When you look at their record, the Miami Heat are struggling, as they’ve gotten off to a 2-6 start to their season, and they’re dealing with Goran Dragic being out with a sprained left ankle injury.
In terms of putting the ball in the basket at an efficient rate, that’s currently an issue for the Heat, as they’re ranked near the bottom of the league in points per 100 possessions, since they’re only scoring 96.9 PP/100, which is ranked 28th out of 30 teams.
On the other end of the floor however, the Heat defense is one of their strengths through eight games, as their fort in the paint is protected by Hassan Whiteside and the rim protection he’s known to provide. The Heat currently possess a Top-10 Defense, as they’re holding teams to 100.8 points per 100 possessions (ranked 8th in the NBA).
Putting the Heat defense under the microscope, three areas where they’re very effective early on in the season is in limiting opponent attempts in the paint, limiting opponent 3-point attempts, and getting back in transition on defense.
The Heat are currently ranked 5th in blocks per game, as they’re swatting 5.9 blocks per game. Whiteside alone is rejecting 2.5 shots per game, and as you can see in the video below, when Whiteside blocks most opponent shots, it’s not just to put on a show and throw the ball into the stands, but instead, many of his blocks are effective blocks in that they allow he or his teammates to coral the loose balls and head in the other direction for scoring opportunities.
With Whiteside’s presence, the data shows that team’s don’t often try to attack the rim, as the Heat are ranked 5th in allowing shots in the restricted area (24.5 shots per game), and they’re the league best in holding teams to the lowest shooting percentage in the restricted area at 50.5% shooting.
Overall though, Whiteside can’t play 48 minutes a night, and after him, the Heat frontcourt gets very small with Derrick Williams, Josh McRoberts and James Johnson having to play the 4 and 5 spots if Willie Reed isn’t being used. So, the Heat do allow 41.3 points in the paint per game, which is 12th in the league. It’s closer to league average. Even with Whiteside gobbling up 14.6 rebounds per game, the Heat as whole are close to average in grabbing defensive boards (34.1 rebounds per game), while they do allow 11.5 offensive rebounds from opponents each game (ranked 23rd).
Running opponents off the 3-point line and limiting their long ball attempts is also another important element of the Heat defense. Miami is ranked number one in the league so far in limiting opponent 3-point attempts, as teams are only shooting 21.3 threes against them per game. Even when opponents do get a 3-point look against the Heat, they’re only knocking down 32.4% of those looks, which ranks the Heat with the 8th best opponent 3-point percentage. In watching some tape of how the Heat guard the 3-point line, it comes down to good positioning by their players early in the season.
In the video below, you’ll see clips of several players – Tyler Johnson, Dion Waiters, Justise Winslow and Goran Dragic showing some of the following actions – fighting through screens, remaining in a defensive position when contesting shots rather than lunging at the shooter, and not biting on drive and kick action.
Lastly, the Heat lead the league in opponent transition points, as teams are only able to muster up 8.8 fast break points a game against Miami. Part of this is due to the Heat having a fundamental plan to pick up the open man on the break and first try to stop the paint penetration before running out to the 3-point line.
While the Heat defense has looked solid thus far through eight games, it’s still a very small sample size. Due to the issues they’re having on offense, the Heat are still facing games where they’ve been down by 10, 16, 24 and 21 points, respectively.
Until the offensive end starts tightening up, the Heat defense can only keep them in games for so long before teams start creating separation.
Statistics from NBA.com/stats prior to NBA games on Sunday, 11/13/2016.