In the 2016-2017 season, the Miami Heat took a mediocre roster from an 11-30 start, to a 30-11 finish. On that run, came incredible moments. There was James Johnson wrestling DeMarcus Cousins in the post to secure a late game victory against the New Orleans Pelicans. Hassan Whiteside fighting for, and tipping in an offensive rebound to down the Detroit Pistons at the buzzer late in the season. The most memorable of all of these great moments, came from NBA feel-good story Dion Waiters.
Waiters won over Heat fans last season, captivating them with moments like this. Waiters battled injuries in 2016, but when he played, it was hard to argue against his stellar play.
Last season Waiters averaged 15.8 PPG, 4.3 APG, and shot a career high 39.5% from 3, albeit only playing in 46 games. Waiters also posted a career high 14.5 PER, and had a True Shooting percentage of 50.7%. The numbers backed up what Waiters did for Miami last season, and because of that, the 26-year-old guard from Syracuse was rewarded with a 4-year $52 million deal.
Fast forward to present day, and Waiters is out for the year, due to surgery on his left ankle.
Waiters had struggled to find his footing early in the season, battling the ankle injury that forced him to miss the remainder of the previous season. Appearing and starting in 30 of the Heat’s 41 games so far, Waiters is averaging 14.3 PPG, 3.8 APG, and shooting 39.8% from the field.
Luckily for Miami, they have had someone to fill in for Waiters.
Wayne Ellington has been a revelation for the Heat this season.
The 30-year-old UNC product is having the best season of his career, and could potentially make an appearance in this year’s 3-point contest.
Ellington is averaging 10.6 PPG while shooting 41% from deep on 7.1 3PA a game, but what really jumps off the page, are his advanced numbers. Ellington is posting a career high 14.1 PER and shooting an eye popping 61% TS. To say the man with the golden arm is shooting the ball well is an understatement.
Ellington has been known as a spot up shooter for the entirety of his career, and he has been effective in that role. With Miami, however, Ellington has been used as a primary scorer in the second unit, touching the ball nearly every possession, leading to Ellington’s 17.1 usage percentage.
Miami head coach Erik Spoelstra does a great job of keeping Ellington active, and moving at all times on the offensive end. Defenders have been tasked with chasing Ellington around the perimeter, and through screens all season. It can be hard to keep up with Ellington, who looks to be in the best shape of his life, making it easier for him to get good looks.
Ellington has become best friends with Miami rookie Bam Adebayo in the second unit and he gets a lot of his best looks off of hand offs, or screens, from the big man.
Here we see the Heat run the handoff action with Adebayo and Ellington against the New York Knicks second unit. Ellington sets up the play by dribbling from the corner to the wing, then passes to Bam who flashes to set up the handoff. Ellington quickly cuts back to the ball, grabs it from Bam and gets the shot off before Doug McDermott can contest. On this specific play, Bam rolls to the basket to catch the pass, or be in position to clean up the glass. Another option the Heat have used, is for Adebayo to re-screen after the handoff to get Ellington another look at the basket. The Heat run this quite frequently to get Ellington looks, and usually it results in a three pointer or an open layup under the hoop.
The league is well aware of Ellington’s heightened shooting prowess, and it has only opened up the Heat’s offense even more.
Here we see an extremely smart play from Miami in a 28-point performance from Ellington against Dallas. Ellington has already hit a couple of three pointers in this game, meaning the defense is keeping extra close tabs on him. The play starts with a guard-guard screen at the top of the key, with a double staggered flare set on the wing. Harrison Barnes of the Mavericks reads the play well, attacking the top of the screen and trying to beat Ellington to his spot. Josh Richardson’s defender even chases Ellington over to the screen, to try to blow up the play. Ellington recognizes Dallas overplaying the three, and curls the screen to the paint for an easy layup. Dirk ball watches on the weak side, leaving the paint wide open, and Richardson’s defender has left him just long enough to open up a passing lane for the pass to get through, resulting in an uncontested look at the rim.
Ellington’s shooting ability allows the Heat to do so much more on offense. His presence is felt on just about every possession, and has opened up more opportunity for players like Josh Richardson and Goran Dragic to get to the rim.
The Heat have actually played better when Ellington is on the floor, instead of Dion Waiters. The Heat outscore opponents by 2.3 points per 100 possessions when Ellington is on the floor. They are outscored by 4.8 points per 100 possessions when Waiters is on the floor. That is a +7.1 differential when Ellington is playing instead of Waiters.
Losing Waiters to injury is something no one wanted to see. However, the Heat are playing well in his absence, and Ellington is a major part of that. With Miami battling for a playoff spot in a wide open Eastern Conference, Ellington has to keep up his stellar play. Not just to keep Miami afloat, but to make up for the loss of one of their premier players.
All stats are from Basketball-Reference.