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A Breakdown of Goran Dragic’s Offensive Impact

Goran Dragic’s second game back from his injury proved his overall importance for this Heat team. He shouldn’t be looked at as a 34 year old veteran, but instead the one piece that makes the entire offense flow.

So, here’s a look into what Dragic did well in their win over the Utah Jazz.

– Controlling the mid-range

Tyler Herro being out and Kendrick Nunn fading slowly away from his mid-range game means Dragic needed to find those spots more often. And that’s exactly what he did.

On this play, he ran the usual pick and roll with Bam Adebayo, while pulling up immediately against the favorable drop coverage. If Miami didn’t have Dragic to find these dead-spots throughout the game, they wouldn’t have sustained their lead, since Miami made it essential to get to the rim early in the game.

Once he began to set the tone on plays like this, easy opportunities from beyond the arc began to open up for the role players.

– Well, his legs are back.

When a veteran player returns from an injury, the jumper is usually a bit of a worry right away since it takes some time to get your legs back under you. But, it didn’t take Dragic much time to get back to normal.

These two plays in the second quarter prove that to be true, and it also shows the importance of his three point shot for a guy like Duncan Robinson. There haven’t been many consistent three point shooters lately, other than Kendrick Nunn, which is why both Dragic and Herro returning is so important for the overall success of Miami’s offense.

Dragic is a three level scorer, who can get to any of the three levels when he really wants to, which will be displayed next.

– Finding his spots on the court

As mentioned previously, being a three level scorer is one thing, but getting to any of the three levels consistently is when that label is truly important.

The way Dragic can control his defender on the drive is truly like no other. On the first play, he cuts off Donovan Mitchell when getting downhill, while Mitchell switches to the roller. Dragic noticing his only defender is Derrick Favors deep in the paint, he fades away for an easy bucket.

The second play is similar, except Dragic utilizes a snake dribble when Mitchell switches, and goes right into a floater over the top of Favors with zero hesitation. Once again, this type of offense is what Miami has been missing majorly.

– Setting up the offense

It’s never an easy offense to dissect when Rudy Gobert is the one you’re facing in the drop coverage, but Bam Adebayo found a way. He found the spots slightly away from the rim to force Gobert to edge away from the rim.

The reason Dragic is being highlighted here is due to the overall situation. Miami has missed a guy to set up offense while Butler is off the floor, and that’s exactly what he did. Nunn has improved majorly as a play-maker, but there’s still a difference between a good passer and setting up offense.

Dragic finding Adebayo and others in their spots during these minutes were essential for Miami sustaining a close score before Butler returned.

– The thing Miami has missed most

And finally, the third level of being a three level scorer. There’s a difference between a guy that can get to the rim and score, like Tyler Herro, and a guy who will take it right at your chest at the basket for an easy layup, like Goran Dragic.

As I’ve mentioned many times, the Heat have missed that on-ball guy who can explode to the basket and get downhill in situations that it’s truly necessary. And in the fourth quarter, it was truly necessary.

On the first play, he took it right up on the best rim protector in the NBA, leading to a not so easy bucket. A few minutes later, he explodes by Joe Ingles and takes it up on the rotating Gobert once again, except this one was a tad bit easier.

Once Miami has a fully healthy roster, the offensive spacing will look better and better, meaning Dragic can get to the rim more and more while Butler gets some rest on the sideline.

5 Takeaways from Heat’s Win Over Jazz

The Miami Heat took down the best team in the NBA in a Friday night showdown with the Utah Jazz. An aggressive Bam Adebayo, a consistent Goran Dragic, and an absolutely outstanding all around Jimmy Butler headlined their best win of the season this far. So, take a look at five takeaways from this game…

#1: Miami’s dribble penetration changing the offense.

Goran Dragic being back in Miami’s rotation obviously changes dribble penetration immediately, but it wasn’t just when he was on the floor. They came out with a purpose to get inside the three point line against a jumbled up Jazz defense on the interior with Rudy Gobert, and it actually worked. Bam Adebayo’s one hand push shot inside the paint was dropping early, while back-cuts began to be sprinkled in. That element has changed quite a lot for Miami, since a guy like Duncan Robinson can cut with ease the way that he gets defended. Now, as Miami had their way with two point attempts early in the first quarter, that opened up three point shooting per usual. As the defense began to collapse more and more, drive and kicks became a huge factor for Miami’s altered offense. Once Tyler Herro returns as well, that dribble penetration will increase even more.

#2: Kendrick Nunn adding the patient element to his offensive abilities.

This shouldn’t be a surprise that Kendrick Nunn found himself on another one of these pieces, since the overall consistency in his offensive game has allowed zero shock for his strong performances. In this game, though, his overall offensive patience is what stood out the most from his game. He has made huge strides with his play-making abilities, but what has truly led to this? Well, playing time and confidence is the easy answer for any improvement in his game, but adding the patience element must be noted as well. Small things like running the baseline has shown positive flashes, since he keeps his dribble alive to await the cutter instead of getting stuck in the air. As he gets more and more comfortable running the different actions in Miami’s offense, while sustaining this impressive shooting and scoring ability, the next leap in his game will occur.

#3: Some unexpected changes in the rotation, involving the bench unit.

It was surprising that KZ Okpala had his name called before Precious Achiuwa tonight, but it was even more shocking that he basically took his minutes all together. Achiuwa usually enters for Adebayo, which means his playing time comes next to Kelly Olynyk. But tonight, Coach Spo seemed very comfortable playing Olynyk at the 5 with a smaller 4, which is something we haven’t seen much of. Usually in these stints, they went to a 2-3 zone with Gabe Vincent and Andre Iguodala up top wrecking havoc. I’m not sold that this will be decision moving forward for Coach Spo and company, since Achiuwa’s strong minutes on both ends this season has shown that he deserves the playing time he has thus far received. Achiuwa’s connection with Herro and Dragic has been clear, which is why a fully healthy Heat team should maximize his bench role.

#4: Jimmy Butler can score the basketball whenever he chooses in one specific way.

Jimmy Butler began to takeover scoring wise in the third quarter, which came in one way and one way only: Getting downhill and retreating to the free throw line. It’s almost impossible to cover a driving Butler at full speed, since if you don’t jump with him, it’s a layup. But if you do jump with him, he will jump right into you to get to the charity stripe. He played yet another all around offensive game, filling up the stat sheet in every possible way, but most things that were seen aren’t shown in a stat sheet. Open opportunities for guys like Kelly Olynyk due to a 2 man game possession between Butler and Adebayo occur frequently, and causes a solid defensive team to become out of sorts. As I’ve mentioned before, the phrase playing at their own speed is used freely, but as seen tonight, it fits Butler almost perfectly. His methodical abilities when getting downhill lead to his strengths becoming magnified, which is finding teammates for a pure offensive flow.

#5: Bam Adebayo’s offensive aggression makes an appearance once again.

There’s always one common denominator to Adebayo’s shots falling throughout the game on high attempts: Zero hesitation. Those one-hand push shots that he utilizes on an early bounce pass off the roll were dropping cleanly throughout the night, mostly since he didn’t use many unnecessary gather dribbles or pump-fakes. Adebayo obviously has an immense amount of talent in every part of his game, but it comes down to the moments in which he maximizes those scoring abilities. And tonight was one of those nights. He had as tough of a match-up that there is, in Rudy Gobert, which he went to the best possible spots to attack him. Not right at the rim for Gobert to alter or swat, but a few feet away from the rim to make him edge away from the rim. Whenever Adebayo has one of these nights, many point to him sustaining this overall aggression, which seems necessary but not definite.

A Breakdown of Jimmy Butler’s Scoring Down the Stretch Against Toronto

In the Miami Heat’s win over the Toronto Raptors, Jimmy Butler came up big late in the fourth quarter. This isn’t anything new for him, but it was interesting that he displayed his offensive abilities in every possible way in the last five minutes of the game.

So, here’s a look at the ways he closed this game out for Miami…

– The jumper looked smooth

Butler’s jumper has been an interesting topic for Miami, since it struggles in the regular season, but usually coming through when it truly matters, either the playoffs or late in games.

On this play, Miami had a few mismatches that they were looking to take advantage of. Kelly Olynyk had the smaller Kyle Lowry guarding him, so he faked a dribble hand-off to Duncan Robinson and attacked the basket. All four Toronto defenders collapsed, so Olynyk made the correct pass out to an open Butler for a triple.

