Column: It’s time for the Miami Heat to switch things up
Despite his statements to the contrary, nothing much has changed for Erik Spoelstra the Miami Heat.
Following the Miami Heat’s worst loss of the season in Detroit recently, head coach Erik Spoelstra stated that “everything was on the line” for the team. Presumably, this covers everything – coaching, offensive schemes, defensive schemes, substitution patterns. It could even cover the front office and their flexibility to make moves. The Heat responded to their performance in Detroit with a road victory against the Memphis Grizzlies. Although it was great to get a victory, it’s safe to say it won’t be appearing on ESPN Classics anytime soon.
The Heat shot just 38 percent for the game and 67 percent from the free-throw line. The leading scorer was Tyler Johnson with 22 points off the bench. The Heat’s defence was excellent, holding Memphis to just 81 points on 35 percent shooting. The second night of their back-to-back against the Grizzlies unfortunately saw the tables turned and Memphis coming out on top, 110-107. This represented just the fourth time for the season that the Heat have topped 100 points.
But despite his statements after the Detroit debacle, Spoelstra has not put “everything on the line.” Over the past two games, the Heat’s pace (the number of possessions per 48 minutes) has been 92.78 per game. This would rank dead last in the league. For the season, the Heat are ranked 26th at 96.29. The substitution and rotation patterns have been virtually identical. Granted, the Heat are short on a number of key personal, including starters Goran Dragic and Justise Winslow. But still, no actual adjustments.
So if anything, this should represent a time/chance to mix things up. Or, put “everything on the table.” It is quite clear that the offensive and of the floor has been the Heat’s Achilles heel through 16 games. On top of the Heat scoring 100 or more points on just four occasions, they have shot greater than 50 percent just twice. This may indicate a complete lack of scoring potential for the team as a whole. But when you break things down, many players on the Heat roster have sufficient ability to put the ball through the hoop.
Injured guard Dragic is currently averaging 15.3 points including 41 percent from downtown. Through his career, Dragic has posted 13 games of 30 points or greater, including a career-high 40 points on 14-of-21 from the field. Hassan Whiteside is having a career year, averaging 16.8 points per game and shooting 54 percent. He most recently posted a career-high 32 points against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Shooting-guard Dion Waiters has improved as the season has progressed. He is averaging 14.2 points per game, including 18.8 points per game over the last eight games.
Waiters is a score-first guard and is one of just two players on the team to have eclipsed 30 points in a game in his career. While Waiters is getting plenty opportunities this season, the other is hardly getting a chance at all…
Adjust the rotations
This player is Derrick Williams, who has not played greater than 19 minutes as a starter. The lack of playing time in at least a couple of these starts has been completely illogical. The most recent was the Heat’s home loss to Memphis. Williams produced 13 points in 15 minutes on 5-of-9 from the field. In the third term, Williams produced seven points and five minutes. He was then subbed out for James Johnson and didn’t return for the rest of the game. If “everything is on the table,” how about a slight change of rotation? Perhaps slide Williams to the 3 and put Rodney McGruder to the bench. McGruder totaled 11 points in 34 minutes and was defending Tony Allen, hardly an offensive savant. Pretty sure Williams could’ve survived at that slot.
Keep in mind, the Heat are currently ranked 28th in the league in scoring. The quarters where Williams played in the loss to Memphis, the Heat scored 64 points on 50 percent shooting. The other two quarters – 43 points on 41 percent shooting.
This all makes absolutely no sense at all. The Heat professed preseason not only to playing at an increased pace, but also to play position-less basketball. This seemingly applies to some players on the roster, but not others. Luke Babbitt, for instance, has been receiving minutes off the bench recently at the both the 3 and 4 spot. Mysteriously, Williams isn’t afforded the same opportunity. For the record, Babbitt is shooting 32.8 percent for the season.
This isn’t meant to be a ‘Spo-bashing’ rant, but instead it’s looking at what is in the best interests of the team. Over the last five games, Williams has averaged 15.5 minutes per game in the starting 4 role. During this time, Williams has posted an offensive rating average (amount of points a team scores per 100 possessions) of 129.7. Considering the Heat’s struggles in scoring, these numbers must surely be raising eyebrows among the Heat coaching staff.
As I have written here and here, the Heat need to provide more opportunities for Williams. His upside is far greater than most players on the roster, and to not capitalize on his talents is just a complete waste. If D-league call-up McGruder can play greater than 30 minutes the past three games, surely Williams can at least once.
Nothing has changed
Furthermore, the offensive responsibilities of individual players needs to be assessed. Prior to his injury, Justise Winslow had attempted 15 or more field goals on four separate occasions. Point guard Dragic, on the other hand, has done this just once this season. Winslow in fact was the leading the team in field goal attempts (FGA) per game up until the Heat’s recent loss at home to Memphis. Those honors now lay with Dion Waiters. So when the teams leaders in FGA’s are shooting 38.4 and 33 percent respectively, it doesn’t auger well.
The bottom line is nothing has changed in the two games following Spoelstra’s words. The Heat were 4-9 at the time of his statement, and are now 5-11. The upcoming schedule would be incredibly testing for any team in the league, let alone the struggling Heat. When Dragic and Winslow return from their respective injuries, maybe some adjustments will be made on the offensive end of the court.
Whilst not as much of an issue during the Big 3 era, the tag of Spoelstra being ‘stubborn’ has been a common theme. It’s certainly commendable for any leader to have their core beliefs and stick to them.
But despite saying change would occur in the preseason, and again just last week, the numbers are telling a very different story.
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