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Trevor Ariza: Finding a Deal Then Finding a Role

Recency bias aside, it’s safe to say the Trevor Ariza trade was an outstanding acquisition. Meyers Leonard and a second round pick was the price, and he immediately slotted into the starting four spot next to Bam Adebayo to try and make a late-season run.

Before we address the next stages of Trevor Ariza, let’s take a second to look back at what he brought to the table in the regular season. No surprise here, it was exactly what he has done for a major portion of his NBA career…

Corner Spot-Up:

We all know Erik Spoelstra loves to size down come playoff time, but the Ariza acquisition allowed him to integrate that lineup even sooner. The offensive mindset was to place him in the corner as a spacer, where he’s thrived his whole career, while also placing him in some DHO sets where he’d pop out to the wing.

He shot 37% on spot up threes in 30 games this season on 4 attempts per game. The high three point usage allowed him to run some more back-cuts as the year progressed, but it back-tracked once the post-season arrived. The Bucks mucked up the paint as much as possible, which meant Ariza and others would have to rely on the three-point shot no matter the circumstance.

The catch and shoot threes ended up plummeting to 25% in those 4 first round games, while the two point attempts were cut in half. Harping on playoff numbers are kind-of useless due to everybody’s number tailing off during that stretch, but the Jae Crowder effect forced that to become a sticking point.

For the record, Crowder is currently shooting 31% from three in the playoffs with the Phoenix Suns, which is why it’s not about him as a player, it’s about what he brought to the Heat last season. He shot the ball very well from beyond the arc in the first two playoff series in the bubble, adding a major element to the Heat’s offense.

This led to many discussing Ariza needing to bring that type of shooting in the first round, but it just didn’t occur. This shifts into my point about what’s next for Ariza and his role, which I will discuss down the line.

Defensive Disruption:

Shooting numbers may fluctuate, but his defensive presence was pretty consistent all season. The ability to hit passing lanes, create transition offense, alter shots with his length, and utilize quickness all played a part in Miami’s defensive explosion over a long stretch during the regular season.

There was a point when Ariza was guarding an opposing point guard every single night, which meant they could switch 1/5 PnRs more often than usual. But a common theme kept coming up, Adebayo can lock up the guard on the switch, but Ariza’s lack of strength on the block isn’t great against true bigs.

This was another one of those playoff discussions, since Ariza isn’t a guy that you can just throw on Giannis Antetokounmpo to slow him down. Antetokounmpo’s favorite offensive spots were Ariza’s least favorite defensive spots, which causes some issues.

Other than that, he played his role perfectly on that end of the floor, fitting really well into Spo’s altering defensive schemes with the 2-2-1 press, 2-3 zone, and others.

Unique Utilization:

The last thing I want to touch on is the utilization of Ariza. There were moments when the offense generated for him were contested threes or unorthodox pull-ups. Most of the time that stuff led to points in the other direction, but there were also spurts where he was used in creative ways that I expected when he arrived.

As mentioned earlier, Spo loves the small ball four, and one of the reasons is that he can throw out unique offensive sets for the five on the floor. He’s an exceptional cutter, which led to plenty of wide open layups off DHO fakes and staggered screens, but take a look at the clip above as an example.

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Jimmy Butler playing quarterback as Goran Dragic sets the back-screen. Ariza sprints off of it leading to an easy dunk off the lob. The point of the play was to give the offense some options. If one of the defenders, or both of them, dropped on the cutting Ariza, Dragic would have received the ball on the baseline off the Adebayo screen, resetting for plenty more options.

But as we know, we didn’t get to see many of these actions in the playoffs due to Brook Lopez socially distancing from the three-point line all series long. But is it time to go away from undersized, veteran fours in the starting front-court?

What’s Next?

The next stage of Ariza has a lot to do with a new contract. I’m not exactly sure how that will look until time progresses into the off-season, but a minimum deal could very well be sitting there.

To that point, if they want him back on that cheap deal, it’s not to compliment Butler and Adebayo in the front-court, it’s to round out the bench unit. With Andre Iguodala most likely out, due to Miami’s best option being opting out of that unrealistic contract size or opting in to throw into a trade package as a filler, Ariza may be the perfect replacement with that group.