Butler would usually pause, let the defender fly by, and put his head down to get to the basket, but it seemed like he was feeling the jumper. It’s never been an issue of form for his down shooting numbers, since free throw shooting always stay high, which always leads to the common denominator, his lift.

But well, the lift was there down the stretch.

– Controlling the break with his eyes

Playing the game to your own speed is a phrase that is used quite freely when discussing NBA players, but it describes Butler perfectly.

On this possession, he gets the steal on one end, leading to a clear fast-break on the other end. In no rush at all, he evaluates the floor, noticing he has a 3 on 1 opportunity with Andre Iguodala trailing. To maximize every option, he cuts immediately to the middle of the floor, which is when he utilizes his eyes to his advantage.

His unique passing abilities make the defense uncomfortable, which is why the slightest glance and body turn towards Robinson, eliminated Fred VanVleet from the attack. He then took it up with ease for a layup with zero contest, which tends to happen frequently when the physical Butler gets downhill.

– One more look at Butler’s lift

As I discussed Butler’s catch and shoot lift in the half-court, the mechanics of his jumper is what we were evaluating. But when pull-up triples are falling, this solidifies the original thought.

By that I mean, his lift being the overall theme of his shooting roller coaster is clearly true. I don’t remember the last time Butler utilized his legs to this extent on a three ball, leading to a high arcing ball going in the hoop. And by the way, high arcing three balls haven’t occurred a lot for Butler lately.

This shot also displays the confident factor that is instilled in any basketball player. The shot that I showed earlier is the reason for him taking this pull-up three, since if that one clanked off the back of the rim, he would have went right at the rim to draw a foul. This isn’t an element that will be relied on for long, but it must be something teammates instill in him, just as he does for others.

– The scoring leads to more foul line opportunities

After Butler’s scoring was rolling in this current stretch, there’s always a moment that he gets back to his strengths, which is drawing fouls.

There was confidence all night for Toronto when Lowry was guarding him in the pick and roll, since he would cut him off low, forcing him to take mid-range pull-ups. On this play, though, VanVleet was not allowing Butler to take him one-on-one, so he dropped down far off of Kendrick Nunn on the perimeter.

Butler noticing this, keeps the ball way up above his head, especially as he slices two much smaller defenders. This abrupt movement leads to the whistle being blown, getting him back to his favorite spot on the court: The charity stripe.

– Reading situations, capitalizing on current flow

Instead of draining the clock a bit with a 9 point lead late in the fourth, Butler was completely riding on his late-game momentum.

After the inbound, Bam Adebayo ran a side pick and roll with Butler, which Lowry switched this time. The one shot Toronto’s defense was allowing off of this set was a Butler mid-range pull-up, as mentioned earlier. And with zero hesitation, he rose over the top of OG Anunoby, hitting the shot to take an 11 point lead.

These late-game reads and moments seem to be rubbing off on his teammates, especially Adebayo. He knows that the ball must be in their hands down the stretch, which is why he took some good looks during this spurt as well. But, Butler’s hot hand led to him playing his usual impactful role, allowing Butler to get to those spots that I displayed.

This type of all-around play that is being seen from Butler should not be understated, since it’s truly impressive that he’s leading this team on a huge regular season turnaround.

5 Takeaways from Heat’s Win Over Raptors

The Miami Heat beat the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday night to expand their winning streak to 4 games. Jimmy Butler’s late game offensive showing kept Miami afloat down the stretch. Here are five takeaways from this game…

#1: Goran Dragic returns, and hasn’t skipped a beat.

Goran Dragic surprisingly returned on Wednesday night from his injury, and looked as if he missed absolutely no time at all. Dragic’s impact is not through the amount of points that he scores, but actually the moments that he scores. He has always been able to read offensive situations to get into certain sets when most needed, which happened early on by attacking the basket. Miami has missed his dribble penetration lately, since they haven’t had many ball-handlers who can attack with Dragic and Tyler Herro out. The more Dragic got to the rim, the more opportunities opened up for shooters on the perimeter for wide open triples. The Heat have struggled finding any type of offensive rhythm, but the 34 year old veteran can fix that upon arrival.

#2: Miami’s offense and defense clicking on the same night.

Miami had some impressive offensive games early in the season, while showcasing a strong defensive presence lately. But there hasn’t been a night that both have been displayed. Well, until this game. This was going to be a defensive battle no matter what between these two teams, and Coach Erik Spoelstra sprinkled in some defensive things to really boost Miami. Trapping full-court, spurts of 2-3 zone, and more. But Miami’s offense showing an impressive flow throughout against this gritty Toronto team speaks volume. Duncan Robinson hitting some threes early on propelled that, while other role players stepped up in their respective areas. This was the first night the Miami Heat’s true selves were shown.

#3: Bam Adebayo battled on the boards early on, impacting the game in every area per usual.

Bam Adebayo is discussed on a nightly basis in these takeaway pieces, but he must be noted in a different light tonight. In a game that Toronto utilizes a bit of small ball to display all-around quickness, Adebayo had to be felt on the boards. In the first half alone, he grabbed 10 rebounds, while 5 of them being on the offensive end. Creating extra opportunities for others on tip outs and things of that nature truly add up for this team, since extra shot attempts do the job for a struggling offense. Aron Baynes taking a lesser role for the Raptors meant Adebayo had some unique match-ups with physical wings, like OG Anunoby, guarding him on the defensive end. While that could mean trouble at times when he tries to stretch the floor, he read the situation to make his presence felt in the paint.

#4: Andre Iguodala plays his peak offensive role.

Defensive trapping, grabbing rebounds, and facilitating the offense wasn’t enough for Andre Iguodala tonight, since he brought the one element of his game that has been a little iffy at times. The three point shot was falling tonight at a good rate, which is the part of his game that can maximize the overall efficiency of this Miami Heat team. Miami needs Iguodala out there on the floor in a lot of situations, but lineups he plays next to Adebayo and Butler limits offensive spacing. But if the corner triple can be relied on, it changes the entire formation of Miami’s rotation at the moment. A season high on triples for Iguodala may not confirm sustainability, but it is still a great sign that it is in there somewhere.

#5: Gabe Vincent gives a great overall performance, but Miami is one attacker off with bench unit.

Tyler Herro being out tonight once again is a product of less dribble penetration, even though it was majorly boosted with Dragic returning. There were many moments where Miami’s offense began to show flashes of the past, with a lot of ball movement for jumpers, instead of putting the ball on the floor and attacking. Gabe Vincent had a good night battling on the defensive end, as well as hitting those three pointers that he hasn’t lately. But he’s just not the attacker who can run pick and rolls to control the pacing with Dragic. Herro can definitely fix that, which makes Miami’s bench back-court so anticipated. When Adebayo, Butler, and company get to the rim efficiently, it leads to the natural flow of their offense many have been awaiting.

Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo Not in All-Star Game, Forcing Best Case Scenario

Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo both attended the All-Star game last season as Adebayo made his first appearance, but this year is much different. Miami currently sits at the 10 seed in the Eastern Conference, which pretty much explains why they didn’t get an All-Star this season.

But Butler and Adebayo not making the All-Star team could be the best case scenario for this Heat team for an abundance of reasons.

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For starters, any rest this team can get after recent injuries, Covid tracing, and a short off-season, they must take it. It allows Goran Dragic to regroup over a short period, since he’s played minutes to begin the season that weren’t really expected coming in.

Butler has had to carry a load over the past few weeks, since the interchanging lineups haven’t allowed Miami to get in any type of flow.

But rest isn’t the main reason for this being a positive for the Heat. It’s actually about the chip that’s back on their shoulders.

Every player on the current roster has had a chip on their shoulder their entire life, since the Miami Heat embody players who battle adversity. But a spark has been needed as of late, even after the latest three game winning streak.

The only way a spark can really be generated is with an addition to the current roster, but well, that was until the All-Star reserves were released on Tuesday night.

This gives Miami’s two stars even more drive to take that next step, while everybody continues to count them out once again. But they’ve been counted out their entire lives.

Now, they can regroup back home in Miami, without taking a chance of being in a crowded environment on All-Star weekend.

No All-Stars, no problem. As Butler has always essentially said, it’s about winning over other accolades, and this snubbed accolade could actually be the biggest spark for their winning.

A Breakdown of Max Strus’ All Around Game

Miami lacked offensively sound bench players on Monday night against the Oklahoma City Thunder, which meant Max Strus would have another opportunity to step in and be effective.

