Riding a stunning 10-game winning streak, the Miami Heat’s turnaround has been unbelievable, especially considering they’ve done it without two key rotation players in the injured Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson.
Since the explosion of wins kicked off on January 17 against the Houston Rockets, Miami ranks first in defensive efficiency and eighth in offensive efficiency, equating to the league’s second best team overall in that three-week span, with a Net Rating of 11.5. This means they’re outscoring opponents by 11.5 points per 100 possessions, a whopping 16-point swing from their first 41 games.
While Miami has improved across a wide array array of statistical categories, the most drastic swing has been in regards to 3-point shooting, both on offense and defense.
Over the first 41 games, the Heat ranked 27th from behind the arc, hitting an abysmal 33.8 percent. In the 10 games since, that number swelled to a league-leading and blistering 42.8 percent.
While they’re probably not as bad as the initial 41-game sample they’re absolutely not what they are now. During the streak, their four biggest volume three-point shooters didn’t merely improve from the first 41 but they eviscerated their career averages, outside of Wayne Ellington.
|First 41 Games||Last 10 Games||Career|
In the last 10 games, Waiters and Dragic are shooting 38 freaking percent more than their total combined career average. It’s not a matter of if the flame will simmer but when, unless Erik Spoelstra has a masters in sorcery. A regression to the mean is coming.
What’s interesting is Miami’s offense is actually down across other key categories, including assist percentage and turnover percentage. Even their historically bad free throw shooting hasn’t improved much.
It’s just their three-point shooting has been so scorching, none of it has mattered. I will say it appears they’re playing more cohesive and the ball is flying around but it’s not evident from just the numbers.
Defensively, it’s a similar scenario.
Miami’s opponents went from connecting on just under 36 percent (14th) of their threes in their first 41 games to a league-low 28.7 percent during the Heat’s 10-game tear. There’s no question this huge swing in opponent 3-point shooting is the biggest factor for Miami’s surge in defensive efficiency. Their rim protection actually has gotten worse but, again, the dry spell from the 3-point line has covered it up.
So the focus becomes whether 3-point defense is a skill or random. Many smart basketball sites like KenPom think it’s more of the latter, and that 3-point defense, from a makes-and-misses standpoint is no different than an opponent’s free-throw shooting. I wouldn’t take it that far, as defensive strategy can impact the quality of 3-point looks but there’s certainly a tremendous amount of luck involved.
A better measure of good 3-point defense is how many attempts a team allows from behind the arc, as the article states. Well, the good news is Miami ranks second this year in three-point attempts allowed per 100 possessions. However, they actually allowed 2.6 threes per 100 possessions more during the 10-game streak than in the 41 games prior. Interesting.
Thus we can attribute a nice chunk of their discrepancy in defensive efficiency, from 13th to first, to 3-point defense, also known as mostly good fortune. Not only were Miami’s opponents hitting nearly 7 percent less than their season average during the Heat’s last 10 games, but they were also shooting more of them.
While it’s moronic to even contemplate the sustainability of a 10-game winning streak — as if the Heat is going to finish 52-30 — the massive leap on both offense and defense appears to be a temporary one, not some midseason epiphany.
It still shouldn’t mitigate the success because Miami isn’t merely squeaking by opponents but obliterating them, winning their last five games by an average of 17 points. They’ve also dismantled some quality teams in the Warriors, Rockets, and Hawks, to name a few. There’s no question Spoelstra is a fantastic coach squeezing every ounce from his limited roster. Miami’s process has always been spot-on but their talent level will likely prevent any sort of serious contention in the Eastern Conference if they barrel into the postseason.
So while the real Miami Heat isn’t anywhere near as bad as the 11-30 start, don’t expect their recent 3-point dominance on both ends to endure over the remaining 31 games because of the vicissitudes of three-point shooting.
They’re somewhere between what they were early on and what they are now, which equates to a borderline playoff team in a top-heavy, weak conference overall. Considering this is still a franchise very much in search of a superstar, one would think this short-term success could stall their rebuild, as their first-round pick decreases in value with every win.
Still, not many teams get to experience a double-digit winning streak and fans should ride the feel-good wave and hope for the playoffs. Forget the tanking discussion — they’re just not bad enough as is. You play to win the game and the draft is one of many ways to build a team.