The Launching Pad: Adebayo’s Surge, Wade’s Return, Johnson’s Unpredictability

Commentary

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: 7-12 (1-2, 11th in the East)

• Offensive Rating: 105.5 (101.0)

• Defensive Rating: 107.3 (105.2)

• Net Rating: minus-1.8 (minus-4.2)

• True-Shooting Percentage: 53.4 (48.7)

• Pace: 102.18 (102.67)

• Time of Possession: 14.0 seconds (14.5)


Lineup of the Week (min. 10 minutes)

Dwyane Wade, Rodney McGruder, Justise Winslow, Bam Adebayo, Kelly Olynyk

• Minutes: 24

• Offensive Rating: 108.9

• Defensive Rating: 76.8

• Net Rating: plus-32.1

• True-Shooting Percentage: 62.3

• Pace: 114.22 (sheesh)


The Big Number: 16.4

Hassan Whiteside has been in a bit of a slump as of late.

After a blazing hot start to the season on both ends, he’s struggled to hold up his play offensively. He’s shooting 42.5 percent from the field over his last six games, an oddity for a big with Whiteside’s size and touch around the rim. That number is at least partly skewed by missed tip-ins, but he’s also missed some bunnies in hook shot/floater range. But, hey, whatever. Slumps happen.

His slippage at the free throw line is more concerning.

After shooting 5-of-15 from the line last week, Whiteside’s season percentage is now down to 53.9. That’s 16.4 percentage points lower than his 70.3 percent clip last season. That obviously isn’t ideal; add in the fact that he’s getting to the line more than ever (4.9 attempts), and it becomes hard not to be frustrated by the points he’s leaving at the table.

Much was made about his shift from a flat-footed flick to more of a jumper at the line a few years ago. He went from a 50 percent free throw shooter in 2014-15 to a 65.2 percent shooter over the next three seasons.

It’s hard to pinpoint why, exactly, he’s suffered such a decline this year. It may just be him needing to find a rhythm, Others have pointed out that his free throw routine is slightly different than in years past:

Whatever it is, you just have to hope things turn soon.


Weekly Trends

1. Bam Adebayo is coming alive

The last time I wrote about Adebayo, I was a bit dejected by his lack of involvement. He had a four-game, 62-minute stretch where he only took 11 shots. The lack of minutes and aggression irked me, and I know it irked others.

It’s fair to say he’s picked it up since then.

Adebayo is coming off a pretty strong week. He didn’t shoot particularly well (41.2 percent from the floor), and we’re going to have to have a real discussion about his finishing soon. For now, we’re still in “process > result” mode with him. The fact that he was fourth on the Heat in minutes (26.3), fifth in shot attempts (24), and first in free throw attempts (22) and rebounds (42) is a positive sign. Not only is he getting more run, he’s leaving his mark.

The energy Adebayo brought off the bench last week was infectious. He was a monster on the offensive glass (11), consistently doing his work early before out-leaping his foes:

 

He served as a release valve in pick-and-roll. That isn’t new; a guy that jumps that high should be a nice security blanket if the “big” defender commits. This, however, is pretty new:

 

A jumper! On purpose!

In addition to that middy, he also attempted a corner three on Sunday. It was near the end of the shot clock, and he missed, but that still seemed noteworthy. He looked comfortable shooting it, and it’s something he’s flashed both in Summer League and on the summer circuit in pickup games.

He doesn’t have to become a three-point marksman, nor should he be expected to. But if he starts taking (and making) mid-range jumpers out of pick-and-roll or in DHO action, that could open up his drive game. There’s a path to him becoming a face-up guy that can live at the free throw line to complement his value in pick-and-roll.

Defensively, Adebayo has been walking tightropes in space like a seasoned vet. I’ve noted before that his ability to defend further out has helped Miami’s pick-and-roll defense. Teams have to work a little harder to find creases. Even when they do, Adebayo has shown he can take them away in an instant:

 

Brooklyn runs a simple progression out of HORNS Flare there. Shabazz Napier (miss you!) and Ed Davis attempt to hook up with a dribble hand-off. Napier actually creates space with a quick reversal, but Adebayo is there to pick off the pass. Not to pick on Whiteside or Kelly Olynyk, but it’s hard to imagine either guy defending that play high enough to make that steal.