He scored 11 points with 3 triples, but that wasn’t even the most impressive part of his performance. Let’s take a dive into Max Strus’ all around game in last night’s win…

– Getting to his strengths

It’s obvious that the primary strength with Strus is his three point shooting, not only on wide open attempts, but finding space to get into his favorite spots.

On this play, Kelly Olynyk screens the defender to allow Strus to drop down to the corner. He slides down as Jimmy Butler attacks, leading to a triple in the corner for his first points of the game. Also, take a look at his high release point as the defender flies out on him. It’s a hard shot to block when he’s in rhythm.

He’s not on any radars at this point in his career, while Duncan Robinson doesn’t have the ability to get free on a simple off-ball screen. So for now, he must take advantage of this ability.

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– Reading situations, making the right read

As Gabe Vincent takes the baseline, he begins to find himself with no where to go. Strus realizes this, as his defender has his back to him, then immediately cuts toward the basket.

This forces a 2 on 1 opportunity at the rim with Bam Adebayo, which leads to an easy dump-off for a dunk.

Most shooters are known to move horizontally on the basketball court at all times, but Strus has been a guy that doesn’t rely on that the entire offensive possession. Miami has turned into a very good cutting team in general, but it also comes down to reading a situation as he did here.

– Showing flashes of play-making and penetration

This definitely isn’t something that many expected when they first saw Strus play, since he seems to be going through practice reps leading to this being showcased.

On this play, his shooting ability forced the defender to fly by him when he got the ball, so he immediately attacked the rim. This forced yet another 2 on 1 opportunity at the rim with Precious Achiuwa, except he displayed something a little differently this time.

He gave a great ball-fake to Achiuwa, which dropped Andre Iguodala’s man down a bit from the corner. He made the pass out to him and he knocked down the three, which is a sign of great growth since his first time getting minutes in this league.

– Defensive physicality

Miami lacks defensive abilities from their offensive players, but Strus continues to show great signs in that area due to his size and physicality.

There are a couple of things to dive into on this play. For one, when discussing Miami’s overall soft switching defense, take a look at what happens when Mike Muscala fakes the hand-off. Achiuwa looks to go for the switch for no apparent reason, but Strus fights through it to eliminate any type of mismatch.

He then immediately looks toward the ball, forcing him to slide down into position to take the charge. A defensive possession like this stands out more than any of his three triples in this game to the coaching staff.

– Constant shooting stance means fast release

One more thing must be noted about Strus’ shooting abilities, other than his high release point and deadly catch and shoot abilities: His constant shooting stance.

At times, players get lazy playing off the ball, which leads to guys not being ready for an immediate pull-up when the ball finds them. But well, that isn’t the case with Strus, since he is in his knee-bent, hands ready stance at every moment of the game.

Take a look at his body language on this play when he sees Achiuwa fighting for the offensive rebound. He was ready, fires it up leading to an And-1 three to spark Miami going into the fourth quarter.

– More defensive flashes

Other than describing Strus’ defensive abilities as physical every single time, his ability to cut off guys with the correct angle and move his feet rather quickly is an underrated part for him on that end of the floor.

On this possession, he slides down to cut off the dribble penetration, leading to his man catching the ball on the kick-out. He recovered quickly, and Lou Dort immediately took it toward the basket to get Strus off balanced. Except, he never was off balanced, and cut him off perfectly, while his great size forced Dort into an unorthodox shot that came flying off the rim for an easy rebound.

– The next step

Late in the game, it was just some extra time to get offensive reps in for a guy like Max Strus, and something stood out.

If Strus can consistently work a pick and roll as he did here, things change for his case to get regular playing time. He showed great patience as he began the PnR, while noticing it was drop coverage, he immediately pulled a three pointer. Although he missed, this shows a part of his game that hasn’t been explored, but very well can be in the near future.

Obviously those looks won’t be handed to him every night, but he can make defenses pay when running drop coverage, and utilize his passing abilities in certain spots, which I highlighted earlier.

Miami has something interesting with Strus, but the only question is where his rotation spot would be with a healthy Heat team.

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5 Takeaways from Heat’s Win Over Thunder

The Miami Heat finished 4-3 on their West Coast road trip after beating the Oklahoma City Thunder in an ugly offensive performance. Issues were clear for three and a half quarters, but Miami got hot when it mattered late in the fourth. Here are five takeaways from this game…

#1: Miami’s offense continues to appear problematic.

After discussing the offensive issues of the Miami Heat for quite some time, they come out with that type of performance against Oklahoma City. The reason Miami assisted on 13 of their 14 shot makes in the first half, is due to the lack of on-ball players in this game. Obviously Jimmy Butler falls under that category at times, but his unselfishness tonight proved why he needs somebody around him to do that. Kendrick Nunn is the closest thing to that, but there’s only so much he can do to keep the offense afloat. As much as we can discuss tonight’s offensive showing as a product of missing Goran Dragic and Tyler Herro, this is a recurring issue. It’s not just health, it’s not systematic, it’s not about one individual player. It’s just that Miami may be one on-ball player short with the current roster.

#2: Kendrick Nunn keeps Miami going on a night that was tough to do.

Kendrick Nunn was the guy for a good portion of the season that Miami awaited to be a spark. And tonight, he was the consistent player trying to spark others around him. He came out with the same scoring abilities that have been seen lately, but it’s much harder for him to be effective when there’s limited spacing with a stagnant offense. He then began to make an impact in other areas, most importantly as a ball-handler to set others up. The lob to Bam Adebayo late in the second quarter comes to mind, since that was essentially the only moment Heat players could score at the rim early on. He also competed defensively much more, since it seems he can be an impactful defender in spots when he wants to be. Nunn has been the real bright spot throughout some of Miami’s struggles, which has a lot to do with the overall trust to insert him in the starting lineup, while he continues to thrive in his minutes with Butler.

#3: Precious Achiuwa’s impact relies on the team’s health.

Precious Achiuwa’s overall role lately has been a tough code to crack, but it finally seems clear. It just plainly comes down to the overall health of this team for an abundance of reasons. For one, there’s a lack of offensive firepower off the bench with Dragic and Herro out, and those two guys are the ones Achiuwa benefits from most. Also, there’s a necessity to stagger Butler and Adebayo’s minutes with Dragic out, which means Achiuwa has a much different role than he did early in the season. Once Miami has a full roster, he will thrive once again in his minutes with both offensively savvy guards who work him into the offense. But for right now, his offensive role is unclear, which means his playing time comes in short spurts with the inability to get into a rhythm.

#4: Bam Adebayo has yet another efficient night throughout, but tonight was more about attempts.

The Bam Adebayo shot attempt discussion has been fluid for quite some time, since certain night’s efficiency is not the needed offensive ability. And as mentioned earlier, Miami’s offense had struggled throughout the entire night, by missing shots, not flowing into sets, and settling for jumpers instead of getting to the basket. But well, that’s where Adebayo comes into play. Most of his shots came at the rim on dunks, either from a lob pass or offensive rebound, but that just doesn’t seem to be enough on nights like this. Obviously he put up an impressive stat-line, but sometimes it’s much more than that. Even if he puts up some shots and they don’t go in, you live with the result, but relying on other guys that are much less qualified doesn’t always seem like the best route. It’s still something that many are awaiting Adebayo to fully realize, since he just needs to allow his talent to takeover at times.

#5: A Max Strus sighting, a Max Strus display.

After a tough shooting night against the Lakers on Saturday night, Max Strus had yet another opportunity with Tyler Herro out. He was basically thrown into the fire late in the past game, which didn’t allow him to get into a natural flow. Tonight, though, he had an obvious offensive flow, shooting the ball the way he usually does, but that’s not what stood out in his game. It was more importantly the other parts of the game that Miami lacked. He began to showcase a play-making ability when he was chased off the three point line, leading to kick-outs for open triples. The defense must be highlighted as well, since his physical presence allows him to guard bigger guys in the post, and stand strong against penetrating ball-handlers. Taking charges, grabbing rebounds, and-1 triples. Strus did it all on a night it was most needed, which shows they have another rotation guy awaiting his chance as the season progresses.

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Which team (Heat, Lightning, Rays) in Florida will win state’s next title?

It probably doesn’t need saying, but it’s been quite a seven months or so for sports teams in Florida. From September through March, we saw Florida teams in the Stanley Cup Finals, NBA Finals, World Series and the Super Bowl. If you count the MLS Is Back Tournament Final, which saw Orlando City SC lose out to Portland, that’s five major sports finals for Florida teams. Not bad. Not bad at all. 

