Just take a look at the first clip. A simple slip screen is all it takes. With the court spread out with two guys in the corners and a big on the block, the top of the perimeter is clear. The options are to hit Strus on the relocation so he can shoot without a double team in sight, or Vincent can drive hard to the right to force a defensive collapse.

Cam Reddish hesitated quickly and it signaled to Vincent and Strus that the ball must hit him on that left wing, which he buried it. Miami’s going to use Strus in a bunch of ways, but it seems like the simple stuff fits him better than anything.

Caleb Martin: A Two-Way Gem…Literally

When the Heat acquired Caleb Martin on the two-way deal, it instantly made a ton of sense. A guy with experience to potentially use when needed, a plug and play ability, and essentially, an offensive talent that many at the bottom of the roster don’t have: pure shot-creation.

While I’ve focused on that one skill, Martin has shown in training camp and the first game that he’s more than that. He may have the two-way label in terms of contract, but he’s also a literal two-way player.

He doesn’t take possessions off on that end. Hounding his match-up off the ball, playing the passing lanes, and even soaring up to the rim for a couple surprising blocks. Not only is he athletic on the offensive end, but the defensive athleticism has been a surprise.

Looking at the first clip above, that is Caleb Martin. Getting a steal on one end and finishing wildly on the other. Do you know what that play screams? A player that is a spark.

Coach Spo loves guys at the end of the roster that can be a spark when things breakdown. If Herro isn’t generating looks on the ball or shots aren’t falling for Vincent on a certain night, Martin’s name could be called quickly.

This team doesn’t use two-way slots as a developmental holding place. It’s for production when needed.

Bench Unit Offense: Force Mismatches

Although shots were falling for that second unit on Monday night, that won’t always be the case. Most of the time, one of Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, or Kyle Lowry will be on the floor, but how can they potentially maximize that other short period of time?

Well, one way to do it is by forcing mismatches. In the clip above, it obviously helps when the on-ball defender is playing that high up, but double drag seemed to be the answer.

When Robinson is in the action, many times it just looks like a wide PnR. The reason is that Robinson’s defender won’t even think about doing a little “show and go,” since that pop-out three is the focus.

That means Vincent will get the big in space as Dewayne Dedmon can post-up the guard on the block. This possession specifically didn’t end up going anywhere, but you can see what can be generated from moving defensive assignments around.

We will see a ton of that stuff from Butler and Lowry, but if this grouping can do that as well, it won’t be as much of a substitutional scramble to get some starters back in.

All Eyes on the Inbounder

This may not seem like it holds high importance right now, but it was an interesting pattern when watching some of the reserves.

When that ball went out of bounds for Miami to throw it in, the defense always seemed to forget about the most dangerous player on the floor: the inbounder. Vincent and Strus taking turns to either sprint off some staggers or flow into a DHO for a good look from three, which actually worked flawlessly in this game.

Both instances above consisted of a short clock or a ticking shot-clock, but the point still stands. When watching this team in these situations, be prepared for a good look from three to come out of it. And more importantly, watch how the first or second best shooter on the floor is the inbounder.

A Markieff Morris Wrinkle

When Markieff Morris joined the team, we knew what the stat-lines and production levels would look like. He’s not the most efficient player, which means the shooting numbers from the outside won’t always look pretty.

We got a taste of that on Monday, but I feel there’s something deeper to take out of this. Even before this game, I’ve been saying there are certain spots on the floor that fit him better than being a “floor spacer” on the outside, and the clip above is an example.

Things work better for Morris when he gets to the middle of the floor on the move. The quick hand-off and slip is one way to go about it, and allow him to navigate from there. It allows him to make simple decisions: a mid-range jumper or corner kick-out.

The reason this is so important is they must keep the offense moving in these lineups. When Lowry isn’t on the floor, there can’t be immediate stagnant offense with limited movement. And Morris becoming a straight spot-up threat is a product of that.

Shots will eventually fall from the outside for him here and there, but harping on it too much may become problematic. The utilization as a roller, though, could be a completely different story.

 

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