Over the weekend, Pat Riley lent us a peek into his offseason game plan. Would Erik Spoelstra and the Heat make it a priority to speed things up next season?
“That’s going to be up to Erik and I think he will try to generate more of a running game next year than we had this year,” Riley said. “We do want to get some quick players.”
Generating a running game seems pretty simple, right? Acquire some super athletic players, tell them to fly all over the court, cause some turnovers, and fast breaks will become the norm. Boom, you have a running game!
If only it were that easy.
When we imagined the Heat in their embryonic stages, we saw fireworks. Not just because of the pyrotechnics at the preseason celebration, but because they featured James and Wade, two guys who terrify opponents in the open court. They’re fast. They’re strong. They’re relentless.
But in reality, the Heat were more like lightning bugs last season, buzzing around slowly and electrifying the stage only once in a while. The Heat posted the 21st slowest pace factor in the NBA in 2010-11, averaging 93.2 possessions per 48 minutes...
...Of course, you don’t want to start taking shots early in the shot clock just for the sake of it. But on the other hand, you also don’t want to force shots with time running out, which is what the Heat resorted to doing all too often last season. With that kind of offensive firepower, the Heat should be able to find a happy medium.
There’s another way to generate shots earlier in the shot clock: jump out in transition. Thanks to the forces of James and Wade, the Heat were the best transition team in the league, if we’re measuring by the barometer of points per play. Synergy Sports tells us that the Heat scored 122.3 points per 100 transition plays last season, which led the NBA.
No other team came close.
But here’s the thing: Despite being nearly unstoppable in transition, the Heat didn’t get out in transition all that much.
Haberstroh goes on to talk about how the Heat didn’t cause many of the turnovers that would allow them to get easy transition opportunities: despite finishing 5th in defensive efficiency during the regular season, the Heat ranked 26th in opponent turnover rate. The Heat’s defensive system isn’t built around gambling, but they could use more players who can force opponents into making mistakes, especially at the point guard spot:
Teams primarily get their steals from their point guards. By drafting point guard Norris Cole in the first round in this year’s draft, the Heat are banking on athleticism at the 1, rather than stacking up on experience like they did with Arroyo and Bibby. As a senior last year for Cleveland State, Cole led the Horizon League in steals and won the conference’s defensive player of the year award. For perspective, Cole averaged 2.2 steals per game last season and Bibby tallied at least two steals in a game just six times in his 42-game stint in a Heat uniform.
If the Heat can bring back Mario Chalmers, who was one of the top turnover-inducing guards last season, they should have a much more athletic and potent defensive attack at the point guard position. More turnovers mean more transition opportunities. And more transition opportunities means a higher-octane Heat squad.
Despite not having Mike Miller effective or Udonis Haslem active for most of last season, the fact that the Heat didn’t get out in transition much, and the fact that James, Wade, and Bosh still don’t seem to have achieved perfect offensive synergy yet, the Heat still finished 3rd in the league in offensive efficiency in 2010-11, won the Eastern Conference Championship, and could have won the NBA Finals if their best player didn’t melt down in the fourth quarter of Game 2 and the entirety of Game 4.
If the Heat can play a little bit faster and a bit cleaner offensively and look like the juggernaut everyone expected them to look like last season, they could find themselves right back in The Finals next year -- the question, of course, is whether they’ll be able to seal the deal when they get there.