But Florida sports fans already knew all of the above. The more pertinent question is what comes next? Can Florida teams capitalize on the best period of success since the Bucs, Marlins and Lightning won championships between 2002-2004? We just don’t know. But we are going to guess by power ranking every NBA, MLS, NHL and MLB teams by the probability of winning a championship in 2021, starting with the least likely. 

  1. Orlando Magic 

It’s a testament to Florida sports teams’ strength right now that the team at the bottom of these rankings isn’t awful. Orlando has been blighted by injuries this season, and that looks like it might cost the team a third consecutive tilt at the Playoffs. There have been positives, notably Nikola Vucevic emergence as a truly elite NBA player. 

  1. Miami Marlins

Clinching a first postseason berth since 2003 might have convinced Marlins fans that better days lay ahead, but the rebuilding might have to continue in 2021. A problem beyond the team’s own limitations is the strength of the NL East, with both the Mets and Braves tipped to have big seasons.  

  1. Inter Miami CF

Florida’s newest sports club is finding its feet in the MLS. The team has big ambitions, and the acquisition of Phil Neville as head coach looks to be a clever move. Gonzalo Higuain, too, could provide the X-factor and goals. But this is a long term project, and we would be shocked to see Inter Miami in the latter stages of the MLS Cup. 

  1. Miami Heat

It’s not impossible that Miami wins the NBA Championship this year. In fact, the basketball odds at MansionBet put the Heat at 28/1 – about ninth-favorite overall. So, you shouldn’t rule it out. But the team really needs to start winning consistently. We are approaching the half-way point of the season, and Miami sits outside the playoff spots. 

  1. Tampa Bay Rays

Sportsbooks and pundits are quite cool on the Rays’ chances this season. Both MLB and CBS have the Rays at 10th in their power rankings, behind the AL East’s Yankees and Blue Jays. It’s a tough call, but Kevin Cash and the Rays could make those journalists eat their words – again. 

  1. Florida Panthers

It might seem strange to rank the Panthers ahead of the Rays and Miami Heat, but NHL is a little less top-heavy than NBA and MLB, so we rate the Panthers’ chances just a little higher. A lot would have to go right, of course, but this is an organization on an upward trajectory. 

  1. Orlando City SC

You have to like Orlando City’s chances this season. Coach Oscar Pareja has made the team hard to beat, and the run to the final of the MLS Is Back Tournament will act as good experience for the players. Like Inter Miami, they have a potential superstar in Alexander Pato. You get the feeling the Brazilian will either shine or flop, with no in-between. If it’s the former, then Orlando could land the MLS Cup.

  1. Tampa Bay Lightning 

Tampa Bay tops the power rankings and bookmakers’ odds to retain the Stanley Cup in 2021. What more is there to say? The champions are the best team in NHL, and the most likely Floria team to bring home a championship in 2021. 

 

A Breakdown of Bam Adebayo’s Outstanding Defense on LeBron James

On a night that LeBron James was held to 19 points without Anthony Davis, it seems necessary to dive right into the defensive source, Bam Adebayo.

Now, Andre Iguodala had that match-up for a good portion of the game, and did a tremendous job out on the perimeter, which should not be overlooked. But when a team’s big man is guarding one of the best players to ever play the game of basketball for a bunch of stretches, it must be noted.

So, here’s a look into Adebayo’s defensive performance against an old friend of the Miami Heat.

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– Fronting James early

Before we look into this match-up a little bit deeper, let’s start with the first possession, which was a sign that this was going to be a battle all night.

Adebayo showed that he wasn’t afraid to play a little physical out on the perimeter with LeBron, fronting him in the post, denying the entry pass. This led to a chucked up three point attempt from Kyle Kuzma, missing badly and getting Miami right into their offense.

These are the type of plays that aren’t shown in a stat sheet. Plays that force others to make a mistake, or force others to become uncomfortable. And well, that’s the Adebayo effect. No matter the defensive personnel around him, he’s going to bother a team with his physical abilities, his quickness and length, as well as his intense motor.

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– Mind games

LeBron is one of the most gifted players when manipulating a defense with his mind, due to his many unique abilities in his arsenal.

On this possession, LeBron gets Adebayo on an absolute island. Wide open baseline, wide open wing. Usually when LeBron is given that much space, he takes it at the chest of his defender due to his physical dominance. But that changed when he realized he had a very different player lined up across from him.

He scanned Adebayo, figuring out his next move, took one dribble and passed it out to the perimeter as the ball rolled down the court out of bounds. LeBron is the king of mind games, but a player with as much activity as Adebayo brings on that end of the floor, he ended up on the other side of things for a change.

– Forcing more uncomfort late in possessions 

It’s not an easy task to guard the best player in the NBA individually, but it’s even tougher when you must worry about the backside the entire game being the defensive staple that he is for Miami.

This is another example of LeBron passing up shots that he would usually take. As Adebayo tries to avoid putting his back to all of the action, he tries to slide over as much as possible with the dribble penetration. The ball ends up swinging back around to LeBron with the shot-clock ticking down, he passes out to Montrezl Harrell for a corner three with 2 seconds left on the shot clock.

Adebayo clearly knew the clock situation as well, since he allowed his hands to be much more active than his feet, leading to another impressive stop.

– Avoiding soft switches

Soft switches has been Miami’s downfall on the defensive end this season, since although Adebayo can handle a guard on the perimeter, the guard who just switched can’t handle the rolling big man. It’s been a cycle, but Miami showed that they can end it when most needed.

There were moments where they would willingly switch, mostly when it involved Butler, Adebayo, or Iguodala. As seen here though, Adebayo stayed steady on his match-up with LeBron, forcing Max Strus to rotate down. This led to a turnover for the Lakers, instead of LeBron taking advantage of a one-on-one situation with Strus.

Adebayo making these decisions also has a lot to do with the personnel on the floor at the moment. He trusts Iguodala on the backside to step up, which was exactly what happened on this possession.

– The Block

For a player that is not known for his rim protection, every one of Adebayo’s most incredible plays involve a swat around the rim.

As the Lakers got into their transition offense, the ball found LeBron in stride. Adebayo noticed him moving downhill with Iguodala on his heels, which is why he exploded towards the action. He then timed it perfectly to block it off the backboard, creating a huge spark for Miami in the fourth quarter.

Also, length and quickness shouldn’t always be the headliner for these moments, since as I just mentioned, timing plays a big part in not only his blocking abilities, but just about everything, which I will explain next.

– Timing plays, reading the pace

As I just began to get into, timing plays a big part in a lot of Adebayo’s defensive success. He knows when to be in certain spots on the floor, when to jump in the air for a contest, and more.

But as seen on this play, that timing also can lead to reading the game at a deeper level. On the last block, he immediately exploded when seeing that one player was handling LeBron on the move. On this possession, he doesn’t explode toward the rim since three defenders are waiting for LeBron’s next move.

He was then in perfect position to deflect the pass, and cause another Laker turnover. As mentioned previously, it just isn’t about his athletic abilities all the time, since his basketball feel is just off the charts.

– Defending every option

Although this wasn’t smothering defense from Adebayo, and a shot LeBron usually knocks down, it’s necessary to evaluate his defensive positioning.

Guarding LeBron is non-comparable to any other match-up, since he can drive it into your chest, pull-up from three, or throw a no-look dime backdoor as soon as you fall asleep. And at that point in the game, forcing him into a three pointer was the best option.

But notice how many steps Adebayo takes inside the arc when defending him. It’s enough to recover from a blow by, while close enough to contest a jump-shot good enough as seen here.

He truly has the whole package on the defensive end, and it stands out even more when facing a player of LeBron’s caliber.

A Breakdown of Kendrick Nunn Against the Lakers

In an NBA Finals rematch on ABC Saturday night, the story lines were fluid. LeBron James vs his old team, the Miami Heat. LeBron James vs Jimmy Butler in yet another duel. But well, none of that compared to the explosion of Kendrick Nunn occurring right in front of our eyes once again.

So, let’s take a dive into the success of Kendrick Nunn as of late, and what has led to this resurgence.

– Taking defenders off the dribble

Nunn has had an ability to take players off the dribble for quite some time now, but it finally appears to be more than going through the motions. By that I mean he’s not just utilizing pump-fakes as an add-on, since he’s beginning to use it to his advantage, which means he’s playing the game at his own speed as he continues to grow.

He’s currently shooting 64% from the field less than 10 feet from the basket, which is up from last season’s 55%. The attempts are pretty identically, which means he’s just increasing the comfort level in that area.

