It’s early in the season – real early. Overreacting to a small sample size makes for fun headlines (see “Why Lebron and Wade Can’t Coexist” circa November 2010, “Time to Blow up the Celtics” in January 2012, and “What’s Wrong with the Lakers” five days ago), but does not make for quality analysis. However, that’s no reason we can’t identify some early season trends to keep an eye on as the season progresses.
Over the course of the playoffs last year, we saw Miami abandon playing an old school center, instead sliding Bosh to the five and replacing the traditional center’s spot with a shooter to space the floor. Offseason moves as well as early season lineups suggest that they’ve doubled down on this approach. Early, we’ve seen signs that these changes may tangibly affect their on-court performance in some significant ways.
The Ray Allen Effect
Miami is currently third in the league in percentage of possessions that end in assists with 18.1%. Last year, they ranked 20th with 14.3%. This dramatic change could be legitimate, given that playing time of turnover prone big men who can’t shoot has been diminished in favor of players like Rashard Lewis and Ray Allen who are better passers and perimeter shooters.
Not surprisingly, these lineup and personnel changes have resulted in a jump from 15.6 to 21.8 in 3-pointers attempted per game which they are currently making at a ridiculous and unsustainable 46% clip. Overall, these changes have resulted in a league leading offensive efficiency of 117.4. What makes this all the more impressive is that two of these games were against the Celtics and the Knicks, both of whom were top five teams in defensive efficiency last year. As for the individual play of Jesus Shuttlesworth, he leads the league in True Shooting Percentage with 80.1%. There were worse signings this offseason.
It hasn’t been talked about much so far, but the Heat have not played particularly well on defense. In fact, they are allowing 111.9 points per 100 possessions – a mark that ties them for worst in the league. It’s early in the season and the Heat were a great team defensively last year, allowing only 100.2 points per 100 possessions, but it’s possible that the same changes that have been so beneficial to the offense so far have hurt the defense. Ray Allen is no great defensive talent and Shane Battier is not the lockdown defender he once was. We’ll keep track of various Miami lineups’ ability to prevent scoring as the year progresses.
The Heat take on Brooklyn tonight and it just so happens that the Nets are the other team in the league tied for last in defensive efficiency. The two worst defenses in the NBA to date combined with the first and fifth most efficient offenses should make for a high scoring affair. With Chris Bosh averaging 22.3 points per game and Brook Lopez 20, look for this matchup to be pivotal in deciding the outcome.