Warriors vs. Heat - Wiseman, Looney nearing return, but till then: MOAR SMALL BALL!

No two teams highlight the weirdness of the last few years as much as these two squads


Stephen Curry is conjuring up his old magic and carrying a very limited Golden State Warriors roster into playoff contention. It’s quite the drop from the previous heights that this franchise was operating at, but given the intervening years, it’s still a fairly amazing recovery - especially given the limited roster caused by injuries.

On the other side of the court tonight: the Miami Heat, one of the teams that has seen the sharpest dip out of last year’s funky Orlando Bubble that saw them get to the Finals where they scared the Lakers before Jimmy Butler got hurt. This year, the Heat are struggling. Sitting at just 11-16, the offense is sputtering, and the team is wobbling through a ton of games lost with player injuries, and Covid protocols.

These are two teams that were recently on the top of the NBA heap, and now fighting for a simple playoff spot. Crazy times!

[author’s note: I’m in Tahoe with bad wifi so wrote most of this on my phone. Please forgive any typos or weird dangling sentences!]


GAME DETAILS

WHO: Golden State Warriors vs Miami Heat

WHEN: Wednesday, February 17, 2021 // 7:00pm PST

WATCH: ESPN, NBCSBA


MOAR SMALL BALL!

It’s hard to argue with the results, and the pile of evidence supporting Draymond Green at center as an overall plus would make Erin Brockovich blink. But coach Steve Kerr isn’t the only one hesitant to rely on a scheme that regularly pits Green against bigger, stronger opponents for 30-plus minutes a night. On the other hand, there aren’t any other options right now, though it looks as if that could change as early as later this week.

So Looney will be re-evaluated today, and James Wiseman tomorrow, but in the meantime, the Warriors will have to make do for at least one more game. Slater goes on to report that Wiseman has been cleared to shoot and dribble again, quoting the rookie on his return: "It'll be pretty soon. Really soon."

Soon would be good.

There’s a saying about how the strongest shoulders carry the heaviest loads, and nowhere is it more true than on this Warriors squad. With Stephen Curry pouring in points at an incredibly efficient, furious pace, and Draymond Green handling the supplemental ball handling duties while anchoring the Warriors’ defense, coach Steve Kerr knows he’s got the basis of a winning formula.

But he’s right to worry about the toll that carrying this squad costs. Look at Curry’s scoring contribution, as compared to the rest of the Warriors:

Curry isn’t truly alone on offense. That graphic is just as much about what Curry is doing as it is about what the rest of the team isn’t doing. Given Curry’s brilliance, it would honestly be a little weird if he weren’t so far removed from the rest of the squad.

Most importantly, the other true member of the established core, Draymond Green, has found a role in the Warriors offense that was sorely needed: a facilitator.

You see, when Curry facilitates the offense for others, those shots come at the expense of a shot Curry himself could have potentially taken - a losing math equation under almost any circumstance.

But Draymond Green isn’t a scorer. Looking at the scoring per 100 possessions, in fact, Green shows up dead last on the Warriors with just over 8 points (I’d be interested to see where this ranks league-wide for players with as many minutes as Green plays, this seems historic):

Those possessions he gets probably weren’t ending in a shot anyways, but his passing and ability to read the court are filling a major need for this iteration of the Warriors.

He’s not just a willing passer, he’s an effective one. As Anthony Slater pointed out a few days ago, Green’s assist numbers so far in February are extreme outliers - he’s not only not assisting like a center, he’s outperforming other ball dominant perimeter players.

This isn’t a traditional look for a team, but with Curry and Green playing like this, the stopgap measure is more than adequate.

So… what’s going on with the Heat?

The Disney Bubble was weird. Playing in front of no one for the first time in their professional careers, in a tightly constrained environment with no travel, the NBA went a little crazy. Now, the crash back to reality has hit teams like the Denver Nuggets and Miami Heat… or has it?

The Heat are struggling this year, no doubt about that, but looking into it now, it’s not all that hard to explain the dip as something a bit more complicated than simply leaving their mojo at Disney World.

Avery Bradley and Myers Leonard are out for the Heat tonight, and Goran Dragic is listed as day-to-day. So the Heat will be critically short-handed tonight against the Warriors. Golden State, of course, is dealing with their own struggles in this regard, so while there’s little mercy, there will be ample empathy.

Jimmy Butler, by far the Heat’s best player, has only appeared in 15 of the Heat’s 31 games. Beyond that though, the team’s development choices have left them holding the bag. That bag isn’t bad per se - a core of Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, and Duncan Robinson is…fine. But as Warriors fans can attest to, it’s one thing for your roster to have holes, as long as the roster has the balance needed to fill some of those same holes.

Jimmy Butler has emerged as the team’s primary facilitator, averaging 7.1 assists per game. But unlike Green, the opportunity cost of Butler not taking those shots is something of a concern. Another issue is that the Heat defense seems to be imploding. This is from an article published last month, but look at the dip:

Since December 1st, the Heat have a defensive rating of 111.3 (23rd). They’ve gone 14-7 in that stretch, but a 21-game sample means their defensive shortcomings don’t classify as a blip.

So, in conclusion, the Heat are having a few major problems. Sure, the missed games matter (especially those without the tremendously important Butler), but for a variety of reasons, the rest of the supporting cast has fallen off a bit, and the new additions aren’t exactly helping yet.

Predictions

I like the Warriors chances tonight against the Heat - though Golden State has been almost comically bad at stretching out three wins in a row.

Andre Iguodala will get a ton of love, from both inside and outside of the Warriors organization. I don’t have anything witty to say about it, but this Cluth Points graphic is wildly entertaining: