How The Miami Heat Are Torching Defenses With One Specific Set

(Image by: Tomek Kordylewski)

By Matt Esposito

Coach Spo, who stole both my nickname and chances at coaching the Heat, has reignited Miami into fringe title contention. How so? By relying upon an offensive scheme that simultaneously unlocks the best talents of Bam Adebayo and Duncan Robinson: the dribble handoff (DHO) or, regular handoff.

To some, handoffs seem unsophisticated and elementary, akin to the relative who continues to wear hawaiian shirts at weddings. But while Uncle Jeremy was hitting on his second cousin who is half his age, I was studying Heat film. Turns out, Miami is way more successful at generating easy offense than your uncle is at avoiding incest.

Coach Spo and company elect to run DHOs with more frequency than any other team. In fact, they do so for 9.6 possessions per game which results in a frequency rate of 8.8 percent. For context, 23 others teams don’t even run north of seven DHO sets per game. Why do the Heat rely on this scheme so much?

Well, it works! Miami possesses ideal personnel to create a variety of high percentage/high value looks from this play. After all, if you wanted to maximize the DHO you would design a team that had a strong, passing savant, springy backdoororers (just made that up) and a 6-foot-7 3-point cheat code. Fortunately for the Heat, they have Bam Adebayo, a slew of athletic wings and Duncan Robinson to fill those roles.

Speaking of Bam and Duncan, let’s unpack the four main ways they work the handoff together before examining how it creates easy attempts for others…

#1. A pro at running through picks to create space, Miami usually tasks Robinson with gliding past an initial screener before Bam’s handoff turns into a screen. With a high, quick release, Robinson demonstrates why he hits a wild 45.8 percent on 6.9 catch and shoot triple attempts per game.

#2. To create confusion, Miami also deploys Robinson as the first screener. Teams have to respect Bam’s ability to fire backdoor passes therefore, they act to prevent that from happening, which allows Duncan just enough space for the DHO. Watch the entire clip so the slo-mo can do justice.

#3. Robinson does more pre-catch sexiness by being the one who fakes setting the screen. Teams believe a backdoor cut to be coming and instead lose ground as Duncan frees himself for the handoff.

#4. Lastly, Robinson pretends to be the one who will be the cutter. Instead of using a Goran Dragic pick, he flees the opposite direct to let loose one of the prettiest jumpers you will see.

Now that we’ve seen the most common ways Miami runs their Bam & Duncan handoff sets, how it creates spacing should be apparent. Both a remarkable screen setter and disher, Adebayo frightens teams when he operates from the perimeter. When married to Robinson’s elite floor spacing, opponents never know which way Miami will beat them.

The anxiety of Utah’s defenders is palpable in this next clip. They know that the very second Duncan and Jimmy shake free from their rub, Bam is going to rip a backdoor pass to Butler. This is all due to Robinson’s prowess as a catch and shoot DHO player.

When unable to get his shot off, Robinson slips a pass to Bam who has moved into the short roll. The defense is slow to react to Bam’s kick out pass and Kendrick Nunn torches them on a drive. Duncan’s shooting creates the short roll space that ultimately leads to the drive and score.

This concept rings true again in this next play. Defenders lose Derrick Jones Jr when they react to Bam getting that short roll bounce pass. The rest is history.

But the handoff madness doesn’t stop here, folks. No, Coach Spo is too smart to not build more sets off of it. The mere threat of a Duncan shot attempt can create for others. Here, he opts to set a screen instead of receiving the handoff and it again frees Nunn to attack. Bam’s role gravity also provides spacing for Nunn.

The danger of this shooting threat becomes even more evident during the following play. Robinson blurs into your screen like he is going to take the DHO. He slams the breaks, however, and sets a pick for Nunn. The confused defense looks like an old Nintendo glitch and Nunn is able to pop off for three.

What the Heat are doing in these sets is incredibly hard to defend. Robinson must be draped at all times. He is the essential havoc wreaker and Spo knows this. With Bam as the facilitator, Miami can manipulate defenders into surrendering open triples, hard drives or backdoor cuts.

What’s more, this duo is only getting started. Take the diagnosis of noted Heatologist Richard Anselmo, for example: “I think the sky’s the limit for Bam. Defensively he’s already one of the better players in the league. As his offense gets better (and it is – he can hit a mid range jumper now) he will be a star. DRob is a specialist, a knock down shooter.”

Both of these hoopers have yet to reach their respective primes and the Heat must have plans to keep them around. Adding another star to the mix during the 2020-2021 offseason could take this team back to the promised land, with this set being a continued staple of the offense.

Published by Matt Esposito

Founder/Writer for and contributor to Red’s Army Twitter: @Mattesposito_

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