To be honest, Iguodala restricted a lot of Miami’s bench minutes this season, since guys like Dragic receive constant help off drives with defenders sagging off Iguodala in the corner. That wouldn’t be happening if that was Ariza in that corner.

This leads to finding some upgrades in the supporting cast, as well as a power forward or center starter next to Adebayo. It circles back to the positions of need, since although the front-court piece is on my list, a shot-creating guard must be a priority as well. The reason this is important to note when discussing Ariza is that his bench role should not be expanded upon.

It shouldn’t be Ariza trying to create for others or work drive and kicks with that bench unit. It has to be a guard that they trust to run their sets, as well as knock down some shots in open space without a screen. 28th in PPP when the ball-handler has the ball in a PnR is far from ideal. If that can be added, along with Ariza shifting down to the Iguodala role, that’s a good start from a team building perspective.

There are plenty of holes to fill on this Heat team, which means the front office will be looming in every aspect this off-season: free agency, sign and trades, and even undrafted guys. But as for Ariza, some of the base guys down the roster have to be ones that Butler and Adebayo trust, and both mid-season acquisitions fall under that category.

If they can retain them on cheap deals, they’re perfect complimentary pieces at the bottom of the rotation.

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Trevor Ariza: More than a 3 and D Guy

Meyers Leonard and a second round pick. That’s what it took to get one of Miami’s most important and consistent pieces, Trevor Ariza.

After he didn’t get any NBA run for over a year, he found a pretty good fit with the Heat this season, immediately being plugged into the starting lineup next to Bam Adebayo.

The public perception of his game has been that he’s a 3 and D guy, which is partly true due to his play-style, but that label would be selling him short. When I asked Adebayo about that label not saying enough about his overall game, he responded, “He’s definitely underrated. I feel the one thing that is underrated is his IQ. And most people think he’s 3 and D, but he can put it on the floor, defend, he can really shoot it, and he can also pass. He just makes our team better.”

So, to that point of addressing the things he does well, let’s dive into his game from this season. And although I want to look at elements aside from the 3 and D label, that part must be noted first…

– The Shooting Element

If you want an intro to the amount of impact Ariza can have for Miami’s offense as a shooter, look no further than the first couple minutes of the last game against the Dallas Mavericks, knocking down 3 consecutive threes to begin the game.

When looking at these three shots specifically, it shows the different ways that he’s capable of knocking it down. In the first clip, he looks to attack but notices the big switches onto him. He slowly pulls the ball back out to the three-point line, and knocks down an impressive triple.

The second and third clips show more of the catch and shoot element, which is his most frequent offensive role. Although he finds himself in the corner on most possessions as a spacer, this just shows the capability of pulling up over the top of guys in transition, as well as just catching and firing.

And by the way, the year off hasn’t slowed down that jumper one bit, due to the fact he’s shooting slightly over his career average from three since joining the Heat, which is a pretty ideal situation for Miami.

– Locking Up Guards and Wings Nightly

It’s not normal for there to be a steal and pick six on the first possession of the game, but that’s exactly the level of disruption that Ariza brings every night. The purpose of showing this clip is not because of the steal and bucket, but mostly due to his defensive placing.

He’s been guarding opposing team’s best guard on a nightly basis, but this proves his versatility being quite the formula for him defensively. He doesn’t defend guards due to an inability against bigger guys, but mostly since his biggest strength is when he’s wrecking havoc on the perimeter.

Another thing to note on this play that highlights his intangibles is his length leading to defensive success. The reason he’s so great at hitting passing lanes is due to the combination of quickness, length, and the one thing Adebayo mentioned is the most underrated, his IQ.

Now, this showcases Ariza against smaller guys, but also the things leading up to this defensive stop. Jimmy Butler, Adebayo, and Ariza in the front-court means they’re going to switch everything, especially since Butler and Ariza can handle bigs in the post. But the switching scheme is most effective when it’s Butler and Ariza thrown into a PnR as they can switch rather effortlessly.

