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Evaluating the Ups and Downs of the Olympic-Heat Players Tuesday Night

After another night of Olympic basketball, the story-lines are flooded with teams consisting of young Miami Heat players. Nigeria fell yet again to Germany, which puts their hopes for a medal in a very interesting spot.

Bam Adebayo and Team USA, on the other hand, took care of business against Iran. Although the stat-sheet wasn’t screaming Adebayo’s name, there are definitely things that were seen which can carry over to his play-style in a Miami Heat jersey.

While two out of the four players showcased more negative than positive on Tuesday night, let’s start out with the two guys that had more positive flashes…..

Precious Achiuwa:

Physical Attacks

Achiuwa definitely had his moments in this game, but it definitely wasn’t as smooth as the games back in Las Vegas. At that time, everything he did looked effortless on the offensive end, but as time progressed, more and more things looked forced.

One area of his game that wasn’t being forced was when he had a head of steam going to the basket. As I’ve highlighted in the past, the game has slowed down for him a bit since his rookie season. The reason I say that is due to the extra patience on screens in the high pick and roll.

Usually he would sprint to the basket on the dive for a possible lob, but now he has realized that the pocket pass may benefit him more on many possessions. And well, the stuff he’s been able to do off that reception has been impressive.

On the play above, he slips the screen after the defenders blitz the ball-handler, and it leads to a wide open lane for a slam. A few minutes later, we got to see more of those physical drives in transition.

To reiterate previous points, these weren’t the outcomes on fast-break opportunities for Achiuwa last season. His ability to finally control his body when moving at a high speed is something that changes his game offensively. As seen on the replay in the second clip, he uses his wide frame to take the contact and finish at the rim for the and-1.

Instead of using pump-fakes and retreat dribbles to shy away from contact, he has been embracing it. Combining that with a much improved handle on the perimeter, which he has gotten plenty of reps with as Nigeria’s point guard at times, leads to a guy with major upside on that end of the floor. He’s making subtle improvements on the offensive end, and that’s what an off-season does for a young prospect like himself.

Caught in the Air

To mention one negative takeaway from his performance yesterday, there were some defensive lapses in one specific area. He has actually looked great on that end throughout this whole period, especially on the perimeter against guards as he gives them the “Adebayo treatment.”

Aside from that, he just falls for fakes way too often in the interior, which leads to him throwing his body completely into a block or contest. That resulted in foul trouble yesterday, and it feels like that’s been a recurring theme for some time now.

Even on the perimeter at times, the slightest pump-fake outside the arc gets him in the air. This isn’t a huge deal in the big picture, since that can very easily be tweaked, but it seems like that’ll need to be straightened out pretty soon to avoid that in an NBA environment.

Bam Adebayo:

Transition Dominance

Onto Bam Adebayo’s performance, something I’ve touched on in many pieces in the past was utilized early in this game: transition offense. He’s going to be quicker than any big he faces in these games, which means getting out on the break for the outlet pass can be so effective for Team USA.

He had two possessions early in yesterday’s game where easy transition points were the outcome, and I feel that this could be the case next season with the Heat. Of course it’s not because of the same point here with being quicker than other players, but it opens up the floor and maximizes his offensive ability.

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A point guard will definitely clean up half-court struggles, but getting a shifty, speedy, and versatile big with a handle sprinting down the floor with defenders on their heels seems like a pretty beneficial option. He’s gotten comfortable looking for guys like Jimmy Butler or Goran Dragic on the break, where he must realize now that he’s the true x-factor in this situation.

Clips like the one above are just easy buckets with nobody in front of him, but I’m talking more about possessions where a defense is scrambling to set-up. Faking a DHO, using a dribble combo, or bull dozing his way toward the rim can all be used to eliminate the consistent half-court retreat.

Defensive Diversity

I feel like I’ve discussed every major defensive staple from Adebayo in these games so far, so why stop now? He looked the same with his dominance on the perimeter against guards, where they believe they forced a mismatch early in the first quarter, before realizing it’s just the opposite.

He had his hands full on the block yesterday, but those are great reps to go through so he can grow more comfortable against bigger guys. There’s still some unknown if that’ll be his duty next season if Miami adds a small ball 4, or if that task will be passed onto a stretch big at the 5.

Either way, plays like the one above only occur with pure athletic and determined defenders. Slowly trailing the ball-handler who believes he has a one-on-one opportunity, before blocking it from behind for the stop.

We can sit here and highlight the biggest strengths of his defensive skill-set, perimeter clamps and help-side tagging, but he’s more diverse than I believe most people think. His build just isn’t normal with the attributes he has available to him, which makes him so intriguing as a player once everything else fully comes together.

Gabe Vincent:

Shooting Consistency Question Marks

Gabe Vincent was an interesting story for Nigeria last night. He came out firing from deep, scoring 8 points with two catch and shoot threes shown above and a nice pull-up 2 off the dribble.

You may think that sounds like a fantastic game for him, but shooting consistency continues to be harped on following the hot start. After those 2 triples early on, he ended up missing his next 8 from deep, ending the game 2 of 10 from beyond the arc.

As we know about Vincent, that part of his game went from a major skill to a possible weakness, once realization came that his most ideal area for him to play is on the defensive end. He showed that last night as well, by hounding guards full court and a fantastic way of navigating screens off the ball and in the pick and roll.

I believe Vincent has it in him to make a jump in efficiency, but it’s yet to be seen. In a perfect off-season, Vincent will be the team’s back up guard next season, due to that meaning Miami made some big deals to bring in supreme talents. But if that was going to be his role, he would have to fix that up majorly so the Heat aren’t forced to look at different options.

KZ Okpala:

Skill-Set of Polar Opposites

And the final guy in this discussion is KZ Okpala, who I’ve pretty much walked away from every game with the same exact takeaway. To touch on the positive stuff first, the dude is just an absolute monster on defense. The full-court press, the speed to switch, the length to hit passing lanes, and a combination of that all to alter shots.

Those things led to him racking up 5 steals in yesterday’s game, which would make you think that player is extremely talented and effective at the moment. But the issue is that he had the same amount of steals as points, which seems to be the case in every game he plays.

I actually thought he looked more comfortable on offense early on than he did the entire Olympics. The clip above shows a solid drive that he had, where he utilized his long strides to get to the basket, before giving a nice bump to create separation for the score.

But much like Vincent’s situation, it tailed off. And well, he actually became a true liability on that end for them down the stretch. The biggest thing that must be noted is that he is just way too predictable on that end. Defenses find out quickly that he’s not a true floor spacer, while the limited on-ball involvement allows for exclusive tagging as they drop away from him.

As he tried to create some offense in the half-court and in transition in the fourth quarter yesterday, it halted their flow. With an unwillingness to look at the basket, players began fronting the perimeter, waiting for the kick-out. That led to two late turnovers on forced passes, all due to him not being able to be instinctive with his decisions.

Once again, he has unbelievable potential on defense, but the offensive stuff will continue to hold him back. Especially on a Heat team where floor spacing is absolutely necessary next to the roster’s top dogs, that must be added for him to have a major role in the future.

