No Eastern Conference team can field a lineup with more offensive firepower than the Brooklyn Nets.
But perhaps no team in the East can field a more defensively skilled five-man group than the Heat.
And that sets the stage for what could be a delicious potential second-round Heat-Nets playoff series.
The Heat’s acquisition of skilled NBA defenders Trevor Ariza and Victor Oladipo gives Erik Spoelstra the option of using a defensively suffocating late-game quintet of Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Ariza, Oladipo and Andre Iguodala, who is off the injury list after missing a game with a sore hip.
Or Spoelstra could use Butler, Adebayo, two among Ariza, Oladipo and Iguodala, with Goran Dragic, Duncan Robinson or Tyler Herro filling the last spot.
Tough choices, to be sure, but the transactions of the past two weeks have created several appealing options when the Heat needs to get stops late in close games, with lineups dictated by what team has the ball.
“It gives Spo an opportunity to pick whether he wants to go straight defense, straight offense or a little bit of both at any point in the game, especially in the fourth quarter in crunch time minutes,” Butler said. “I got confidence in those guys guarding the ball, making the right plays.”
Though the Heat lacks a big-time shot-blocker, it would be difficult to find a team with more wings (and in Adebayo’s case, bigs) with the ability to adroitly defend players at multiple positions and effectively execute defensive switches, a key to how the Heat defense operates.
“Victor can do a lot of things that me, Jimmy and Trevor Ariza can do,” Adebayo said. “It works for us. We are always going to switch. We help each other.”
As Oladipo said Monday: “You can really, really guard your guy knowing you have guys behind you that can switch and rotate. That’s why it can be really special.”
Take a look at the impressive defensive metrics of these Heat players:
▪ Among all NBA starting forwards (minimum 350 shots defended), Butler is allowing the fourth-lowest shooting percentage to the player he’s guarding, trailing only Jae Crowder, LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Butler’s man is shooting just 41.8 percent this season; those same players shoot 46 percent overall.
▪ Among all NBA starting centers (minimum 400 shots defended), Adebayo is permitting the third-lowest shooting percentage to the player he’s guarding, trailing only Jakob Poetl and Rudy Gobert.
Adebayo’s man is shooting 43 percent, barely behind Gobert’s 42.9. Those same players shoot better than 48 percent when Adebayo isn’t defending them.
▪ Only two NBA forwards (minimum 295 shots defended) have relinquished a lower shooting percentage than Iguodala: Crowder and Joe Ingles.
Players guarded by Iguodala are shooting just 40.7 percent, compared with nearly 46 percent when guarded by everyone else in the NBA.
▪ Ariza’s defensive metrics since joining the Heat have been otherworldly. Players he’s guarding are shooting just 36.8 percent (32 for 87) against Ariza, compared with better than 46 percent against every other NBA player.
Among forwards who defended at least 80 shots, only Nicolas Claxton is limiting the player he’s guarding to a lower percentage.
▪ When Oladipo joined the Heat, he was permitting the second-lowest shooting percentage among starting NBA two-guards. He has now dropped to 10th in that category after allowing the player he’s guarding to hit 16 of 27 shots in his first two games with Miami.
But he’s still limiting players he’s guarding to 44 percent shooting, which is better than the 45.6 percent shooting those players shoot in general.
Incidentally, Herro’s field goal percentage against is 43 – in the top third defensively of NBA shooting guards – and better than his 44.9 as a rookie.
Defensive field goal percentage tells only part of the story, of course. It doesn’t take into account blow-bys (a problem for the Heat which should be less of one now) and doesn’t take into account forced turnovers.
In the forced turnover area, the Heat should be among the best in the league.
Oladipo is ninth among active players in steals per game (1.64), Butler is 11th (1.61), Ariza is 16th (1.48) and Iguodala 17th (1.47).
This season, Butler leads all NBA players with 2.0 steals per game. Adebayo is tied for third among centers at 0.9 steals per game.
“I love that we got some guys that gamble, so I won’t be the only one to get in trouble whenever I miss an assignment,” Butler said. “But I think we got a lot of guys that can guard the ball one on one.”
Ariza’s addition has been a godsend, because he was the closest facsimile of Crowder that Miami realistically could acquire before the trade deadline — a player who can hit threes and adeptly defend wings and stretch fours with diverse skills sets.
“He’s key for us,” Butler said. “It’s not about making shots. That comes and that goes. But how smart he is, how he’s always in the right spot, how he’s always talking when he’s the low man, when he’s the help side defense. You can switch with him, you can trap with him, show [on the pick and roll] with him, do it all. Whatever you ask him to do, he does.”
THIS AND THAT
▪ With Iguodala off the injury list, KZ Okpala (health and safety protocols) is the only Heat player out for Tuesday’s game against Memphis. Former Heat forward Justise Winslow (thigh soreness) is among those out for Memphis.
▪ Oladipo, after his first Heat practice on Monday: “It was good to see how we run things here, be more comfortable with the play-calling and get more acclimated with my teammates. It was great, my first practice. It’s not going to come overnight.”
Oladipo, who had a ruptured quad tendon in his right knee in January 2019, made clear that he’s not injured.
Asked when he believes he will be fully acclimated with his new team, he said: “I just know it’s going to happen. I’m not sure when, the moment, how. But it will happen. It will be evident when it does.”
Spoelstra said the practice was “helpful” to the Heat’s three new players (Ariza, Oladipo, Nemanja Bjelica).
Here’s my Monday Miami Dolphins 6-pack.