Video breakdown: Why the Heat are the most Warriors-like team in the NBA
This ongoing playoff run from Miami has been quite a surprise, and for them to go all the way is something Warriors fans should take pleasure in.
What if I told you that you should root for the Miami Heat?
It’s tough to find a substitution for legitimate happiness. As Warriors fans, you’ve all experienced what it means to be really happy during the past several years. Not as much this year. We all know the story: Kevin Durant leaves for the Brooklyn Nets, Andre Iguodala gets traded, Klay Thompson is out for the whole season to recover from an ACL injury, and Stephen Curry’s hand gets crushed under the weight of Aron Baynes. A series of unfortunate events led the Warriors from being the alpha of the pack to being the runt of the litter.
The Warriors’ redemption story will have to wait till next season, whenever that may be. For now, the Heat are providing ample reason for Dubs fans to cheer for them.
Finding the perfect balance
The Heat lack transcendent superstars. No one on the roster, by name value at least, would make you think that they are world beaters. Jimmy Butler is the biggest name they have, but he is not considered to be among the top five best players in the NBA and is rarely mentioned in top 10 lists. Bam Adebayo is a rising star, but ask any casual observer who he is and you will probably draw blank looks.
Everyone else on the Heat besides the aforementioned two stars are a ragtag bunch of rookies, role players, and veterans seemingly cobbled together randomly. That strategy has failed before for Pat Riley. After the Big 3 era, the Heat initially struggled to find pieces that fit to a T, giving substantial contracts to players like Dion Waiters, James Johnson, and Hassan Whiteside. Dwyane Wade, their franchise player, was way past his prime and eventually retired. The road to recovery was anything but smooth.
Now, they are 10-1 in the playoffs after going up 2-0 against the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals. What their players lack in name recognition, they make up for with an abundance of teamwork, determination, and a culture that has made everyone buy in.
Additionally, the Heat play basketball the way it should be played: a motion-based offense predicated on cutting and the threat their shooters generate, while having a versatile and under-sized big man who is an elite passer and can defend guards, wings, and bigs with equal effectiveness.
That combination sounds mighty familiar, does it?
In terms of reputation, Duncan Robinson is no Klay Thompson. But he is rapidly shooting up the list of the best shooters in the league. When he hits shots like these, you can’t help but compare him to one of the greatest catch-and-shoot players in NBA history:
Robinson is extremely dangerous off the catch, and Erik Spoelstra takes advantage of such a skill set. That’s why he has Robinson running off screens and getting the ball through dribble hand-offs. If the defense elects to drop their big like on these possessions, Robinson punishes them to the extreme:
The threat Robinson presents as a sharpshooter is enough to give defenses fits, and he is well aware of that. He garners top-lock-level attention. And just like Klay, he is also smart enough to recognize open cutting lanes when he gets overplayed:
The rise of Robinson to shooting fame has been meteoric, and the gaudy numbers he put up throughout the season are proof: 44.6 percent shooting on threes while averaging 8.3 three-point attempts per game during the regular season. In the playoffs so far, he is shooting threes at a 40.0 percent success rate while attempting 7.3 per game, an incredible feat considering that playoff defenses are much tighter and that he is increasingly becoming a target on opposing teams’ scouting reports.
The Swiss Army knife
Notice a common thread in all of those Robinson buckets? Save for one possession above, it’s Adebayo who’s making all those passes to him. Quality shooting is the bread-and-butter of the Heat’s offense, but Adebayo’s passing is the engine that makes it run. If Klay Thompson is the comp for Robinson, then Adebayo surely has been compared to Draymond Green, one of the elite passers in the modern NBA. Like Green, Adebayo has often been utilized as a fulcrum, with off-ball actions both on the weak and strong side providing him with plenty of targets to hit.
Adebayo averaged 5.1 assists during the regular season, a career high and a significant improvement from last season’s average of 2.2. Getting out of Whiteside’s shadow has allowed him to emerge as the Heat’s hottest commodity, which is similar to when Draymond rose from a solid bench contributor to a star after David Lee’s injury forced Steve Kerr to put Draymond in the starting lineup.
