On Sunday, Hoopspeak’s own Beckley Mason astutely observed the minute adjustments the Miami Heat made in their pick-and-roll attack in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals. These wrinkles continued to be introduced into Miami’s attack in a momentum shifting Game 3 win.
So exactly how effective has Erik Spoelstra’s new plan of action been at getting his team easy looks on offense? Based on the data: extremely effective.
During the regular season Miami shot 39% in the paint and 62% in the restricted area. According to NBA Stats Cube, those percentages have increased to 52% and 68% respectively in the three playoffs games with Chicago. This hardly the kind of efficiency we expect opposing teams to operate with against the Bulls stalwart frontcourt, but the Heat – at least to this point – have managed to tweak their pick-and-roll game to the point that they generate frequent looks at the rim.
Based on play-by-play data from Synergy Sports, Miami has taken 29 shots at the rim out of this set and made 17 of them. It’s no surprise that Chris Bosh has been the ring leader on rim attacks, going a perfect 8-for-8.
It’s a limited sample size to be sure, but when we consider the Bulls ranked in the top five in the NBA at defending the rim as well as the pick-and-roll during the regular season, it’s telling of Miami’s execution. Let’s look at a couple of examples to better illustrate this.
In this set taken from Game 2, the action begins away from the basketball and is one of the changes Spoelstra has made that have allowed Miami to execute more efficiently against the Bulls noted defense. With Dwyane Wade dribbling the basketball on the left wing, Mike Bibby sets a pin down screen for LeBron James on the opposite block. Udonis Haslem is also involved in the play, but doesn’t so much set a true screen as he runs interference on James’s defender to further free LeBron.
James is the eventual screener in this play, but by running him off of screens before he approaches Wade, this ensures that his man – ultimately the one responsible for hedging on the pick-and-roll – will be scrambling and out of position as the play develops.
The twist on this play, something that Sebastian Pruiti has discussed, is James sets up to screen coming from the right side but at the last second turns and sets a back screen instead. Given the aggressive nature in which Chicago hedges on screens, this last second change typically leads to the hedger being out of position. In this case, the defender is Luol Deng and the result is an open seam to the basket for Wade.
Let’s look at one more example, this one from Game 3, involving Wade and Chris Bosh who has been Miami’s most dangerous weapon out of this set so far this series. The Heat’s forward passes off to the wing from his post position at the elbow then flashes over and sets a screen from the right side.
The key here is Chicago’s inability to force Wade baseline, twice. Wade sprints up court with the ball, not necessarily toward the basket, as Bosh crashes down to screen on the wing. It’s an angle more often used for handoffs, but this pick-and-roll seems to catch Noah off guard, who fails to hedge or down Wade.
As Wade separates from the screen, Bosh cuts back in the other direction. Not only does this preserve a passing angle for Wade to feed him on the move, but it capitalizes on Joahkim Noah poor hedge. This is an example of the Heat out-executing Chicago’s defense with energetic, purposeful execution of a relatively simple play.
Wade delivers the ball to Bosh right at the basket and he converts. With Haslem occupying Boozer, the Chicago forward cannot rotate over in time to keep Bosh from finishing.
What’s so impressive is that though Miami has made a number of clever adjustments to their pick-and-roll game, they’re also beating Chicago by executing some basic looks.