Colin Sexton seems to beat Ariza initially to get to the rim, but that length allows him to recover and block the shot as Miami rolls right into transition. Speaking of transition, that has been Miami’s most trusted area of offense lately, and Ariza has a lot to do with it.

I’d pretty comfortably say that he forces the most fast-break opportunities when he’s on the floor, and that alone reflects the impact he has had to shift a team’s play-style upon arrival.

– The Effectiveness of the Attack

The main reason that I say Ariza is much more than a 3 and D guy is that his ability to put the ball on the floor and attack seems to be pushed aside. But it shouldn’t.

His dribble penetration is not only crucial for his own offensive success, but also the team’s success. On this play, he receives the ball on the wing with Luka Doncic defending, but that isn’t why he got to the rim with ease. It’s actually because he noticed he has Duncan Robinson sliding to the corner, which eliminates any chance of help defense on the attack.

Also, creating mismatches has been his offensive specialty many nights. Miami using him as a versatile screener for Robinson forces easier match-ups for the both of them, as shown on this play. And that attacking doesn’t let the defense get off the hook for that initial switch.

If you were to ask me, what is Ariza’s best play in a Miami Heat uniform, I’d probably show this clip. Not that it’s anything flashy. Not that it’s anything spectacular. But just because it defines Trevor Ariza.

The beginning of this play consisted of an Ariza corner three that he missed, but an offensive rebound led us right into this clip. He could’ve attempted that same shot in the corner when he received it, but he smartly put the ball on the floor to get to the rack. He flips up a wild left handed shot that goes in for a much needed bucket down the stretch.

Even though we’re coming off a monster three-point night from Ariza two days ago, I’d like to see that decision more often. Giving up a good shot for a great shot, especially while he’s proved to be very effective when he finds himself around the rim.

Here’s one more instance of him taking advantage of bigs rotating onto him. Not to shine any comparisons of Jimmy Butler onto his game, but he does have some methodical movements when going downhill in a similar fashion of Butler’s play-style.

The thing about those slower movements is that they’re usually used when a player lacks great speed, but as seen on this play specifically, he shows quite the burst on the initial dribble. The outside shot has become his comfort area over time, since the two point shot attempts have recently declined, but this may be key many nights to take advantage of opposing weaknesses.

– The Art of His Cutting

This article would be endless if I showcased the amount of cuts Ariza makes every night for easy layups or extra passes for buckets. But since there are so many, I’m going to just show this one that explains the reason for him being so great in that area.

The most important part of this play doesn’t come on the tough catch in traffic or impressive finish with the contest. It’s actually before the cut when he is standing in the corner. You can see him reading the entire situation before making that cut to the basket.

Low shot clock, his defender dropping off of him more and more, and Tyler Herro looks to be stuck. So, the only option is to make a play off the ball, which is exactly what he did. This attribute also refers back to the point about having a high IQ, since these aren’t just ordinary plays that he’s making every night. And well, they’re winning plays that truly can be a difference maker in important games.

– Sets that Benefit Him

Aside from evaluating his overall game, here are some of the set-ups that I believe can really maximize his play in the offense:

Jimmy Butler begins the possession in a familiar area in the high post with an empty corner. Ariza loops around as if the play was supposed to lead to an easy layup, but that was all a setup for the Dewayne Dedmon screen for an open look in the corner.

The Heat have gotten creative with their small ball four in a way they haven’t been able to with many of their past front-court mates. Just seeing them run stuff for him to get open looks shows the amount of trust they have in him already, and versatility of his offensive skill-set to be far more than just a decoy.

When he’s sharing the floor with a bunch of weapons like on this play, it makes him the real wild card. Bam Adebayo surveys the floor as some distractions are being made with a back-screen by Robinson for Butler, and Herro popping out to the three.

This creates chaos for the defense to communicate and pick a guy to switch onto. But the thing is, that switching confusion from that action means Ariza is wide open in the corner, leading to an open three. When Miami’s fully healthy, he will be able to benefit from lineups with offensive firepower, since the amount of open looks he gets will increase dramatically.

The final one is simple, but it also ties some of my past points together. Off-ball screening by Duncan Robinson usually means good things for the guy coming off that screen, especially when it’s occurring on the back-side with all eyes on Butler and Adebayo.

