Miami Heat v Orlando Magic

Outlining the damning problems of the Heat’s offense

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This season has gone pretty well for the Miami Heat, don’tcha think? They’re ranked seventh in the league in offensive efficiency, and sixth in the league in defensive efficiency. Aside from offensive rebounding rate, they rank in the top 13 teams in each of the offensive and defensive “four factors” (effective field goal percentage, effective field goal percentage allowed, turnover rate, opponent’s turnover rate, free throw rate, opponent’s free throw rate, defensive rebounding rate). They have a winning record despite having an entirely new team, and when all else fails, they still have two of the most talented basketball players on the planet.

Things are sunny in Miami, I’d say, with the only exceptions being the team’s disturbing lack of interest and effort, the bizarre chemistry, Erik Spoelstra’s oddly hot seat, and the dreaded offensive inefficiency. That’s an odd thing to attribute to a top-ten offense, but it’s certainly fitting; LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, two of the most efficient high-usage players in the league a season ago, have seen their shooting and turnover numbers plummet.

Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus took a stab at explaining why:

Watching the Heat’s offense, something jumps out immediately. When both James and Wade are both in the game, they are almost never on the same side of the floor. Sometimes, that means both are waiting as Carlos Arroyo or another perimeter player handles the ball. More often, it translates into either James or Wade initiating the offense (typically out of a pick-and-roll) while the other spots up on the opposite wing.

For opposing defenses, this is essentially an ideal situation. Though James and Wade can still create problems by driving off a cross-court pass, their presence on the weak side usually limits them to serving as stand-still shooters at best and decoys at worst. Scouting reports around the league encourage defenders to force James and Wade to become outside shooters, neutralizing the danger they pose off the dribble, in the paint and at the rim. For a variety of reasons, Miami has managed to do exactly that to its own stars…

The other interesting culprit that Hoopdata.com points out is how much less effective James and Wade have been when they do reach the paint. Here, there does seem to be some evidence that the Heat’s poor bench is hurting the performance of its stars. James is making 68.9 percent of his attempts at the rim thus far. Previously, the worst mark Hoopdata.com has recorded for James (going back to 2006-07) is 71.0 percent. Wade has taken an even more significant tumble. He’s making 55.7 percent of his at-rim attempts, having previously shot no worse than 66.0 percent on these shots. That is a possible indicator that Wade is not right physically.

More striking than James’ and Wade’s shooting at the rim is their lack of assists to other players who finish at the rim. Last year, they combined 6.2 at-rim assists per game (essentially, passes leading to dunks or layups). This season, that mark has declined to 2.5 per game. Even granting that Wade is handing out far fewer assists (4.1 vs. 6.5) and that fewer shots have been marked as at the rim by Hoopdata.com this season, the two players are setting up their teammates for close finishes less frequently.

The first point Pelton hits is hopefully something that will be rectified in the coming games. Utilizing LeBron and Wade at the same time is partly why the Miami offense has such explosive potential, and yet instead Erik Spoelstra and his staff (or perhaps LeBron and Wade themselves) have elected to take turns running pick-and-rolls opposite one another on the floor. Running more 2-3 pick-and-rolls is a surefire way to involve Miami’s most versatile players in more plays together, and as such force opposing defenses to concede certain opportunities to either LeBron or Wade.

Pelton’s second contention is even more interesting, as there isn’t an obvious explanation as to why James and Wade are suddenly lesser finishers around the basket. I’m sure offensive stagnation is at least somewhat to blame, as the forays that both players take deep into the paint are a bit more wild than they’re used to. Still, both players are missing very reasonable attempts from around the basket that they’re accustomed to making, and much of that relies on James and Wade’s specific execution of the plays at hand. Something’s a bit off, and it’s not just the spacing.

Either way, Wade’s finishing ability is statistically akin to that of Yi Jianlian, Spencer Hawes, Channing Frye, and Joel Anthony this season, and that hurts. A lot.

Each star’s lack of assists leading to baskets at the rim can be chalked up to the same logic touched upon earlier. By separating James and Wade within the offense, the Heat are essentially taking away each distributor’s best finishing option. Chris Bosh is a decent alternative, but the rest of the Heat bigs (Udonis Haslem included) are relatively poor finishers around the cup, sandbagging both Miami’s offensive efficiency and the assist productivity of James and Wade.

These points don’t address all of Miami’s offensive problems, but they do cover the most glaring. Sure, it would be nice if the Heat had a more capable offensive center, or a more prolific scoring point guard. But most of the Heat’s struggles can be remedied given the proper utilization of the immense talent already on the roster.

Brandon Ingram with the steal, slam (VIDEO)

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Very little has gone right for the Lakers of late. They have dropped five in a row. Around Los Angeles, the talk has gone from “this team could make the playoffs” after a 10-10 start to “they need to tank and try to keep the pick” after going 5-21 since. (The Lakers pick this draft is top-three protected, if it’s outside that it goes to the Sixers. The Lakers currently have the fourth worst record in the NBA.)

The Lakers young players look… young. D'Angelo Russell admitted he just started trying to follow a game-day routine, then said Tuesday night he didn’t focus and deserved to be benched down the stretch. Brandon Ingram shows flashes, he’s smart and sees the game, but he’s still physically pushed around.

But those flashes, like the steal and dunk above are fun.

Lakers fans, welcome to the process. This is what rebuilding is like. It’s a roller coaster, you just hope the trajectory generally remains up.

Rumor: Is Cleveland done making moves?

SACRAMENTO, CA - JANUARY 13:  Kyle Korver #26 of the Cleveland Cavaliers shoots over Arron Afflalo #40 of the Sacramento Kings at Golden 1 Center on January 13, 2017 in Sacramento, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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LeBron James has made it clear he wants the Cavaliers to add a veteran point guard to the mix. Cavs GM David Griffin has talked about wanting to add playmakers to the roster.

