Miami's Role Players Are Missing Open Threes

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CmXZ3t_bpTc&version=3&hl=en_US]

The Heat’s three-point shooting against the Pacers has been a joke. Collectively, they have shot 5-for-42 (11.9%) over the past three games. This, as much as the loss of Chris Bosh and struggles of Dwyane Wade, has helped Indiana jump out to a 2-1 series lead. Here is the rundown of their long-distance shooting futility. Only Mike Miller can hang his head high.

Game 1: 0-for-6 (0%)
Game 2: 1-for-16 (6.3%)
Game 3: 4-for-20 (20%)

LeBron James: 1-for-11 (9%)
Dwyane Wade: 0-for-4 (0%)
James Jones: 0-for-6 (0%)
Shane Battier: 1-for-9 (11.1%)
Mario Chalmers: 1-for-6 (16.7%)
Mike Miller: 2-for-5 (40%)

Some of this can be attributed to Frank Vogel’s defensive approach. He is actively trying to take away Miami’s role players by staying home on three-point shooters. He has also employed a pick-and-roll defense that ensures that his team won’t have to scramble all over the court to rotate and take away the initial threat. Instead, two guys handle the pick-and-roll attack and everyone else stays home on the shooters.

But as you can see in the video above, this doesn’t explain everything. Because the Heat have missed a ton of wide-open three-pointers in this series. (Though some of the misses in the clip above are certainly well-contested.)

On some level, this is not a sustainable way to win. Miami’s role players are, generally, very good shooters. Here are their percentages from behind the arc during the regular season.

Mike Miller 45.3%
James Jones 40.4%
Mario Chalmers: 38.9%
Shane Battier: 33.9%

Now, obviously that team-wide accuracy is the product of more than just these guys being dead-eye shooters. Miller and Jones certainly are, but the fact is that the attention paid to LeBron, Wade and Bosh has given these guys a ton of open looks. And they have, by and large, knocked them down. Bosh being out changes that dynamic demonstrably. But no matter what the Pacers do defensively, these guys are still going to get some good shots.

The other day on Twitter, somebody (I apologize for forgetting who) joked that LeBron James is a playoff team all by himself. That might be pushing it. But over the past week, I’ve realized something: LeBron James is an offense all by his lonesome.

The only other players in this league that you could even begin to say that about are Rajon Rondo, perhaps Chris Paul and maaaaybe Steve Nash. (Dunno … didn’t watch the Suns enough this year.) This doesn’t mean that Rondo is better than, say Kobe, Derrick Rose or Kevin Durant. It just means that he, like LeBrons, plays in a way that forces everyone on the court to constantly react to whatever he does. The goal of an offense is to move the ball around in such a manner that it creates holes and vulnerabilities in the defense. Teams use ball movement and off-ball screens to get people open in positions they can score.

Well, LeBron and Rondo do this all by themselves, needing only the occasional ball screen. They can move so quickly into any area on the court and force the defense to move. Then, each guy finds open teammates with passes that virtually nobody else can make. Rondo does so with creativity and deception. LeBron does so with historically elite court vision and an unprecedented ability to deliver any pass. He is simply so tall that he has so many passing angles available to him (and can jump another three feet in the air if need be) and has an unreal strength that allows him to throw Brett Favre-speed passes, even when he is off balance or throwing a non-traditional pass.

And this is why the Pacers need to be prepared to weather a three-point barrage today. They can’t completely stop LeBron from finding open teammates behind the arc, and the rate at which Miami is missing open threes cannot continue forever. It could continue for one more game — and if it does, without LeBron and Wade both completely going off individually — the Pacers should cruise to a 3-1 series lead. But Vogel and company need to be prepared for their fortune changing.

Look at the 0:13 mark in the video, for example. LeBron comes off a simple screen, dribbles to the middle of the paint, elevates enough to freeze every Pacer player and delivers a strike to a wide-open Battier in the corner. Shane misses horribly.

To contradict what I wrote just two paragraphs ago, this — actually — might be sustainable.

Just look at how badly Battier has been missing shots in this series, especially the six he blew in Game 3. Seriously, it looks like he is punting the ball at the rim on some of these attempts. He is missing open threes as badly as a human being can while still hitting the rim. That suggests not somebody who is in a mini-slump that could break any quarter as they go 3-for-3 from deep over a six-minute stretch (like James Jones probably could). It looks like a guy whose legs are gone and who has absolutely no idea where the ball is going when it leaves his hands.

Going back to the video, again, look at the shot LeBron gets Mike Miller at the 0:35 mark. Or the one he gets Battier at 1:14. The flat-footed, overhead, cross-court pass he delivers is insane. Shane barely even draws front iron — while shooting a corner three.

And let’s not forget that, despite his struggles, Dwyane Wade is still an amazing play-maker in his own right. He may not be an entire offense by himself, but he is about as close to being one as anyone other than LeBron, Rondo or CP3.

Wade has delivered some ridiculous passes himself in this series. Look at the 1:45 mark, which is notable just for the quick find/swing, and the 1:50 mark, which shows Wade making a laser-guided, 55-foot, one-handed bounce pass in transition would make a 1998 Jason Kidd stand up and clap. The ones at 2:06 and 2:29 aren’t as impressive, but both show just how eager Dwyane is to set up his teammates for an open three.

Will this eagerness continue if everybody keeps missing the open shots they’re handed?

Who knows.

But to me it suggest that, in Game 4, one of two things that hasn’t happened thus far in this series is likely to occur: (1) either Miami’s role players are going to stop missing an unexpectedly large number of open shots or (2) LeBron and Wade are going to stop setting them up for open shots.

In my estimation, neither or those are good news for the Pacers.

So far in the series, the 37 missed threes represent 37 possessions that the Heat have wasted. Wade and especially LeBron are very unselfish players. James has been even reputationally damaging so, in the sense that pundits have continually criticized his willingness to pass to open teammates late in games rather than shoot himself. So it seems conceivable that both these guys continue to pass to open teammates even if they continue to throw up brick after brick after brick.

But at some point, I would expect them both to say “Screw this” and go Mamba, taking every shot.

If they start taking off-balance, forced, contested shots, their overall efficiency will almost certainly drop. But it will just as certainly be better than the 0% success rate the team has enjoyed during the 37 shots that have ended in a missed three. And it’s quite possible that a combined 80 points, even if they come on 40% shooting, by LeBron and Wade is a worst-case scenario for Indiana.

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Tags: Dwyane Wade James Jones LeBron James Mario Chalmers Miami Heat Mike Miller Shane Battier

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