 

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Film Breakdown on Game Two of Heat-Olympic Performances

After a headliner game one from Gabe Vincent against the USA on Saturday night, another unexpected Heat player broke-out on Monday evening for Nigeria. Precious Achiuwa has looked more and more comfortable as the minutes increase through this Olympic journey.

And this is just the beginning of this long off-season.

Vincent and KZ Okpala also had their moments, while Bam Adebayo and Team USA fell short yet again against Team Australia. So, even though we’re going to dive into a lot of Achiuwa’s offensive performance, let’s hop into the things that stood out from all four guys in Monday night’s matches…

Precious Achiuwa

Transition Body Control

One of Precious Achiuwa’s biggest issues in his rookie season was all about control. Both body control and ball control never seemed to be his strength, as transition offense usually resulted in an offensive foul, while passes in tight spaces always fell through his hands for a turnover.

But in the first two exhibition games, he’s controlling himself in every facet of the game at a high level. Looking at the first clip above, body control is definitely the most important, since his pacing being knocked down a few notches changes his offensive flow.

He grabs the rebound at the baseline, and the play doesn’t end until he touches the opposite baseline. I’ll touch on “point Precious” a little more down the line, but that’s not something to just skip over.

The best part about him beating all of the other defenders down the floor with some hesitation dribbles and long strides, is that he did it all with his off-hand. I didn’t think we would see that this soon with his strong hand, but that’s just the beauty of playing time for a young guy who hasn’t had an NBA off-season yet.

In the second clip above, another weakness of his game shows to be clearing up. Once again, he runs the floor with his off-hand, but his eyes are the part to watch. He’s no longer looking at the ball when running the floor, since instead his head is up, reading the defense and watching his teammates spacing.

As soon as the guy guarding Okpala in the dunker spot steps up, he throws him a perfect bounce pass for a nice up and under for a bucket. That is growth. Ball handling, body control, reading defenses. Those were all real issues with his game a few months ago, and it’s already showcasing major improvement.

Slower Screening, Quicker Rolling

I touched on Achiuwa’s screening briefly in my last piece, but getting a longer look at him shows this was no fluke. He set plenty of screens in Miami’s offense last season, but they didn’t always look great. For one, the timing and speed of the pick never looked to be in sync, since everything looked rushed offensively.

In the clip above, you can tell he’s much more focused on giving the ball-handler the correct angle instead of just going through the motions.

The second part of this is what occurs after the screen. It was clear that he was slipping way too many picks last season, mostly due to the fact that his skill-set lines up with rolling much more. He’s a pure athlete, and the gravity of a lob pass can bend a defense like no other.

In the first two games with Nigeria, I have not seen much of him slipping screens, and I think that’s more of a self realization than an offensive game-plan. Above, it’s not that they broke-down the defense into a perfectly executed 2 on 1. Instead, Achiuwa gets moving downhill at full speed, which allows the ball-handler to just throw it up somewhere around the rim.

It wasn’t the greatest pass, but vertical threats, as Coach Mike Brown called him after the game, can makes plays like this one when they’re playing a specific, and fitting, role.

More Shooting Flashes

Speaking of things Coach Mike Brown said about Achiuwa after the game, he mentioned that they encourage him to take that three-ball when his feet are set and he has enough space.

He’s done that confidently so far, knocking down yet another three against Argentina. When evaluating his full shooting skill-set, a lot of things just aren’t aligned. His free throw shooting has continued to be an absolute issue, while the three-ball looks as fluid as ever.

The reasoning for that is much more mental than it is physical. Physically, he has a very pure shooting motion with perfect form, good lower body positioning, and an outstanding flick of the wrist. Along with that, he’s also not thinking about his shot on those possessions, since he’s just letting it fly.

Free throws just aren’t as smooth looking. He’s not able to get the same type of lift, the form doesn’t always look the same, and well, the mental side just takes over. Time will only tell if that can be tweaked, but for now, the focus is on his outside shooting which looks like a brief preview to an even bigger expansion.

Point Precious? Off-Hand into On-Hand?

I showcased “Point Precious” earlier with the fast-break passing, but the part that’s even more intriguing is the amount of times that he’s the guy bringing the ball down. Receiving the inbound, crossing half-court with an immediate DHO, and much more.

On this possession, it’s a mix of that point guard trust, and just allowing his talent to takeover on the attack. Do you notice anything similar from earlier clips?

Well, I do.

That left hand seems to be the hand he’s most comfortable with. It’s not just fast-break lead dribbles, since he’s even driving with a purpose in the half-court utilizing his off-hand with both the dribble and the lay-in.

A lot of times we evaluate young player’s skill-sets in the big picture, discussing major parts of their game that need a major leap. But frankly, sometimes it’s more about minor improvements on the headliner parts of your game, while taking major leaps in the small areas. That’s what leads to a complete all-around player, and Achiuwa’s looking closer to that than ever.

KZ Okpala

Continued Ball Pressure

After watching KZ Okpala some more in increased minutes, some things really pop out defensively. The ball pressure stuff is a known things, but there are smaller points to make within that category.

Although he’s picking up smaller guys at the opposing baseline or half-court line every play, this possession displays the entire package. It isn’t just one thing that makes him a disruptive defender, since he just looks really complete on that end in every manner.

For one, his lengthy wingspan allows him to put pressure on the ball handler when they turn themselves this way. He can position himself to eliminate any drive-by’s, while jabbing the ball with his right hand to make him shift a bit before poking it out with the left hand.

While he looks like an inexperienced young guy on the offensive side of the ball, he looks like a seasoned vet defensively most possessions. The on-ball stuff looks perfect, while team defense still needs some improvement which only comes with game reps.

A lot of times, on-ball guys become on-ball watchers whenever they’re on the weak-side. That right there is Okpala, which can lead to a blown rotation or an easy back-door cut. That’s the reason he’s utilized as a perimeter stopper and defends the ball-handler at all times in both the Heat’s system and Nigeria.

Same Offensive Role, But Is It The Right Role?

Okpala’s role isn’t just a product of Nigeria’s offensive scheme. Aside from the fact that they’re basically running a Heat offense, Okpala continues to be utilized as a spot-up spacer in the corner and the wing.

He continued to struggle from the outside, until this sequence with back to back triples in the third. The first one occurred when the shot clock was expiring with a great contest, while the second one was just a transition filler.

Only 4 seconds into the shot-clock, he fired that wing three and knocked it down. If that can become his role consistently, then there’s definitely something there with an increased role. But should that be his role at this stage?

I’ve been a huge proponent of finding ways to get him downhill, which was his biggest offensive strength coming into the league and his body-type translates to that style of play. But the counter to that is this league just won’t allow 4’s to not be able to shoot, especially when playing next to a center who doesn’t shoot the three ball. (Yet)

In some ways, he has to figure out the shooting from the outside, but it’s clear that will have to be secondary in this league from a short-term sense. He can be very effective just with his defensive abilities that aren’t one bit overstated, but to stay on the floor in the NBA, somewhat of an offensive game must be mixed in.

Gabe Vincent

Movement Shooting

After an outstanding game one from Gabe Vincent against Team USA, the shooting from the outside didn’t carry over early. On Saturday night, we saw him display pull-up shooting, some spot-up reps, and plenty of on-ball triples out of specific actions which I’ll dive into next.

