Halfway through the season, the Miami Heat rank in the top 10 in defensive rating and bottom 10 in offensive rating. These are not the marks of a serious team.
Miami’s closest comparison in terms of those overall metrics are the Orlando Magic and Minnesota Timberwolves. Both teams have strong defenses but bottom-10 offenses. Where they’re different is that Orlando’s defense ranks third in points allowed per 100 possessions and Minnesota ranks first. Miami, at nine, is good, but not quite elite.
Without an elite defense (the Heat’s defense has cracked the top five for a season just once in the Jimmy Butler era. These teams tend to be very good defensively, but not elite in the regular season) the Heat need more from their offense than teams like the Magic and Timberwolves. Simply put, 20th isn’t going to cut it.
Injuries are certainly part of Miami’s struggles. Top scorers in Butler (15), Bam Adebayo (10) and Tyler Herro (19) have missed extended portions of the season.
But look under the hood, and Miami’s problems run deeper than just games missed.
The Heat rank in the top 10 in 3-point shooting percentage, joining the Clippers, Thunder, Pelicans, Timberwolves, Pacers, Celtics, Bucks, Nuggets and Suns. All of those teams, with the exception of the Timberwolves, rank in or near the top 10 in offensive rating (the Suns are 12th, but 0.3 points per 100 possessions out of the top 10).
The difference between the Heat and those teams is that they are over-reliant on jump shooting.
The Heat take more mid-range jumpers than any team in the league, with 36.3% of their total shot attempts coming from the most inefficient zone on the court. That Miami is making 45.4% of those shots (fifth-best in the league) is less impressive when you consider that 45.4% would rank dead last – by a mile – in shooting percentage at the rim.
You might say, Well, mid-range shots are harder than shots at the rim. Sure, but here’s the rub: Both count for the same amount of points.
Another way to explain this:
Michael Jordan is the greatest mid-range shooter of all time, making about 50% of those shots in his prime.
The formula to calculate offensive rating is:
ORTG = (Points/Possessions) * 100
Let’s say every player on the team is prime Michael Jordan (cool!), but they can only take mid-range jumpers, and they did so on 100 possessions. That team would score 100 points in the game (50 made field goals * 2 points each = 100 points).
Now plug that into our formula: (100/100) * 100 = 100.0 ORTG
An offensive rating of 100.0 would rank last for every season since 2017.
The lesson: Efficient offenses need to get to the basket, even if the whole team is comprised of prime Michael Jordans.
The Heat don’t get to the basket nearly enough. Only 28.6% of their shots are at the rim, and they also rank 21st in 3-point attempts per game despite the high rate of makes.
It doesn’t help that Miami also ranks near the bottom of the league in transition scoring and second-chance points – areas that can fill the gaps of inefficient halfcourt offenses.
This shot distribution is untenable.
Heat Shot Chart
There will be more games this season like Wednesday night, when the Heat missed 15 of their first 16 3-pointers and went 6 for 28 in the game. The Raptors entered the night without their two best rim protectors, Jakob Poeltl (injury) and Pascal Siakam (traded to the Pacers). The game plan should have been to attack the basket over and over.
Instead, Miami took just 14 shots at the rim the entire first half while clanking jumper after jumper. Only when they came out of halftime with a determination to get to the basket did the Heat cut a 37-point deficit to 13. But, by then, it was too late.
Going back to the injury excuse, Butler, Adebayo and Herro were part of the problem Wednesday night. The Heat have failed to crack 100 points in three of their last four games and in both games since Butler’s return.
Most of Butler’s shots Wednesday came at the rim, but he took just 11 total shots in the game. Toronto spent most of the game sending early doubles, but he loafed into possessions when he could have taken advantage of mismatches early in the shot clock.
There were instances when Adebayo passed out of matchups against Gradey Dick or other undersized Raptors defenders. Herro, because of his size, has to rely on floaters.
All of those things are fine in a vacuum and will come in handy when defenses lock in during the postseason, but when Miami’s top three scorers do most of their work in the mid-range, the inefficiencies can pile up and become too much to overcome.
Here’s the shot distribution for the Heat’s top scorers, with frequency of rim attempts including fouls drawn, per Cleaning The Glass.
- Butler: 38% at the rim, 50% from mid-range, 12% from 3
- Adebayo: 35% at the rim, 64% from mid-range, 2% from 3
- Herro: 12% at the rim, 47% from mid-range, 41% from 3
Unless the Heat make major changes to their shot chart in the second half of the season, you can forget about another run to the Finals.
Even last season, when the Heat still weren’t a good rim-pressure team, they attempted a greater amount of their shots from 3-point range in the regular season. Their improbable playoff run was fueled by shooting 38% from 3, the highest clip for a Finals team since the Kevin Durant-and-Steph Curry Warriors. It’s unrealistic to expect to catch lightning in a bottle like that again.
Teams need to tilt their offense in one direction or the other – shots at the basket or from beyond the arc. The middle ground is no-man’s land.
Is it a matter of revamping the offense and prioritizing more efficient areas of the court? Hard to say, but none of this will come as news to Erik Spoelstra. There’s a reason he stresses getting up 40 3-pointers a game (even if the Heat rarely do).
This is a personnel problem. The Heat don’t have anyone who gets to the basket for more than five field-goal attempts per game. Adebayo has become reliant on the foul-line jumper and Butler, at 34, can’t be tasked with that kind of workload at this stage of his career.
The trade deadline is Feb. 8, and finding a player who can pressure the rim and help bring balance to Miami’s shot chart should be the priority. If the Heat can’t make changes now, then their offseason will start earlier than last year.