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Miami Heat fourth quarter woes explained by one number

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Now that the scouting reports for the Heat are in, how does Miami respond?

NBA: Miami Heat at Atlanta Hawks Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

After a great start this season by the Miami Heat, other teams have adjusted their game plans accordingly. One number, among other possibilities, gives a hint on how opponents took away some advantages the Heat used earlier. The number is usage percentage (USG%), i.e. percentage of team plays used by a player while he’s on the court.

In the month of February, during the important fourth quarter, the top USG%’s belonged to Jimmy Butler 32%, Bam Adebayo 25%, Kelly Olynyk 24%, Goran Dragic 19%, Kendrick Nunn 15%. If we divide 100% by 5 players, 20% is an average usage rate. Lately opponents schemed to have the basketball in the hands of players who were not known as 3-point threats, such as Butler and Adebayo.

Compare those February figures to those from November and December of 2019. During the fourth quarter in November the numbers were: Butler 27%, Dragic 23%, Tyler Herro 20%, Nunn 20%, Adebayo 17%. For December the usages were as follows: Butler 36%, Justise Winslow 24%, Dragic 24%, Herro 22%, Nunn 20%, Adebayo 17%. The biggest differences are Adebayo handling the ball much more frquently in February, coupled with a reduction in Nunn’s ball-handling role during the same time span.

Looking at the fourth-quarter turnover ratios gives another angle on the subtle changes in strategy other teams have used against the Heat this month.

  • Olynyk 16% (Nov), 7% (Dec), 0% (Jan), 19% (Feb)
  • Andre Iguodala n/a (Nov), n/a (Dec), n/a (Jan), 18% (Feb)
  • Butler 2% (Nov), 8% (Dec), 10% (Jan), 14% (Feb)
  • Adebayo 10% (Nov), 19% (Dec), 14% (Jan), 13% (Feb)
  • Dragic 14% (Nov), 4% (Dec), 15% (Jan), 8% (Feb)
  • Nunn 8% (Nov), 12% (Dec), 6% (Jan), 0% (Feb)
  • Herro 19% (Nov), 10% (Dec), 9% (Jan), n/a (Feb)
  • Winslow 16% (Nov), 9% (Dec), n/a (Jan), n/a (Feb)

As the season wears on opponents apparently are putting more pressure on Butler when he has the ball. Also other teams put the squeeze on Adebayo as he works in very tight spaces in the paint, which leaves little room for error. Nunn handles the ball much less in the fourth quarter than earlier in the season, but that may be because of his recent shooing funk.

Scoring 124 points should be more than enough for the Heat to win a basketball game. But it wasn’t against the Atlanta Hawks after the All-Star break. The recent glaring issues on defense suggest teams are playing Miami differently than earlier in the season. An ESPN article highlights how the Oklahoma City Thunder have devised a way to win clutch games over the course of this season using a three guard lineup. Basically that’s the unfair advantage they have to use as much as possible.

It succeeded for the Thunder because they have Chris Paul. The Philadelphia 76ers are 3-0 in clutch situations during February with a net rating of 55 (120 – 65). In two February clutch losses the Heat’s net rating is -67 (65 – 132). That’s only sixth worst: the Chicago Bulls are -267. Hopefully the rest of this season will be more like 2019 than 2020 for Miami.

Stats courtesy of NBA stats