What Saturday’s Postgame Tirade Really Says About Miami Heat’s Starting Center

Commentary

On Saturday night, the Miami Heat suffered yet another aggravating loss to the Brooklyn Nets — this time falling 110-109 in overtime. The loss itself was stupid. The officiating, especially late, made the loss sting more. But none of that could prepare us for what was going to happen next.

Miami’s starting center had apparently had enough of his minute workload or lack thereof. After only playing 20 minutes, none in the fourth quarter or overtime, he decided it was time to let his displeasure be known. Again.

What followed was an expletive-laden rant centered around head coach Erik Spoelstra’s decision to match Brooklyn’s small-ball lineup with … a small-ball lineup.

Via the Miami Herald:

Why we matching up? We got one of the best centers in the league. Why we matching up? A lot of teams don’t have a good center. They’re going to use their strength. It’s bull****. It’s really bull****, man. There’s a lot of teams that could use a center. S***. That’s bull****.

This is the highest paid player on the team, and one of the most talented players at his position, complaining about not being on the floor. At the heart of the matter, that’s all it is, and that’s fair. I would probably have a bigger problem if he wasn’t bothered. To his credit, he expressed as much on Monday after he had time to cool down and reflect.

I was just frustrated, man. I was frustrated that we lost. I really wanted to get that game. I could’ve handled it different, but I got so caught up in wanting to get that win. I get real competitive. I really want to be out there. But I trust coach’s decision.

Still, there is a such thing as tact. He was fined an undisclosed amount for his comments on Sunday. The timing of his rant, as well as the context surrounding his performance that night, makes the whole thing flimsy at best. At worst? Well, it’s bull.

You can’t call “bull****” on a lack of minutes when you had to be subbed out 4:40 into the game because you were tired. That’s … why you were on a minutes restriction to begin with.

You can’t call “bull****” on not being utilized against small-ball units when you’ve routinely struggled to defend in space. That’s … the, uh, very reason teams go small. To spread the floor and play faster.

In theory, neutralizing speed with size makes sense. Miami’s starting center, a seven-footer with a 7-foot-7 wingspan, against a guy like Rondae Hollis-Jefferson should absolutely be a mismatch worth exploiting down low. But yet … among the 34 centers in the NBA that have at least 100 post-up possessions this season, Miami’s starter ranks 21st in field-goal percentage (46.1).

Scoring 90.5 points per 100 post possessions is actually a solid mark — it put’s Miami’s starting center in the 61st percentile among post players. That’s pretty good! However, a .905 points per possession (PPP) scoring mark for a team would be …

/pulls up nba.com

/double checks]

/puts eyeballs back into socket]

… OVER 10 POINTS PER 100 POSSESSIONS WORSE THAN THE PHOENIX SUNS.

Beyond that, his size advantage offensively would absolutely force teams to double him. But is this the kind of decision making that should be trusted?

In theory, he’d be nearly unstoppable as a pick-and-roll threat against smaller units. Granted, that’s with the caveat that he’d set the screen to kick off the kind of “oh, crap” rotations that would free him up. We’ve been complaining about his screening for three years now. I mean, come on.

He does have an argument with his rebounding prowess. Miami has a 50.7 rebounding percentage with him as the lone center on the floor. Replace him with Bam Adebayo, and that number drops to 49.4. Throw in Kelly Olynyk as the lone center and that number falls again to 48.8.

Even with that said, Olynyk drastically improves the offense, while Adebayo is a much better option to defend smaller lineups because of his ability to hang in space. The gap in rebounding isn’t wide enough to offset that.

Miami’s starting center is talented. He has great touch around the rim, can be a force on the glass, and is still one of the best shot blockers in the league. On the flip side, he doesn’t help spacing as much as he should because he doesn’t commit to the little things. He can’t defend in space, and his overall defensive energy wanes when things aren’t going his way.

Absolutely none of this is new. The warts are as tiring as his first quarter stint on Saturday. We’re this far into his Heat stint, and Erik Spoelstra, on multiple occasions, has had to make a variation of the “it’s not about numbers” speech this season.

What he can do has never been in question. His desire to get better has never been in question. You don’t add a mid-range jumper, transform your free-throw stroke, and add post moves to your tool bag without a high work ethic. Unfortunately, he just hasn’t made the mental leap necessary to make his improvement worthwhile.

The talent is there — heck, it’s increased a good bit since 2015 — but he’s a habitual step-skipper. Adding a post fade to your repertoire doesn’t matter if you haven’t gotten any better at establishing post position. Adding two-dribble drives is helpful in the pick-and-roll, but if you don’t set the screen to free the guard, that in turn frees you, what does it matter?

That is what he doesn’t seem to get. And when he doesn’t get the touches he feels like he deserves, his energy level drops. That back-and-forth is why he’s been forced to earn the type of benefit of the doubt that other players of his talent level are practically given, and he still doesn’t have it.

That isn’t fair all the time. Watching Goran Dragic and James Johnson play through turnovers and poor shooting starts while the center gets a quick hook appears hypocritical. In a literal sense, it is. But once you consider Spoelstra’s standard, the “give it all you’ve got, then give more” mantra he and the Heat live by, you begin to understand why they get that leash.

Dragic can miss six bunnies in a row, but you’ll never accuse him of loafing it. Johnson may turn the ball over on back-to-back-to-back possessions, but you’ll never accuse him of loafing it. The same can’t be said for Miami’s starting center.

At some point, it stops being a disconnect. I mean, come on. The highest-paid, and arguably the most-talented, player on a lower-seeded playoff team has had his minutes slashed despite All-NBA level statistical production. Not one center is matching the 19.9 points, 16.3 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks he’s putting up per 36 minutes, but it hasn’t mattered this season.

At this point, it’s safe to say he won’t get it. And he shouldn’t. We’ve seen enough.

It’s time for everyone to accept the fact that he doesn’t get it, and he won’t get it. That doesn’t mean he isn’t talented. That doesn’t mean he won’t take over a few games before the year is over. I have no doubts that he will.

But if you’re expecting “it” to click — for him to bring it every night and commit to the little things that help the team instead of doing so when he feels it’ll directly benefit him — then, buddy, you might want to let that dream go.

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