But an added layer that was shown against Argentina was his movement shooting. From a Heat sense, movement shooting is one of the most important attributes, due to their motion offense and constant off-ball screening. In a bench role, there must be some way to replicate the sets they run for Duncan Robinson, and this type of stuff above relates to that.

A nice Okpala drive to the middle of the floor forces the defender to drop down off his man on the perimeter. That leads to them rotating into splitting the difference between the top of the key and the wing, leading into a very instinctive and smart play by Vincent.

Diving to the corner not only maximizes the spacing for a simple kick-out, but it forces that one defender to make a decision on who to cover. He trails Vincent but he’s not close enough as he lets it fly on the move in the corner. If that type of high difficulty shot is made regularly, his shooting from deep becomes much more lethal.

Perfecting the On-Ball Role

Something I highlighted in my last piece was something I asked Vincent after the season. He’s been a spot-up guy for most of his career, but was handed the keys to the offense in an on-ball role this past season. It wasn’t expected for him to be plugged into certain lineups and immediately run sets, but he did just that, which leads him into the next focus of his game.

When I asked him about focusing on that this Summer, he talked about this off-season becoming an important time for that, saying “that part of my game will need to grow, and will grow.” And these exhibition games are the perfect time for that.

In the clip above, we see Vincent flowing right into a simple PnR, with yet another patient screen from Achiuwa. It forces the 2 on 1, and Vincent feeds him the ball with that coveted pocket pass for yet another athletic Achiuwa slam.

Combining consistent shooting gravity with an ability to put the ball in the perfect spots of his teammates really changes things for his upcoming role in the NBA, but the key there will have to be consistency. This off-season should help that round into form organically.

Bam Adebayo

Post Play into Face-Up Game

While it feels like I’ve been covering Nigeria more than anyone, we’ve gotta finish this off with Bam Adebayo’s play with Team USA. He was moved to the bench with Jayson Tatum, but still got plenty of minutes with a role player type responsibility. Coming in, we knew that he wasn’t going to be the go-to scorer, but we’ve still seen some offensive flashes.

I went into Adebayo’s post-up issues in the last piece, and that must be expanded on a bit after watching him in action again. Looking at both clips above, your takeaway may differ depending on how you look at it.

The first clip can be viewed as a tough turn-around jumper with a generous roll, which that face-up game will be a staple of his in the upcoming season. The second clip is pretty similar, since he was subbed in and immediately went into a face-up jumper off the back-board.

Although those plays could be looked at as a positive, it should once again be mentioned that he’s relying on that too heavily out of the post. He has the mismatch on Matthew Dellavedova, and picks up his dribble to find the kick-out option. When no one is open, he reverts back to the face-up shot that ultimately does end in points.

Will that be figured out by opposing defenses in the NBA? Most likely. It’s becoming a bit predictable that a couple post moves and a drop step won’t be mixed in a lot of the time, which will become the next step.

This isn’t a big deal, since this can pop up at any time once he masters the other areas of his game, but I do feel that we’re rapidly approaching the point when it becomes a necessity.

Pocket Pass Facilitator 

After seeing him thrive with a pocket pass reception in the first match to try and score, these type of possessions prove that’s not the only case. Miami needing a point guard isn’t just to get Adebayo downhill to score. He’s a natural play-maker, and that will always be his play-style in this league.

Team USA’s offense hasn’t been clicking in the half-court. Points are being scored off isos, catch and shoot threes, and not much production out of any true sets. The times when certain actions became effective was when Adebayo got the pocket pass on the move.

They are forced to blitz Damian Lillard, leaving Adebayo in his most comfortable spot on the basketball court: middle of the floor with numbers. Tatum’s defender is forced to cut-off Adebayo on the move, leading to an easy bucket for Tatum off the Adebayo dish.

That’s where a point guard comes into play. It doesn’t just get Adebayo going, it allows Adebayo to get others going. Instead of him facilitating from out of his range or from the elbow as he faces the basket, mixing it up in this fashion can truly change a Heat offense.

It may be about Jimmy Butler’s timeline, but it’s mostly about Adebayo’s skill-set.

 

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Breaking Down the Film of a Miami Heat-Olympic Reunion

After Team USA faced off against Team Nigeria on Saturday night, also known as the Miami Heat showcase game, there’s plenty of things to dive into from this match-up. Gabe Vincent dominance, Bam Adebayo starting, Precious Achiuwa’s block, and a crucial possession from KZ Okpala leave us with plenty to discuss.

So let’s not waste any time, and jump right into the film of each of their individual performances.

Bam Adebayo:

Double Drag Dominance 

When discussing a Miami Heat offense, the DHO’s will obviously be harped on, but they mix in a bunch of base sets with double drag. The frequency of those actions is another story.

With the firepower that Team USA has, they can run this set into the ground with an off the dribble shooter like Damian Lillard, a perimeter threat like Bradley Beal, and an athletic and skilled roller like Adebayo.

It felt like almost every time Adebayo received the ball in this action, points were an end result. When looking at the first clip above, the initial screen from Beal forces Okpala to switch onto him, leaving an open floor PnR for Lillard and Adebayo.

There’s no way for a defense to react that quickly on the front-line, meaning the back-side help is what they’re relying on. Easy slam for Adebayo for the first bucket of the game, and it wouldn’t be his last time in that action.

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Obviously Miami wouldn’t have the offensive gravity that a USA team has, but there’s a consistent theme with what I’ve been discussing. Finding ways to get Adebayo on the move is the point to harp on here, and these type of plays get him in his comfort zone.

Moving to the second clip above, it’s the same personnel, same action, just a different side of the floor. They start it off the same exact way with an Okpala switch, and a pocket pass to Adebayo, which I will dive into deeper in the next section.

The only difference this time around is that Okpala helps down for the cut-off, triggering some needed rotations from a defensive standpoint. Beal sees these rotations occurring as Vincent recovers, and immediately cuts to eliminate any offensive reset. Adebayo is patient and hits Beal in stride, and it’s the spot that he’s been doing most of his play-making damage for the last two years.

While the goal is to get him downhill with a scoring purpose, the most important part is the stuff that can be ran with added layers. The Heat’s constant back screening and movement would lead to plenty of these looks, but it would only happen if Adebayo gives his defender a reason to step up.

Pocket Pass Perfection

In that last double drag clip, we saw what that pocket pass led to, but that was far from being the only possession. The Heat adding a point guard will never stop being discussed, especially when seeing the immediate offensive leap from Adebayo when receiving the ball without hesitation after the ball-handler is blitzed.

The first clip above isn’t a pocket pass, but it’s important to show what can happen when capable passers are able to draw defenders whenever attacking the basket. An off the ball screen forces Beal and Adebayo into a 2 on 1, which leads to him getting Achiuwa to jump for an easy dump-off to Adebayo.

The second clip is the more important one, where Lillard avoids the screen in the PnR and gets Adebayo the ball in stride. After some easy rolling and paint buckets early on, both Okpala and Achiuwa angle themselves toward the paint on this possession. Adebayo reads it and takes that free throw line jumper that I expect to expand by the start of the season.

It’s really just as simple as getting him in his spots while putting a defense into a state of constant movement and recovery. If that can be semi-replicated in a Heat offense, that is when Adebayo can take yet another jump.

