Launching Pad: Bam’s Brilliance, Goran’s Gadget, Heat Rookies Rolling

Welcome to The Launching Pad, a weekly roundup of Miami Heat basketball. Who’s playing well, and who should pick it up? What numbers should you be watching? What was that beautiful play Miami ran in the second quarter? You can find all of it here, every Monday.

The Stats (Weekly stats in parentheses)

• Record: 6-3 (2-2, 4th in the East)

• Offensive Rating: 105.8 (104.7)

• Defensive Rating: 100.6 (102.5)

• Net Rating: plus-5.2 (plus-2.2)

• True-Shooting Percentage: 57.0 (55.4)

• Pace: 103.69 (100.63)

• Time of Possession: 14.2 seconds (14.7)

Lineup of the Week (min. 10 minutes)

Kendrick Nunn, Duncan Robinson, Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Meyers Leonard

• Minutes: 33

• Offensive Rating: 105.5

• Defensive Rating: 71.2

• Net Rating: plus-34.3

• True-Shooting Percentage: 59.8

• Pace: 105.44

The Big Number: 24

When the Heat finally — I cannot emphasize the word “finally” enough — landed Jimmy Butler, the first on-court thought revolved around what he could bring to a sputtering Heat offense. The pick-and-roll playmaking. His slashing ability. The sweet, sweet, free throws he could generate — and make!

A close second, however, would be his defensive fit with the Heat’s prized pupils, Bam Adebayo and Justise Winslow. In theory, having those three on the floor would practically guarantee an elite defensive group. That level of athleticism and aggressiveness would be tough for enemy offenses to deal with, no matter the scheme at hand.

Due to injuries and a baby, we haven’t seen this group much. They’ve played just 24 minutes together this season, with 11 of those coming this past week. In those 24 minutes, opponents have scored just 93.9 points per 100 possessions.
The offensive fit is a bit clunky (97.9 points per 100 possessions), though you can attribute that to Winslow and Butler trying to figure things out. It’s way too early to hit the panic button on that front, but it’s something to monitor whenever Winslow returns.

Weekly Trends

1. Bam Adebayo is taking a leap

I’m not sure anyone could’ve predicted this start.

We’ll kick things off with the easy numbers: 12.8 points, 9.3 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 1.8 steals, and 1.6 blocks.

Nobody in the league meets all five of those benchmarks. If you drop the search to 12-9-4-1-1, you get to add Giannis Antetokounmpo and Karl-Anthony Towns to the list. That’s it.

The rebounding issue hasn’t been an issue in the way you’d think. The Heat are ending possessions at a higher rate (74.7 defensive rebound rate) with Adebayo on the floor than when he’s off (73.5), but they’re doing a much better job on the offensive glass without him (31.4 vs. 24.0).

Adebayo has looked to stretch his game some. The results have been predictably mixed. He’s starting to go to his face-up game more, finally utilizing his rare blend of ball-handling and strength.



Most bigs just don’t have the lateral quickness to hang with Adebayo. As a result, he’s getting to the line more than ever. His 7.4 free throw attempts are easily a career-high and rank in the top 10 of the NBA. Of course, it would be helpful if he wasn’t converting freebies at the worst clip of his career (59.7 percent, career 71.0 percent).

With more touches, we’ve been treated to more passing flashes. Adebayo isn’t just a good passer for a big; he’s a good passer, period. The Heat have empowered him in more high elbow sets (more on that later) and he’s delivered with some absolute dots.

This level of exploration comes with slight downsides. Adebayo is taking a much larger share of non-rim paint shots than he ever has. His turnovers have predictably spiked. He still leaves a bit to be desired as a post threat against switches, though you hope that comes with more reps.

You take those speed bumps with the production Adebayo is already giving you. That’s before you get into what he’s giving you defensively. He’s been all over the place, folks.


Adebayo has defended post brutes like Karl-Anthony Towns and Nikola Jokic. He’s spent time taking shoulder charges from Giannis. Guards have tried — and mostly failed — to attack him on switches. There isn’t a soul that Adebayo is afraid to defend on an island, and he’s been darn good at the rim so far.

There’s legitimate All-Defensive potential here if he stays healthy.

What do you get when you combine versatile offensive production with All-World defense?

A darned good player *almost* as good as Ekpe Udoh.


2. Goran Dragic, off the cuff

To say that Dragic has settled into the sixth man role would be a bit of an understatement. His 16.7 points are good for second on the Heat, and rank 5th in the NBA among players with at least five bench appearances.

The move was honestly a bit overdue, but that’s unimportant. Dragic is killing opposing second units with elbow-hurling drives and a new-and-improved off-the-bounce game. Through nine games, Dragic is shooting 50 percent (18-of-36) on shots off the dribble, placing him in the 97th percentile via Synergy. He’s transitioning from ball-handler to shooter quicker than he ever has, which has put defenders in uncomfortable positions.

This is a counter that Dragic has quietly been adding over the past couple of seasons. With more defenders ducking under screens in pick-and-roll, he started using his screener as a wall to load up for rhythm threes. Now, he’s shimmying without help. It’s the kind of weapon that will force defenders to fight over; fighting over should give Dragic more advantage situations to work with.
Good for him.
3. Rocking with the rookies
There are nine rookies currently averaging double-digit points. Not only do the Heat have the number two (Kendrick Nunn, 16.6) and number seven (Tyler Herro, 13.1) guys on the list, they’re the only players with a positive net rating.
In short, the primary rooks are punching well above their weight right now. At his best, Nunn has looked like a dynamic pick-and-roll scorer with the ability to disrupt sets at the point of attack on the other end. At Herro’s best, he’s been a shot-making, board-crashing, Devin-Booker-pocket-picking ball of fun.
There are negatives of course. Opposing guards have started back-cutting Nunn since they’ve caught on to him jumping routes. He also has a pretty extreme case of tunnel vision; we’ll just have to see how much that improves moving forward.
Herro has predictably struggled against length, particularly at the basket. Via Synergy, he’s shot just 5-of-12 at the rim, and has relied heavily on his floater in the intermediate area. Having the floater in his bag is objectively a good thing. He’s knocked down five of his seven attempts. Having the floater be the only source of success as a driver is where things get murky.
Overall, it’s hard not to be pleased with what those two have provided so far.

Set Play of the Week

As mentioned earlier, the Heat have given Adebayo more elbow touches. Most of those have come out of their HORNS alignment. For those unfamiliar, that consists of a ball-handler up top, typically two bigs stationed at each elbow, and the other two players slotted in each corner.
The Heat have been running a quick hitter out of HORNS dubbed “HORNS Slice”, which is designed to get a cutter downhill. Of course, getting a cutter downhill means next to nothing if the ball can’t be delivered in a timely manner.
That’s where Adebayo comes in.
The original plan here is to get Nunn on a cut. However, Butler quickly recognizes that the Nuggets are switching, so he improvs. Instead of setting the screen for Nunn, Butler slips and pins the smaller Jamal Murray on his hip. Adebayo does a great job of feeding Butler on time, and Butler converts a mostly unbothered lay-up.
Easy money.
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