The climax of the NBA season is about to open its doors to the general public with two teams that have been playing excellent basketball in recent weeks. On the one hand, favorite Nuggets but on the other, a Heat full of resources and nice surprises: isn’t this NBA Finals poster beautiful? So since we now find ourselves with the biggest teams in the League, we are going to clarify this exceptional basketball throughout the series to better decipher what is happening on the ground: time for the tactical-technical point!
Who expected this poster at the start of these 2023 Playoffs? The Nuggets have
crushed everyone did the job by assuming their cap of first in the West but Miami defied all predictions by beating the first in the East (Milwaukee) in the first round then the second (Boston) in the Conference Final. Suffice to say that Colorado or Mount Everest, Erik Spoelstra and his band have nothing to shake not to have the advantage of the field. The real problem for Miami remains rather the lack of rest vis-à-vis Denver since they have just come out of a Game 7 against the Celtics while the gold diggers have been massaged for 1 week while waiting for their opponents. Wear or lack of rhythm, the interpretation can reverse in both directions; but in any case, it is Miami which seems the most diminished at present. But be careful since a certain Tyler Herro should return for Game 3 to vent some hoods that have been smoking for some time.
All we need to remember by way of introduction is that we are indeed facing the two best basketball teams in recent weeks – even in recent months for Denver. When we look at the Net Ratingwhich is equal to the difference in points scored and conceded out of 100 possessions (basically the level of play of the team!), we note that Denver is first at +9.2 (!) and Miami second at +3.4 in these 2023 Playoffs according to CleaningTheGlass. To put it simply, Denver crushed its opponents in the Playoffs without having any air holes by clearly playing the best basketball in the league. The question now remains how this can translate to Miami by identifying the tipping points of this series:
What defensive choices on Nikola Jokic?
Let’s start with the most obvious with the problems Nikola Jokic will cause. Of course, Miami is not going to try to extinguish it since it is simply impossible, but rather to reduce its impact as much as possible. Several parameters to take into account on this point. Already, what interior rotation to propose? It is clear that Bam Adebayo will perhaps have the biggest defensive responsibilities of his career on a series of Playoffs, defending Jokic quite logically most of the time. Even though the Miami inside is an excellent switch defender who could take care of Nikola away from the circle, we don’t expect miracles from him below the circle. Especially when you see the two, three highlights that the Serbian pivot gave him this season…
Nikola Jokic is shooting 17-27 (63%) when defended by Bam Adebayo and 68% against the Heat across the last two seasons, per https://t.co/0JYGuRrQlu. Nuggets are 4-0 in those games.pic.twitter.com/QB7EGv7ehR pic.twitter.com/ZbG5x8iyGp
—Harrison Wind (@HarrisonWind) May 30, 2023
Alex reminded him in the preview of the series, the Nuggets are bigger than the Heat: Adebayo cannot cope with the height / weight / technique combination of the Serb near the circle. Now, wouldn’t letting the pivot send the log in one on one by cutting off his access to his teammates (in particular Jamal Murray) be a potential strategy that Erik Spoelstra could try? The real strength of Jokic is certainly his talent as a scorer but above all the creation that he brings to the collective by his quality of passing and the game without the ball from Denver (hand to hand, cuts…). To see also what offensive choices Spo will make at the level of internal rotations (how many minutes for Love?). All that to say that we are really not immune to 2/3 equations as a stat line for Jokic in this series…
Miami’s 3-point shot
So yes it seems obvious that the success at 3-points will weigh in this series but we must realize that if Miami is in the NBA Finals today, it is largely thanks to this sector of play. Against the Bucks, Miami converted 45% of its 3-pointers and 43.5% against the Celtics! With an NBA average set at 35.5%, the Heat are clearly totally overheated in this key sector of the modern NBA. To have a chance to respond to Denver’s offensive war machine, the Heat will have to at best ensure a good address at 3-pointers which has helped them so triumph over the leaders of the East. In other words, it’s not the Knicks in front so shoot as they did at 30% behind the arc against them, it will not be possible.
The Miami Heat hit 58% of their wide open 3s in the Eastern Conference Finals versus the Celtics
That’s easily the highest percentage any team has shot on wide open threes in any series in the past 10 years! pic.twitter.com/8AdBRV84uw
— Lev Akabas (@LevAkabas) May 30, 2023
If for example Jimmy Butler is trapped, a potential shift and open shots can be generated and will have to be converted! So certainly the external address is due to a selection of qualitative shooting but it keeps an elusive part where, even if sometimes the shots are taken in good timings, success is not necessarily there… role players to set the sights correctly!
What defensive coverage does Denver have on the pick-and-roll?
Interesting defensive point on the Nuggets side since, like against Pheonix, Denver will have to defend a team that likes to take shots at mid-range. We saw a lot of covers in Hedge put in place by Michael Malone (= high exit of the defender who defends the screener to hinder the ball carrier – see photo). By bringing Jokic out high, Denver’s defensive aggressiveness parasitizes the ball carrier by forcing him to make a quick decision to find a gap, while closing his access to the circle:
In this aggressive defensive coverage, the offensive creation of the ball carrier is highly empowered to find the fault of the defensive overkill he suffers. Will Denver opt for this strategy when Jimmy Butler wants to cause switches to fuck up the Denver defense? To be seen… but if so, Jimmy will have to take care of the ball and the friends will have to be ready to draw!
Which Jimmy Butler against the Nuggets?
Ah, good old Jimmy… What a basketball player! Sometimes, he has Jordanian inspirations by taking all his team’s shots with crazy efficiency, then suddenly he blends into the collective by becoming a simple cog in the system: what happiness for a coach! Looking back at his previous streak against the Celtics, Jimmy wanted Derrick White permanently on him in the early games. With a footwork of great sickness and fake shots in all directions, the Florida winger had fun on this good old Derrick. But the All-Defensive player has adapted well to Jimmy’s tendencies to the point of putting him in difficulty several times at the end of the series. Same mimicry with Robert Williams.
The question against Denver remains whether Butler will have the opportunity to play mismatch like against the Celtics. Aaron Gordon will most certainly take care of his case and Miami may do what is necessary to keep him away from him. Will the Denver defense invite Butler to play his isolations? Are Colorado’s defensive staff ready to defend the Florida superstar? To see what Michael Malone offers but it’s a safe bet that Jimmy will be ready to make his defenders drool if he is forced to take his own shots.
The Miami area
Trend that we have seen quite a bit in recent years, and especially in the previous series against Boston since Kevin Love’s canes clearly could not hold. Miami’s zone defense has become a classic, but it’s not certain that we find it a lot against the Nuggets… It must be said that with a Jokic who likes to patrol at the head of the racket combined with the spacing of Denver (= ability of an attack to stretch the lines by its 3-point threat), the zone risks being pierced quite easily. Especially when you know that Miami’s interior defensive staff is not necessarily the most versatile and that apart from Adebayo (who will surely be on Jokic), it is difficult to provide second-curtain circle protection in the event of an overflow…
Especially since the game without the ball of the Nuggets is just as developed as that of Miami: many cuts, easily converted by the passing qualities of the Serbian pivot, risk posing a problem for the Floridians. The area ? Why not but to avoid when the Joker puts a toe on the floor.
Always complicated to project yourself on a series that has not yet started but at least, with these few elements in mind, we have enough to get benchmarks to calibrate the binoculars during Game 1! So advantage to Denver’s destructive offensive basketball or Erik Spoelstra’s chameleon nerd basketball? First duel tonight at 2:30!
Text source: Thinking Basketball, CleaningTheGlass, The Athletic