A Post Move Deficiency 

Before stating the one negative aspect from Adebayo in this game, I decided to expand this play a few seconds to point something out with Achiuwa, who is up next in this piece. His ball control and hands still seem to be problematic at times, and I don’t believe it will be fixed until he slows down a bit. And well, he won’t be able to slow down until he gets significant playing time, which is what the Olympics and Summer League will do for him.

Back to Adebayo, this play flows into an isolation for him on the block, and his next move is usually pretty predictable. (Especially when you’re being defended by your teammate) After one shoulder check on the back down, he tries to spin into that baseline jumper. Of course he’s much more comfortable when he is facing the basket, but shifting to that whenever he’s in the post will get shut down quickly.

This puts him in an odd spot as he tries to scoop it up with the reverse, which doesn’t work. The positive flashes were fluid with him on Saturday night, but developing some type of go-to with his back to the basket feels like it’s essential.

Precious Achiuwa

Major Defensive Flashes

Precious Achiuwa clearly had his moments last night, but we have to start it off with “the” moment. Jayson Tatum feeds the ball into Kevin Durant with a wide open baseline, which is the last player you want to give that to. As he spins into the drive, Achiuwa reacts and tries to beat him to the spot.

He may not have beat him to the spot, but he beat him at the rim. An incredible showcase of athleticism leads to an emphatic block at the basket, taking some things out of Adebayo’s book from last year’s Eastern Conference Finals. Using the left hand for a block on that side of the rim eliminates the contact for a foul call, and he gets a career highlight in the making.

In some ways, the second clip above is more important than the first. Achiuwa’s defense is an interesting topic, since his individual defense has looked pretty good up to this point, both on the block and the perimeter, but some rotations and switches become problematic at times.

But as seen above, he locks in on Beal to finish the second quarter, as he begins to put his moves on him off the dribble. The first part of this is that his foot speed is looked faster than ever, as he didn’t give Beal a slimmer of hope the entire possession. The second part is that he didn’t fall for any fakes, which wasn’t the case in his rookie year.

If Achiuwa’s able to contain in that fashion without biting on the slightest of fakes, it changes a ton of things about his game. Once again, we will continue to harp on playing time being the hidden gem for him, especially since this is his first true off-season.

Stretch Big?

From a film breakdown sense, there’s nothing to dive to deeply into here. From a shot selection sense, I don’t think anybody expected to see this from Achiuwa this soon.

Adebayo backs off of Achiuwa as he receives the ball on the perimeter, and Achiuwa makes him pay. Expanded range for Achiuwa not only helps his own game, but it could possibly shift the way Miami elects to utilize him in the future. To answer questions a lot of you probably have, yes, this could very well mean that he could play next to Adebayo for extended minutes.

Do I expect this to become a high frequency thing for him? Absolutely not. Well, just not this soon.

Looking at that play, his form looks perfect and there’s no hesitation when he lets it go. Will he have that same freedom in an NBA environment? I don’t think anybody can answer that but Achiuwa, yet it’s very clear that his self confidence translates to level of effectiveness.

Needing A Decision-Making Boost

If there’s one thing that can be taken away from this game in a negative sense, it’s that his decision making still needs a major upgrade. Looking at the first clip above, he just doesn’t really ever decide what he’s going to do with the ball until the last second. It refers back to slowing down a bit and just reacting, instead of forcing stuff.

Some unnecessary dribble moves lead to a trickling shot clock into a poor shot to end the possession. Those type of things just can’t happen, and they will continue to happen until he is comfortable enough to just make the occasional defensive read.

The second clip isn’t as much an inability to be decisive, but just about his shot selection. The shot clock was once again ticking down, but relying on a baseline isolation into a deep two is quite the choice.

One thing I will say is that he looked much more patient on his screens in most possessions, but patience with the ball in his hands has to be next in the queue. And well, he’s only coming off his first year, so he has time.

KZ Okpala

One-on-One Defensive Attributes

KZ Okpala’s evaluation only needs two sections: a defensive one and an offensive one. The reasoning is that’s his positive and negative elements. He looks so comfortable and fluid on one end of the floor, while so out of place on the other.

Starting with his defensive presence, I could probably make a 3 minute montage of him pressuring the ball-handler down the court every play, or sprinting toward the baseline after a bucket to press. But that doesn’t sum up his abilities on that end the way this play above does.

Nigeria basically went 14 deep in this game, subbing guys in and out for different circumstances. This situation, though, is a 3 point game with 13 seconds left. Everybody in the building, everybody on the team, and everybody watching on TV knew they were getting the ball to Kevin Durant.

But what if you don’t let it get to that point?

That was Okpala’s mentality on this final possession, while it says something about him for the Coach to trust him in this spot from a one-on-one sense. Aside from that, just watch Okpala on this play. He stays square between Durant and the ball-handler, not allowing them to get into the initial action.

It leads to them fouling with 3 seconds left which essentially ended the game, all due to Okpala’s DB skills. It’s not an overstatement that his defensive skills are that good, while the only thing I can add is that his over-aggression can get him in trouble at times, such as the two early fouls in this game.

Lack of Offensive Stability 

As for the other side of the ball, things just don’t appear to be coming together. Before the game, I mentioned that I wanted to see Okpala in a role that wasn’t a spot-up guy in the corner or the wing.

But that was exactly what his role was offensively.

PnR’s with him as the ball-handler seem to be a cakewalk for defenses, since they can go under screens effortlessly, without adding any weak-side help. The play above was just a miscommunication on the switch, and still he couldn’t capiatlize.

Other than that, his length and quickness should be the perfect combination for a versatile attacker on the ball. Yet, some things seem to be holding that back.

Take a look at the second clip above, where although he’s being defended by Adebayo, the dribble spams have continued to be the unnecessary go-to. His player build shows that he has the pieces to put it all together, but at the moment, the pieces are all over the place.

Gabe Vincent

Defensive Physicality Continues

Before jumping into the topic of the night with Gabe Vincent, his shooting, I want to touch on something that continues to pop up with him. His defensive toughness is no fluke, since he showed that whenever he was plugged into the lineup last season, basically being the sample for how the 2-2-1 press should work.

Diving on the floor, scrappy possessions, and most importantly, utilizing his unexpected strength. Plays like the one above occur frequently, where the offensive player sees a clear height advantage, not knowing the strength advantage is nonexistent.

Beal tries to bully Vincent on the back-down, but it just doesn’t work as he stays complacent with the contest and positioning, leading to a miss. While many observers were focused on shooting when he came in the game last season, his defensive physicality forced some to do a double take. And combining that with a revived jumper makes it quite interesting.

A Shooting Leap or a Shooting Normality?

When Vincent spoke with media after the season ended, he mentioned that he tweaked his jumper mid-season, which forced him into an adjustment period. He wanted to maximize his range and consistency, and this first game proved that to be true.

He shot the ball in multiple ways: pull-ups, spot-ups, off the dribble. That type of diversity for him is so crucial, and it may have been a focus for him over the past few months.

I asked him after the season about his next step being a leap as an on-ball threat, after being utilized more and more in that way with the Heat. He said that would be a focus for him in the off-season, sharpening those skills with the ball in his hands, and there was some immediate production against Team USA.