On this possession, he sells the pump-fake due to his improved shooting, as he dashes by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. He has a very quick first step when putting the ball on the deck, which allows him to get to the rim with a 2 on 1 opportunity. Marc Gasol didn’t step up, which took the lob pass out of the equation, leading to an easy finger roll at the rim.

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– Floaters from just about anywhere

Nunn’s floater has been utilized this season much more than his rookie year, and it’s been working quite well for him. It’s not just about the floater itself, but the spots on the floor in which he’s shooting them, which is just about anywhere in the half-court.

He’s very comfortable with push-shots, which he attempts here at the free throw line over Gasol. This shot leads to many things in Nunn’s game being added, such as a hesitation dribble. This will slowly become a shot defenses will look for out of a pick and roll, leading to lob passes and slight hesitations to get to the basket when a big steps out.

– An improved three point shot on the move

Nunn has become a much better spot-up shooter from deep as of late, shooting 39% on catch and shoot triples compared to last season’s 35% shooting, but there’s a certain element to his shooting from deep that must be discussed. It’s not just about shooting on the move, but the direction in which he’s shooting on the move.

When he goes left off of screens, it usually ends with good things. It’s a bit odd for a lefty shooter, since it’s usually the exact opposite direction that they tend to thrive.

On this play, Nunn dribbles left off of a double screen, as Montrezl Harrell begins to drop. He immediately pulls-up at the top of the key, with his jumper looking as fluid as ever.

Now, here’s an example of Nunn leaning left on three point shots and looking as comfortable as he does with spot-up opportunities. This unorthodox ability leads to other things as well, such as a quicker getaway to put the ball on the deck and drive baseline.

Nunn is a pretty unique scorer, and the reason for that is because he has unique abilities to be effective, and it just comes down to consistency which has occurred lately.

– Creativity in the pick and roll

As I pointed out in Tyler Herro’s game the other day, creativeness out of the pick and roll is beginning to progress for Miami’s second year players. Most young players become more and more effective out of simple offensive sets of with the more playing time that they get, which is what we’re seeing right now.

On this play, Nunn realizes a bit of indecisive play from both defenders, which leads to him utilizing a snake dribble to find a dead-spot. Precious Achiuwa being the screener adds to this as well, since he always seems to be running at full speed on the roll, making a defense uncomfortable as a lob threat.

– Offense to defense

If there’s anything that I’ve noticed from Kendrick Nunn’s game over time, it’s that his defense elevates when his offense is effective. And after his jumper continued to fall throughout last night’s game, he showcased his defensive will in spots that were necessary.

He had to deal with a tough match-up all night, against a much lengthier Kyle Kuzma, but gave Miami a huge spark on this play. When the Lakers could’ve cut the lead to 2, Nunn rose up and blocked his shot from behind, after Kuzma caught him off-guard with a slip screen. Even if Nunn struggles defensively when on an island, he is trusted to make defensive plays, such as hitting passing lanes to get into transition or make an unexpected block to get the team going.

– Taking advantage of Adebayo’s gravity

After Bam Adebayo’s early aggression, taking advantage of the Lakers lack of interior defense, it led to many other things for Miami. Halfway through the third quarter when the Lakers made their big run, they tried to eliminate Adebayo’s offensive presence as much as possible, which led to him adapting.

He has been needed to put his back to the basket and take advantage of smaller match-ups, which is what he began to do. But as Alex Caruso came for the double team, Adebayo made the right read, passing out to Nunn for a triple.

Although this has more to do with Adebayo, Nunn reading the situation as well must be noted. He was putting that shot up no matter who ran out on him, as they tried to recover on their rotation, which are the small areas Nunn has showed a ton of growth with.

– Back door cuts becoming a staple

Backdoor cuts have been Miami’s thing for the last couple of weeks, mostly since defenses are overplaying the three point line on shooters time and time again. But this has nothing to do with overplaying defensively, since the Jimmy Butler effect came into play.

As he attacked the basket on this play, the Lakers defense looked pretty lost with their defensive communication. Butler unfortunately picked up his dribble, looking toward the corner at Nunn, giving him the signal to cut to the basket. He hits him in stride for an easy bucket, which shows the level of chemistry Nunn is reforming with the new starting lineup.

– The play-making leap incoming

Nunn has made huge strides as of late as a play-maker, mostly in games like last night, where defenses are focused on his scoring.

On this play, he tries to blow by a good defender, in Alex Caruso, while Harrell cuts him off to eliminate that baseline floater that has been working all night. Once Harrell gets caught in the air, he dumps it off to Adebayo at the rim.

Although he missed, Nunn continues to battle down low, going back up with a reverse layup on a key possession for Miami’s offensive rhythm. While he continues to become a lethal offensive weapon, the play-making abilities become more and more essential, which will lead to a major increase in assist numbers.

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What are some Miami Heat trade options?

March 25th marks the deadline for NBA general managers to secure trade deals with other teams.

 

Trading players gives each squad leader a chance to bolster their roster and potentially upgrade their teams’ position in the NBA.

 

Miami Heat’s performance this season has dwindled. Considering last season, they slayed the courts during the Covid bubble NBAs and even made it to the finals. It’s reasonable to infer that this season the squad isn’t living up to its full potential. 

 

From players like Dragic and Butler sitting out because of injuries. Not to mention, Covid-19s impact on the NBA has caused a real struggle for the team. Can Miami Heat turn this season around and make it to the playoffs?

 

Well, if the trade rumors are true, there are a few candidates that could reignite the team’s execution on the court: Zach LaVine, Rudy Gay, and Bradley Beal. 

 

Many will be patiently and eagerly waiting to see the trades Miami Heat follow through with this season. From devoted fans of Miami Heat, to punters who fancy their chance on the team to succeed this season, potential trades are more than likely music to their ears.

 

So, here is a profile of the three potentials that could enable Miami to maintain its reputation as an elite NBA team and reach the final this season.

 

Potential Trade Deals

 

Player: Zach LaVine

Team: Chicago Bulls

Trade: Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson, Kendrick Nunn, and Andre Iguodala

 

Zach LaVine is 25, in his prime, and heavily considered one of the best offensive players out there right now. 

 

It’s thought he could do wonders for Miami Heat, but a significant trade deal would need to go down to get this star on the side. 

So, what’s in it for the Chicago Bulls, you ask? To make a trade, it’s likely Miami Heat will need to let go of four players: Herro, Robinson, Nunn, and Iguodala.

 

Should the trade go ahead, Zach would bring incredible offensive firepower that would boost the existing roster. And, while he may not be the best defender, Miami has more than enough defensive-orientated players to support Zach’s stance on the court. 

 

Alongside Miami Heat’s top players Bam Adebayo and Jim Butler, Zach would help form an unstoppable trio. Giving the team a greater chance of making it to the finals.

 

After all, the star player has a current average of 28.1 PPG while taking a shot of 43.0% from a 3PT range. Even when he’s under pressure on the court, his confidence, athleticism, and capability win time after time, enabling LaVine to shoot hoops regardless of the conditions.

 

For a player that’s likely to lift the team’s performance this season and secure Miami heat as a top team in the seasons to come, acquiring Zach LaVine is a must for the squad.

 

Player: Rudy Gay 

Team: San Antonio Spurs 

Trade: KZ Okpala, Olynyk, plus a 2022 second-round pick

 

Other trade rumors circulating suggest 34-year-old forward Rudy Gay from San Antonio Spurs could be snapped up by Miami Heat.

 

At a mighty 6 feet and 8 inches, Rudy could become a staple defensive player on Miami’s squad. 

 

From the 22 minutes Gay has played on the court each game this season, he has earned a 98.7 defensive rating, which topples Miami Heat’s Jimmy Butler’s current rating.

 

Rudy has tremendous defensive skills, which would undoubtedly elevate the team’s current position. Plus, despite his experience and skills, he is, for Miami Heat at least, considered inexpensive to buy.

 

But whether Gay joining the team would be enough to fix the squad in time for the playoffs is questionable. Instead, it may be wise for Miami Heat to on-board a few additional players alongside him.

 

Player: Bradley Beal

Team: Washington Wizards 

Trade: G Tyler Herro, G Goran Dragic, F/C Kelly Olynyk, 2022 first-round pick, 2024 first-round pick, 2026 first-round pick

 

Anyone familiar with the Miami Heat understands Pat Riley is keen on creating a “Big 3”. Just as he once did with Bosh, LeBron, and Wade.

 

While there are talks about putting Zach LaVine alongside Jimmy and Bam, another alternative is Bradley Beal.

