The Launching Pad: Josh Richardson’s Role, McGruder Mania, Threes Please

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: 1-2 (11th in the East)

• Offensive Rating: 105.5

• Defensive Rating: 106.5

• Net Rating: minus-1.0

• True-Shooting Percentage: 51.0

• Pace: 103.00

• Time of Possession: 13.6 seconds


Lineup of the Week (min. 10 minutes)

Goran Dragic, Dwyane Wade, Rodney McGruder, Derrick Jones, Jr., Hassan Whiteside

• Minutes: 11

• Offensive Rating: 136.0

• Defensive Rating: 126.1

• Net Rating: plus-9.9

• True-Shooting Percentage: 69.7 (pretty nice)

• Pace: 100.91


The Big Number: .818

Let’s be frank: The Heat have been comically bad in transition.

Through three games, Miami has generated 45 points on 55 transition possessions — or 0.818 points per possession. Only the Oklahoma City Thunder (who just got Russell Westbrook back on Sunday) and the San Antonio Spurs (God bless ’em) have been worse. The Heat have only been slightly better in terms of field-goal percentage (42.5 percent), a mark that ranks 23rd.

This isn’t new. Miami scored 107 points on 121 transition possessions (0.884 points per possession) in the preseason. If you want to count that, we’re looking at a nine-game sample where a Heat transition opportunity (0.863 points per possession) has been almost as “effective” as a Hassan Whiteside post-up (0.824 points per possession).

That’s just … well, that can’t happen.

There’s no real reason to panic yet, though. Goran Dragic, Josh Richardson, and Dwyane Wade are a combined 8-of-22 (36.4 percent) from the floor in transition so far this year. All three shot well over 50 percent in those situations last year. That’s going to trend upwards.

Still, if you’re looking for a reason why the Heat are off to a rough start, the punting of easy opportunities is a great place to start.


Weekly Trends

1. The hit-or-miss Josh Richardson experiment 

Jimmy Butler isn’t in a Heat uniform. There are two primary reasons for that: The front office in Minnesota is a mess, and the Heat really believe in Josh Richardson. They were hesitant to include him in offers, and with talks on ice, the spotlight has shifted to Richardson.

Many in the Heat organization believe there’s an All-Star leap to be made by Richardson. He’s already proven to be an elite perimeter defender. There’s intrigue about what Richardson could become with a bigger role.

The early returns have been, well, all over the place.

Richardson is averaging 18.7 points and 3.3 assists so far — both marks would easily be career-highs. He’s continued to show improved craft in pick-and-roll. He’s generated 23 points on 23 possessions as a scorer, and you can tell he’s reading the floor a little better. Below, watch how he uses Evan Fournier’s aggressiveness against him to take him out of this play:

A little later, Richardson anticipates the “ICE” look from Orlando and freezes Fournier with a hesi before crossing back to his right. He sucks in the big defender (Johnathan Isaac), then flips a behind-the-back bounce pass to Derrick Jones Jr. for three:

You won’t confuse Richardson with James Harden — the pass was a little off target — but the fact that he created that reaction and generated that look is encouraging.

Richardson has also become a more willing shooter off the dribble, particularly from three. He’s drilled five pull-up threes this season on a 35.7 percent clip. He only made five such looks all of last season. Look at how fluid this is:

Richardson’s confidence was at an all-time high during Miami’s thrilling win against the Wizards on Thursday. Hmmm-Rich slapped up 28-4-5-1-1, with 13 of those points coming in the fourth quarter. The way he took over, mixing in hard drives with clutch threes, was a preview of what Miami hopes Richardson can do on a regular basis.

Of course, things haven’t been all rosy. Richardson is averaging 17.7 shot attempts to average those 18.9 points. He’s shooting 35.6 percent from the field, and 29.6 percent from deep. While he’s been good on pull-up triples, he’s been awful (3-of-12) on spot-up looks. Some of that is rhythm. Some of that is fatigue — in addition to a larger offensive role, he’s still tasked with defending at a high level. But a big chunk of it is shot selection.

In both examples, Orlando rotated on a swing and were in a position to contest as Richardson caught the ball. These aren’t clean windows, but Richardson took the shots anyway. Making contested shots are valuable, and in general, you want Richardson to be aggressive. However, he can’t just shoot for the sake of getting shots up.

This is all part of the learning curve Richardson has to go through. Him being willing to take tough shots is a little encouraging, but he has to learn what he can take and when. As he gets more reps, watches more film, and continues getting advice from Dwyane Wade, he should become more discerning as the year goes on.

2. Rodney McGruder is legit

Preseason play has always been about process rather than results. Even with that obvious caveat, it was hard not to get excited about how well Rodney McGruder played. He was commandeering pick-and-rolls with an improved sense of pace and vision. He was tinkering with floaters in those in-between areas. He just looked better. This, of course, was in addition to his spot-up shooting, cutting ability, and his in-your-jersey defense.

Those things have all transferred to regular season play so far.