Playing on that stage against some of the NBA’s top talent, it’s not normal to be the leading scorer as a NBA player on a two-way contract. But between the Heat’s developmental system and Vincent’s self working improvements, he has a shot to be really effective as long as consistency continues to be his label.

It may be looked at as a shooting leap in this initial game, but I believe it’s actually a shooting normality. It’s just now really coming together.

 

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Evaluating Precious Achiuwa’s Game in the Past, Present, and Future

We’re starting up a new article series to kick off the off-season.

With plenty of time to look forward into free agency, first off we must discuss this past roster, evaluating the season’s that each player had, while also addressing the next step, or even the next team, of each individual.

So, let’s make our way up the roster, starting with a guy who just wrapped up his rookie season, Precious Achiuwa.

It’s been quite the introduction to the league for Achiuwa, joining a team that he was previously rooting for while they were going toe to toe in the NBA finals against LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers. No true off-season, no Summer League, no normality.

That’s just been the motto of everybody throughout this unique season. Not only did Achiuwa have to get through all of that, but then he was forced to back-up one of the league’s most promising young big men, Bam Adebayo.

A bench role is not something Achiuwa has ever had. Not in middle school, not in travel ball, not in high school, not in college. But he was forced to adjust rather quickly.

He had some good moments, but ultimately the inexperience was shining through with the team’s hopes of making a playoff run. The addition of some veterans left Achiuwa observing from the sideline, and well, these few months may be the most important part of his young career.

So, let’s hop right into those highs and lows from his rookie year…

Strengths:

Above the Rim Roller 

It’s important to start off with Achiuwa’s most known offensive skill, and truthfully, one that I didn’t expect to become effective this soon.

This play above was the final basket from the Miami Heat’s season, meaning many Heat fans may have already changed the channel after a disappointing loss that completed the sweep by the Milwaukee Bucks. But take a look back at this possession for a second, since even though it didn’t hold high importance, it shows a flash for the future of Achiuwa.

Once again, Achiuwa hasn’t been used much up to this point of the playoffs, which is why a key component of a player’s mindset is their IQ of plays no matter if there is only 20 seconds left on the clock before elimination.

He sets the off-ball screen, resets and receives the ball for a DHO and screen back in that direction. He dives quickly and receives the ball in motion to throw it down. He’s had plenty of these sequences this season where he’d throw down a lob, but none of them looked this polished.

There always seemed to be a minor error, either in the ball screen or the pivot into the dive, which frankly is normal for a rookie. The thing is that some time on the sideline, and most likely more time in the film room, has already prepared him for a hopeful leap this off-season.

His rolling ability was noticed as soon as he hit the hardwood back in December, but he never seemed to have the pacing down. And the more reps that he’s gotten, the more the pacing is slowed down. If he rounds out some others parts of his offensive game, this base leads to a very intriguing prospect moving forward.

Battling on the Offensive Boards

Achiuwa is not your traditional center. He’s also not your traditional stretch big. Although he lacks a ton of size and range, one thing that you know you’re getting with him is constant fight on the offensive boards.

The efficiency stat may look a little weird at times for a guy who doesn’t shoot from the outside, but that’s because of second efforts. He may miss the first or second tip in around the basket, but there’s always that feeling that he’s going to get it in there somehow with the way he fights.

Something he will need to be a bit smarter with on those plays is just securing the ball and resetting offense. There were plenty of instances where he would basically try and score until the other team had possession. That can’t be the case, but also, these are rookie examples.

The next, and final, strength basically ties into this, since I believe that type of play is just in him, and won’t go anywhere. Looking back to high school, ESPN’s Paul Biancardi, who watched him from junior year on, told me that the two things that have stuck out to him most over the years, were energy and rebounding.

And well, those two things go hand in hand when looking at the clip above. He takes the contact, lands, and immediately explodes back up for the tip-in in traffic.

And well, speaking of exploding….

Explosiveness 

Another thing ESPN’s Biancardi told me before the season about Achiuwa, is that he is an incredible athlete. We got an introduction to that at times with the high bounce off the short roll, but take this play above as an example.

Yeah, he may not have been able to throw it down, but there are only a few players that are capable of putting themselves in a position to possibly catch a body in that regard. As that possession showed, there is no doubt in my mind that he has quite the explosiveness attached to his offensive game.

The reason that it’s essential is not just because of possibly making the SportsCenter top 10, as seen here, but more importantly, the way it opens up his game once he has an entire offensive package in his sophmore season.

There are times when that explosive fire is great, but well, there are also times when it’s his biggest downfall…

Weaknesses:

Transition Control

Once again, when pointing out weaknesses in rookies, the same takeaway occurs: uncomfort, inexperience, and too fast.

This clip here is not a one time occasion for Achiuwa, since it was a recurring theme whenever he had a chance to get out on the floor. It mostly occurred in these small stretches at the end of games, which makes sense since he’s trying to use his time wisely to make plays and prove himself.

The issue is that doesn’t wow coaches at these points of the game. What actually wows them is smart basketball, slow paced sets, and a polished game-plan, which is exactly what we saw in that first clip from the final possession of game 4 in the post-season.

The upcoming events this off-season will be crucial for him to get some reps as a player that can go all game playing under control, especially knowing that the ball must find your ball-handlers in transition. The Heat coaching staff wants to see Adebayo-like finesse on the break, instead of Derrick Henry trucks as we’ve seen throughout the year.

Free Throw Shooting

This weakness is one that many are aware of in the coaching staff, as well as Achiuwa himself. 110 free throw attempts this season, while only making 56 of them. A 51% free throw shooter just won’t cut it at the big man position, especially when evaluating the upcoming leaps in his game.

When players have free throw shooting issues, it’s either they’re incapable and uncomfortable of shooting the ball in general, or it’s a mental game. For Achiuwa, it’s the latter, since he’s proved to have some soft touch whenever he gets to his spots without thinking.

That’s something I’ve discussed about Adebayo, who is a great free throw shooter, but he shoots best when he isn’t reluctant and doesn’t overthink it. Same goes for Achiuwa.

This is not a mechanical issue whatsoever, since he’s been able to knock down free throw after free throw in practices before. If he can overcome that mental obstacle, which isn’t an easy thing to hurdle over, that’s yet another expansion that can be made for his offensive game.

Passing

When the Heat drafted Achiuwa, they envisioned a guy that can mirror some of the things their starting center, Adebayo, can do, instead of the traditional big that they always go away from but find themselves back with eventually.

There was only one issue to that comparison to Adebayo: he doesn’t have anything close to the passing gift.

For one, it’s not normal for bigs to be able to pass like Nikola Jokic or Adebayo, so holding young guys to that standard is unfair. But yet, average as a passer is a good bar for him to set at this period of time.

This clip shows that he doesn’t have great touch or timing on passes for cutters, but that’s not even the biggest instance that stuck out. A team that heavily based themselves around dribble hand-offs needs to have a center that can hand it off, but that was an issue early on.

I’ve mentioned the word comfort a few times, and that was an area that he showed zero comfort with early in the season. To push this back into a positive direction, go back and watch that first clip I inserted earlier of that final possession. A nice looking hand-off led to that dunk off the lob, and that’ll be necessary if he envisions himself getting major playing time in the near future.

