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.