These actions also allow Ariza to get to his spots around the rim, which is when his passing abilities are on display the most. On this play, though, his craftiness with a couple pump-fakes allow him to get some space for the reverse.

Once again, the 3 and D status for Trevor Ariza may not be wrong, but it definitely doesn’t tell the full story. The one thing that does tell the full story, though, is film displayed here.

Five Takeaways from Heat’s Loss to Dallas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five Takeaways from Heat’s Win Over Brooklyn

The Miami Heat take down the Brooklyn Nets on a game winning jumper from Bam Adebayo. That one shot basically washed away everyone of these takeaways in terms of importance, but take a look at five takeaways from this game….

#1: Early Dewayne Dedmon minutes, effective Dewayne Dedmon minutes.

Something that wasn’t originally expected today was to see an abundance of Dewayne Dedmon throughout, especially immediately when Bam Adebayo exited. For starters, he gave Miami something that they’ve continually missed in a back-up big, which is consistency. Not consistency over a period of games, but consistency in his role. Precious Achiuwa has been a guy that you didn’t know what you were going to get on any given night, but Dedmon’s role was clear as soon as he checked in. A very smart rebounder, meaning he knows how to box out correctly and knows how to use his length to his advantage. The offensive boards was a particular area of strength, giving Miami extra opportunities, but he also showcased an ability to alter shots at the rim, which is quite the attribute for their back-up big spot.

#2: Trevor Ariza giving Miami the same thing every single game.

Not to harp on the adjective consistency too much, but that’s probably Trevor Ariza’s most unexpected attribute this early in his insertion. He is now giving Miami the same thing every game on the offensive end, since the defensive side of the ball was a given from the first game on. He’s shooting the ball very well, filling in the one thing Andre Iguodala minutes have missed at times, trusting the corner three kick-out. He’s also a pretty underrated passer, which is just a proponent of his IQ, which is something Jimmy Butler harped on recently when I asked him about Ariza’s defensive presence. And if the supporting cast elevates back into their usual offensive selves while Ariza keeps this up, it makes them a different team.

#3: Goran Dragic and Kendrick Nunn stepping up early…..in the game together.

Trevor Ariza wasn’t the only one to score 11 points in the first half, since Goran Dragic and Kendrick Nunn put up that exact stat-line. Dragic really needed this type of scoring stretch early, so he can get back into his usual trust levels in his jumper, since that’s the element he will have to rely on while age increases by the day. Nunn also looked good early, particularly as a deep threat as well, which is an interesting topic with Nunn. He’s been plugged into a starting point guard role for some time, running PnR’s, pulling up from mid-range, and getting to the basket, but he actually looks most comfortable when he can shoot on spot-ups when others attack. The surprising element with these two as well is that they’re doing it on the floor together, since that duo tandem struggled a lot last season. And due to Erik Spoelstra’s sudden urge to roll out 3 guard lineups, Dragic and Nunn clicking is crucial.

#4: The obvious observation: Miami’s offense clicking, but missing one thing….Jimmy Butler.

Miami’s shooting was off the charts for a good portion of this game, and that’s been something that hasn’t been a strength of theirs to this point. Now, it’s great when it is clicking, but when a dry spell occurs, it becomes a lot of looking around for an attacker that they don’t have, leading to Andre Iguodala pull-ups. It goes unsaid, but that’s where Jimmy Butler comes into play, or better yet, Victor Oladipo. There have been some pieces of reporting that have pointed toward Oladipo returning sometime this season, and when that type of attacking gets inserted into this type of shooting, that elevates Miami to an Eastern Conference threat. But for now, it’s all about awaiting the occasional Dragic drive-by or Herro open layup off of a cut.

#5: Miami doesn’t have that one player takeover, but playing incredible team ball through passing.

When the team is without Butler, it’s pretty clear that they were going to have to play team basketball to compete, or Bam Adebayo fully stepping up like he did against Brooklyn earlier in the season. They went the team ball route, assisting on a good portion of their field goal makes throughout. To that point, the unselfishness of this team automatically means ball flow is fluid throughout, sometimes too much. But that is what basically sustained that type of offense, that usually completely falls off of a cliff as the game progresses. The Heat were in need of a game like this that they can build off of, and most importantly, instill confidence in Butler that this team is capable of battling with the best of them.

