Miami Heat Playoff Primer: The Dwyane Wade and Hassan Whiteside Conundrum
Insight // 6 months ago
By: Christian Hernandez
Oh hey! It’s been a while since I’ve opened up Word and let the thoughts fly, but the Heat are about to enter the playoffs and it warrants some words.
It’s been a hell of a ride for Miami this season filled with growth (Josh Richardson and Justise Winslow), disappointment (Dion Waiters), shock (Kelly Olynyk), and intrigue (Bam Adebayo).
The team has also dealt with another season of overwhelming injuries, with nobody being impacted more by it than Hassan Whiteside. But I’ll get deeper into that later.
If you’ve read my stuff in the past, you know my style. I’m gonna deep dive into every possible credible stat I can find to create a story line with backbone. I watch the games with my eyes, and I let them tell me what the story isut since my eyes love to deceive me (even AFTER I got Lasik), I use stats to reinforce what I see or possibly walk me back out of my perceived conclusions.
Anywhooooo, lets get right into this thing. My purpose right here, right now, in this beautiful article that is flowing through my fingers is to try to predict what the major issues facing this Heat team going into their first round matchup, regardless of who that might be since the final seeding is going down to the final night of the season.
This Heat team is almost impossible to read sometimes. One night they will come out and give the best teams in the league absolute fits, and some nights they will get run out of the building by the hapless teams from New York City.
Could the Heat beat someone like the Celtics or Sixers in a seven game series? Sure. Can you feel confident that they can do that? Of course not.
— Chris Posada (@CPoTweetsStuff) April 7, 2018
There are two main factors here that I believe influence the Heat’s lack of predictability and consistency: the ever-present injury bug and Spoelstra’s habit of riding the hot hands, which leads to inconsistent rotations, especially in the second half of games.
While any Thibodeau led team will always be an anomaly in terms of most used lineups, here are the minutes for the most lineups from the best teams in the league:
Celtics – 354
Cavaliers – 354 (weird)
Warriors – 414
Rockets – 255
Raptors – 785
76ers – 600
Continuity is clearly a problem. However, that’s kind of what you get when you have a roster filled with a bunch of players that are all average to above average without a clear dominant star. Which then leads to the issue of how do you figure out which lineups you should maximize in the playoffs when you have such small samples among your five-man rotations?
I think the best way to attack this conundrum is by focusing on the two players that probably require particular lineups to be successful: Hassan Whiteside and Dwyane Wade.
Let’s start with Whiteside, who has taken the mantle of most-polarizing player since Waiters went down with injury. Whiteside has had a difficult season in a lot of ways. From having a net negative affect on the team’s winning (statistically) to getting injured at the worst times, Whiteside has struggled to find much consistency this season. Both times when it seemed like he was really figuring everything out and playing to the best of his abilities, he was struck down with an injury that kept him out for an extended stretch. He started the year with a 26 point, 22 rebound game and then missed the team’s next five games. That’s been Whiteside’s season in a nutshell.
The other complication with the great wall is that he really needs to have certain kinds of lineups surrounding him to succeed. One of the biggest knocks on Whiteside this season is that the Heat have been outscored with him on the court, and have outscored teams with him off the court. That’s never a good thing. However, it’s important to dive into a stat like that and flesh out the real story.
It’s clear that a lot of the Heat’s struggles with Whiteside on the court have been due to the fact that they are pairing him with another big that shares one of Whiteside’s flaws: slow feet (Olynyk) or lack of shooting (James Johnson and Adebayo). This creates problems on one side of the ball that take away what Whiteside brings on the other side. However, when you look at the numbers for Whiteside with either four guards or Justise at the four, you can see that Miami is actually a winning team, and basically the equivalent of this year’s Sixers team in terms of point differential.
The issues really stem from that fact that Olynyk and Johnson need to play as well, as they are among the six-best players on the team. Early Hot Take: I suspect that Rodney McGruder will end up getting more playing time than Adebayo in the first-round simply because Miami’s best lineups this season have seen the team going smaller than bigger. Miami really must have at least three capable shooters on the floor at all times, which means that among Whiteside, Wade, Johnson, and Winslow (I don’t fully trust his shooting just yet), Spo really can’t have more than two of those guys on the court at once. That’s going to make life challenging for Spoelstra, who has really enjoyed pairing Winslow and Wade down the stretch of this season.
That brings up the most sensitive issue this team will face heading into the first-round: What do you do with Wade?
Dwyane is a legend. He’s my favorite player of all-time. The Heat brought him back home just before the NBA Trade Deadline and everything felt (and largely still feels) right. Now that I got all the sentiment out of the way, we have to talk about the fact that he’s hurting the team by not adapting well enough to his new role. Although Wade is in much better shape now than he was when he first arrived, he is still a 36-year old guard that is dominating the ball far too much for the well-being of the team.
The chart really tells the whole story. Since the All-Star break, Wade is second on the team in field-goal attempts when taking seven-plus dribbles, when holding the ball six-plus seconds, and while having the lowest field-goal percentage (I’m not including Adebayo’s six attempts) in both categories. He’s also doing this while having played the seventh-most minutes on the team. Since the break, he’s leading the Heat in usage and is last among rotation players in true-shooting percentage. All those previous points brought together result in a very dangerous combination because it means he’s holding the ball and stagnating the offense at a very high frequency with terrible results.
Miami plays at it’s best offensively when the ball is moving, bodies are moving, and the Heat strain defenses until they find an open shot. However, in the playoffs, strategies get more sound, defenses pick up, and isolation basketball tends to come more to the forefront. Given the table above, it seems that the Heat would be much better off with Goran, Richardson, Winslow, or Johnson taking those isolation, ball-stopping possessions. The big issue is that you’re not asking one of the greatest players of all-time to really go away from what he’s used to, which is probably too big of a change to expect it to become a reality in a week.
So, what is the solution? Do you listen to the body of work from the past few months and play Wade less? Do you listen to the body of work from the past decade and ride it out with your Hall of Famer that still seems to thrive in the clutch (46 percent from the field)?
Do you dare give Wade’s minutes to someone like McGruder, who brings a more relentless level of energy and the ability to properly space the floor (42 percent on threes)? These are the kinds of problems you’re faced with when you have 10-plus guys that probably deserve minutes.
The Heat, Bucks, and Wizards are all going into the final day of the season with no idea who they will be facing in the first-round, which only adds to the complications of preparation.
— Leif (@Lefty_Leif) April 11, 2018
Once the playoff seeds are locked in, I’ll be dropping another article really focusing on the team Miami will be facing, what the most important matchups will be, how I expect Spoelstra to deploy his lineups, as well as my prediction for the series. Also, Justise Better.