Are the Heat susceptible to strong point guard play?

Do the Heat struggle with elite points guards in particular? - Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

One conversation that has been presented in the "Big Three" era for Miami is the perception some have that Miami cannot guard good offensive point guards, for whatever reason. After Ray Felton's productive game last week, let's take a look at this more than two years in to see if that assumption holds up to scrutiny.

The Heat looked lethargic against the Knicks last week, with atrocious rotations and lackadaisical effort on perimeter close outs to assist New York on a hot night.

Part of that was Ray Felton creating off of penetration, as the Knick point guard had nine dimes, partially from carving up the Heat defense on the dribble drive.

Than something familiar happened.

The next morning, I heard the notion that the 'Quick PGs kill the heat' and 'Speed kills them,' among the crowd of people who were analyzing the game on social media and other outlets.

Ah, I hadn't heard that one in awhile.

The NBA is back and the narrative mill is revving up as the media churns out storylines. As we speak, little elves that run sports message boards are winding up imaginary roulette wheels with potential fabrications to choose from as ESPN plays isolated highlights and people dissect games with generalities.

There isn't any stopping it, there is only the few of us that try to contain it with actual facts.

But the thing is, some narratives are true.

The panic about this isn't on red alert like it has been the last few seasons, but if it does come up, we want to make sure we know the facts in the matter.


I always dismissed the notion that the Heat are more susceptible to elite point guards going off because, well, great point guards kill everyone, not just Miami.

It's easy to say "The Heat can't stop Chris Paul, they struggle vs. elite point guards!" and then ignore that he routinely does it against everyone else. It became convenient to pick on Mario Chalmers as a weak link as the Heat chased a title, and people ran with it. They did the same thing with the center position, and I particularly remember Jon Barry on ESPN's studio show echoing nonsense about how the Heat would fail because they we're weak at a few positions, unlike anyone else in the NBA, and three stars wouldn't be able to make up for it, unlike anything in the history of the NBA, when front-loaded teams routinely win.

Felton got the best of Miami in this Knicks game. But two years in to this 'Big Three' Era, we can take a look at how some of the best point guards in the world have played against the Heat.

I think the consensus is that Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, Steve Nash, Russell Westbrook, Deron Williams and Rajon Rondo are the six best point guards in the league. Those would be the guys that you consider 'elite' point guards that pose the threat of breaking your defense down and creating for others as well as anyone in the game. For the sake of this argument, we'll take a look at the performance of those six players against the Heat in the last two seasons in comparison to their averages.

It doesn't tell the whole story, but the team's play against the best could give us a solid indication of their perceived shortcoming's against good point guard play. We don't get into advanced numbers, but the digits on the surface create a respectable snapshot for the discussion.

WHAT THE NUMBERS SAY

I compiled the information in a table here: Heat defense against elite point guards.

There are a few observations to take from this.

For one, the Heat have definitely been torched by some of the best.

Rajon Rondo took the Heat to work last season in three regular season games, averaging roughly 19 points and 14 assists on 51 percent shooting. Not to mention, he also had a few explosions against the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. Maybe he just hates the Heat so much he wills himself to elevate his play against a rival team.

But if Rondo is so bent on lighting up Miami, than why did he only score 7.5 points on 37 percent shooting in four games against he Heat in 2010-11?

Maybe good players have good games sometimes and the Heat have been the victim's of getting beat by better offense on a given night. Maybe we make too much of random games to confirm biases we have. Maybe in all of the scrutiny of the Heat, we ignore that if Rondo has a great game against the Bucks on a January night, we don't jump out of our seats and say "See, the Bucks have issues with stopping point guards!".

No. Most likely, it's just an All-Star having a good night.

We don't say team's struggle to stop elite perimeter scorers when Dwyane Wade and LeBron James torch them. We just acknowledge that you can't stop them.

As you can see in the data, Chris Paul sliced Miami for 27 points and 11 dimes in his lone game against the Heat last year, but in two games in 2010-11, he struggled to find any rhythm in two contests vs. the Heat and averaged 12 points on 35 percent shooting (Although he did average 12 assists.)

The Heat absolutely bottled up Derrick Rose last season, and contained him in three games the year before. Russell Westbrook has generally underachieved against the Heat the last two seasons. But Steve Nash and Deron Williams have had some moments.

It seem's as though there isn't a verifiable trend that Miami struggles with great point guards, relative to their averages, which suggests the Heat's defense against opposing point guards doesn't deviate abnormally.

MORE TO IT

It's not just that great point guards are going to get their numbers. There could be schematic or downright talent holes in a defense that certainly allows more space for perimeter scorers to succeed.

The Heat have been a great defensive team for a long time, and one that commits to eliminating the middle of the floor by blowing up pick-and-rolls and fanning action outside.

So that's probably not the issue.

The issue would likely have to be that Chalmers is such a weak defender that he is a punching bag for opposing point guards. But according to Synergy Sports data, Chalmers was a sturdy defensive player last season. He held opponents to 37.5 percent scoring on isolation, above league average, and was one of the best at defending pick-and-roll ball handler's, containing them to 39 percent shooting.

The Heat may have occasional breakdowns and give up some plays to point guards, but there is no evidence to suggest that they have an inherent flaw in guarding point guards, or that they struggle in particular against the position.

So the next time the question comes up in your mind, or someone else brings it up, consider that your eyes may be lying to you.

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