Herro ball > hero ball: Miami schemes away from Rockets' dream

Also, Lakers could take history's riskiest 3-1 lead with a win over the dangerous Nuggets tonight

“Put the ball in the hands of your best playa, and let him go to work.”

Announcer Mark Jackson’s tired cliche perfectly captures the sentiments behind the Houston Rockets offense. Feeding the ball over and over again into the capable hands of James Harden works. Combined with the simplified analytics of preferring three-pointers and shots at the rim over any other shot and you have a recipe for success in the NBA… or do you?

As the “book” on Harden’s theory of offense develops, it is becoming increasingly clear that over-reliance on one player - no matter how good that player may be - can be detrimental. Which is why the movement-based offense of teams like the Heat is such a nice change of pace for the viewers.

While the headlines today may focus on rookie Tyler Herro, who erupted for an career-high 37 points (including 17 in the 4th quarter) to put the Heat up 3-1, we have a lot to talk about in regards to the entire Miami team.

Herro ball

A week ago, Joe Viray wrote about the similarities between the Warriors system and what the Miami Heat are doing. Sure, it’s not a perfect comparison, but the similarities are inarguable. Watch this clip from Viray, and pay particular attention to the off-ball movement:

It’s a system designed to keep everyone involved. It won’t work without players that are able to see the court, and play unselfishly - but when it gets humming, it can wreak havoc. In a critical late-game possession last night, the perpetual motion machine that is the Heat offense manufactured an easy bucket simply because Herro never stops moving off-ball and making hard cuts that attack the Celtics set defense.

From an NBA Jams perspective, you’d probably take Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, but this team exemplifies why these games go so far beyond just the top two players.

The Celtics meanwhile have a similar system that is supposed to feature lots of movement and passing, but because the Heat’s defense is so stalwart, the Celtics players haven’t been able to initiate enough chaos off the dribble. Right now, down 3-1 to a clicking Miami team, it feels like Boston is on the ropes.

Right now, the Heat offense is getting what they want: solid looks at an open basket; Boston meanwhile is flummoxed and seems unable to solve the Miami zone defense.

Strike me down, and I’ll become more powerful than you could ever imagine

In tonight’s game 4 (airing at 6pm on TNT), the Los Angeles Lakers are in a tough bind. Up 2-1 after dropping the last game to a surprisingly tough Denver Nuggets team, the Lakers are either going to lose and end up with a tied series; or win, and offer Denver yet another chance to come back from a 3-1 hole (which they’ve done twice now in these playoffs).

As stacked as the Lakers are, this Denver team presents a unique challenge - and not just because of their unwillingness to quit. No, the problem that is presenting themselves to these Lakers is that they have the personnel, but not the schemes, required to stop the Nuggets.

Earlier in the series, the tandem of Dwight Howard (or Javale McGee) alongside Anthony Davis was up to the task of defensing the Nikola Jokic/Jamal Murray pick-and-roll. By hanging at least one big back in the paint, and roughing up Jokic, they flustered the Nuggets. But something changed as game 2 wound to a close: the Nuggets moved their action out to the outside edges of the three-point line, and then use the switched coverage on Murray to pull the help defender off to the other side of the floor.

In game 3, it was doubly advantageous. Not only did the Jokic-Murray pick-and-roll tear the Lakers defense apart, this new placement pulls Anthony Davis out of the middle. He played 43 minutes and only finished with two rebounds, the fewest he’s ever had in his career when he’s played at least 30 minutes in a game, as per Anthony Slater.

It may just be one loss, but against these Nuggets, you’d be foolish to underestimate the significance of it.

Perhaps most troubling for Los Angeles, the Denver bench is seriously outperforming their counterparts. It’s a known weakness of the Lakers, a team that invested so heavily in their top end talent that they were forced to fill in the cracks with discount contracts and castoff players.

From that Slater article linked above, here are the stats for the Lakers primary bench players during the first half of the previous game.

  • Rondo: 1-of-5 shooting, two points, four assists, two turnovers, minus-17

  • Caruso: 0-of-5 shooting, zero points, two fouls, one steal, no other stats, minus-16

  • Monte Morris: 4-of-5 shooting, 12 points, one assist, zero turnovers, plus-12.

Yes, the Lakers clawed back into the game, but to my eyes, they’ve got a real problem. If they can’t identify a lineup that can reliably outplay the Nuggets, it’s going to be a big problem.