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Can the Heat bench get Miami into the playoffs this season by launching 3 pointers like the Rockets?

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NBA starters bask in the media's spotlight, while Miami's bench quietly makes winning plays with their 3-point shooting.

NBA: Miami Heat at San Antonio Spurs Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Justise Winslow coming off the bench seemingly restored his shooting touch and gives hope for the Miami Heat to land a good seed for the playoffs. Making all 4 of his 3-point shots against the Brooklyn Nets brought this season’s total for made 3's, off the bench, to 7 out 15, good for 46.7% accuracy. He joins the other Miami rotation players to lead all NBA bench units in 3 point attempts.

Comparing the Heat's bench shot selection with the 20-4 Houston Rockets’ starters yields striking similarities. Of course Miami’s rotation doesn't have an All-Star like James Harden to fuel them. No problem, the Miami’s bench has Heat Culture on its side.

The Rockets launch almost 10 more 3-points shots per game, 9.4 to be exact, than the next most prolific team, the Nets, despite the fact Houston is 10th in 3-point accuracy at 36.9%. The Heat's 3-point marksmanship isn't that far behind at 36.4%. Miami hoists 14 to 15 less 3-pointers a game, which leaves, on average, 5 points on the table per game.

That's the combined numbers for both the starters and bench players. Breaking down the figures by the starters and bench for the Rockets and Heat gives this table.

Starters vs Bench

FG STATS HRstr MHstr HRben MHben
FG STATS HRstr MHstr HRben MHben
FGM 29.0 23.4 10.1 13.9
FGA 60.8 52.6 22.9 30.2
FG% 48% 45% 44% 46%
3 PTM 12.5 5.8 3.4 6.0
3 PTA 31.9 17.4 11.3 15.0
3 PT% 39% 33% 30% 40%
3PA/2FGA 52% 33% 49% 50%

Miami's bench takes more 3-point shots versus 2-point ones than any other bench unit in the NBA. They barely beat out the Rockets for the top spot by taking 49.7% of their shots from downtown, compared to Houston’s 49.3% ratio. Perhaps because he’s from Houston, Winslow has a little Rocket in him to improve his accuracy and help create better spacing for the team.

Coming off the bench the Heat's reserves knock down 3-pointers at a high enough rate to get that extra point each 3-point basket gives them.

  • Kelly Olynyk 47.4%
  • Justise Winslow 46.7%
  • Wayne Ellington 40.1%
  • James Johnson 39.1%
  • Tyler Johnson 35.2%

With so many threats on the perimeter, the floor spacing for the bench players gives them more room for quality looks. Sort of an avalanche effect where spacing and accuracy feed on each other. The excellent spacing comes from less dribbling and more passing by the reserves.

Goran Dragic and Dion Waiters are the only Miami players to average over 4 dribbles per touch, 4.89 and 4.74, respectively. The dribbles per touch for guys off bench are significantly lower: Olynyk, 0.90; Winslow, 1.51; Ellington, 0.64; Tyler J., 2.27. Less dribbling leads to less trapping, more assists and uncontested shots.

The starters rank 27th in AST% at 53.0%, while the bench ranks fifth among all bench units at 60.6%. The numbers don't lie in TS% either for the starters versus bench: starters TS% = 52.9% (26th), bench TS% = 59.1% (2nd), behind only Golden State Warriors' bench at 60.4%.

No wonder Winslow's efficiency has improved. His bench teammates don't pound the air out of the ball dribbling around the court and becoming tired in the process. For all the trash talk about Justise’s jump shot, the work he put in could silence his doubters for this season, and hopefully his career.

Only three games removed from passing the one-third mark of the season, the Heat have survived a rough patch for the better. When Hassan Whiteside returns to action and with Bam Adebayo settling into the rotation, the Heat may finally hit their stride earlier than last season.