Right now, the Miami Heat are the best defensive team in basketball.
Yes, we know — you have to be careful about what kind of conclusions you draw from a team three games into a season. Small sample size alert. And it also depends on how you count the numbers — Basketball-Reference has them the best at 90.3 points per possession, Hoopdata has them seventh at 92.7.
But nobody who watched the second half of last night’s Miami blowout would argue that the Heat are a defensive power — Orlando shot 7 for 36 in the second half, and Miami converted those misses into transition points. And Miami — with Dwyane Wade and LeBron James — are to be feared in transition.
The question is, can Miami keep it up? The deeper stats at Hoopdata have some conflicting answers.
The Heat are aggressive defensively. Right now the Heat are making defensive plays — getting the steal, blocking the shot, taking the charge. Miami’s defensive play rate of 19.1 per 100 shows the Heat aggression — they are getting the steal or the block basically one-in-five times down the court. That is fourth best in the league.
That translates to fast break points the other way. And remember what we said about the Heat in transition.
The Heat can and almost certainly will keep up this aggressive play. They pride themselves on being aggressive.
But there are other numbers that raise doubts about if they can sustain this level of success.
Right now Miami is letting teams get to the rim — 25.5 shots per game that are layups or dunks, which is ninth most in the league. However, when teams get there they are shooting just 54.9 percent at the rim, fifth lowest percentage in the league.
Usually, teams with big front lines are ones that can both keep teams from shooting at the rim and keep them shooting a low percentage when they get there (teams keeping opponents to a lower shooting percentage at the rim than Miami include the Lakers, Nets and Nuggets, which are long front lines).
It is unlikely Miami keeps those numbers up. Either they will start to keep people away from the rim or teams will start to finish better. And score more points, and limit those fast break opportunities.
By the same count, Miami is forcing teams to take only 15.5 long two-pointers per game, shots from 16 feet out to the arc that are the least efficient in basketball. The Heat are sixth worst in the league right now in that category. It’s hard to be an efficient defense if you don’t force teams into inefficient shots.
But three games in, the Heat are that. We will see if it lasts.