Erik Spoelstra not only changed the Miami Heat, he changed the NBA
Erik Spoelstra has never won the NBA’s coveted Coach of the Year Award, but there’s an argument that he should have been in the running for a good chunk of his professional coaching career with the Miami Heat.
Pat Riley, the only Heat coach to ever win the esteemed honor, put Spoelstra in the position in the first place, trusting him to steer the ship and balance personalities and star power during the Heatles era.
Though it might seem like pushing forth a roster of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh would be easy, the team faced turbulence in the early going, and a steady leadership by way of Spoelstra and his staff and then Riley would be necessary.
In those formative years, it was often said that Spoelstra’s quality coaching was inflated by the aforementioned star power on his teams. Over time, he’s proven that not to be the case.
Years after the Heatles era has ended, Spoelstra is still leading the Heat and pushing them to wins. With a nearly 60 percent career winning percentage, he’s the sixth-most winningest active NBA coach. Sit on that for a moment.
Some might not have realized how much work Spoelstra did to the structures of the Heat in order to build a winner around the star power they had. Simply having the right players wouldn’t do, the system needed to complement them.
And in doing so, Erik Spoelstra completely changed the course of the NBA’s path.
David Fizdale reveals how Heat head coach changed the NBA
Speaking to Quentin Richardson and Darius Miles on the Knuckleheads podcast, former NBA coach David Fizdale (and Heat assistant coach) spoke on the innovation mindset that Erik Spoelstra brought to the Miami Heat organization, especially in the Heatles era.
“Spo, you know, from a technical standpoint, from a tactical standpoint, let go of the old Heat ways, and just saying, ‘this is how we’re going to it and this is it. Because the Heat, we never switched. We never would have switched anything, that was the easy way out back in the day. Offensively we always ran our big into the strong side post in the early offense.”
For Spoelstra to change the inner workings of the Heat organization was no small task. Strongly built around Pat Riley’s ideology, he was really knocking out the foundation and putting something new in place.
“Well, those two things, Spo got away from. Spo said, nope, we’ve got to keep that block open, and we’ve got to give D and Bron all the space in the world. And defensively, we’ve got all of these guys that’s between 6-5 and 7-feet that’s athletic, let’s start switching.”
This mindset, though, is what really catapulted the league into a new era. Chris Bosh was the ultimate stretch-five, and now more centers than ever are taking 3-pointers. Switch-heavy defenses are extremely common, and sporting a highly versatile/athletic roster is more of a colloquial strategy than traditionally-positioned players one-through-five.
Did it work? Of course it did.
“We ended up suffocating people. And thats’ why I say Chris Bosh was so important, and Shane [Battier] at the four was so important, because they were so smart and they could do the job of switching and containing guards and so that ended up spring boarding us to the Finals and then I just knew it didn’t matter who we was gonna play that year, we was gonna win.”
The Heat went to four straight NBA Finals under these directives from Spoelstra, winning two. One could say that the inspiration in the system is what caused the evolution of teams like the Golden State Warriors, though, who relied on a spaced floor and lots of deep shooting to build their dynasty.
Spo’s innovation lives on in Miami. The Heat sport a highly athletic defense and versatile players at all five positions. Spoelstra made waves in the NBA by implementing such a system.