The Cavaliers made a savvy move picking up Kyle Korver recently, he brings shooting and some high IQ play to the table. But was that it? Does Cleveland have another trade to pull off?

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst is about as connected as they come with the Cavaliers organization and he said on ESPN Cleveland radio not to bet on seeing another move.

Windhorst is right, in terms of players the Cavaliers don’t have much to move — James Jones? Kay Felder — and they don’t have a first-round pick to move until 2021. The buyout market may be something to watch, but a solid playmaker or point guard may be hard to come by.

The only question about the Cavaliers roster is this: How does it match up with Golden State? Barring a major catastrophe, the Cavaliers are coming out of the East, but can they beat the Warriors four out of seven? The MLK Day blowout was not an indicator one way or the other, the Cavs mailed that game in, but there certainly are questions about the potential Finals matchup. One more playmaker would help the Cavs, I just don’t know where he comes from.

Report: Pelicans explored Dwight Howard trade before Hawks pulled him off table

DALLAS, TX - JANUARY 07:  Dwight Howard #8 of the Atlanta Hawks at American Airlines Center on January 7, 2017 in Dallas, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Who are the Pelicans? They look like a movie where the writer, director, and studio suits all had very different versions of the film in mind, and the result is a jumbled mess. Think “Suicide Squad.”

There are a lot of questions about the roster and style of this team, but at the heart of all of it is this: Do they play Anthony Davis at the four or the five? They are better with him at the five but keep spending money on bigs to push him to the four.

They considered doing it again in the past month, reports Zach Lowe at ESPN (in an article that brilliantly lays out the quandary in New Orleans).

But they haven’t committed to staying small, and sticking Davis at center. They worry about the physical toll it would take, and fretted after Davis picked up two quick fouls jostling with Dwight Howard two weeks ago. In the days that followed, Atlanta and New Orleans had exploratory talks about possible Howard trades before the Hawks pulled everyone off the market, according to several league sources. It is unclear how interested New Orleans was, and there was not unanimous support within the team for acquiring Howard.

Dwight Howard? He’s played better this season and finally is staying within himself in Atlanta, but why would the Pelicans want him and that contract next to Davis? To be fair, these kinds of conversations happen a lot in the NBA and most don’t go anywhere. Still, this one is perplexing. It’s the opposite of the style they had success with this season. It’s back to the confused push-and-pull within that franchise.

Maybe this goes to having Saints people oversee the basketball side and thinking, like the NFL, you can rebuild on the fly quickly with smart fifth round picks and a couple free agents. The NBA doesn’t work that way (and there aren’t fifth round picks, although the second round serves that purpose). The Pelicans should have tanked in recent years. If the Pelicans brought in Alvin Gentry to run a more Warriors-style offense, then give him the players to do it. Davis is a foundational piece and will be a stud in any system, maybe Holiday can work in that free-flowing, fast-decision style with shooting everywhere, and after that… I don’t know.

Bottom line, if the Pelicans brought in Alvin Gentry to run a more Warriors-style offense, then give him the players to do it. Davis is a foundational piece and will be a stud in any system, maybe Holiday can work in that free-flowing, fast-decision style with shooting everywhere, and after that… I don’t know.

But the indecision and hodgepodge of a roster in New Orleans leaves it in the same place as always, and that is squandering one of the game’s best players.

Video Breakdown: What is Hammer action? An explainer

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Hammer action — sometimes referred to as a Hammer play or a Hammer set — was made ubiquitous in the modern NBA by the San Antonio Spurs. It’s really not as complicated as it sounds to identify, and it’s got two main principles.

First, the Hammer part of any set is a back screen to setup a cut by a wing player around the arc to the corner (or sometimes on a flare to the wing).

Second, the Hammer always happens away from the ball side of a play. It’s a weak side action, and typically anything happening with the ball on the strong side at the beginning of the play is purposeful distraction.

You can learn all about the Hammer by watching this week’s NBA Glossary video above, or by reading the text version down below.

The Diagram

Here we have a set where the ball is on the right side of the floor, with one post high and one low. The Hammer action happens on the weak side of the court between the shooting guard and the center:

The small forward is going to start the pick and roll with the power forward going to the right side. Meanwhile, the center is going to set the back screen on the left left side of the floor. This is our Hammer action, and the shooting guard will run off that screen to the corner.

Once the play starts and the small forward gets to the baseline, he passes it out to the guard, who shoots the corner three.

Let’s take a look at it in action and how the Spurs mix it into different looking plays.

Here they have the ball at the arc on the right side of the floor. Kawhi Leonard is coming through the paint to receive a pass off the screen.

Meanwhile, Patty Mills is the player that’s going to run off a hammer screen here on the left elbow.

The ball is passed, and with Kawhi dribbling toward the arc, the trap is set, and the Hammer action commences.

The defender turns his head, and Mills runs toward the baseline unimpeded to take the jumper.

In this example, we have the pick and roll to the right side. The hammer action is going to happen between the guard and the post on the weak side.

As the pick and roll is run, the Hammer screen is set.

Notice San Antonio has cleverly positioned Tony Parker at the top of the arc, and when LaMarcus Aldridge pops out, it’s up to Parker’s defender to stunt over to help.

This makes Danny Green’s defender slide over to help cover Parker, basically leaving Green unguarded in the corner.

Aldridge sees this, and passes the ball to Parker for the quick rotation over to Green.

That’s the basics of the Hammer play. It’s nothing super complicated, but it shows you how spacing and exploitation of defensive tendencies can be programmed into an NBA offense.