Miami Heat, Erik Spoelstra to Switch to More Conservative Defense


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For the past four seasons, part of the Miami Heat’s identity has been its blitzing style of defense. But as we know, much has changed this summer. According to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald, so could Erik Spoelstra’s defense.

"A Heat official said even beyond Erik Spoelstra’s staff changes, “you will see some tweaks in how we play.” The team’s gambling defense, which left open too many three-point shooters, needs addressing."

What this means is that the Heat may switch to the Tom Thibodeau style of defense that has permeated the NBA. So what will the new defense look like?

Well, Thibodeau’s teams tend to load the strong side of the defense (the one with the opposing ball handler) while having weakside defenders “zone” the backside of the defense.

The Heat already did a lot of this. They would overload the side with the ball handler while relying on the their own athleticism to recover on the weak side. Last season, the Heat were much slower at this and gave up the fifth most three-point attempts in the NBA, according to

To fix that, the Heat spent the offseason bringing in new defenders with fresh legs. Guys like Luol Deng, Reggie Williams, Josh McRoberts and Shannon Brown. Deng plays a critical role in Miami’s new scheme because (1) he will pick up the opponents’ best player and (2) can help lead the way as Miami learns a defense more similar to what Thibs taught Deng in Chicago.

What Miami will change is the way they approach defending the pick-and-roll.

The last few seasons, we have watched Spoelstra send extra defenders to the ball handler in order to force action and create greater chances for turnovers. This was especially prevalent while defending pick-and-rolls, when the Heat would send both defenders to the ball handler rather than perform the traditional switch.

Last season, we saw Miami mix it up by playing the more widely accepted version of defense that has the defending wing switch to the ball handler and the big man sag to cut off driving lanes. This was done to switch it up on opposing offenses and to help save the tired legs of a team that just went to the NBA Finals three seasons in a row.

We will likely see much more of the latter style of defense. At the center of all of it will be Chris Bosh, who has the agility and quickness to defend positions 1-5. For the majority of the game, you will likely see the Heat play the more conservative approach of sagging on pick-and-rolls, but don’t be surprised if, during crunch time, the Heat revert back to the attacking style and you see Bosh picking up ball handlers.

The last thing you will see change is the “gambling” the Heat official talked about. Heat players were trained to jump passing lanes and try to get out in fearsome transition. Without James, now, the Heat won’t be as inclined to get on the fast break.

Rather, defenders will settle to allow the pass and step up on their assignments while Bosh/Andersen/Haslem man the middle of the defense in the aforementioned strategy of playing the driving lanes.

All of this will result in a much different looking defense, but one that ultimately suits the new look Heat.