The Miami Heat were extremely successful last year despite never really sorting out how to fit everyone together on offense. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade’s skill sets overlapped and often made one another redundant (to think that either of these freak athletes could ever be redundant) while Chris Bosh was often underutilized and had to adjust his game to the high post after years of operating off the right block.
This season, the Heat say, will be different. If LeBron actually spends more time on the low block and Chris Bosh is really a consistent 3-point threat, the Heat will flash something of an inverted, and perhaps more balanced, offense. This can be an effective means of stretching the defense to create passing and driving lanes by allowing one less defender to camp out in the paint for James and Wade.
But such an offense also strains traditional defensive responsibilities. If Chris Bosh is spending more time further from the basket, he may also spend more time diffusing the other team’s transition attack, typically the guards’ responsibility. This dynamic reminded Dan Lenzen, who emailed me regarding Haberstroh’s article, of how his lacrosse team attacked inverted offenses:
In an inverted lacrosse offense, the idea is to bring the best offensive players – attackmen – out to the top of the offensive third to either create mismatches by pitting them against midfield defenders or to give the offense more room to operate by dragging the defensemen away from the goal. The comparison to basketball would be a stretch big man (Bosh) who either gets open looks or pulls the best rim defender/rebounder away from the basket. Obviously, this puts the defense in a difficult position and stretch 4s and 5s (e.g., Channing Frye, Dirk Nowitzki, Andrea Bargnani) can give the offense a great advantage.
A wrinkle taken from the lacrosse world, though, could help punish the Heat for playing this inverted style. Whenever we would play a team that ran the Invert in lacrosse, we had a simple rule that we would play a zone to keep our defensemen near the goal, and we would have a midfield defender (whoever was at the top of the defense) run out to start a fast break on every single shot. Because their midfielders would be down at the bottom of the offense, the team was forced to concede the fast break or have their attackmen cross midfield and play defense. While this won’t present quite the same problem in basketball because all five players play defense, I think having a rule to fast break every time LeBron is at the rim and Bosh is up top on the perimeter could be an effective strategy.
Relentless attackers like Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook could feast on a backpedaling Bosh in the open court. Think about the many times you have seen Dirk Nowitzki as the only man back after a turnover or a missed jumper because he was spotted up at the top of the key. The Miami front line is one of their biggest weaknesses and getting Bosh into foul trouble could be a turning point in an important game.
Savvy point. Last season the Heat were a top 10 team in terms of points allowed per transition possession (Synergy Sports). Still, opponents were far more likely to score against the Heat on the fast break than any other scenario—even off of offensive rebounds. Meanwhile the Mavericks, a well-coached team that sent at least one big man to the three point line, were in the bottom six in the league in transition defense by points allowed per possession.
The controlling principle in Miami’s defense is forcing opponents into long twos by protecting the rim (with a 6’4’’ shooting guard) and taking away three point opportunities (with a 6’9” center who can cover the perimeter). Is it possible Spoelstra would balk at a strategy that would give his opponent more and better fast break attempts, considering they are the most difficult to defend?
If Bosh is drilling a couple three pointers per game and James is receiving double-digit post touches every night, a slip in transition defense might be worth a more balanced, fluid offensive attack. After all, Dallas won a title with relatively lax transition defense.
And it’s also true that Miami is the team most equipped to recover when a team leaks out on the break. As Lenzen noted, “maybe this will just give us more LeBron and Wade chase-downs.”