Miami Heat’s Shooting Struggles Could be Blessing for Playoffs

After shooting less than 32 percent from three in a one-point loss to Indiana, the Miami Heat made it a fifth consecutive game of shooting 35 percent or worse.

Make it seven of their last nine games of sub-35 percent shooting from three, and there’s only so many games remaining in the regular season to find a rhythm.

Criticism has mostly been been focused more on the Miami Heat’s perimeter defense, but their offense, also along the three-point line, has struggled significantly compared to year’s past.

The same team that ranked second last year in three-point percentage, collectively shooting 39.6 percent, is converting at a pedestrian 36.7 percent this year, good enough for 13th in the league.

It’s been a season-long struggle for the Heat’s shooters, and there’s been regression across the board. After having four rotation players shoot 40 percent or better from three last year, and that’s not even including Mike Miller, the 2013-14 Heat have no players in the rotation shooting better than 39 percent.

Michael Beasley is shooting 42 percent, but only on one attempt per game. Mario Chalmers has been the Heat’s most consistent perimeter threat this season, leading members of the rotation at 38.6 percent.

But even that’s a regression from the 41 percent he shot last year. The same goes for Ray Allen (from 42 percent to 37 percent), LeBron James (from 40 percent to 38 percent), Shane Battier (a team-leading 43 percent last year to 33 percent this year), and Rashard Lewis (from 39 percent to 35 percent).

The only real improvement on the perimeter has come from Chris Bosh, who has shot 36 percent 182 attempts this year, after having shot 28 percent on only 74 attempts the year prior. He’s really been one of the few players worth trusting from beyond the arc this year, before Ray Allen’s recent stretch of balancing out his averages.

Unfortunately, Bosh hasn’t been as lethal as he was just a few weeks ago, and has made only five of his past 22 attempts. At least that hasn’t made him reluctant from taking and making the threes that have saved Miami a few times this season. Even while shooting 2-for-9 against Indiana, his last make of the night was an out-of-rhythm three that cut Indiana’s lead from four to one in the final seconds.

As disconcerting as it may be that Miami’s power forward/center has become a shooting guard, it’s also going to be extremely beneficial, especially against teams with slow-footed big men.

Like that Indiana team that prides itself on its 7’2″ lumbering center.

Norris Cole was also flourishing from the perimeter earlier in the year, but has also regressed immensely as of late. He’s recorded two three-pointers in a game only once since February 11th.

One can see how much the Heat’s shooting has fallen off when comparing last year’s shot-chart:

2012-13heat

to this year’s:

2013-14heat

 

There’s no bigger difference in those charts than the area from the center and the right-center beyond the perimeter. The team’s mid-range game has also fallen off, with the team struggling from beyond 15 feet.

Although the Heat led the league in offensive efficiency at 109.3 points per 100 possessions, they were garnering 110.3 points per 100 possessions last season. Their effective field goal and true shooting percentages, however, have improved.

This season hasn’t been nearly as fun as the others. The first year featured some low moments, but it was still always a sight to see the newly-formed ‘Big Three’ work together and put together a championship run that was unexpected after futility in the weeks leading up to the postseason.

The second year became the introduction of efficiency and LeBron posting-up, revealing a new move in his multidimensional repertoire. The 27-game winning streak in year three stole the show and gave viewers the most dominant regular season stretch in over four decades.

This year, however, has been painful at times, which we didn’t expect as we did in year one. We’ll laugh at this article once Miami is hoisting the trophy two months from now, but the months leading up to it featured some of the least inspired ball in the ‘Big Three’ tenure.

The defense, like the shooting, has also collectively fallen off, ranking 13th in efficiency. LeBron James has put up the worst defensive numbers of his career and is allowing over 104 points per 100 possessions, with the team actually improving on that end of the floor when he’s off.

If you’ve watched the Heat the past three years, you’ll know that it’ll improve once the games that matter begin. Miami didn’t just forget how to play defense. A lot of it is effort-based, as seen by the slow rotations and weak closeouts on three-point shooters.

With defenders constantly having to race out to guard an open player on the three-point line, guards are having a field day of pump-faking and getting right into the teeth of the defense.

Watching one of the league’s worst shooting teams in Boston shoot 13-for-28 from three is usually troubling, but we’ll let it slide because, hey, it’s only the regular season.

The same goes for the shooters. After months of mediocre three-point shooting, from players who are not mediocre shooters, there should be a belief that they’ll come around.

Shane Battier is no better example of this. He struggled in the 2011-12 regular season, only to go off in the Finals, while he flourished in the 2012-13 regular season and then promptly fell off once the playoffs began.

The Heat were only shooting 36 percent in the regular season the year they beat Oklahoma City.

With career-low numbers this year, one has to imagine Battier will come around. It would be a surprise, to say the least, to see the likes of Shane Battier, and Ray Allen for that matter, continue to shoot well below their career averages.

The law of averages saved Miami in 2012 when Shane Battier and Mike Miller went nuts against Oklahoma City. It was the same case in 2013 when Battier came alive in Games 6 and 7 after being a non-threat through most of the playoffs before then.

It’s strange, but the season-long slump from Miami’s shooters could be a blessing, as it was previously.

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