The Launching Pad: Clutch Time Shenanigans, Adebayo’s Role, Johnson’s Revival

Insight

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

• Record: 5-7 (2-2, 10th in the East)

• Offensive Rating: 107.4 (102.6)

• Defensive Rating: 107.2 (103.1)

• Net Rating: plus-0.2 (minus-0.5)

• True-Shooting Percentage: 54.1 (52.9)

• Pace: 102.15 (101.36)

• Time of Possession: 14.0 seconds (14.3)


Lineup of the Week (min. 10 minutes)

Tyler Johnson, Wayne Ellington, Josh Richardson, Bam Adebayo, Kelly Olynyk

• Minutes: 16

• Offensive Rating: 102.6

• Defensive Rating: 80.6

• Net Rating: plus-22.0

• True-Shooting Percentage: 61.9 (word to Rey Mysterio)

• Pace: 111.72 (Christ…)


The Big Number: 11.6

In theory, it should not be hard to make layups. They are drilled in the early stages of basketball. They’re the closest shots available, and, in theory, should be the easiest shots to make.

Nobody has told the Heat this, apparently.

Through 12 games, the Heat are missing 11.6 layups a game, per Basketball-Reference. That number is slightly up from last year’s mark (9.9). Aside from the aesthetic displeasure of giant millionaires missing shots from three feet, the players missing them makes it all the more frustrating.

Josh Richardson, equipped with a killer lefty-scoop, made 54.7 percent of his layups last year. So far this season, he’s converting them at a 35.4 percent clip — easily the worst mark on the team, and the second worst mark in the league among 81 players that have attempted at least 40 layups.

Yikes.

Goran Dragic, long lauded as one of the league’s best finishers, has seen a steep decline so far (57.4 to 43.8). Justise Winslow is right at 50 percent this year, slightly below last year’s 51.1 percent clip. Hassan Whiteside (55.9 to 52.6) isn’t exempt either. Super leaper Derrick Jones Jr has only made 41.2 percent of his layups.

Come on, guys. This shouldn’t be hard.


Weekly Trends

1. Crunch Time, or Crutch Time? 

The thing about being an average team is that blowout wins are hard to come by. You’re much more likely to find yourself in a scratch-and-claw game. To that point, the Heat ranked 20th in double-digit wins last season (16), but led the NBA with 53 games that featured clutch time, which NBA.com defines as “the last five minutes of the game in which the point differential is five points or less.”

Here’s a fun stat: the Heat won 29 “clutch” games, while the Golden State Warriors appeared in 29 such contests (19-10 record).

The Heat are on a similar track this year. Of their 12 games, eight of them have had clutch time. They’re 4-4 in those games, but they’ve had some frustrating losses that seemed avoidable.

(There’s a Dolphins joke here I’m too lazy to make.)

Clutch time is inherently a small sample, and we’re not even 20 percent of the way through the season. It’s hard to come away with definitive conclusions right now, but some of Miami’s clutch numbers have been … interesting, to say the least.

Let’s start with the good. Despite Miami’s .500 record, they have the fifth best defense (89.0 defensive rating) and a positive net rating (plus-7.0). Richardson has been surprisingly efficient in the new role. He leads the Heat in clutch shot attempts (17), and currently boasts a 47/43/83 shooting split.

The bad news: Miami’s offense has been awful overall. Their 96.1 offensive rating is currently ranks 25th. Outside of Richardson, nobody has really hit anything from outside.

Like, literally: Richardson is 3-of-7 from three, while the rest of the team is a combined 2-of-16. If nine players have appeared in clutch time, and only three of them have made threes, and only one of them (Richardson) has hit more than one, you may have a problem.

Richardson has predictably had some growing pains. While he’s shot well, he also has more turnovers (5) than assists (3). And those turnovers have typically come at the worst possible moments.

Dragic simply hasn’t held up his end of the bargain. He has ceded control to Richardson as the crunch time option, which makes sense in the long-term. But shooting 33 percent from the field, 20 percent from three, and 60 percent from the line isn’t going to do it — especially when he isn’t exactly a positive on the other end of the floor.

The inconsistency of the offense, in terms of direction, seems to be the biggest issue. At times they’ve hummed, with Spo drawing up plays to at least generate solid looks. But then there’s the stuff like this from Indy game that makes you wonder if they’ve ever played organized basketball before:

Maybe Dwyane Wade’s presence is missed here. Though he hasn’t lit the world on fire himself (36.4 percent shooting from the field), he at least knows what he’s doing and can direct traffic a little bit.

Something needs to change, though, and fast. These “swing” games add up at the end of the year. Miami isn’t good enough to punt games away.

2. Bam Adebayo’s quiet start

He has not been bad.