 

As an excellent all-round offensive team player, Beal could become the go-to scorer the Heat relies on. Beal will also have the advantage of a range of advanced players who can defend and enable Bradley to shoot.

 

The trade would come at a high cost, causing the MIA to lose Robinson and Herro. But Bradley Beal is arguably a better player than both and could be the last piece of the “Big 3” to help the team excel and make it to the finals. 

 

Rumors reveal Bradley is open to the idea, too, because he’s experiencing frustrations in his current team. 

 

Miami Heat: Trade Deadline Nearing

 

Miami Heat are usually top-tier NBA contenders worthy of championship status. But, this year, it’s unlikely they’ll make the cut unless the president of the club takes serious advantage of the opportunity to recruit before the end of March and shuffle the team around with some fresh talent such as the players profiled above. 

 

While Zach LaVine seems like a no-brainer, Rudy Gay could be a strong accomplice too.  

 

Bam Adebayo Looks to Dominate ECF vs. Celtics

It’s continually been clear that Bam Adebayo is the constant energy that keeps this Miami Heat team going.

But it seems even more essential against the Boston Celtics.

For starters, he will have the ability to utilize his full offensive package with the match-up of Daniel Theis. If he can get his mid-range jumper going early, this will slowly lure Theis out of the paint, which is what Bam ultimately wants. This then allows him to take him off the dribble to the basket, and since Theis is super aggressive on shot contests around the rim, there’s a good chance that he gets some free throws off of that.

He should be able to take advantage on the offensive glass, since he did that in all of the games with Boston. And this gets his confidence up a bit, which is something that holds much importance with Bam, since his aggression is based off his offensive flow.

He will also be a huge factor for Miami’s lethal shooter Duncan Robinson. Duncan hasn’t been able to breathe in the playoffs thus far, and it’s going to be the same exact situation against the Celtics. But with Bam Adebayo’s elite screen-setting and Daniel Theis’ inability to switch on Duncan off of screens, this will be essential.

And while discussing the offense, Erik Spoelstra will most likely run a lot of lineups with Bam Adebayo and Kelly Olynyk on the floor. These two on the court together pose a lot of mismatches for Boston defensively. It means that Daniel Theis gets brought out to the perimeter due to Kelly’s elite shooting, and that Bam can take advantage of the smaller Jayson Tatum on the block. Jaylen Brown even had some minutes on Bam when Kelly was on the floor, which is even more of a favorable match-up.

And now to the defensive side of the ball, which is where he will absolutely dominate the series. It’s obvious that Bam is an above average defender on the perimeter, and can hold his own on opposing guards. And well, he’ll be seeing a lot of one-on-ones with guards in this series.

The Boston Celtics run a lot of stuff through the high pick and roll, which ultimately allows Kemba Walker to get to his strengths. Kemba has the option of shooting a pull up three or his go to step back mid-range with the opponent on their heels. But now with Bam most likely switching on Kemba on the perimeter, this will give him major trouble. This means that Kemba will be kicking it to one of the corners, one with Jayson Tatum being guarded by Jae Crowder and the other with Brown being guarded by Jimmy Butler. This does not mean that these guys aren’t going to continue to score the way they have all season, but it’s something that will be a game changer down the stretches of close games.

Ultimately, Jayson Tatum is going to get his and Jimmy Butler is going to get his. But each team’s second option will give their team the edge in this series. Boston’s second option may be Kemba Walker. It may be Jaylon Brown. But what is guaranteed is that Bam will be that second option for Miami, and as he said in his press conference, he will look to take more of an offensive load.

Bam Adebayo. You now have the keys to this team.

You’re one series away from reaching the NBA Finals. Go prove the haters wrong.

 

Brady Hawk (@BradyHawk305) contributes to Five on the Floor on the podcast and streaming shows. To sponsor his work, contact Sales@FiveReasonsSports.com 

This is Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo’s Time

Prior to the series against the Milwaukee Bucks, many talked about different guys that would need to step up in order to win. A lot of people said that it’s going to lay on the shoulders of the supporting cast on this Heat team, since that’s Milwaukee’s weakness.

Well, that hasn’t entirely been the case. And Miami is still up 3-0.

They have gotten major contributions from Goran Dragic, Jae Crowder, and Tyler Herro. But at the end of the day, stars win you playoff games.

To start with Jimmy Butler, he began the series with an offensive display which led to scoring 40 points in game one. And as soon as the national media saw this, they jumped on it. Mostly since people don’t fully understand the player and personality of Jimmy Butler. But clearly Miami does.

Everyone, including the Milwaukee Bucks, began to say that they must stop Jimmy Butler with the ball in his hands. And evidently, this is exactly what Jimmy wanted them to think.

He’s clearly a guy that is capable of putting up a bunch of points, but he doesn’t feel that always translates to a Heat win. He is such an elite facilitator and passer, and since there are so many knock down shooters on this Heat roster, he’d rather play to his strengths. And well, that’s what he did in game two.

He pretty much gave the scoring reigns to his offensive co-pilot Goran Dragic, which was an easy decision since it seems that Goran just can’t have a bad game. And most of the reason Goran was able to do this so well, was because Jimmy was being watched. And once again, when it mattered most, Jimmy got the ball in his hands with four seconds left, which led to him getting fouled on a jump shot and Jimmy hitting the game-winning free throw.

Seems as if Giannis Antetokounmpo got in his own head a little bit in game two, after he saw all of social media’s comments about not guarding Jimmy Butler in game one. But do you know who is never mentally impacted by the outside and constantly stays absolutely locked in. Jimmy Butler.

And finally in game three, he played half the game as he did in game one and half the game as he did in game two. That’s what makes Jimmy Butler so intriguing as a player. He seemed as if he couldn’t get an offensive rhythm, since he was 1 of 3 mid-way through the third quarter. Then he turned it on once again, proving the world that he’s not a pure scorer. But he’s an important scorer. He’s able to read a situation so well, that he knows what is needed at different points of the game.

And now to Bam Adebayo. Since Jimmy went on that late run in game three, Bam hasn’t gotten much recognition. But he should.

Bam scored 20 points on 88% shooting and grabbed 16 rebounds against the defensive player of the year in Giannis Antetokounmpo. It’s been talked about all season that Bam Adebayo has the ability to be an offensive force, but he needs to realize it. And well, it seemed as if he realized it yesterday.

That’s not even discussing his defensive impact guarding Giannis throughout the series, including when he stripped the ball from Giannis in game three, which proved to be a substantial play in the game.

Either way, Bam doesn’t care if he gets credit or gets recognition, he just wants to win. He knows what it’s like to have doubters, since many didn’t even know his name coming into this season, and now he’s a second option on a team heading towards the Eastern Conference Finals.

Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo weren’t looked at as the ideal duo heading into this postseason by many, since many didn’t think their offensive package was big enough. Well, that proved wrong when Jimmy and Bam scored 27 of the 40 fourth quarter points in game three, which ultimately close the game out to beat Milwaukee.

This is because, once again, stars win you playoff games.

Jimmy Butler. Bam Adebayo. This is your time. Go get what’s yours.

 

Brady Hawk (@BradyHawk305) is the youngest contributor in the Five Reasons Sports Network, and a frequent guest on Five on the Floor and #FloorsYours. If you want to sponsor this or any other content on the Five Reasons Sports Network, contact skolnick@fivereasonssports.com 

Thursday Trends: 3 Plays in the NBA Bubble

So some things never change.

Like Dion Waiters’ belief being stronger than your doubt.

But in these Bubble-licious times, much is different than we anticipated. We should be used to odd circumstances by now — after all, who knew we would have a reality TV star overriding the science-based recommendations of one of the most decorated infectious disease specialists on the planet? Or that pizza delivery drivers would become essential workers? Or that the Miami Marlins would be in first place in baseball’s National League East on August 6 after playing just six games?

Here are three NBA trends not everyone saw coming, and how seriously you should take them:

 

“Cash Considerations” Cashing In

Yes, cash considerations. That’s what the Phoenix Suns got for forward TJ Warren and a second-round pick on NBA Draft night. Warren, best known previously for getting the finger and getting called “trash” and “soft” and “not on my f—- level” by the Heat’s Jimmy Butler. Warren has been above everyone level’s in Orlando, averaging 39.7 points in three games, all Indiana Pacers wins.

Will it continue?: Well, not to this degree, since a run like this would rank with anything Michael Jordan ever did -to anyone other than LaBradford Smith. But, while few noticed, Warren was shooting 61 percent in February and 51 percent in March, while averaging 19.9 points per game. So he’s good.

