The Launching Pad: More Bam Flashes, Richardson Finds His Shot, Dion Kills The Flow

Insight

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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: 11-12 (1-3, 10th in the East)

• Offensive Rating: 100.7 (96.6)

• Defensive Rating: 104.6 (113.1)

• Pace: 98.76 (98.84)


Lineup of the Week (min. 10 minutes)

Tyler Johnson, Dion Waiters, Wayne Ellington, James Johnson, Kelly Olynyk

• Minutes: 14

• Offensive Rating: 104.4

• Defensive Rating: 115.8

• True-Shooting Percentage: 57.9

• Pace: 102.17

Yeah, it was that kind of week. If you drop the threshold to eight minutes, the starters with James Johnson (instead of Justise Winslow) had a net rating of plus-45.6.


The Big Number: -23.0

The Heat have been one of the best first-half teams in the league this year. Entering last week’s slate of games, they ranked fourth in the NBA in first-half net rating (plus-8.2), ahead of teams like the Golden State Warriors (plus-6.4), Cleveland Cavaliers (minus-1.4) and the Boston Celtics (minus-3.0).

They were absolutely blitzed last week, posting a minus-23.0 net in the first half. To be fair, that was mostly skewed by the back-to-back against Cleveland (minus-45.2) and New York (minus-44.8). They actually held their own against the Kemba-less Hornets and the Warriors, though they were still outplayed.


Weekly Trends

1. Bam Adebayo getting more reps

We finally got an extended, consistent run of Bam minutes. He did not disappoint.

In four games (three starts), Adebayo averaged 9.5 points on 70 percent shooting from the field, 4.5 rebounds, 1.8 steals and 0.8 blocks in 21.8 minutes. Those aren’t gaudy numbers, but the process was worth being excited about.

He did the little things with joy. He didn’t just get in the way in pick-and-roll situations, he held the screen and freed the ball-handler.

This lob from his 19-point performance against Cleveland was nice, but the screen set everything up:

Draymond Green probably flopped a little bit here, but look at the amount of contact:

Bam showed some of the flashes we saw during the Summer League, as well. Check out how quickly, and forcefully, he takes advantage of the post mismatch (Kyle Korver) here:

We got to see a little bit of his ball-handling ability. Watch as he takes Channing Frye off the dribble before draining a step-back jimmy:

Of course, his best work came defensively. He showcased active hands in Charlotte, playing volleyball on lob passes to Dwight Howard.

His most impressive plays came in isolation against two of the five best players in basketball. Not many players will stifle LeBron James and Stephen Curry in space. The fact that a rookie center did so in the same week speaks volumes:

There’s absolutely no excuse for Bam to be stuck on the bench moving forward, even when Miami’s original starting center returns. The rook needs consistent playing time. If a trade needs to be made to ensure that happens, so be it.

2. Josh Richardson finding his stroke

Richardson has been an excellent defender this season. He’s routinely defended all three perimeter spots, taking away air space and erasing shots if he gets beat. The issue for him has been his inability to hit … anything, really.

Entering last week, Richardson was shooting 36.4 percent from mid-range, 18.8 percent on corner threes and 29.3 percent on above-the-break threes.

Richardson went (hot) streaking during Miami’s four-game stretch. He shot 6-of-7 (83.3 percent) from mid-range, cut out corner attempts completely, and drilled 8-of-13 threes (61.5 percent) from above the break.

His big game came on Friday night, where he lit up the Hornets for a career-high 27 points. His cold streak from three overshadowed some of the good process things he had been doing all year. For example, he reads the floor well off ball and relocates when necessary. He did just that on this possession, except he actually knocked down the shot at the end:

Richardson showed off the rhythm jumper as well, highlighted by a late-third quarter stretch where he hit a pair of pull-up jumpers, one going left, and the other going right:

He obviously won’t shoot that well moving forward, but it was nice to see him cash in some open shots. He looked confident and comfortable out there. Even if he settles in at, say, 38 percent from mid-range and 35 percent from three for the rest of the season, that will make the game much easier for him and the Heat.

3. Dion Waiters killing the flow

In terms of shot-creation, Waiters is Miami’s best option. He has an elusive dribble and a solid first step. Even with a less-than-ideal ankle, Waiters generally has no issue getting to his spots, no matter who’s guarding him.

Being able to attack a set defense is an important skill. It’s precisely why Waiters has been so darn good in clutch situations this season. With that said, watching him throughout the first 43 minutes of a game is infuriating.

Miami’s offense is predicated on running teams rugged with drive-and-kick sequences until they generate an open look. The key to those sequences is making sure the machine never stops. Once any sort of advantage is built, Miami has to at least maintain it; preferably, they’d build on it.

Waiters is a textbook ball-stopper. Once he receives a kick-out, he halts the action and surveys the floor before going into his dribble dance. He can still pull-up or get to the rim, but he makes things harder on himself because he allows the defense to prepare for whatever he’s going to do.

I don’t have numbers to confirm this, but it feels like Miami flows better offensively when Waiters starts the drive-and-kick sequence with Goran Dragic as the secondary attacker, mostly because Dragic is more decisive. It’d be nice if Waiters understood how much better he could be if he’d just attack off the catch.


Set Play of the Week

Bam making short-roll reads

There are only a few ways to actually defend a pick-and-roll. You can play it two-on-two, which puts pressure on the guard/wing to stay connected to the ball-handler, or you can trap the ball-handler to force the ball out of his hands.

The latter is inherently risky; it essentially gives an offense a 4-on-3 opportunity, and it puts the onus on the backline to rotate correctly to take away the most efficient options. Botch a rotation, and you can pretty much guarantee a good shot is going up — probably in.

On this play, Goran Dragic and Bam Adebayo begin to initiate a high pick-and-roll. J.R Smith goes over the would-be screen, but Channing Frye also steps up to trade. Adebayo recognizes this immediately and slips the screen.

While he’s backpedalling, Adebayo takes a quick glance behind him and sees Kyle Korver hugged up on Ellington, and likely (I can’t be sure) sees James Johnson chilling in the dunker spot. Dragic hits Adebayo with the pass, then Adebayo hits Johnson with a no-look, behind-the-back bounce pass. Johnson finishes through contact for the and-one.

What makes non-traditional bigs like Draymond Green so valuable is their ability to make plays in space. Green’s passing ability makes it impossible for teams to trap Steph Curry-ran pick-and-rolls in good conscious.

When you can get that kind of playmaking from your actual center like Miami did above, you gain the advantages of going small (speed, playmaking) without actually going small.

That play should excite Heat fans.

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