What’s Next?

Now, the “what’s next” feature in this series can touch on a variety of things. It could be the next part for a player in free agency, the next improvement, among other things.

Clearly, Achiuwa is one of the few players under contract for next season, meaning we don’t need to discuss that. It can be mentioned that he has some potential that many teams are aware of, so if a trade is made during the off-season to improve this team, he could very well be included in that type of deal to get it done.

Other than that, what is next for Achiuwa is the continued development and growth of his game. This will be a busy Summer for him, as he could get plenty of playing time if he chooses to play for Nigeria in Tokyo, and then Summer League down the line in August.

When Achiuwa talked about the part of his game that he will focus on this off-season, he responded, “My jump shot is gonna be a big emphasis this summer.”

I always say that it’s more important to make the things you’re good at great than to expand range, but I feel like there’s an exception for him. As stated earlier, he’s an undersized big, and I think he realizes that his biggest chance to be successful in this league will be to develop that Adebayo mid-range as quickly as possible.

And yet, there will be a ton of stages to see that progression with him over the next few months, so it’s definitely something to keep an eye on.

Many are discussing the possible additions of a big in free agency, while the expectation is that Dewayne Dedmon will return. But don’t forget about the second year version of Achiuwa, since the positive signs he showed in his rookie campaign can very well carry over. And Coach Spo will not be shy to throw him into the fire once again.

A Breakdown of Precious Achiuwa’s Two-Way Play

After not getting any playing time on Friday night in the win over the Utah Jazz, Precious Achiuwa made a huge impact on both ends of the floor against the Atlanta Hawks. He’s an intriguing young player, since he battles every step of the way in his limited minutes.

So, let’s take a look into Achiuwa’s two-way play against the Hawks…

– Switching onto small guards effectively

Achiuwa entered late in the first quarter, and made his defensive presence felt. Rajon Rondo is always searching to find the mismatch, but he quickly found out that Achiuwa covering him might not be a mismatch.

On the first play, he switches onto Rondo while Kendrick Nunn slides for the double. Rondo looks to pass it for an easy bucket, but Achiuwa’s active hands deflect the ball, leading to transition offense for Miami. The second possession was a similar thing, except Rondo looked to take him off the dribble this time. He utilizes his well-known ball fake, which got Achiuwa up in the air, but he somehow recovers.

Achiuwa’s energy and heart will be highlighted throughout a lot of these plays, but he also has natural defensive mechanics like quick recovery speed.

– A Precious move

This is a part of Achiuwa’s game that hasn’t been seen much, since most of his points come from put-backs or alley-oop dunks.

He utilizes a gather dribble after receiving the ball from Andre Iguodala, and goes right into a spin for an and-1. For starters, his footwork is highlighted here and proves to be pretty polished at this stage of his career. He also has a very solid left hand around the rim, which is why he has such flexibility around the basket, making it hard for defenders to block his craftiness.

If Miami can get consistent offense from him like this, it makes his Adebayo relief play even more realistic.

– The never-ending battle for offensive rebounds

When evaluating Achiuwa’s above average ability to locate offensive rebounds, it’s more than just his high energy. It has a lot to do with timing, since as seen here, he waits for the ball to fly off the rim and immediately runs to the front of the rim to grab it.

And take a look at how this play ended. It went from an empty possession to a Kendrick Nunn three, which is important for this team specifically since extra possessions are so crucial for them.

Here’s another example of that fight on the offensive boards. For one, he notices he’s battling with a guy that is his size, so he utilizes his right arm across his body to tip it up in the air.

This allows him to get possession of the ball, and take a look at how quickly he went back up with it. Quick decisions are important for young players, even if they’re not always the right decision. It led to another trip to the free throw line, which may come a lot for him due to his aggression down low.

– An ability to readjust

An interesting part about Achiuwa as a lob threat is his ability to read a team’s pick and roll defense.

Kendrick Nunn created a 2 on 1 opportunity, which John Collins slid up leading to the lob. Trae Young dropped down on Achiuwa, which means he could’ve clearly rushed the catch and laid it in. Except, he knows he can land and take it back up on the smaller Young, which is exactly what he did.

Once again, many young players without experience aren’t readjusting on that play. But Achiuwa knows his role so well at this point, that he can read situations by the rim pretty easily.

– Plays much bigger than he is

Achiuwa only being 6’8 does not seem to be the case most nights, since he plays as big of any center he matches up with. He’s powerful, physical, and well, isn’t afraid to throw it down.

On this play, Nunn’s improved play-making must be noted for a second. He draws two defenders when driving baseline, and instead of getting stuck, he throws a great bounce pass to Achiuwa under the basket.

He utilizes yet another gather dribble, which seems to be his safety net, and rises right up for an impressive slam. And once again, did not look like a guy that is only 6’8.

– Running the floor, playing above the rim

Another thing that must be discussed is Miami’s bench unit once fully healthy. Goran Dragic and Tyler Herro being in the back-court will be quite the offensive push, while Achiuwa always seems to thrive with them on the floor. But a name that hasn’t been linked to Achiuwa a lot is Iguodala, and he should.

Iguodala runs a lot of Miami’s offense, while a fantastic play-making ability means more opportunities for Achiuwa. These four guys complete Miami’s 9 man rotation for now, and it’s quite the mix of play styles.

On this play, though, take a look at Achiuwa to start the play. He’s way behind Iguodala, who is bringing the ball up the floor, and immediately turns on the burners to get straight to the basket. It seems as if Collins just gave up on the defensive possession for Atlanta, even when Achiuwa created the 2 on 1.

Of course, it led to an easy alley-oop finish for him, and there are more to come when that bench unit gets into a rhythm together pretty soon.

5 Takeaways from Heat’s Win Over Hawks

The Miami Heat expand their win streak to six after a win against the Atlanta Hawks. The Heat were without Jimmy Butler, which meant a close game down the stretch was going to be a bit different. But Tyler Herro, Kendrick Nunn, Goran Dragic, and Bam Adebayo all hit needed shots to spark a 10-0 run late in the game. Here are five takeaways from the game….

#1: Gabe Vincent becomes an unexpected spark, occurring on a surprising side of the ball.

Well, Gabe Vincent fell onto this takeaway piece in an interesting way, since it usually means he had a great scoring night. His impact was actually felt on the defensive end, which seems to be the reason for his jump in minutes. Coach Spo trusts the 2-3 zone and full court press when Vincent and Andre Iguodala are at the top of it, which is an interesting duo. The clear point was to disrupt Trae Young on constant blitzes early, then team trapping in the sets that I just discussed. Vincent is a physical defender, which means fouls obviously come along with that, but the spark he brought for Miami in that first half was the reason the lead was as big as it was.

#2: Precious Achiuwa showing why he deserves consistent minutes.

Precious Achiuwa didn’t hear his name called on Friday night against the Utah Jazz, which was a bit of a surprise, even though Coach Spo made it clear he just wanted an extra perimeter defender on the floor. And well, Achiuwa had his name called tonight against the Hawks, and proved why he deserves minutes. You can question Achiuwa’s weak ball-handling skills at this stage, or his below average passing ability, but the one thing that can’t be questioned is his heart and constant battle on both ends of the floor. He was huge on the boards throughout the game, against a very active rebounder in Clint Capela. He’s always been an offensive threat on the roll above the rim, but he showed other abilities in his offensive game. He has a great feel for a defense, which means he can readjust a lob pass, take that one dribble, and go back up for a dunk. And that is not something a lot of young bigs have in their arsenal.