The Betting Edge: Do you trust Indiana in the playoffs? That depends on Domantas Sabonis and Vic Oladipo more than Warren. If the Pacers keep winning, they’ll likely finish 4th or 5th in the East, especially since they have two regular Bubble games left with the Heat. Then they’ll likely face the Heat. And, the Butler-Warren intrigue aside, the Pacers aren’t beating the Heat unless they can throw more at Bam Adebayo than just Myles Turner up front, and can exploit the Heat’s point of attack defensive issues with Oladipo. Will Sabonis (foot) come back? Will Oladipo (knee) round into form? If not, the Pacers are still a first round exit.

 

Raptors Rise 

They’re taking this Lockdown in the Bubble seriously, eh? First in defense through three games with a ridiculous 96.1 rating. Small sample size? Sure. But there’s no reason it can’t continue. The Raptors are quick, long, switchy and deep, and they did a number on the Heat’s offense Monday, frustrating sniper Duncan Robinson off the floor. This has been the NBA’s best team since February 15.

Will it continue?: Why wouldn’t it? Toronto is fully healthy for the first time all season, and has developed a game independent of Kawhi Leonard. Nick Nurse has already proven to be an elite coach. Plus, Kyle Lowry is good for a final minute flop that seals the deal.

The Betting Edge: Keep picking the Raptors until other bettors catch on. News seems to travel slow to the States for some reason (we are dismantling the federal post office here, after all), and even with a few NBA analysts catching on, it’s not like anyone really listens to Kendrick Perkins.

 

Lakers Clankers 

They’re first in the West for sure, having clinched that already, even with LeBron James somehow characterizing that as some sort of unexpected achievement. Anthony Davis is taking the leap after the leap after the leap, establishing himself as a top-5 player until his bad luck forces him to fracture an orbital bone, and LeBron — while disconnected at times so far — should pick up his play when it matters. But here’s the thing: beyond them, this team just isn’t that good offensively, and it’s mostly reflected in their shooting. Even with Rajon Rondo absent for now (which is for the best), the Lakers are making just 25 percent of their three point shots in the Bubble regular season games, and it’s hard to see how that gets much better. That’s the reason they were dead last in offensive rating in the Bubble through four games, at 96.6, which is what TJ Warren now scores for Indiana in a quarter.

Will it last?: Well, this is almost impossible to predict, since you’re counting on the likes of the aforementioned erratic Waiters, TMZ Kyle Kuzma and the always amusing JR Smith. (And what happened to Danny Green?). The question is how much it matters if the Lakers defend as they can, even without Avery Bradley, and Davis and James play to their potential together.

The Betting Edge: It’s difficult to trade 2’s for 3’s all game. If the Lakers draw Portland in the first round, they’re unlikely to lose, but the Blazers might be worth a play on the points a couple of times, with Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum likely to do damage.

 

Tyler Herro is here to silence his doubters

Tyler Christopher Herro is not someone who wants to just fade into the background. He is a brash rookie that doesn´t back down from anyone,  but his confidence doesn´t bleed into arrogance and he is also respectful of the coaching staff and the veterans that are eager to mold him into the next Miami Heat superstar.

Herro is the kind of shooter that the Miami Heat hasn´t seen since…well, ever. His seven three-pointers during a 134-129 win against the Washington Wizards set a Heat rookie record for threes made in a single game. The 20-year-old even already had his first signature moment in the NBA when he made American Airlines Arena go bonkers after a dramatic game-winning shot against the hated Philadelphia 76ers.

He could have done so many things on that play. Drive to the rim at full speed, to begin with, since he would most likely have gotten fouled. He could have passed the ball to the trailing Jimmy Butler, who had gotten the steal and is the team´s veteran star closer after all. But no, he pulled back and shot from long distance with no worries in the world. Like 20,000 people at the AAA and millions more in their homes weren´t holding their collective breath.

His restart debut in Orlando only emphasized that growth, which went beyond his seven points in 20 minutes of action off the bench during Miami’s 125-105 rout of the depleted Denver Nuggets. Herro seemed at ease and already showcases new facets of his offensive repertoire as well.

People seem to think that his upside is a Devin Booker-type player, but his mentality is different. Booker is about his numbers, while Herro is about rising to the moment.

In other words, the kid has cojones. Then again, we are talking about a guy that was born in Wisconsin but made for South Beach with a penchant for luxury cars and Gucci purses.

FROM SNOW PLOWER TO SHOT CALLER

Herro grew up in Milwaukee, and naturally his first job was as a snow plower for his dad Chris.

Life in the suburbs of dairy land wasn´t exactly like the basketball showcase of nearby Chicago. Far from it, the most famous alumni at his local Whitnail High School were former Wisconsin Badgers quarterback Joel Stave (who was the school’s all-time winningest QB but also was waived by six different NFL teams without ever taking a single snap) and 1980 Playboy Playmate of the Month Jeana Keough.

In other words, the fast lane to basketball glory wasn´t at 5000 South 116th Street, Greenfield, Wisconsin. However, if you are talented, the recruiters will find you.

Herro averaged 32.9 points per game and took his school to the sectional semifinals as a senior phenom, hitting game winning shots against archrivals, having ridiculous nights with 45-point triple-doubles and having his classmates call Milwaukee “Tyler City” while making First Team All-State. It didn’t matter if he was snubbed for the McDonald’s All-American game, schools like Kansas and Villanova were already knocking at him, but his original intention was to stay at home with the Badgers, committing verbally as a junior in 2017.

That senior year changed everything, and a visit from Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari made him question what he thought was so clear as well. That was how Calipari convinced Herro that the Wildcats were “a better fit” for him.

That didn’t sit well in Wisconsin.

“A lot of people were calling me ‘snake’ and stuff like that,” Herro told the Kentucky Kernel in 2018.  “Different Wisconsin fans coming to my games, booing me and stuff like that.”

Herro arrived at Rupp Arena ready to fill the void left by current Oklahoma City Thunder star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, one of five one-and-dones and six NBA-bound Wildcats and in 2018. Alexander averaged 14.4 points and took Kentucky to the Sweet 16, but Herro went a step further into the Elite Eight while also being second on the team averaging 14.0 points per contest and shooting 46.2% from the field, 35.5% from deep.

Calipari has seen many super talented prospects come and go during the past decade since he arrived at Kentucky in 2009, but he considers Herro one of his 10 all-time best clutch players and “bucket getters” (makes sense), and also one of his two best lockdown defenders. That’s curious, because Herro’s defense is actually one of the main things coaches, writers and fans emphasize as an area of improvement for the rookie in the NBA.

Herro started all four games for Kentucky during the NCAA Tournament, averaging 12.3 points and 3.5 assists…but his three-point percentage was a horrendous 18.8% (3-for-16), something to keep in mind for when the lights shine brightest in the NBA playoffs later this month.

His last game as a Wildcat was one to forget, as he scored just seven points going 3-for-11 from the field and 1-for-5 from deep in a 77-71 loss to fifth-seeded Auburn.

After the game, a dejected Herro sat in his locker fielding questions and said that “of course” that there was a chance he would be back in blue-and-white for a sophomore year.

However, the lure of being a potential lottery pick *https://nbadraftroom.com/p/2019-nba-mock-draft/) made him decide to turn pro instead.

DRAFT NIGHT DOUBTERS

And a lottery pick he was indeed, the last one actually, as Pat Riley picked him with the 14th  selection, just one spot after Kentucky top scorer P.J. Washington went to Charlotte,

In spite of that feel-good moment and Riley’s praise, the pick was met with a lot of skepticism in Miami, where the team was coming off a 39-43 season and resided in salary cap hell. Some fans booed the pick and Twitter didn’t hold back, as always.

Herro put in the work during the summer of 2019, and the second game of his NBA career was in Milwaukee. You would think his hometown would have been proud of him, but he got greeted by boos instead. Dwyane Wade, who also played college basketball in Milwaukee at Marquette and is the Heat’s all-time best player, came to his defense.

Herro didn’t care much, or at least he didn’t show it. His 14 points and five rebounds contributed to a thrilling 131-126 overtime win against the Eastern Conference’s best team, and that would be just the beginning of a fairytale season for both him and the team.

Let’s just say the bandwagon filled up quickly after that. “Old Ass Taintstick” is probably bragging about how he always loved Herro.

Herro injured his ankle in mid-February and the Heat went 7-9 in his absence during the following six weeks. His return would be short-lived, since it was during the final game before the pandemic against P.J. Washington’s Hornets.

