There has been a stylistic debate about the Heat this season — should they run more or slow it down?
Frankly Dwyane Wade and LeBron James are fearsome both in transition and in the half court, but what works best for the team? I was in the camp that with the Heat’s pressure defense they should use that to create transition opportunities, easy fast break points where their tremendous athletes are unstoppable. And their eight-game winning streak came while running more.
But traditionally, good defensive teams (and the Heat are currently the second best defensive team in the league) want to slow the tempo down — if you can stop a team and give them fewer chances you can control the game.
That is what the Heat have done lately, notes Tom Haberstroh at ESPN’s Heat Index in a fantastic breakdown of the Heat’s transition offense.
Ending with the Kings win (Dec. 11), the Heat’s transition rate (percentage of offense generated from transition) had averaged 17.2 percent in their previous eight games, according to Synergy data. But the Heat have eased off the accelerator in their most recent five games, averaging just 11.5 percent with a season-low of 8.2 percent mark in Los Angeles. For perspective, the league average transition rate stands at 12.5 percent — or every eight possessions.
But the change of pace hasn’t slowed them down in the win column. After beating the normally high-octane Phoenix Suns by 12 points, the Heat methodically dismantled the Lakers 96-80 with just four points coming on fast breaks. And it wasn’t from lack of opportunities, as the Heat caused 12 turnovers while pulling down 39 defensive rebounds on the day.
Against the Lakers, the Heat’s three stars were all patient, passing up good shots for better ones later in the possession. As Haberstroh notes, that was not a luxury any of them had on their previous teams, where any kind of decent look for them was the best chance the team had to score. The Heat are adjusting.
What should be scaring teams around the league is this shows how versatile the Heat really are — if you try to run on them they can beat you that way; if you try to slow it down and grind it out they beat you that way. They drain a lot of the long-twos that every team tries to force other teams to take.
There are questions about matchups against long front lines and good defensive teams, questions that will not be answered until deep in the playoffs. But in the regular season, the Heat are winning at whatever pace they feel like playing at. And they look like the force everyone expected them to be.