5 Takeaways from Heat’s Loss to Minnesota

Well, the Miami Heat get handed an unexpected loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves, who currently hold the worst record in the league. All of the issues that are continually mentioned can be thrown around again, but after a loss like this, it’s truly tough to pinpoint the small stuff. Anyway, let’s take a look at five takeaways from this game specifically…

#1: An inconsistent first half strikes again.

There’s been a common theme for the Miami Heat over this past stretch, which is a super explosive first quarter, followed by a tough start to the second quarter. Now, they did turn it around to finish the second quarter, but the defense just never seems to turn it on at that point. A big reason for that is the personnel being so one sided in the rotation, due to the bench having some defensive liabilities, which is noticed even more with Andre Iguodala out. But they also need offensive consistency, which falls on the back-up back-court with Goran Dragic and Tyler Herro. One seems to be getting held back due to lack of burst, while the other is just holding himself back. When they aren’t being selfish with the ball in their hands, no offense is generated, while the starters get into their offense much quicker.

#2: The evolving offensive fit of Trevor Ariza.

Trevor Ariza has been one of the five takeaways over the past three games, and everyone of these quick evaluations are getting better and better. The first time just talked about his continued defensive fit, since he was effective on that end immediately with instinctive doubles and ability to hit passing lanes at an elite level. He led the way for Miami at the half with 16 points, showcasing that 3 and D label in an advanced way. Although we’ve basically expected that shot to fall eventually, the part that must be harped on is his growing fit in the scheme. That was headlined tonight by the off-ball cutting throughout, leading to easy layups or open kick-outs. They’ve missed that ability at the four spot for some time, but now they have somebody who can give them just about everything.

#3: Max Strus in, Max Strus producing.

Well, Max Strus got some run tonight, which may have had something to do with Iguodala being out, or possibly to spark the offense. And that’s the part that I’ve been harping on for some time, since if nobody can spark offense, why not throw in that type of shooting who produces every time he gets an opportunity? When I say immediately produce, I mean just that, since he knocked down a corner three in a matter of seconds of being checked in. They’re getting to a point where he must be utilized more, and possibly in a variety of ways. When having a shooter like Duncan Robinson on the roster, it’s not just about interchanging the two, but more importantly using them together to possibly generate more looks for Robinson, or get even more looks for Strus due to the amount of attention Robinson gets.

#4: Stating the obvious: Jimmy Butler the continued engine.

Not mentioning Jimmy Butler following this game would be offensive to post-game analysis. He is the engine of this team on both ends of the floor, which is an obvious statement, but the fact that he is the sole reason they stayed in a game against the worst team in the league is an interesting statement. For starters, the continued discussion with this team is that he is their only downhill threat, but he’s a pretty good one to have. He can collapse the entire defense by just one slight decline in his shoulder, which is quite the ability to have. He also becomes the forever moving defender when Adebayo is on the sideline, as he doubles, picks up bigs in the post, and wrecks havoc on the perimeter to clog passing lanes and create transition offense. And when discussing transition offense, Butler is the only guy who can consistently take it up strong on the fast-break.

#5: Another rough night for Tyler Herro, so what is next?

Tyler Herro struggled once again tonight, with a low point performance, but more importantly a low efficiency night. As I’ve discussed many times, this team can’t afford this type of production from Herro, since the bench drop-off has shown to be quite the issue up until this point. This refers back to guys like Max Strus and Gabe Vincent being inserted, due to the continued search for any type of spark. But what is next for Herro? Well, a Miami Heat coach/player answer will be that it will fall into place eventually, just like the Duncan Robinson slump, but I’m not so sure it’s that simple. They moved him to the bench so he can thrive in a comfortable role, but the issue is that he hasn’t looked comfortable at all lately. It doesn’t mean his role in the rotation should change, but I do believe there can be certain places to insert him in the offense to push him back in the right direction.