What’s even more amazing is that he’s doing it on both ends of the floor. Returning to the Draymond comparison, Adebayo is the Heat’s most versatile defender. He can guard quick and shifty point guards like Kemba Walker on the perimeter:
Or he can transform into a traditional paint protector and make clutch plays like this one, where he acts as the rotating help-side defender and emphatically denies Jayson Tatum’s attempt to put him on a poster:
He doesn’t even have to be constantly guarding one single man during an entire possession. He can rotate, switch, or roam as a free safety, especially whenever the Heat play a 2-3 zone:
Adebayo was voted in on this season’s second team All-Defense, and rightfully so. He has become the Heat’s defensive anchor and its heartbeat. There are plenty of reasons to believe that he will be a constant presence on Defensive Player of the Year ballots for years to come, and he might even win it someday.
Great supporting cast
Robinson and Adebayo have become an unlikely pairing, fueling the Heat’s offense and giving opposing defenses a taste of hell on earth. But the Heat are getting contributions across the board. Tyler Herro, the 13th pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, has been playing important minutes off the bench. Like almost everyone else on the roster, he shoots the three at an above-average rate: 36.8 percent on 6.7 attempts per game in the playoffs, which isn’t too far off from his regular season rate of 38.9 percent on 5.4 attempts per game.
More importantly, he has shown maturity beyond his years. One thing’s for sure: this rookie’s not afraid of the spotlight.
Other key veterans have been stepping up as well. Kelly Olynyk has been the kind of versatile stretch-five the Heat needed to provide quality minutes off the bench; he is shooting 34.6 percent on threes in the playoffs, a decent rate for a center. After being acquired from the Memphis Grizzlies, Jae Crowder — a career 34.3 percent three-point shooter — shot 44.5 percent on 6.4 attempts in 20 regular season games for the Heat, and his hot shooting has carried over into the playoffs: 40.4 percent on 8.5 attempts per game. Goran Dragić is experiencing a late-career resurgence; he is averaging 22.2 points in the playoffs, all while shooting 47.7 percent from the field and 39.5 percent on threes.
Most importantly — at least for Warriors fans — Andre Iguodala is a Miami Heat. While his importance and role haven’t been the same for the Heat as they were for the Warriors, he has nevertheless been a valued veteran presence on the team, and you can be sure that he has the ears of Spoelstra, Butler, and the rest of the veterans and rookies on the roster.
A familiar offense
As a team, the Heat have been compared to the Warriors because of how they seek the best possible shots with as much ball and player movement as possible. They rarely isolate, ranking 27th in the league in isolation frequency during the regular season, according to play type data from NBA Advanced Stats. They prefer to score through cuts (first in the league during the regular season at 9.4 percent frequency) and hand-offs (first in the league at 8.8 percent).
In the playoffs, they also have implemented a steady diet of pick-and-roll and off-ball screening actions, a testament to the flexibility and willingness of Spoelstra to make adjustments and be unpredictable.
Contrary to what many may think, a great coach isn’t someone who sticks to one winning recipe and refuses to change course when it has been figured out, but instead is someone who is defined by a willingness to be fluid and to mold his philosophy around the kind of personnel he is given. Spoelstra has done just that, and it has been paying dividends.
Ultimately, it all comes down to how a team’s superstar performs in the bright lights. The Warriors were blessed to have two of them; Curry and Durant have delivered when situations called for individual brilliance. The Heat have Jimmy Butler providing those moments for them so far in these playoffs, and while his numbers don’t stick out as much as Curry’s and Durant’s, he has nevertheless answered the call for clutch, game-defining moments.
As hardcore Warriors fans, it may not be easy to root for anyone other than the franchise that has been easy to cheer for during the past several years. But no one will take it against you if you decide to temporarily root for this Miami Heat team. On several levels — structural and philosophical — they have been the closest Warriors doppelgangers the league has seen so far.
They are two wins away from an NBA Finals berth, and it is possible that they will be up against LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers. And if that won’t convince you to root for them, I don’t know what will.
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