Last Friday night prior to the big Magic-Heat showdown in Miami, Stan Van Gundy spoke about one decisive advantage the Heat had over their opponents in the early going:
Nobody has more than a vague idea of what the Heat are going to look like once they establish a cohesive game plan.
As good as teams like the Lakers, Magic, Celtics are, their rivals have a full database of every set, action and coverage these teams run. In Utah, Jerry Sloan has been choreographing the same offense for almost a quarter of a decade. And Gregg Popovich has been applying the same solid defensive principles in San Antonio for years. That doesn't make these teams any easier to attack or defend, but as an opposing coaching staff, at least you have a sense of what you're up against.
Only a faint sketch exists of what Erik Spoelstra has planned for his offense. We know the Heat want close-range shots for James and Wade. We also know they want to leverage Chris Bosh's versatility in the high post. But how are these looks going to materialize?
David Thorpe has been watching the film of the Heat's first give games. At ESPN Insider, he has the skinny on how the Miami playbook is shaping up.
Here's a sampling of some strategies Erik Spoelstra has been deploying during the first 10 days of the season:
Wade and James ball screens: Again, defenses have to be strong at the ball and near the rim, since Wade and James (especially) are so good at finding cutters. But they also must account for Bosh on the weak side, since Bosh has an excellent slinkiness factor working for him, disappearing and reappearing in the paint as defenses orient toward the ball. It's a skill he was never fully able to showcase as the No. 1 option in Toronto.
Given the talent of the ball handlers in these situations, defenses must send at least one or two helpers toward this screening action. But as they try to account for both the ball screen action and Bosh in the paint, James Jones (today) and Mike Miller (tomorrow) will be ready to make opponents pay on the perimeter.
Stagger screens for Wade: The guard setting the first screen then turns and back screens for Bosh. Screening for Wade in this scenario is actually a decoy for the back screen inside. If a defender stays home on Bosh, then Wade will be open at 17 feet in the middle of the floor. Offensive gurus love to create sets that get the ball into their best scorer's hands; in this case, he's actually the second option.
Early drag screen for the point guard: One purpose of the drag screen is to force someone other than the big defending the screener to help on the dribbler (that defensive big often does not see the drag coming). As the screen is set on the point guard, James lifts from the corner, forcing his man to make a choice -- give help and leave James, or stay home and hope someone else stops the ball.
Reading about plays that classify Dwyane Wade as a second option, or that force a defense to choose between playing off Chris Bosh or leaving Wade or James open 17 feet from the basket, gives you an idea of the impossible task opposing defenses are up against.
For the full read, head over to Insider.