Coach’s Notebook: Three Adjustments Each
Two games into the NBA Finals and we got exactly what we hoped for: an excellent series between two teams that match up extremely well with one another, storylines aplenty and some great basketball. With it now, in essence, a best-of-five series heading to Miami for the next three games, let’s take a look at some suggested adjustments that both teams could employ.
1. Miami’s most inconsistent area is that of attack. Most specifically, their commitment to run the floor on every possession and their energy level on the offensive glass is constantly fluctuating. In the first three quarters of Game 2, the HEAT were sprinting the court on nearly every offensive possession, running between the circles and constantly putting pressure on OKC to convert.
This pressure to convert defensively forced the Thunder into the lane, which opened up shooting opportunities for Miami in semi-transition. It also gave the HEAT attack more room to operate and that aggressive mindset led to less turnovers and poor, contested shots – two things that OKC’s burst ability relies on.
Another sign of attack is how well Miami crashes the offensive glass. In the fourth quarter, the HEAT typically only had one player on the glass. That lack of presence is something Oklahoma City is able to sense and use as an excuse to leak players into transition and feel comfortable. That is the last feeling Miami should want them to have.
2. In cases where the Thunder do a good job converting and Miami is unable to get a transition basket (or out of a dead-ball situation), Miami should be looking to operate offense out of the high post and mid-post areas with Chris Bosh more. Bosh’s talent as a face-and-shoot or drive player are a great backup, but the real threat to feature out of this approach is his ability to create offense for teammates.
By running the offense through Bosh and using weakside screens to occupy defenders (particularly if LeBron can be the screener), the HEAT’s offensive efficiency would undoubtedly rise. A pass into Bosh at the elbow, a series of rubs off his shoulder, screens weakside and action that might lead to handoffs is very hard to guard when executed with precision.
3. Defensively, Miami might find more value in trapping with a higher frequency than they currently do. While it does leave them exposed on the back end to some degree, their primary goal should be to force OKC out of operational zones. They should not look to trap every time, but certain situations should be automatic traps.
For example, any ball screen involving Russell Westbrook driving from right to left should be an auto trap, and perhaps the opposite with James Harden. This cannot be a soft commitment though – it is certainly dangerous in the short term as traps can be easily broken for quick scores – but the long term effects should be a net positive for the HEAT.
Oklahoma City Thunder
1. The Oklahoma City Thunder should look to find any chance they can get to get the ball to any of their big three while on the move. All three scorers are dangerous players when they have even a slight advantage, and the best way to give them an advantage is to hit any of them on the move.
Both Kevin Durant and James Harden should be curling nearly every off-ball screen, forcing multiple defenders to step up and potentially taking them out of the play. The goal should be moving in such a way as to force stunts and hedges as much as possible, then change sides of the floor to stretch and distort the defense.
In Westbrook’s case, the ability to cut through and slip screening actions often should be emphasized. Westbrook’s size and athleticism make him a potent finisher on backdoor cuts, and if he were to screen for either Durant or Harden, then slip the screen the moment his defender shows any help whatsoever, it would become easy buckets for OKC.
2. While one of Miami’s goals should be to force the action offensively in transition, the Thunder should be looking to slow down the HEAT by jamming rebounders and denying outlets softly. This might seem counter-intuitive, that somehow it would put your defense at a disadvantage and make a team play out of control. However, this tactic usually has the opposite effect.
When a HEAT player (especially a big like Udonis Haslem, or a non-threat to attack like Mike Miller) secures a rebound, jamming him immediately will typically cause the offense to become tremendously cautious. Adding the element of soft denial on the outlet enhances that trepidation, and the usual outcome is the ball being walked up the floor. This takes seconds off the shot clock, and now Miami’s go-to offense becomes an isolation at the top of the key and a poor, off-balance jump shot. That is a win for OKC.
3. With Miami’s defense (particularly Shane Battier) so attuned to looking for chances to step in and take a charge, and Bosh and LeBron so active for tips and shot blocks, Westbrook and company would do well to find more chances to jump stop and shot fake whenever in the lane. This action causes further collapse from the HEAT defense, and will present opportunities for kickouts constantly.
Another chance for what could be basically an auto-kickout is on offensive rebounds. The Thunder would be smart to start hunting for “dagger 3s” on any offensive rebound. With many Miami players in the lane having missed a rebound, a kickout for a three is usually an easy pass and a wide open shot. These types of plays are demoralizing, and they are constantly open (just for fun, count the number of offensive rebound, kickout for open three opportunities there are in the next game).
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Each week, HOOPSWORLD NBA analyst Anthony Macri will open his notebook and offer an assortment of observations on games, players, and teams from throughout the league. Macri is a consultant to the ASEAN Basketball League (the first regional pro sports league in southeast Asia), offering strategic analysis on basketball and business development, league operations, and marketing. Previously, Macri served as a player development consultant for the Pro Training Center and Coach David Thorpe and as a coach at the IMG Basketball Academy along with two nationally ranked high school programs. The Coach’s Notebook is a weekly feature on HOOPSWORLD.