The departure of LeBron James has meant more than a few things for South Florida. Off the court, it meant billboards and foolish NBA coverage. On the court, it meant the loss of perhaps the best offensive player on the planet (according to ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus (RPM).
In this piece, I ignore the past of the Flying Death Machine and move on to look at the half-court offense of the 2014-2015 Miami Heat.
Having good shooters is important. Having good 3-point shooting big men is better.
This makes a lot of sense if you play basketball. It is hard to drive to the rim or operate in the post if your teammates (and their defenders) are crowding the restricted area. More 3-point shooters force defenders to drift out to the perimeter (or else give up open 3-point looks).
Justin Willard of GotBuckets looked at five years of lineup data to investigate the benefit of spacing. It can be quite powerful.
His methodology, in his words:
First we calculate the expected offensive efficiency of a lineup based on the offensive rating and usage rate of each player from basketball-reference; then we compare it to the actual offensive efficiency of those lineups. The usage rate weighs certain players higher, so for example, Kobe’s offensive rating has more of an effect on the expected lineup offensive efficiency. The disparity between the actual and expected outcomes can inform us of factors that drive successful offenses beyond simple individual efficiency ratings – in this case that factor is “spacing”, measured as three-pointers attempted per 100 possessions.
That resulted in:
Adjusting for homecourt advantage and the expected offensive efficiency of the lineup, for each one unit increase in the average 3PA per 100 offensive possessions, the offensive efficiency increased by 0.77 points per 100 possessions. With a t-value over 9 and nearly 53,000 observations, that is highly statistically significant.
This is the power of spacing. And it’s reverse-casual; it works both ways—having more non 3-point shooters, in general, hurts your offensive efficiency:
This spacing effect is amplified for big men. Having Hibbert, Howard, or even Varejao dragged out to the 3-point line—where he cannot protect the rim or help on a drive—is the best scenario for the Heat. It means more Wade dunks and Luol Deng slashes to the rim.
This spacing effect is evident in lineup statistical analysis, and the Heat can use it to great effect this upcoming season. (For reference, Chris Bosh shot 4.5 three-point attempts per 100 possessions; Josh McRoberts took 6.4.)
Both tables courtesy of GotBuckets:
Having more 3-point shooting big men on a team has a demonstrable (and statistically significant) positive effect on lineup offensive efficiency that dwarfs having more perimeter 3-point shooters (PGs, SGs, and SFs).
The Good Stuff
In this section, I present potential Heat offensive setups, placing next year’s Heat players in their optimal shooting spots. I used and adapted Austin Clemens’s shooting charts from Nylon Calculus for each player’s 2013-2014 season and postseason. Red squares mean better shooting relative to the league average; bigger squares mean more shots relative to the league average.
Set No. 1 – The Money Set
Each non-Bosh player—Mario Chalmers, Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, and Josh McRoberts—is in his best spot outside the restricted area, giving Bosh space to work in the post and get to the rim, where he is most effective.
Mario is surprisingly awesome from the left corner, shooting 62 percent from that spot last season. That’s an impressive 1.86 points per possession (PPP). McRoberts being more effective at the top of the key and above the breaks in the 3-point line give the Heat a lot of spacing and versatility. His 50 percent shooting from the top equates to a 1.5 PPP; his great passing abilities (see GIFs below) mean escape valve passes to Wade and/or Deng, or to Bosh in the post. He can either take the three or slash to the rim (and feed Bosh, if necessary).
There will be lots of potential options for efficient points.
Here’s Josh McRoberts’s passing in action:
Set No. 2 — Room to Operate
This line-up—Shabazz Napier, Chalmers, Danny Granger, and McRoberts—is designed to give Bosh (accurately portrayed by @jordub) all the room he wants to move down in the post (or for others to drive).
I used Shot Analytics‘ shot chart for Shabazz and presumed he could extend his range to the NBA 3-point line.
Set No. 3 — Pure Spacing
This is where Bosh and McRoberts’s stretchiness shows an effect.
In this set, all of the five players have a direct lane to drive to the rim. The shooting of both Bosh and McRoberts provide a great framework for Wade to torch defenses from his most efficient spots — either at the rim or in the restricted area. That’s the silver lining of LeBron — more Wade to the rim and more Wade in the clutch.
Meet the 2014-15 Miami Heat, a team that can still be quite dangerous.