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Miami Heat’s best perimeter defenders don’t meet the eye test: do numbers lie?

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A look at the perimeter defense after back-to-back 120+ point losses yields surprising results.

NBA: Miami Heat at Charlotte Hornets Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

This season’s increased pace seems to have affected the Miami Heat defense more on guarding 3-point shooting then the 2-point variety.

They rank 8th best in DFG% (48.9%) in 2-pointers, and a below-average 19th (37.1%) in 3-point defense.

How do each of the players on the Heat (more than one game) perform guarding the perimeter shooters?

Opponent 3-Points Makes and Attempts

Player Age DFGM DFGA DFG% FG% Diff%
Player Age DFGM DFGA DFG% FG% Diff%
Bam Adebayo 21 6 10 60.0 29.1 30.9
Justise Winslow 22 7 9 77.8 48.2 29.5
Derrick Jones Jr. 21 8 15 53.3 32.6 20.7
Goran Dragic 32 12 25 48.0 36.7 11.3
Kelly Olynyk 27 9 22 40.9 33.7 7.2
Tyler Johnson 26 8 24 33.3 35.2 -1.9
Rodney McGruder 27 12 37 32.4 36.2 -3.8
Josh Richardson 25 10 31 32.3 36.7 -4.4
Hassan Whiteside 29 2 11 18.2 35.1 -16.9
Dwyane Wade 36 4 25 16.0 33.3 -17.3

Opposing players Justise Winslow defended made 7 of their 9 3-point attempts (worst percentage of 287 players in the NBA with a minimum 9 attempts), while people Dwyane Wade faced made only 4 of their 25 shots from outside the arc.

Taking into consideration Winslow took on the opponent’s best 3-point shooter (FG% of 48), then Bam Adebayo ranks last among 287 NBA players in holding players to below their average 3P% (30.9% greater than their normal 3PT% of 29.1).

Hassan Whiteside and Wade together held their 3-point shooters to 6 baskets out of 36 tries, while the promising young trio of Adebayo, Winslow and Derrick Jones Jr. saw their men make 21 out of 34 attempts from the perimeter.

In the sequence below against the Charlotte Hornets, the Hornets pack one side of court and leave the other part unoccupied for Nicolas Batum, guarded by Winslow at top, to eventually end up for a corner three.

Batum makes his move breaking free from Winslow as Kemba Walker fakes a pass to Cody Zeller, who acts as a decoy and grabs the attention of Winslow, Adebayo and Dwyane Wade, while Batum quickly runs behind them.

Batum finds himself wide open for a pass in the corner with an open look as the defenders react too late to his baseline cut to prevent a 3-point basket.

The entire sequence plays out below.

In a recent article where Zach Lowe mentioned De’Aaron Fox, he wrote “One glance at Willie Cauley-Stein rolling into open space baits Goran Dragic into the paint, leaving Iman Shumpert free.”

The Heat’s defense appeared disjointed as Adebayo leaves the paint totally unprotected by going out to the perimeter and allows Fox to orchestrate another fake pass to a decoy leaving the real threat open for a 3-point play.

The atrocious spacing has 3 Heat players within a foot or two of each other guarding one guy, Fox, beyond the 3-point line.

This produces the predictable result as Goran Dragic drops off his man to protect the paint, and leaves Iman Shumpert open for a 3-point basket.

Switching on defense works for the Boston Celtics, but Mike Budenholzer has guided the Milwaukee Bucks to a sizzling start by bucking the trend per ESPN.

“Milwaukee is frustrating offenses that are now accustomed to reaping the benefits of mismatches created every time a defense switches a ball screen. But the Bucks’ guards are effectively fighting around picks and chasing the ball handler, while the bigs are dropping, patrolling the paint and defending the rim. They’re not combating the screens at the point of attack.”

Sure looks like Milwaukee is in a modified zone defense anchored by Brook Lopez in the paint, the wings ready to pounce on shooters stationed at the 3-point lines.

In game against Celtics the Bucks spread out 3 wide for more complete floor coverage than the Heat and wind up in an almost 1-3-1 formation with Giannis Antetokounmpo roaming the baseline to pick up backdoor cutters.

The players seem to know their spots on the floor with little communication on which defender covers what Celtic.

In theory switching on defense seems great, if done to perfection: otherwise faulty communication may lead to easy baskets as assignments are missed and opponents are left with clean looks at the net.

The Celtics and Bucks are only two NBA teams to hold shooters below 30% from the 3-point line, 27.1% and 28.8% respectively, which beats the 37.1% Miami allows by a comfortable margin.

The Bucks system on defense may be easier to learn for the young studs to stay on the wings and leave the paint to the Miami’s talented bigs to defend the rim.

The system isn’t that simple, but in the copy-cat league of the NBA teams will study the twist coach Budenholzer has come up to lead his Bucks’ team to early success and use it themselves.

In their head-to-head meeting the Celtics prevailed, but both teams have had early success with their unique rosters.

Numbers courtesy of NBA Stats.