Four months later, he is fully healed and better than ever, hoping to write a new chapter of his story as many experts are not so sure about the Heat’s chances to make it far in the playoffs. Then again, he already knows what to do with the doubters.

Jimmy Butler finally found a home in Miami

Every hero’s journey has his or her own origin story, a path they follow to their ultimate goal. That path is almost always filled with lessons learned, hardships endured, and battles won against villains/doubters that got in their way. The odds are stacked against them, but they persevere even if the odds are 14 million to 1.

The Miami Heat is ready for such a challenge, even if the formidable Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers stand in their way. They don’t just believe they can make it to the NBA Finals this fall, they know they can. That determination starts with their leader: Jimmy Butler.

Butler was pushed to his physical limits in Chicago, misunderstood in Minnesota and heartbroken in Philadelphia before arriving in Miami. He has never felt happier or more fulfilled than during this past year with the Heat, but he knows…He knows that he must reach another level to shock the world.

In order to do so, the hero Miami needs will have to reckon with his memories and his own limitations to break through. To understand Butler’s future, the key lies in his past.

DON’T EVER GIVE UP

Still, he loathes reliving the past — so much so that he has removed the rearview mirror on his car (yes, really) as a symbolic reminder to never look back.

Jimmy Butler can be intense. He will get in your face and dare you to play and practice until you pass out, demanding the same amount of selflessness and effort on the court and obsession off of it that he has, challenging preconceptions, and that is not for everyone. It takes a certain culture to embrace that.

We all like to think that we can and will get up from whatever blows life throws at us, but let’s face it. Like Rocky once said, “nobody is gonna hit as hard as life.”

Put yourself in Butler’s shoes:  You spend your childhood without a father after dad walks out on you. But you hold no grudges, and you keep going. You grow up in Tomball, Texas, a small town of 10,000+ people close to Houston but far from the spotlight. Its more famous resident for years was former Enron executive Sherron Watkins, but you dream big.

Then you are in middle school, just 13 years old, and you are coming home thinking about that girl you like or that math assignment due the next day. You open the door and your mom Londa tells you “I don’t like the look of you, you gotta go.”

A lot of things must have been going through his head. How can your own mother’s last words to you be so cutting, so searing? At that point, it’s easy to break if you feel all alone. Bur he held no grudges, and he kept going thanks to a support system that propped him up when he felt down.

Butler wasn’t homeless for long. He attended Tomball High School while staying with the Leslies and becoming friends with Jordan, who was two years younger and would eventually make it to the NFL.

Butler would play basketball with Jordan and be Tomball’s MVP after averaging 19 points during his senior year, but there were no state championships or All-American honors on his trophy case. Most disappointingly, there were no recruits or major scholarship offers. His recruiting profile was a faceless ghost, a two-star nobody. But he held no grudges, and he kept going.

FROM ZERO TO HERO

Butler wasn’t ready to give up on his basketball dreams, so he enrolled at a small school 200 miles away called Tyler Junior College. Nobody had ever made it to the NBA out of Tyler before, and nobody has since. He wasn’t even a Top 100 prospect, but the young Texan was relentless and Marquette University’s coach Buzz Williams took notice enough to offer him an athletic scholarship.

Butler arrived at Marquette and contributed as a sixth man to a team that went 25-10 and lost to Missouri in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Jimmy scored seven points in 30 minutes off the bench, but there was a moment that could have changed everything.

Marquette was up 78-76 with 1:17 to go when Butler took a shot from behind the arc. He was 0-for-3 in three pointers for the season, but he believed in himself. He could make it, he would ice the game and send Marquette to the Sweet 16. However, he missed it, and Missouri came back to win 83-79.

The kid who nobody gave two cents for a year earlier was now a key cog in a contender, and he was ready for more. By the time the 2010-11 campaign came around, Butler was leading the team in minutes with 34.6 per game as he was joined by future Heat teammate Jae Crowder.

Number 33 was cold-blooded, and eager for more. The 2011 NBA Draft awaited him.

THEY WERE SO WRONG

Butler has always had a chip on his shoulder, but more than anything he needed someone to believe in him. Enter Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau.

The small forward out of Marquette was considered a “jack of all trades, master of none” by many.

In a draft that saw busts like Jan Vesely and Jimmer Fredette as Top 10 selections, destiny would see point guard Norris Cole picked 28th by the Bulls and traded to the Miami Heat. Butler was chosen two spots later, and he was eager to join Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah in Chicago for their quest to dethrone Miami’s own LeBron James, Wade and Bosh from the NBA throne.

Those Bulls would lose in five games to the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals while Butler played only 42 games and averaged barely 2.6 points in 8.6 minutes per game during the lockout shortened season. Most importantly, Derrick Rose tore his ACL during the first round of those playoffs, and everything changed forever for Butler.

Thibodeau trusted him more after that and gave Butler the chance to play in every single game for the first and only time in his career during the 2012-13 regular season, starting 20 of them. One of those starts was against the Heat, and Butler’s 17 points and four assists in 43 minutes helped snap Miami’s historic 27-game winning streak with a 101-97 win by the home team in Chicago.

As Butler evolved, so did his reputation as a clutch player both defensively and, most importantly for his development, offensively.

The problem was, Thibodeau was running him into the ground. Butler averaged career-highs in both 2014 and 2015 with 38.7 minutes per game on his way to being named the NBA’s Most Improved Player and an Eastern Conference All-Star for the first time before signing a five-year, $95 million extension with the Bulls.

2016 saw him get the nod and recognition he craved, getting the nod from Coach K to go to Rio and win the gold medal with Team USA, averaging 5.6 points and 14 minutes a game while playing in every single one of them. His best outing came in the Group Stage against Venezuela, contributing 17 points and a +26 plus/minus in a 113-69 rout.

Butler also fell in love with soccer while in Brazil, where fuchibol is a religion, and forged a friendship with Brazilian superstar Neymar a year later when both of them were in Paris for fashion week.

Back in America, Butler was thriving as Chicago’s go-to scorer in the playoffs, where he averaged over 22 points in 2015 and 2017 along with a blistering 42.9 minutes on the court. However, the Bulls were regressing as Butler was progressing, so the Bulls traded Jimmy to Minnesota on June 22, 2017 for young players such as Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen.

The Bulls were rebuilding, but Butler had visions of a championship with the Timberwolves alongside Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. In theory, those three should have at least put a scare into the Golden State Warriors, but Butler never meshed with them and requested a trade barely over a season after arriving.

THE LONG ROAD TO MIAMI

The “feud” between Butler and Towns was all sorts of ugly, and the press was having a field day concocting theories about Towns’ girlfriend cheating on him with Butler. There was a trend, and that trend was the perception of Butler as a destabilizer.

Minnesota was losing and looking like the NBA version of “Melrose Place”, but in reality all the personal stuff was secondary to what Butler saw as a lack of toughness and will to overcome in Towns and Wiggins.

It all erupted during a practice session that saw Butler play for the backups and decimate the Timberwolves’ starters, calling Towns “soft”. There was no coming back from calling out the franchise’s #1 draft pick, so the team took sides and chose Towns while trading Butler to the Philadelphia 76ers.

Butler was rubbing people the wrong way as a basketball nomad, a troublemaker and disruptor. He even was being labeled as a dreaded “locker room cancer” by the national talking heads.

In reality, Butler didn’t really want to go to Philly. He already had his sights set in South Florida even if the insiders thought otherwise.

Once in Philadelphia, he took that team to another level and found a kindred spirit in Joel Embiid. In fact, he played just as well as Kawhi Leonard during the Sixers-Raptors series that Toronto won in seven games thanks to Kawhi’s miracle shot.

In fact, he could have been the Game 7 hero after tying the game with a layup in the final seconds, but it was just another heartbreak for Jimmy.

Bur he held no grudges, and he kept going, reiterating his desire to play in Miami once again after that season was over. The problem was that Miami had no cap space, or so everybody thought.

Pat Riley pulled off his magic in a sign-and-trade that shipped a malcontent Hassan Whiteside to Portland and guard Josh Richardson to Philadelphia.

So now he is ready to finish what he started and being homeless no more. Butler found his basketball home in Miami, and his family with the Heat. His philosophy has rubbed off on his teammates, there is no softness in the red and white.

With allies like that, Butler believes nothing is impossible. Not after garnering his third career All-Star nod and leading the Heat to a 41-24 record this year. More than anything, he finally feels right at home.