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Statisticizing the Miami Heat’s elite defense

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So far it appears one of the main ingredients of the Heat’s 9-3 start has to do with their elite defense.

Detroit Pistons v Miami Heat Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images

The Miami Heat have raced off to a 9-3 start that has been somewhat surprising to much of the league. Sure, they have beaten up on some bad or injured teams, but that’s the consistency that they needed to take to move to the next level.

But there has been on constant that has helped them move towards being 9-3 and that is their elite defense.

It’s something the Heat culture has always prided itself on but has not always succeeded at accomplishing. Defense is what Coach Spo wants to hang his hat on, bu the personnel has not always cooperated with that approach. But that’s changed now. Everyone is bough it, and the results are showing it.

In fact, I want to statisticize (yes, that is a word — Shane Battier would be proud of us) the Heat’s defense for you. So you can see just where and how they are ranking when you compare them to the other 29 teams in the NBA. Here’s a snapshot...

Opponent Rebounds: 3rd
Opponent FG%: 8th
Opponent Points: 4th
Opponent 3-Point%: 1st
Opponent Turnovers: 2nd
Steals: 1st
Blocks: 11th

Those are many of the major statistical categories for defense that the Heat rank in the top third in the NBA, and as you can see there are 5/7 where they are in the top 4. Let me break some of this down for you.

When you look at the big number, which is PPG, the Heat rank 4th. That’s great, especially considering they are in the top half of the league in pace. This isn’t the traditional Miami Heat, slow-it-down type of team. They are pushing the pace and playing at a high level while also surrendering only 104 PPG.

That’s because of their opponent FG% — which is 8th, but more importantly with the way the NBA is played, the Heat are only giving up 30% rate of their opponents 3-pointers. That saves a lot of points.

When you couple the shooting with what the Heat are actually doing/forcing when it comes to creating steals and turnovers, and then limited rebounds for their opponents and you have the recipe for an elite defense.

And that has helped carry them through even among injuries. With Justise Winslow missing significant time and then the string of players that have missed because of some illness it seems is passing through the team. They have yet to be fully healthy in any aspect. Yet, at 9-3, they are second in the East.

The combination of Bam Adebayo and Meyers Leonard has been more formidable than anyone anticipated as a starting duo in the front court. Jimmy Butler has helped foster this atmosphere from his length and versatility. Kendrick Nunn has been relentless at guarding the quickest back court player on the opposing team — and the rest of the roster has embraced defense first and its working.

Sure, in the NBA, you are going to have to score to win most games — the officiating and style of play has drastically shifted to allowing the offensive teams to have the advantage constantly. But with the Heat having a specialist in Goran Dragic come off the bench, and their newfound pace, it seems as though they aren’t having much issues scoring the ball on their own.

They are moving the ball more than anytime we can remember — sometimes overpassing. That’s what makes their intentionality and ferocity of defensive a welcomed benefit because it sets them apart from many other teams they face.

The statistics so far suggest the Heat are an elite defensive team. If it continues, they will be a hard one to beat any night they play.