Erik Spoelstra is a detail guy. The pregame whiteboard in the Heat locker room is likely the most detailed, organized one in the league — two columns of diagrammed favorite plays of the opponents, a column of sets the Heat want to run, reminders of the night’s focus on offense and defense down the middle. Spoelstra is s a guy who wants information and has worked hard to distill that knowledge down to his players.
That comes across in a fantastic Q&A NBA.com’s John Schuhmann (via TrueHoop). Spoelstra talks about the team’s use of statistics, but more importantly how to make those statistics mean something to the players.
Of course, when you talk Heat players, you are talking LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Early on while the Heat were figuring things out, statistics helped paint the picture.
They just needed time to learn each other’s tendencies and how they can impact the game when the other guy didn’t have the ball. They’re both much more active participants off the ball than they were last year or earlier in their careers.
I used a pie chart at the beginning of December to show how each one of them were scoring. For both of them, their comfort level was at the top of the floor, high pick-and-roll with the ball in their hands. The problem with that is we can’t have both of them running a high pick-and-roll with the ball in their hands at the same time.
NBA.com: Pie charts?
E.S.: I had to find a way to explain that we need more balance and we need to find other ways to score. Each guy needs to get two or three layups or dunks or free throws in the open court, get two or three on cuts, get maybe one on an offensive rebound, get a couple on post-ups, get a couple of catch-and-shoots.
And then at the end of quarters, we’ll run home run high pick-and-rolls. And they’ve really bought into that…. All of their pie charts have changed. Dwyane’s has probably changed the most, where now he gets a potpourri of different ways of scoring. He does it in all the ways I mentioned. Finally, at the end of games, we’ll get him in high pick-and-rolls, but he’s doing a lot of other things to be engaged and involved when it’s not a high pick-and-roll with the ball in his hands.
There is a backlash in some circles against the new wave of advanced statistics starting to be used in the NBA. But the fact is, it’s information. It’s information gleaned from observation (the stat is based on a recordable action in a game). A good coach, a good GM wants that information — especially if it challenges their preconceived beliefs. If a coach keeps going to a certain play or player in a key situation, and the numbers show it isn’t working, then there needs to be a discussion of why and what might work better. Statistics can help identify those moments and players.
What Spoelstra really seems to grasp is the secondary challenge — how to get that information to the players. For them the game is instinctual and muscle memory — you don’t want them slowing down to analyze things on the court. You need to present information in a way that players can easily absorb it and translate it to their game. Players will adjust, but the best ones want to understand why.
So, pie charts.