The Miami Heat, in their last two championship seasons, have been known for incredible defense. Though they have not been the most consistent defensive team in the league, their performance on defense when fully engaged is nearly unrivaled in today's NBA. Credit for their defense should go to Erik Spoelstra and his coaching staff, Lebron James, and Chris Bosh, who doesn't get enough praise for his work on that end.
James' athleticism and intelligence has allowed him to be the most versatile defender in the league, able to guard every position and make rotations and close outs that no one else can. Spoelstra and Co. recognized this and employed a highly active and risky defensive strategy that is predicated on aggressive pick and roll defense. James' versatility and the commitment from the rest of the team have made this strategy incredibly disruptive and, in turn, successful. But what it is most dependent upon is a big man, usually Chris Bosh, being able to attack point guards coming off picks and quickly recovering to the paint. Bosh has been stellar in this regard. His execution makes everyone's job easier, especially the wing players who pinch in on the roller while Bosh corrals the ball handler.
These wings, often James and Dwyane Wade, never have to pinch too far into the paint because Bosh is almost always fast enough getting back in order to prevent the entry. This GIF is one of the best displays of how the Heat play defense and how it is so dependent on Bosh. The NBA's favorite play is the pick and roll and the best way to stop offenses is defending this play well.
This clip shows two pick-and-rolls with Damian Lillard and Lamarcus Aldridge. On the first, Bosh blitzes Lillard, preventing him from going to the basket or getting a good view of that side of the floor. As he does so, Ray Allen creeps off his man in the corner to defend Aldridge. Most times, Lillard would try to pass the ball, but because of Bosh's aggressiveness and length he prevents that pass. One, the second pick-and-roll, Bosh still blitzes but this time Lillard does make the pass. Bosh sees the pass early and is able to quickly recover to Aldridge and play good defense to force the miss. You can't defend better than this. His abilities makes Miami's defense great, but it is still a risky strategy because it involves so many rotations.
The riskiness is what makes a change in their strategy sensible, though I don't think they should completely change. When Spoelstra wants his best defense, he will stay with Bosh at the five and rightly so. When Greg Oden is in, however, the Heat should build a defense that highlights Oden's strengths and, more importantly, hides his weaknesses. The model for this defense is right next door in Indiana. Though I have no false hope that Oden is as talented as Roy Hibbert on defense or that the Heat could execute this strategy as well as the Pacers do, I do believe a more traditional defense predicated on rim protection will help the Heat going forward.
After multiple knee surgeries, Oden simply does not have the athleticism and speed to be effective in the current Miami schemes. Asking him to blitz point guards and recover to rollers for 20 minutes would be foolish, and the Heat know this. Here is how Roy Hibbert and the Pacers defend the pick and roll:Notice the contrasting responsibilities of Bosh from the earlier GIF and Hibbert in this one. Hibbert stays in the paint and discourages the ball handler from attacking the rim. Hibbert's presence cannot be overstated; he clogs nearly half the floor and Tyson Chandler doesn't even have a chance of getting a lane to the hoop. For the Heat, we see Bosh go all the way out to defend the ball and then go all the way back into the paint. Oden can not do that effectively. He could, however, with coaching, sit back in the paint and disrupt the play as it moves towards the hoop. His size allows him to do what Hibbert does better than anyone -- contest shots. This change would require less action from the wings as well, as Oden would stay in front of the roller, meaning the wings do not have to pinch and recover. Employing this strategy would mean less rotations and a decrease of aggressiveness from all players which means Miami's current risky blitzing strategy would mold into one of containment and rim protection with Oden in the game.
The seven-footer currently does not play enough minutes to fully see how this strategy would work, but this different scheme may allow him to play more minutes. If the Heat would like to continue to further implement Oden into the team, they would be wise to consider changes in their strategies.