Through three games, McGruder is averaging 15.7 points with a 50/50/75 shooting split, 7.0 rebounds, and 3.7 assists while leading the team in minutes (35.7). The Heat have a plus-1.3 net rating with McGruder on the floor and a minus-6.3 net rating with him off.

Again, McGruder has done his usual work off ball. He’s knocked down nearly 47 percent of his catch-and-shoot looks from deep. He’s also been able to take advantage of bent or occupied defenses. Here, he beats Bradley Beal off the bounce for a little push shot:

Beal was caught in a pickle on that play. Derrick Jones, Jr. slipped his screen with Austin Rivers slightly trailing him. Beal dropped ever so slightly to take away the potential lead pass (something that Dragic almost never takes the risk of throwing, but I digress…), and McGruder slid up the wing to maintain spacing. With Beal off balance, McGruder was able to slip into the lane for an easy one.

Here’s a similar read from the Charlotte Hornets game on Saturday:

Dragic was able to get past Jeremy Lamb and force Cody Zeller to step up in containment. Kemba Walker dropped to tag Whiteside on the roll. As Walker dropped, McGruder flashed across the arc. After receiving a kick-out from Dragic, McGruder was able to scoot past a lazy close-out from Walker, then splash home a floater.

McGruder’s on-ball improvement has been written about here. What’s really starting to stand out is the chemistry he has with Whiteside. Whiteside has been assisted on eight dunks or layups this year. McGruder has been responsible for five of them. After Wade, McGruder might have the best lob chemistry with Whiteside on the team:

McGruder’s numbers are going to go down at some point. With Wayne Ellington and Justise Winslow returning soon, his wing minutes will drop. It’s also hard to envision him shooting 50 percent from three for the entire year. Regardless, McGruder has been fantastic for over a month now, and it’s unlikely he’ll regress too much, whenever it happens. He’s legit.

3. Hit a three, you coward

The Heat rank 10th in three-point attempts (34 per game), but 25th in three-point percentage (31.4). After averaging 8.2 corner attempts last year, the Heat have only attempted 12 corner threes in three games. They’ve hit three of them — and you can thank McGruder for two of them (he’s 2-of-3).

Yikes.

Yikes.

YIKES.

Dig a little into those numbers and two things will stand out: Miami is taking waaaay too many threes off the bounce, and they’ve been ice-cold on spot-up attempts.

Only 18.5 percent of Miami’s three-point attempts came after one or more dribbles last season, a bottom-five mark in the league. That number has risen to 36.3 percent so far this year. Richardson is the main culprit. He currently ranks fourth in the NBA in pull-up threes attempted (14), trailing Kemba Walker (26), James Harden (26), and Trae Young (18).

Miami is clearly taking tougher looks, but they’ve … actually been kinda good at them. They’re one of ten teams averaging over 10 pull-up threes a game. Of those teams, the Heat rank fifth in field-goal percentage (38.7) and 11th overall.

The catch-and-shoot opportunities is where things fall apart. They’re shooting an abysmal 28.4 percent on catch-and-shoots (26th in the league). Dragic and Richardson are a combined 7-of-24 (29.2 percent) on those looks. In fact, the only player shooting above league-average is McGruder (46.7 percent on a team-leading 15 attempts).

It’s frustrating, but it’s also encouraging. Dragic will come around. Richardson is a notoriously slow starter, as is Tyler Johnson (1-of-8 on catch-and-shoots). Kelly Olynyk (1-of-7 on catch-and-shoots) should round into form at some point. Things will get better.


Set Play of the Week

Funky Elbow Flare

For the most part, NBA teams run the same stuff — you’ll see variations of floppy, double-hi, flex, and Iverson action just about anywhere. So on that front, it’s fun when teams break out wrinkles in otherwise simple actions.

“Elbow Flare” is a relatively simple action designed to trap a perimeter defender around a screen. The ball is entered inside to a player (typically a big) on the elbow (Aha!). The player that throws the entry pass then circles the opposite direction of where the player on the elbow caught the pass, behind a screener. The player on the elbow then hits the entry passer on the flare for, in theory, an open shot from outside.

Here’s an example of the Boston Celtics running it. Pay attention to the decoy action early on.

That’s some good stuff. Look at how much LeBron James had to account for. Jae Crowder came off a pindown, made a pass, set a screen, then flared out. LeBron had his head on a swivel, and still ended up getting screened by Amir Johnson.

Miami gave Orlando their own version during the season opener:

Right off the bat, you notice that Wade is operating as the “big” in this set. Miami completely clears out the left side of the floor with the pindown + post-up combo. As Olynyk flashes down to set the screen, he notices Jonathon Simmons (shut up) drop down early in an attempt to either go under the screen or in anticipation of Aaron Gordon switching. Olynyk essentially turns into a lead blocker, pushing Simmons further down as Richardson flares behind him. With Simmons and Gordon out of position, Richardson cans the open triple to push the lead to 14.

If only it was that easy all night.

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