 

This is something we’ve seen Whiteside do, but the positioning here is noteworthy. Adebayo is stationed just above the nail as Antonio Blakeney gets downhill. Whiteside typically plays high pick-and-rolls near the dotted line in an effort to stay closer to the rim.

On the season, Miami is allowing 99.3 points per 100 possessions with Adebayo on the floor. You have to take opponent personnel into account, but that’s a figure that matches the eye test for the most part. Adebayo just covers so much ground that offenses really have to work to generate easy looks. And when Adebayo is flanked by Josh Richardson and Justise Winslow on the perimeter?

Good. Freaking. Luck.

Note: The Richardson-Winslow-Adebayo trio is now allowing 93.1 points per 100 possessions in 116 minutes together. For the love of God, give #TheKids more than 9.7 minutes a game together.

2. James Johnson’s unpredictability

James Johnson’s return to the lineup means two things.

1) The Heat finally have a power forward, something Winslow and Derrick Jones Jr. were hilariously miscast as while Johnson recovered from his sports hernia.

2) The Heat won’t be as predictable in the half-court. For a team that ranks 25th in offensive rating, I don’t have to explain why that’s a big deal.

Johnson gives the Heat a wildcard they’ve been missing. He’s aggressive, physical, and just a tad bit slippery with the ball in his hands. He’s able to run pick-and-rolls in a pinch. The quickness in which he pivots from ball-handler to screener consistently frees up shooters. Eight of his 12 assists from last week were on three-pointers:

 

He can then leverage that threat to fake handoffs and get downhill, forcing defenses into pick-your-poison scenarios. This is fantastic work:

 

Johnson kicks things off by running a pick-and-roll with Whiteside. When that doesn’t work, he tosses it to Wayne Ellington at the top of the key. The Bulls expect another handoff between Johnson and Ellington. Johnson knows this, so he fakes the handoff and attacks Chicago’s off-balance defense. With Blakeney behind the play, Cristiano Felicio has to step up to contain the drive. As Felicio steps up, Johnson flips a lob to Whiteside, who finishes the play with an impressive tip-in.

Johnson still has to find his groove as a scorer. Through four games, he’s only made six of his 30 field goal attempts. That obviously won’t cut it. While he works himself back, it’s nice to see him give Miami something different.

3. Dwyane Wade’s triumphant return

Wade technically returned against the Brooklyn Nets last Tuesday, but let’s acknowledge Sunday’s Raptors game as the real return.

 

35 points on 12-of-22 shooting. 4-of-7 clip from three. Six assists, five boards. Plus-11.

That wasn’t just Wade’s best game of the season; it was one of the best games from a Heat player over the last three years.

Wade has now played 12 games and he’s flirting with 40 percent from three on four attempts a night. Him becoming a reliable shooter from deep in his last season would be an All-Time #OfCourse in Heat history.


Set Play of the Week

Point Justise shows off the vision

There’s something inherently interesting about Justise Winslow running a pick-and-roll. It’s a high variance play because he has virtually every pass in his tool bag — lobs, corner skips, jump passes, dump-offs, wrap-arounds — but he also finishes as well as Steve Carell in the first half of 40 Year Old Virgin.

You’re going to finish the sequence saying “how did he see that?” or “how did he miss that?” and I’m not sure it gets more beautiful than that during an otherwise lackluster season.

Against Chicago on Friday, Winslow gave us the former with a blind bounce pass to Whiteside:

 

The play looks like a wide pindown for Richardson via Ellington’s screen, but Richardson changes course with a hard cut. Ellington then flips the script and lifts towards the top of the key to receive a pass from Winslow. Ellington gets the pass, then immediately tosses it back to Winslow as he heads towards the left wing. With that, the deed is done: Winslow has a head start against a bad defender in Zach LaVine.

LaVine quickly falls behind thanks to a slight brush from Whiteside. To LaVine’s credit, he does a decent job of staying connected, but Winslow has his right shoulder inside of LaVine’s chest. That allows Winslow to keep LaVine slightly behind him, and that distance grows when Winslow hits him with a casual stop-and-go.

That move forces Felicio to commit. With Felicio and LaVine attached to Winslow, that leaves Whiteside all by his lonesome. Winslow knows this and promptly threads the needle to the big fella for an uncontested dunk. What’s funny, aside from the kinda-bad defense from LaVine and the downright awful defense from Felicio, is that Johnson was also open on a slot cut if Winslow wanted to feed him.

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