His per-game averages (6.5 points, 5.9 rebounds in 18.0 minutes) are fine. He’s extremely springy with a never-ending motor and a nose for the ball. His ability to defend his space has been on display this year, even though we haven’t gotten the “OMG HE GUARDED STEPH CURRY” kind of viral highlight — yet.

His presence has allowed Miami to defend pick-and-rolls higher. That’s a big reason why the Heat are allowing fewer threes to go up (20.8 vs 22.6) or in (33.6 percent vs 38.9) per 36 minutes when Adebayo is on the floor.

But, man, it just feels like he could be doing more. More accurately, he should be allowed to do more on the offensive end.

Adebayo played in all four games for the Heat last week. In his 62 minutes, he attempted 11 shots.

Eleven.

E’lem.

The whole number directly after 10.

That just can’t happen.

We’ve seen too many grab-and-go flashes for Adebayo to not be punishing enemy giants off the dribble. Miami’s DHO sets with Adebayo are wildly predictable because, most of the time, he doesn’t even glance at the basket, much less pump-and-go or fake it like Kelly Olynyk.

At least part of this is on Adebayo. All summer, he talked about how coaches have told him that they want to see him be more aggressive. There are pockets outside of rebounding available for him to do just that. He’s either lacking in confidence (doesn’t seem true at all), lacking in skill (the finishing is an issue, but he has a keen ability to draw fouls), or the coaching staff hasn’t given him the freedom he or we thought he did.

Regardless, it’s about time we started seeing him at least try some stuff. Justise Winslow was mostly bad in his injury-riddled second season, but that’s when we really started to see his pick-and-roll vision. The Heat have embraced him more than ever as a secondary ball-handler this year. The same could be said for Richardson; he fumbled around with playmaking reps early on in his career, and he’s now ascended to fringe All-Star levels.

It’s understandable (if not infuriating) that Adebayo’s playing time is a bit limited because of the frontcourt rotation. But when he is out there, he should be empowered to do more. There’s no point in raving about him as a core piece if he doesn’t get the reps required to develop into that kind of guy.

3. Tyler Johnson is (finally) coming along

This week’s edition ended up being more rant-y than I intended, so I’ll keep this one short.

Johnson will probably not live up to his lofty price tag (which is completely arbitrary, but that’s an argument for another day). We get that. But Johnson seems to have found his rhythm, and is now showing us why the Heat matched the contract offer to begin with.

At his best, Johnson is a guy that can knock down threes off the catch, or in stand-still situations. He’s certainly doing that, as he’s knocked down 38.1 percent of his threes on relatively high volume (5.3 attempts) over the last four games.

That part of his game opens up his slithery nature. Behind the threat of his jumper, he can then attack crevices in the defense. He can stop on a dime for pull-ups, or get to the rack and finish with an assortment of floaters and contested layups.

He’s one of the few Heat players that has consistently made his bunnies (13-of-17 on layups). His wide-gather on layups has gone underrated for far too long:

 

For a guy with alligator arms, being able to create separation before the shot is a must. In the clip above, Johnson gains leverage by getting his left shoulder inside of Tyreke Evans’ body. There’s a subtle change of pace, then an elongated step to create juuust enough separation to get a look off at the rim.

Johnson looked borderline unplayable at the beginning of the year. Him settling in as a slightly above-average option at the 2 is a development Miami welcomes.


Set Play of the Week

Heat go to Spain

Spain pick-and-rolls have been the wave over the past couple of seasons. The Utah Jazz in particular kill teams with this action. Though it’s simple in nature, it’s incredibly hard to defend unless you have switch-y personnel and the chemistry and communication of a (happily) married couple.

It’s simple enough: two players hook up for a traditional high pick-and-roll. But then, there’s a twist: a third player sets a back screen on the roll man’s defender. The bang-bang nature of the play makes it nearly impossible to stop if ran correctly. The ball-handler will end up free, the roll-man will get a lane, or the second screener will pop out for an open look.

The Heat busted this baby out a few times over the last week, but two instances stood out. First, let’s go back to Monday’s win over the Detroit Pistons:

 

Richardson scored a team-high 27 points in the overtime thriller (that shouldn’t have been that close, but I digress), and that may have been his easiest bucket. Notice how the screen from Dragic completely takes Andre Drummond out of the play; the size advantage Richardson had over Reggie Jackson was too much to overcome.

Against the Pacers on Friday night, we got to see the “exit” option of the Spain action:

 

The good screen from Whiteside helps Richardson turn the corner. Johnson doesn’t set a real screen here, but it pretty much doesn’t matter. There was almost no way for Cory Joseph or Tyreke Evans to recover because of how quickly the play unfolded.

As I tweeted about after the Pacers game, it was odd to see Miami have as much success with Spain action as they did, only to completely go away from it at the end of the game. Even if the set-up can be predictable, that is something that’s almost guaranteed to get a guy like Richardson downhill. As he finds himself as a shot creator, he’ll need “security calls” like that to make it easier on him.

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