The Defense Manual: Miami Heat Edition

After the Miami Heat expanded their winning streak to 3 games on Thursday night against the Warriors, on the same night Victor Oladipo made his Heat debut, the defense is what truly stood out. Miami has the option to run lineups with 4, or even 5, of the most versatile defenders in this league, which was absolutely extraordinary to watch last night.

So, let’s take a look at every positive takeaway from the defensive end in that game, including player spotlights, team defense, and more…

– Victor Oladipo:

It would be offensive not to start this piece with Victor Oladipo, especially since he had so many great defensive flashes.

He eliminates any possible pass to the cutter as the play begins, then immediately switches onto Andrew Wiggins on the screen. He angles him to the baseline, knowing that he had Bam Adebayo for the cut-off on the backside. It leads to a turnover and Miami possession.

But that wasn’t the only thing that stood out on this play. They aren’t even one minute into the game, and Steph Curry is seeing his third different one-on-one match-up. Yes, third. From Trevor Ariza out the gate to Victor Oladipo the following possession to Jimmy Butler on this play. This told us the identity of this team right away, that they have defensive options now.

One thing that stood out about Oladipo in this game was that he is not easily beat when he’s on his heels, which is a terrific attribute. While it seems as if the ball-handler may be able to find an opening baseline on this possession, Oladipo stops him in his tracks. He then forces him to lose the ball, which could’ve led to transition offense.

And although I’ll dive into Duncan Robinson a bit more later, just take a look at this contest on Curry, forcing a miss to cap off a great defensive possession.

The part to watch on this play is the amount of switching Oladipo does in a matter of seconds, guarding three players in less than a 10 second span. The reason the switching is less problematic now is due to it being a revolving door of good perimeter defenders. If Oladipo noticed a weaker defender in that spot, he would probably fight over the screen.

Although the main part of this possession for him is the final contest, it’s about him being able to predict the offensive player. He notices Kevon Looney unwilling to utilize his size on him, which leads to him awaiting the jump-shot on the DHO. These are the attributes that make up a good defender.

Now, this was one of the plays that stuck out to most people when watching Oladipo’s debut. This team has gradually increased in the team defense category, but they’ve missed this one-on-one point of attack defender.

It’s far from an easy task to guard the greatest shooter to ever play this game, but he did it rather effortlessly. Aside from looking at Oladipo on this play, take a look at Adebayo, since that’ll tell you the level of defense Oladipo is bringing. If that was Kendrick Nunn or Goran Dragic on Curry here, Adebayo would not be standing on that side of the paint, since he would force the extra pass and rely on backside rotations.

And well, that right there is why Oladipo elevates this team on that end of the floor.

Here’s yet another example of predicting the offensive player, since it’s usually a good choice to take the charge when a big is running the floor, due to the lack of body control. Well, unless your name is Bam Adebayo.

He takes the hit at a crucial point in the third quarter, which seems to be a recurring theme lately, where the third quarter defense sparks offensive runs. And there’s nothing like drawing a charge to give the offense a bit of a boost, since gaining possessions is one of those things players always discuss as sparks.


Let’s take one last look at Oladipo’s defense in this game, and it’s pretty intriguing to acknowledge the difference in movement when a guy is taking you off the dribble, compared to other Heat guards. Possessions like this always end in a reach in foul, since foot speed is always an issue when they get you on your heels.

But as mentioned earlier, his recovery speed when back-pedaling is fantastic, and he doesn’t even need to use the slightest advantage with his hands, since he relies so heavily on his movement. He cuts him off, jumps in the air, and forces a risky kick-out which led to a Butler deflection.

– Bam Adebayo:

Other than this Adebayo block passing Udonis Haslem on the franchise blocks list, this play showcases something unique with Adebayo. Most shot blockers are guys who camp out on the bottom box, then rise up for easy swats when players attack. The difference with Adebayo is that most of his blocks in his career begin with him defending on the perimeter, and there’s a reason for that.

Even though every player is aware of Adebayo’s freakishly unique defensive skill-set for his size, it never seems to click until a few possessions like this. Guys see a big switched onto them and immediately think to themselves that they can beat this guy off the dribble. Well, until this happens.

It’s the Adebayo effect, and it leads to indecisive movement from guys when he switches onto them more and more.

Other than the result of this play being a Draymond Green score, it’s just yet another moment that defines Adebayo. Take a look at him blanketing Curry off the ball on this possession, starting way above the top of the key, following him to the corner, and flowing right over two off-ball screens. It’s just not a normal thing for a big man.

It also seems like Tyler Herro has been taking some Andre Iguodala defensive lessons, since he’s utilized that swipe down more and more. The only difference is that he may not get officiated on those plays the same way a veteran Iguodala does, but it’s pretty promising to see Herro finding ways to improve on that end.

And now, the play of the game, which ended up being the ultimate closing possession for Miami. Adebayo switches onto Curry without hesitation, while knowing his only option is a three-point attempt.

He has great body control on the final behind the back cross-over to continue into a strong contest, and leads to a Curry air ball. Once again, these just aren’t normal occurrences for big men to defend guards to close out games, but Adebayo is just that guy.

– Trevor Ariza:

Although the key point of attack defender for Miami has become Oladipo, Trevor Ariza has done as great of a job as anybody on smaller guys since joining the Heat. He tips the Curry pass 10 seconds into this game, while Bally Sports still hasn’t even placed the scoreboard on the screen.

