What if LeBron and Wade could shoot?

One of the most common, and generally valid, criticisms of LeBron James is that he doesn’t post up enough. I think he’s doing good work to become more comfortable on the low block, but also that the Heat would be better served if LeBron, and Wade for that matter, increased their three point shooting ability.

Sports Illustrated’s Zach Lowe briefly alluded to the way the Heat are increasingly running Wade and LeBron off of single and stagger screens. The sets are currently designed to feed Wade or LeBron the ball in the optimal scenario—curling with a head of steam and an angle to the rim. This movement has been an effective means of freeing James and Wade from the attention that defenses can pay them when they attempt to initiate their offense off the dribble. All either wing needs is an inch to either turn the corner to the rim, or rise up for a fifteen foot jumper. But these actions rarely are designed to get either star a 3-point look.

That’s understandable; LeBron and Wade are weak three point shooters at 33.6% and 30% respectively. That’s why the Heat brought in guys like Mike Miller and Mike Bibby, and re-signed James Jones. The plan was for Wade and LeBron to create and everyone else to cash in. But when the Heat put Bosh, LeBron and Wade on the court at the same time, there is almost never more than one above average bomber on the court because Spoelstra has consistently played Bosh at power forward alongside Eric Grampier or Joel Anthony.

Recently, the Heat have made some headway on their half court offense by facilitating better ball movement and pressuring specific matchups in the post (as when Dwyane Wade bullied the Spurs’ George Hill and Bosh mutilated Matt Bonner). But almost all the action, aside from a new emphasis on weakside back screens to pin help defenders and free the Heat’s spot up shooters, is designed to get to the basket.

As a result, the role players have fewer options near the rim. The natural counters to the primary actions of the Heat offense are almost all mid to long range opportunities. Whereas the Boston Celtics are able to run a number of sets for deeper jump shots which sets up counters to the basket, the Heat’s lesser players are rarely in position to get catches where they’re comfortable (admittedly, for Joel Anthony, this hypothetical location may not exist).

The Celtics generate an impressive amount of shots at the rim despite the fact that their three best scorers excel as jump shooters. They do this by creating excellent spacing, forcing teams to cover the perimeter then countering with rolls, slips and drives to the basket.

The Heat occasionally feature Miller in sets designed around the threat of the three ball. As he’s gotten healthier and become more comfortable within the Heat’s offense, Miller has shown that he’s much more than a spot up shooter. Unlike the other Heat marksmen, Miller can make plays for others, so when he doesn’t get open for a three coming off a screen, he can curl and make a good decision when he puts the ball on the floor.

But even if Miller is occasionally featured, he’s hardly ever on the court with Miami’s trio of stars. And when they are on the court together, virtually every possession is run through Wade, James or Bosh. Posting LeBron more, this year, is important. It allows James to get touches near the rim without dribbling from the perimeter to get there. Wade and Bosh have shown a nice ability to play off of James in this situation, Wade by cutting from the weak-side and Bosh by spotting for his midrange spot-up/up-fake game.

Still, I caution against the idea that James in the post is an offensive panacea. The rest of his team would have to learn a system designed to promote spacing and cutting around LeBron, and still Wade and Bosh would need to be reliable perimeter shooters to prevent teams from simply clogging up the cutting lanes. The need for offensive balance as LeBron and Wade assualt the rim is part of why Bosh felt pushed to the perimeter, and out of his comfort zones.

As Hubie Brown has said, “spacing is offense and offense is spacing.” It takes more than one consistent jump shooter to space the floor for driving lanes and imagine how deadly the Heat’s pick and roll and curl screen sets would be if defenders feared slinking under the screens. By honing their long-range catch and shoot techniques this off-season, James and Wade could significantly expand the power of the Heat’s offensive spacing and increase the ease with which they and their teammates get to the rim.

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