An Autopsy of the Miami Heat’s failing offense

— January 4th 2018

The Miami Heat need help offensively, and they may not be able to find it within their current roster.

“Continuity” was one of the most used words among Miami Heat associates this season, as they attempted to justify and promote their off-season. The Miami Heat’s 2016-17 was a true Jekyll and Hyde campaign, as they began the year with a record of 11-30. But when sports writers began to call for the tank, they flipped their record and rode up the standings only to miss out on a playoff spot on the final night of the season.

In a summer the Miami Heat were considered contenders for Gordon Hayward, Chris Paul and potentially Kevin Durant, the off-season surprised many, as they committed to a core of players that had not made the playoffs–and bought heavily into a group based on just 41 games, though it was positive production. Dion Waiters, James Johnson and Josh Richardson all signed multi-year deals, and Kelly Olynyk arrived from Boston on a contract that many called an abomination at the time.

As we head into 2018, the skeptics of the Miami Heat’s offseason have been proven right, as this team looks utterly broken on the offensive side of the ball–and are only getting by because of a defense that has the potential to be a lockdown defense for large stretches of the game. The Heat, for the most part, have good spacing, but they don’t have the players on the roster to take advantage of it.

It makes sense to begin a breakdown of the Miami Heat’s offense with a look at Goran Dragic, who is seen by many to be the best player on the roster. Having watched every game that Dragic has played in the last 18 months, my take on the Slovenian is that he is a good-not-great player, who really needs to be alongside an aggressive slashing guard to be at his best. Dragic lacks consistency on drives, and the thing that is supposed to separate him from other point guards is his ability as a three-point shooter. Dragic, though, is suffering from the lack of an aggressive back court partner who can consistently get to the rim.

Dion Waiters divides opinion on NBA Twitter, but he was legitimately good last year, and he made Goran Dragic better. In the games Waiters missed at the end of the season, Dragic shot under 25 percent from beyond the arc, and it was clear he was incapable of single handedly running the offense. Waiters is currently injured, but even before he went down, he was not showing the same promise that he showed for the majority of last year. He appears to have slowed as an offensive player, and it is clear that his clutch shooting from last year is not sustainable. This is the major reason that Goran Dragic’s three-point percentage has decreased from 40 percent to 36 percent. Shooting 36 percent from downtown is not an awful mark, but it is not enough to mask the Heat’s clear offensive issues.

Erik Spoelstra’s offense doesn’t use many set plays, and their one core idea is simple–drive and kick. The Heat are third in the NBA in drives per game, and they are seventh in assists per game generated off drives. The Heat do not have players who can really create their own shot, and they lack an effective pick and pop option–meaning that they are reliant on collapsing the defense to create any open looks. This was not an issue last year, as at minimum, Waiters was capable of using his strength to get to the basket. But his decline has seen the Heat offense die a slow and painful death.

In a recent loss to the Brooklyn Nets on December 29, the Heat were an embarrassment on the offensive side of the ball, and not consistently getting good shots puts extra pressure on their defense–which really does have the potential to be a top five unit. On the most recent Fox Sports Sun broadcast, long-time commentators Eric Reid and Tony Fiorentino said that of the Heat’s 89 field goal attempts against Brooklyn, 64 were contested. This is an embarrassing number, and below, I will take a deep look at some of the problems that are plaguing the Heat offense.

Below is one of the Heat’s core actions, a dribble handoff with three distance shooters stacked on the opposite side. The major problem with this play is that there is only two possibilities, a quick fire three to the intended recipient, or a quick “keeper” type move for Kelly Olynyk. The Heat run this set around eight times a game, but the issue is that there is very little secondary action, or no Plan B as we like to say here in England. There is nothing wrong with handoffs being a key feature of the Heat offense, but like the rest of their offense, it is being relied upon too often and has become a stale play that will continue to lose effectiveness.

The video below showcases something that has become all too common for the Heat, a high pick and roll, which develops into nothing because of Dragic’s inability to penetrate. There is a lot of good action in this play, including a Tyler Johnson off-screen look, and lots of off-the-ball action to try and give Dragic some space, but he is simply incapable of taking advantage. This is leading to an unholy amount of contested jumpers, and means the Heat really only generate quality looks in transition, or through defensive mistakes.

The major issue with the Heat’s drive and kick philosophy at the moment is teams are simply defending man to man, because they know that the likes of Goran Dragic and Josh Richardson are not good enough to punish them in these situations. This is forcing more contested jumpers, as teams are able to play tight man to man coverage against the Heat’s perimeter players. In the game against the Nets, the Heat went on an 18-minute run without getting a point in the paint, which effectively summarizes their current issues on the offensive side of the ball. To put it short, the Heat are not being able to implement their philosophy because they don’t have enough consistency in the driving part of the game. They need to find their inside game again before they can effectively run their core concepts.

When studying offenses, many can identify quick fixes, and though there are a few things the Heat could do–including having more action with their handoffs–and potentially using more off-screen action, I think the current problems are simply a product of their personnel. Dion Waiters’ injury has no doubt harmed this team offensively, but relying on a player as average as Dion Waiters to spark your offense is simply not a good strategy. The Heat have good spacing, but good spacing means very little if you do not have individuals who can get them into space. At the moment, the Miami Heat do not have a single player who can penetrate, and in all honesty, there is no obvious fix on the roster.

The Heat’s young core is full of talented, rangy defenders such as Bam Adebayo, Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson, but none of these players project to be good individual offensive players–and they will at best be off-the-ball threats. This does not mean they won’t be valuable, but at the moment, they won’t provide an offensive remedy.

Because of such offensive problems, we can look at the Heat’s most recent off-season as a complete failure. The team is currently the seventh seed in the East, but they are 21st in net rating, which suggests that a decline is imminent. The Heat not only committed to a core of above average players, but they committed to a bunch of players who did not appear to have a lot of upside potential. It’s clear that the Heat caught lightning in a bottle last year, and committing to the roster and leaving future flexibility means that these offensive problems are here to stay.

The Heat have loaded with modern players who can space the floor, and play in a fluid defensive system, but none of this matters when your best individual offensive player is a 30-year-old declining point guard who is reliant on a specific type of backcourt partner to get the best out of him.

NBA Math on Twitter

After their 117-111 victory over the Orlando Magic, the Miami Heat are now 19-17. Here’s how all #HEATCulture players have fared in TPA throughout the 2017-18 season:

Above is a graphic from NBA Math, which shows how each Heat player ranks in their two metrics: offensive points added and defensive points saved. As you can see, the only Heat player with a notable offensive output is Wayne Ellington, which actually matches the eye-test for avid watchers of the Miami Heat. The Heat use Ellington a lot, and honestly, you could argue that Ellington is actually the core piece of the Heat offense at the moment. The Heat use his off-ball movement to create gravity, but as explained earlier, other players don’t take advantage of this. While Ellington’s revival in Miami is admirable and fun to watch when he gets going, the fact he has to play such a large role ironically sums up the issues that the Heat have. The fact that a guy who literally only shoots the ball has to play a major role proves that this roster is not up to scratch on the offensive side of the ball. Not only is Ellington the most important piece on the offensive side of the ball: he has been the most effective. This is proven by the fact that in games Ellington shoots well, the Heat generally win, as in Heat wins Ellington shoots 49 percent from downtown, and in losses, he shoots 32 percent from deep.

Overall, the Heat are in huge trouble, and there are no quick or obvious fixes that Erik Spoelstra can make with the guys currently on his roster. Unless someone miraculously becomes a player who can run an offense, this team will continue to have more embarrassing nights offensively.



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