He stays right with Curry on the second switch, and his lengthy wingspan allows him to get a nice block on his mid-range jumper, kicking off the Oladipo defensive era with quite the bang. And honestly, I wouldn’t be shocked if Coach Spo has Ariza begin on talented point guards instead of Oladipo, especially if Oladipo gets into a real rhythm offensively, which could lead to taking some pressure off of him.

Guards aren’t the only position he can cover, since he did a pretty great job on guys like Draymond Green as well. He awaits the Curry drive so he can cut it off, which would pretty much put him out of the position for a Green drive after receiving the ball.

Except he somehow turns and recovers, while angling himself toward the basket for quite the contest on a Green runner. When Ariza begins to truly find himself in the offensive scheme, which he began to do slowly in the first half of this game, it’ll be an interesting choice for Coach Spo when deciding between him and Iguodala in certain situations.

– Jimmy Butler:

I figured we should limit Jimmy Butler defensive talk to one clip, since it’s something I dive into almost every single game. The one thing that I wanted to point out here is Butler’s ability to guard bigger guys, especially in the post.

Obviously his savviness allows him to poke the ball free like he did here, or pull the chair when they try to overpower him, but his overall strength is really impressive. He has continually been able to handle post players, especially since Adebayo never feels the urge to help when he’s in that position. And it’s the one thing that basically covers up some of Adebayo’s soft switching on the perimeter, since Butler is capable of handling it on the backside.

– Tyler Herro/Duncan Robinson:

You may be wondering how Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro found themselves on a defensive piece, but it’s extremely important to track their development, especially on a night where both of them had plenty of good flashes.

It’s necessary to begin with this impressive Robinson block, not only because it’s a highlight play for him, but also why it occurred. When I discussed his development on this side of the ball recently, I mentioned the need to utilize his length to his advantage. And he did just that here, since even though it looked as if Kelly Oubre had a step on Robinson, his reach allowed him to recover and send it back.

These are the plays that weren’t happening a few months ago with Robinson on the defensive end. He gets put on an island at the top of the key, covering Andrew Wiggins, and not only does he not get beat, but he forces a kick-out to Green.

When he’s capable of making defensive plays like this consistently, it makes this team’s defense even more elite when he’s surrounded by four above average defenders. This play also refers back to the Ariza discussion, since he stays on Curry even while Green sets the immediate screen, and somehow keeps a hand in his face forcing the miss.

This possession is another moment that solidified a point I mentioned in my past piece. Defense elevates when shots are dropping, and it can make below average defenders at least average. After a Robinson three, he eliminates the rolling Looney as Bjelica lags behind, then flies back out to the wing at Kent Bazemore.

He swipes down and forces a jump-ball, mostly due to that made shot on the other end. As much as the phrase is defense to offense, this team seems to feed off offense to defense much more.

To further that earlier point about Robinson defending on an island out on the perimeter, here it is again, and here is Robinson stepping up in that area. He drops down on Green to await the rotation from Herro, then pops back out to Wiggins.

Once again, a few months ago, Wiggins would probably get a pretty good look on this possession, but Robinson seems to know exactly where he is going, and contests the shot to perfection. And another recurring theme: using his length to his advantage.

Teams are still finding ways to pick on Herro as much as possible on the defensive end, but it always seems to end late in the fourth. When things begin to clamp down at this point of the game, he always seems to make some of his best defensive plays, which may be a bit of awaiting the pass to the guy he is guarding since that’s usually the plan.

Even without a lengthy wingspan, he keeps his arms up to try and eliminate the pass to the cutter, but Green passes it anyway. He deflects the pass right into Butler’s hands, which was a big moment when Miami felt they pretty much had this game in their favor.

– Team Defense

Now that we addressed many of the individual plays that Heat players made, let’s finish this off with some of the team defense that is constantly harped on.

As Green fakes the DHO and dives to the rim, he gets stuck since Looney isn’t running in his direction. He still is forced to make that pass, and Herro, Butler, and Ariza collapse at that middle point to force a turnover. Also, these moments of slight overplaying just shows the level of confidence that they have in their rotations, which is a major element.

If you want a look into what Miami’s perimeter switching looks like when they have multiple versatile defenders on the floor, here you go. Adebayo crashes onto Poole to extract any possible dribble penetration, while Oladipo switches comfortably on Looney.

Oubre tries to take Iguodala off the dribble but is unsuccessful, so he kicks back out to Poole with Adebayo still blanketing. They roughly flow into a DHO as Adebayo pops out on Oubre, forcing a miss, and creating quite the glimpse of how good this Heat defense can be.

On this play, Adebayo reads the offense to slide over and cut off any possible lay-up for Wiggins. He uncomfortably kicks it out to a swarming corner with Butler and Ariza, which Butler saves it into him leading to a foul call.

Now, although Adebayo made this play, go back and watch it again, while focusing on both Butler and Ariza. They both knew where that ball was going next, which just shows the IQ of this Heat defense at this stage. When rotations are as crisp as this, it won’t even matter what personnel is on the floor, due to the scheme carrying the way.

One of the ways Miami handled Curry in the first match-up with him was by blitzing him on every screen, basically forcing every other player to beat them. And although they relied on individual defenders much more this time around, they sprinkled it in once in a while.

That occurred on this possession, as Bjelica flashed high and deflected the pass. While Bjelica reverting back may have seemed like a breakdown was coming, they recovered rather quickly, forcing the Warriors to reset. Curry receives the hand-off, which is something Iguodala has seen way too many times before, and blocks the shot. Although this play ended in a foul call, which was a bit interesting after the replay, it just shows the different things this team is capable of on that end of the floor.


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