Losing one of the premier power forwards in the NBA would tank a lot of teams’ seasons. Fortunately for everyone, this year’s Miami Heat are not a lot of teams. After Chris Bosh went down indefinitely with more scares surrounding his blood clot issues, more than one fan was probably ready to write Miami off as a playoff team, making their run to the 3rd seed in the East even more surprising. A lot of this was spurred by a shift in lineups and playstyle for the stretch of games from February 24th (when the clots problem was announced) to the season’s end, in which Miami went 16-9. So, let’s take a look at the statistical differences in the team before that point and after, then attempt to attach a rationale to it.
Here are some statistical differences pre-Bosh and post-Bosh:
After Bosh was out, the Heat made a marked jump in pace, pushing the ball more. They took more shots on more possessions, and despite higher volume actually saw either no significant change or improvement in every shooting efficiency category. That allowed them to leap from the bottom to the middle or top third in offensive categories on only four more shots per game. Not only did they play faster and shoot more, but they did it efficiently. They sacrificed some defense along the way, but I’d say it was worth it in the end.
Additionally, the nearly every significant contributor on the team saw a bump in shot attempts per game except Dwyane Wade. In the case of Josh Richardson, he went from a non factor taking 2.7 shots per game to a meaningful player taking 7.9 per game (more on that later). A few key factors led to this, all extremely savvy moves by the coaching staff led by Erik Spoelstra, in no particular order:
- Luol Deng at the 4
The reimagined Heat started to run a smaller lineup featuring veteran wing Luol Deng at power forward. This went a long way towards helping them push the ball up the floor, and maintains the stretch threat so they could easily run four-out sets on offense. While he’s not all that tall, other than physical attributes, you don’t sacrifice much defense going to Deng here either. He’s a smart team defender with a long wingspan who does a pretty good job of staying in front of his man. Deng also saw a marked increase in usage and short-range shots at this position. His FGA jumped from 9.5 per game to 11.4, and his 2PT FG% increased from 48%5 to 55.2%. That’s nothing to sneeze at. His 3PT usage remained about the same, as did his efficiency from behind the arc.
- The addition of Joe Johnson
Adding Joe Johnson did a few things for the Heat that could have easily been their own bullet points. First, it adds another shifty, starter-quality wing player that contributed 10.5 PPG on solid efficiency. He’s a good shooter and drives well, and though he may not be the best defender, he preserves the ability to switch when other wings like Wade, Deng, or Gerald Green are off the court. Another effect of his addition is that it makes it easier to manage Wade’s usage, keeping him healthy for late-season games and the playoffs. Healthy Dwyane Wade is a huge asset (obviously) not the least due to his age-defying ability to punish opposing players in the post and finish in the paint. Basically, adding “Iso Joe” afforded Miami another level of flexibility without sacrificing their new pace-pushing philosophy or killing their efficiency and scoring.
- Hassan Whiteside vs. bench units
Another wrinkle from run and gun Heat was Whiteside seeing more opposing bench players after Amar’e Stoudemire was given starts toward the tail end of the season. While smaller, faster players got shuffled in and out, he became the primary bench unit center, getting mixed in with bench wings and guards. He’s an athletic freak and a walking block machine. While from a starter standpoint he might still be a bit unpolished, he’s more than capable of punishing other team’s backups and fast enough to run with four-out lineups. After Bosh went down, his FGA went up by 2 per game, and his shooting splits remained more or less the same.
- The Emergence of Josh Richardson
The loss of Bosh allowed minutes to trickle down in the lineup, and rookie Josh Richardson suddenly found himself in an increased role. While he’s not exactly an All-Star yet, he seized the opportunity by taking five more shots per game and scoring 10.8 PPG on 49.7/51.8/64.4 shooting. That affords the Heat an even deeper rotation of athletic wings, making various mix and matches of point guard and Whiteside+skilled swingman lineups possible.
Honorable mention goes to the fact that without Bosh, Miami doesn’t start two traditional big men. That allows them to really push without leaving two men behind and does a lot for spacing, which is a system that Wade thrives in with his slash-and-finish game (see: 2012-13 NBA Champions).
It goes without saying that Miami would love to have Bosh. He’s an elite player, a great teammate, and according to his Twitter biography, the coolest man alive (I don’t disagree). That being said, how the Heat have thrived in his absence has been one of the most interesting narratives of this season, and it might cause them to reconsider how they manage the team and style of play next year.
Losing Bosh could have been a bucket of water. So far, it looks like it was a can of kerosene.