#3: Kendrick Nunn, the consistent piece once again.

Some people may be getting sick of hearing Kendrick Nunn’s name in every one of these takeaway pieces, but he absolutely deserves it and must be noted. He’s becoming the one consistent piece on the team for their offense, meaning the team knows what he will give them every single night. The intriguing part of his offensive game that I’ve noted a lot in the past, is his catch and shoot improvements. That may have something to do with an increased confidence that has been instilled in him, but wide open kick-outs to K-Nunn should worry a defense as much as anybody on the Heat. It’s been discussed that a huge reason for Nunn’s success over this stretch is Jimmy Butler, but tonight proved he’s just in a great rhythm individually. Also, the play-making attribute is beginning to take that big leap. It’s not about the assist numbers as much as it is the comfort level with setting up offense for Miami, and that will keep him on the floor, even if scoring tails off a bit for a stretch.

#4: A John Collins showcase game against Miami.

It seems necessary to stray off from Miami Heat analysis for a moment, to take a look at a guy Miami could be linked to in the near future, John Collins. Some may label this game as a bit of a showcase for Collins, who is a South Florida native, and if that was the case, he took full advantage of it. When evaluating certain power forwards to slot next to Bam Adebayo, Collins seems to fit that description pretty well. He proved that offense can work through him in any spot on the floor, and he’s definitely not just an above the rim threat. He has an ability to take guys off the dribble and get downhill, the mid-range pull-up and turn-arounds were falling, and the three point shot can clearly be utilized. He has some work to do defensively, but that can be tweaked upon arrival. This is the type of game that the organization will remember for some time when they’re looking to make a certain move.

#5: Tyler Herro struggles early in return, but gets into a rhythm in the fourth.

Tyler Herro definitely didn’t have the greatest start to his return, which is normal since it takes some time to get your legs back under you and get into any sort of rhythm. But well, it only took three quarters until he turned that around in the fourth quarter. There’s always a moment with Herro in which he flips a switch to retain offensive confidence, which is when his normal body language returns searching for a bucket. Goran Dragic getting inserted into the starting lineup meant that regular bench unit wasn’t seen once again, but it’ll clearly elevate both of their play by bouncing off one another, with an explosive big man reserve in Achiuwa. Herro may struggle with finding consistent one-on-one separation without an Adebayo screen, but he’s still young and improving in his strongest areas. If he can find a way to get consistent play after the All-Star break, barring no Covid contact tracing or injuries, that growth will be displayed the more he gets into a natural rhythm.

Is Precious Achiuwa’s Role Actually Being “Simplified?”

When Erik Spoelstra was asked a few weeks ago about Precious Achiuwa possibly playing next to Bam Adebayo, he mentioned wanting to “simplify” Achiuwa’s game as much as possible. But is it all that simple?

For starters, the idea over the past few games that he’s getting his minutes cut down is not the whole story. The real reason for that is because Miami beginning to get healthy, means Coach Spoelstra wants Adebayo to be on the floor as much as possible. And every minute he is on the bench, Achiuwa is on the floor.

It seems as if his role though is not as simple as being the Adebayo relief guy. It’s a complicated role for a rookie to play since his minutes come in spurts, without having time to actually get into a rhythm.

This hasn’t seemed to be very problematic, since he adjusted so well for a guy with such little experience. But as seen lately, that extra few minutes of floor time can go a long way in Achiuwa’s short term and long term success.

Taking a look at Achiuwa’s basketball past, in both high school and college, he’s never been in a position to be effective in short spurts, since he’s been a high level starter in his recent past. He has always been in the Adebayo role, where he can just flow with the pace of the game, which is when he truly excels. He’s a high energy guy who can read the pacing of the game perfectly, but it’s a little less useful without fans.

From a coaching perspective, there aren’t many options involving an increased role, other than siding him next to Adebayo. It was seen in a very short spurt before, but as Adebayo continues to expand his range and improve his jumper, that option becomes more and more viable.

The point is that Achiuwa’s current role may be looked at as trying to “simplify,” but for him it may be the complete opposite. There’s a certain trust level with him compared to other guys, since he’s not an out of control young player who doesn’t know his role.

He actually knows his role better than most, but he seems ready to be pushed in the direction of a new role, not to complicate, but for him to thrive.

Miami’s Biggest Upcoming Adjustment Involves Precious Achiuwa

I’ve spent a lot of time diving into Precious Achiuwa’s games this season, since his individual play has been so outstanding in these circumstances.

For one, coming into the NBA after a long layoff, and being thrown right into the rotation on a team that just made the finals says enough about him as a player. The reason he was granted this role is because he was needed as a relief when Bam Adebayo exited the floor.

But he’s much more than that now.

The Miami Heat just lost to the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday night, and it wouldn’t have been close if Precious Achiuwa didn’t get inserted to end the third quarter and begin the fourth quarter.

As seen there, his offensive presence was what gave Miami the spark they needed, but his involvement on each and every play is the part that truly stands out.

Instead of diving into his individual play yet again, it’s time to discuss the next step, since it seems like it’s coming real soon.

As mentioned previously, he’s no longer the rookie who can come in for their centerpiece Bam Adebayo for small stretches. He’s now the guy they need on the floor to win games. The issue is that Coach Spoelstra does not want to go the route of playing Bam and Precious together, and since there are so many players out, Bam got an even larger increase in minutes. And subsequently, that meant Precious’ minutes got decreased.

Now, I’m not saying it’s as simple as just throwing them both in the game together all the time, since there are still question marks about the offensive stance. But when Miami’s playing in games with 5 bench players that include Gabe Vincent, Max Strus, KZ Okpala, Udonis Haslem, and Precious Achiuwa, it seems to be the time to try things like that for decent stretches.

Miami just getting fully healthy is the number one priority right now, but what will Achiuwa’s role be when that occurs? Will it be a situational spark player? Well, that could be what he is, but it seems like he is trending in the direction of being more than just a spark.

The other intriguing part about him is his growing offensive connection with Tyler Herro. In the second half against the Clippers, the Herro-Achiuwa pick and roll was the only efficient offensive set Miami ran. This is very promising for Miami’s future, if these two are playing at this level together in just a few games.

But it’s no longer about looking at things as “promising” or for the “future.” The Heat are now in need for immediate impact, especially since there is uncertainty about who will even play on a nightly basis.

And the reason I have a feeling that is coming for Precious Achiuwa is because there’s a certain trust level there. This team notices that Precious consistently gives them the same exact thing every night. And as much as Coach Spo discussed “simplifying” the game for Precious, it seems like Precious will be pushed for an early leap only 18 games into his NBA career, which says a lot about him as a player.

5 Takeaways from Miami’s Loss to Denver

The Miami Heat drop yet another game tonight, this time to the Denver Nuggets. The Heat were without Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro, and Goran Dragic tonight, which gives you a sense of the way this game went. Miami will be playing tomorrow night as well on a back to back, against a depleted Los Angeles Clippers team, so it’ll be necessary to get a  win. Anyway, here are five takeaways…

#1: Well, the issues were apparent tonight, but it starts with shot making.

