The Miami Heat have a solid team. They are not the most talented unit in the NBA, heck, not even in the East. They do not have the best coach. And finally, more than likely, they will not be representing the Eastern Conference in the NBA finals. Yet, in the face of their ugly offense, their defense is highly entertaining.
Through May 10, 2016, Miami has the most efficient defense out of all teams in the playoffs and the second best four quarter defense out of all teams in the playoffs. On top of that, they are allowing the least amount of corner three point shots – or the most efficient shot in basketball – than any other team.
During the regular season this has been a trend, too. This season, the Heat had the seventh most efficient defense, the eleventh most efficient fourth quarter defense, and the tenth least amount of corner threes. Nonetheless, even though their regular season defense was good, it is abundantly clear that the Heat’s playoff defense is at another level.
Part of the reason is, this postseason when you remove Goran Dragic from the lineup and replace him with rookie Josh Richardson, the Heat’s offense and defense have been substantially better, scoring nearly thirty more points per 100 possessions and giving up two less. Here is a comparison of said lineups with the other most potent lineups in the NBA:
Following the Whiteside injury, though, it seems unlikely Miami will be able to play big at an elite level. That is because, simply, Amar’e Stoudemire, Udonis Haslem, and Josh McRoberts are not nearly as good of players as is Hassan Whiteside. This does not mean their defense is done, however, as the Eric Spoelstra had ideas.
In essence, last night Miami unveiled an all-wing lineup consisting of Goran Dragic, Dwayne Wade, Joe Johnson, Luol Deng, and Justice Winslow. In ten minutes on the court, this unit finished with a +99.6 net rating, held Toronto to 26.7% shooting on fifteen shot attempts, and outscored Toronto in the paint by six points. Let’s examine video from the game last night:
What this shows is that the Heat’s “all wing” lineup can switch on every pick-and-roll when the other team lacks shooters. In the above clip, Toronto had at most three scorers on the court, and it did not matter.
Here are three more offensive possessions where the Heat’s ability to switch caused problems for the Raptors:
What you can see with the first possession is the Raptors (unsuccessfully) try and switch DeRozan onto Dragic. That fails and then Toronto switches DeRozan onto Winslow. This does work, but, it results in a near Raptors turnover. On the second possession, DeRozan does not even bother trying to get a switch, and unsuccessfully runs an isolation play against Winslow. On the third play, the Raptors try switching twice before the ball is inbounded, and end up with the quicker Cory Joseph handling the ball and going up against Justice Winslow (again). This time, additionally, it is unsuccessful.
Ultimately, Miami’s ability to switch on wing attackers will ultimately be their greatest tool throughout the playoffs. In this writer’s opinion, Miami will be able to defeat Toronto in a seven-game series, in part due to this lineup. Toronto’s best lineup of Lowry-DeRozan-Ross-Carroll-Biyombo does not have any post players. Biyombo is a respectable threat, however, he will not generate many of his own buckets. What this means is the Raptors will either have to rely on Biyombo posting-up Joe Johnson or Luol Deng; or, on the other hand, go small and add Cory Joseph to the unit.
Addressing the first, Biyombo is one of the worst defenders on the pick-and-roll in the NBA, ranking the the bottom 25% of all NBA players. Consequently, Miami will utilize Dwyane Wade and one of Joe Jonson or Luol Deng to utterly obliterate Biyombo. An example can be seen below:
One thing you’ll notice is, the Heat are attacking Biyombo with Udonis Haslem, Josh Richardson, and Luol Deng. So even without the small-ball lineup, it is clear that Biyombo could not keep up with Richardson’s and Deng’s speed. He simply does not have the lateral quickness. Consequently, odds are the Raptors would not keep Biyombo in the game when the Heat go “all wing,” lest they will be destroyed on defense.
Second, if they sub-out Biyombo and bring in either Joseph, Norman Powell, or Patrick Patterson, the Heat have another advantage: the previously documented ability to switch on every pick-and-roll. Simply put, the Raptors do not have the personnel to play against the Heat’s “all wing” lineup. That will spell quick work for Toronto as this series goes on.
Now, the Heat have only utilized this “all wing” lineup once during the playoffs. It resulted in them going on a 22-8 run against Toronto on Monday, however, that does not mean it will be effective against other teams. The Cavs have players like Tristan Thompson, Channing Frye, and Kevin Love who will be able to hurt the Heat’s defense enough that it makes the “all wing” lineup fairly useless. If, somehow, the Heat beat the Cavs, this lineup will not fair much better in the finals. Golden State has their own small-ball lineup that is better in every way; San Antonio may be harmed a bit, but ultimately their defensive firepower will defeat Miami’s small-ball unit; and the Thunder’s offense is to potent for Miami’s switching to be effective.
Nevertheless, NBA fans should enjoy how Spoelstra has used Miami’s defensive versatility to challenge Toronto. And moreover, these fans should not expect this to be the only card Spoelstra has up is sleeve. The Heat’s defense has been excellent throughout the playoffs, and as fans, we should enjoy the coach’s adjustments throughout the rest of the postseason.