Second-Unit Standouts: How the Bench Can Impact the Heat-Nets Series
Even with the consistent absence of Dwyane Wade, the Big Three of the Miami Heat dominated the team's scoring column this season. Wade, LeBron James, and Chris Bosh combined for 4,398 of the team's 8,380 points. That's 52.5% of the team's scoring from the trio. In their sweep against the Charlotte Bobcats, they accounted for 248 of 407 points, or 61.0%.
The Nets had a more balanced scoring distribution in the regular season. Brooklyn's top three scorers, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, and Deron Williams tallied 3,170 of the team's 8,077 points, just 39.2%.
While scoring alone doesn't tell the story, most folks will be focused on the play of these superstars who have the potential of taking over any game. But that doesn't mean there aren't second-unit players who won't make an impact on this second-round series.
Looking first at the Nets, Mason Plumlee possesses the athleticism and quickness to pose problems for Bosh. Kevin Garnett used to be an elite defender, but he's declined quite rapidly in both production and mobility. Meanwhile, Plumlee has become a viable option for head coach Jason Kidd. Plumlee, a rookie from Duke, possesses the highest nERD on the Nets (4.5). (nERD is a numberFire metric that measures a player's overall contribution to his team based on his efficiency; the details and further explanation can be found here.) In fact, his nERD is over twice as good as all other Nets if you exclude Brook Lopez, the injured center whose absence helped to free up playing time for Plumlee. Plumlee also was the most efficient Net this season, excluding Lopez, with his 2.8 nF efficiency rating. No other Brooklyn player had an efficiency better than 0.8.
Plumlee shot 65.9% from the field, largely because all of his attempts come at the hoop. Okay, not all, but 291 of his 302 field goal attempts were taken within eight feet of the basket. He's essentially a less scary version of Chris Andersen. And, in case you somehow missed it, Plums saved the day with a game-winning block against James on April 8th, nickname night. In fact, Plumlee drew the start for this game and played 30 minutes while recording 8 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 blocks.
Bosh accounted for 12 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 blocks in 36 minutes in that game, a stat line comparable to the upstart rookie's.
If, in addition to Garnett's physicality in spurts, Plumlee's athleticism can frustrate Bosh, then the duo could help swing a game or two in the series, But there are plenty of other bench players who could make an impact for both Brooklyn and Miami.
Of all the points Miami allowed in the regular season, 26.0% came from beyond the three-point line. That was good for only 28th-best in the NBA. Mirza Teletovic averaged 18.0 minutes per game, and a three-point attempt every 3.9 minutes in the Nets' first-round series against the Toronto Raptors. Though he made only 25.0% of them, he hit five or more three-pointers in eight of the 43 regular season games in which he played at least 18.0 minutes. Based on those odds, Teletovic should be able to find his stroke in at least one game in the series if it goes to five games or more. Additionally, the Bosnian went three-for-five from downtown against the Heat in March en route to 17 points in only 16 minutes.
Another forward who could cause problems for Miami is the team's leading offensive rebounder, Andray Blatche. Blatche recorded 120 offensive boards this season, 1.6 per game and 2.7 per 36 minutes. Blatche also averaged 2.0 offensive boards in the Nets' first-round series. In his three appearances against the Heat this season, Blatche averaged an offensive rebound every 7.2 minutes on the court, roughly 5.0 per 36 minutes and well above his season per-36 mark. The Heat surrendered an offensive rebound on 26.7% of missed shots in the regular season, 24th-best in the league.
The Nets may be relying more heavily on role players than are the Heat, who are generally considered to have a week bench. Upon closer inspection, there may not be as big a divide as assumed.
There are some Miami guards who can catch fire from deep.
Naturally, Ray Allen can step up in big moments, and there's plenty of motivation for him to do so going up against former teammates Pierce and Garnett, who took offense to Allen's departure from the Boston Celtics prior to the 2012-13 NBA season. Allen struggled against the Nets in the regular season though, recording only 7.0 points per game and shooting only 21.4% from his beyond the arc that built his legacy.
Allen hasn't fared much better in his short postseason. He shot 26.3% from the field and 27.3% from three-point range against the Bobcats. The 17-year veteran actually recorded his fifth-worst shooting season from three, converting on only 37.5% of his attempts.
James Jones was the more effective shooter in the first round. Comparable to Teletovic, Jones averaged a three-point attempt every 4.0 minutes but converted on 43.8% of those tries. Jones didn't log a single minute against the Nets so far this season, but if Allen can't find his shot, then Jones and fellow three-point specialist Norris Cole, who sees the court much more often than Jones, will need to step up to provide some form of scoring relief for the Heat - especially if Bosh is held in check. Jones, who only played 11.8 minutes per game in 20 games this season, was very efficient in his limited burn. He shot 28-for-54 on three-point attempts, 51.9%, and was the third-most efficient Heat player according to our metrics. Jones has been taking advantage of his opportunities, and that's exactly what his job will be in this series.
The second-most efficient player from Miami this year, behind James of course, was Andersen. The Birdman's nERD of 6.7 was also a second-best on the team. His 129 regular season offensive rebounds led the Heat, and his per-36 number is even better than Blatche's: 3.3 boards. And even though the Heat are prone to the offensive glass, the Nets are even worse, giving up an offensive rebound on 27.6% of missed shots (26th-best in the league). Andersen, like Plumlee, also adds efficiency on field goal attempts. He shot 70.0% during the regular season on shots within eight feet of the hoop (even better than Plumlee's 68.4% mark).
Like I said before, everybody is going to be keying in on the marquee matchups between James and Pierce, Wade and Johnson, and Garnett and Bosh, but games in this series might pivot on which bench players can secure a few possession-extending offensive rebounds or heat up from beyond the arc. Based on the numbers, the Miami bench might be fractionally more successful than the Nets bench, but all I know for sure after looking at these numbers is that I'm as excited to watch Plumlee face off with Andersen as I am to watch Pierce and James go toe-to-toe.