It’s hard to start in one certain area when diving into Miami’s performance tonight, but the most obvious issue was just plainly shot making. If Miami wanted a chance in this game, while being shorthanded once again, the role players were needed to hit open shots. And well, that didn’t happen. Three point shooting was a huge issue throughout, which is exactly what occurred in the last game against Brooklyn. They shot 19% from three in the first half, which was not that high for a good portion of the half. Thirty-three points in a half is clearly problematic, even without some key players. Some guys inability to step up right now with players out is an eye opener for the long term vision for some player’s roles.

#2: A glimpse of Bam Adebayo and Precious Achiuwa minutes.

The one positive thing from the night is that we got the first glimpse of Bam Adebayo and Precious Achiuwa together. The reason it has been looked upon so much is because it’s the hopeful future of this team, and people want assurance about that plan moving forward. The reason the fit was in question before was because of the offensive spacing that held some question marks. But with Bam Adebayo continuing to expand his range, it makes more and more sense right now. The only reason it was gone to in this game is because of their lackluster play, and Coach Spo wanted a spark. They actually played good defensively for that small stretch, but it’s hard to truly evaluate it in a game where nothing is being generated on either end of the floor.

#3: Duncan Robinson struggles continue.

I don’t think many people are used to Duncan Robinson struggling shooting the ball for three games in a row. And it’s not just about constant doubles or overplaying, since he seems to be getting good looks throughout, he just can’t capitalize. Now, as I’ve discussed before, Jimmy Butler holds major value over the success of Duncan, but I feel it’s much more than lineups. All shooters have slumps, and it begins with the mental toughness to overcome it by continuing to have the confidence to shoot the basketball. He has gotten the ball up quite a lot through this stretch, but nothing is being generated. For a lot of players, getting to the basket or finding other ways to score gets players out of a slump, but sprinting around the perimeter seems to be the only source of offense right now for him.

#4: Andre Iguodala’s on court leadership has been huge, but his surprising offense as well.

Andre Iguodala has been known to do everything for this Miami Heat second unit for some time. Well, except shoot the ball consistently. But that’s actually been a pretty positive element of his game lately, especially tonight. He hit some much needed shots when Miami needed a bucket, which proves his ability to run lineups while Jimmy Butler gets rest in the future. His ability to lock somebody up on defense, while having the quickness to rotate defensively has been huge for this team. With the lack of veteran leadership in the rotation right now, he was very important to take control. Not only is it great to see from him right now, but it’s great to know what Miami has moving closer to the end of the season.

#5: No Jimmy Butler, No Tyler Herro, No Goran Dragic, No excuse. But there’s a necessary realistic element.

The first instinct after watching this game is clearly a bit of panic for many, but things need to be noted without it being labeled as an excuse. For starters, Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro were still out tonight, and Goran Dragic got thrown into that group as well. Every single player combination has been seen over the last few weeks with the constant rotation of players interchanging in and out of the lineup. That opinion and takeaway can be used without being called an excuse, since it’s just the reality of their current situation. Everything that could happen to a team this season, has happened, and even if they’re not play to the standard many are used to, it’s hard to generate anything in a basketball game when you don’t know who is on your team every single night. Miami’s schedule begins to ease up starting now, but will Miami’s health situations begin to ease up? Well, that’s the big question, and nobody has that answer since things are changing every single moment.

5 Takeaways from Miami’s Loss to Brooklyn

The Miami Heat played the Brooklyn Nets once again on Monday night in yet another thriller, but came away with the same result. Miami showed the heart that they continue to put on display on a nightly basis, but not having their closer Jimmy Butler causes this similar result. Anyway, here are five takeaways…

#1: Bam Adebayo picks up where he left off.

After Bam Adebayo’s 41 point night on Saturday night, it didn’t seem possible for him to continue that unique shooting display. And well, he came out to begin the game shooting that same exact mid-range jumper. I think it was pretty clear that it wasn’t a fluke performance, since it’s been obvious that it was in his offensive package all along. It just came down to him getting the green light, and he will have that moving forward for good. The reason these games have been so impressive is because he’s currently the number one option with guys missing, so he’s clearly at the top of the scouting report. And for him to overlook that and get to his spots makes this offensive showing even more promising.

#2: Three-Point shooting is not always the way.

Three point shooting has been Miami’s sweet spot lately, especially this past season, but there are times when they aren’t falling, and dribble penetration is necessary. Miami shot 21% from three in the first half, while shooting 67% on 2 point attempts. And yet, unnecessary triples continued to get shot up instead of attacking the basket. Of course with the current personnel, shooting seems to be the only way to victory. But the way to beat a poor defensive Brooklyn Nets team is to attack their weaknesses. Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic are probably the only two who can do that consistently, which is why the non-Goran and Bam minutes were some of the choppiest minutes in the game. The three point shot is essential when it’s dropping for Miami, but two point field goals must be the area they utilize more, which will happen when Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro return.

#3: Precious Achiuwa’s early offensive presence kept Miami going.

As I mentioned previously, when Goran Dragic and Bam Adebayo are on the sideline at the same time, it’s hard for Miami to survive those minutes. Well, unless Precious Achiuwa steps up his offensive role. Andre Iguodala continued to breakdown Brooklyn’s defense in an early stretch, leading to 2 consecutive Precious dunks. Achiuwa giving Miami quality minutes gave Bam the ability to take a breather on the sideline, which was much needed in this type of game. The Precious Achiuwa minutes are clearly different than many are used to, and that’s because he isn’t currently sharing the floor with Bam. And with Miami shorthanded, Bam Adebayo’s minutes have taken an even bigger jump. Precious will get his normal role back once Miami gets their normal team back, but for now, adjustments were necessary and he’s done a pretty great job in that spot.

#4: KZ Okpala making his presence defensively seen.

KZ Okpala got the start tonight once again, and his defensive impact was definitely seen by many. For one, from an individual standpoint, being able to step right into a game without much NBA level playing time to guard three of the league’s most prolific scorers is impressive alone. But the part that truly stood out was his minutes next to Bam Adebayo. The confidence in one another to switch off of every single screen that came their way makes opposing players uncomfortable. But we know Bam is capable of wrecking havoc out on the perimeter, but seeing KZ Okpala step right up to the plate without hesitation is very promising for his future. His catch and shoot abilities have not looked too bad as well, but once he rounds out the rest of his offensive role with this Heat team, he will receive his regular and sustainable role.

#5: Andre Iguodala doing the small things to make an impact.

There’s always a certain part of the second half where veterans are needed to calm players down. And well, with no Jimmy Butler, Andre Iguodala stepped up as that guy once again. He utilized his passing abilities, rebounded the ball well, and most importantly, made necessary defensive plays that led to transition baskets. Andre will never be the guy that the team leans on for a needed bucket, but he will make the plays that give the team an opportunity at a bucket. As known from his past, he is just a winner, and with that comes a high IQ for the game of basketball. Watching him dissect a defense for easy baskets, or reading the game to find the hot hand at the moment is a very impressive skill.