If you’ve watched any of the 2020 NBA Finals, you know the Heat are in trouble. But so are the Bucks and 76ers, they just don’t realize it yet.
You might think that I’m talking about supporting cast.
“Giannis doesn’t have any good teammates”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that in the past few years. And while it might have been true at some point, it gets more frustrating as the Bucks get better.
Many people compare the current Bucks lineup to the Cavs in the early-LeBron years. But the Bucks are better defensively, better coached, and better shooters. The early round exits just don’t add up.
Head over to Miami, and at the time of this writing, the Heat are down 1-3 to the dynamic-looking Lakers. They just don’t have as much talent right?
And finally, take a trip over to Philly. The 76ers hunt for a new coach continues, many people wonder if they even have the players to fight for a championship next season.
The Heat just don’t have enough talent, the Bucks don’t have enough support, and the 76ers are just missing something. What’s going on?
These problems might all seem unconnected, but they are the same problem wrapped in one detail.
The Finals Conundrum for the Heat
Now you might be thinking “Wait, this guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about, Miami has plenty of three-point threats.”
Well, they do, and listing them might help us solve the problem.
Here are the Heat’s three-point threats:
- Duncan Robinson 44%
- Jae Crowder 44%
- Myers Leonard 41%
- Kelly Olynyk 40%
- Tyler Herro 38%
- Kendrick Nunn 35%
All of these shooters have done pretty well in the playoffs with Robinson and Crowder dropping a little, while the rest of the pack have seen slight decreases or increases.
The problem is Jimmy Butler. The superstar of the bunch.
He’s their best player and dropped 40 points in their only win of the series so far.
It doesn’t make sense to say he’s the problem. He’s even shown his new affinity for passing which honestly made me reconsider what I think about him as a player.
But at the end of the day, none of that matters, he’s still responsible for the ceiling that the Heat have hit and here’s why:
Jimmy cannot shoot threes in 2020.
Unveiling the Problem
There have been plenty of great players to win the Finals and not shoot threes. Michael Jordan averaged 1.7 attempts from 3 a game in his career. He won 6 times. Shaq and Kobe certainly didn’t shoot high volume from beyond the arc. Kobe finished with five rings and Shaq nabbed four.
Dwayne Wade has three, and he’s a career 29% shooter from 3. So what gives? Why does Jimmy need to shoot threes?
Because of the evolution of the game.
Let’s look at the last 7 Finals winners and the best players (sometimes debated) on those teams.
2019 – Raptors – Kawhi
2018 – Warriors – Curry/Durant
2017 – Warriors – Curry/Durant
2016 – Cavs – LeBron
2015 – Warriors – Curry
2014 – Spurs – Duncan/Ginobili/Parker
2013 – Miami – LeBron
You will notice that all of those teams were outstanding shooting teams, and their best player/players, were all competent 3-point shooters. (The Spurs are the one exception, but that team had role players that simply did not miss)
If the Lakers close out the series in a few days, you can pick AD or LeBron and add that team to the list.
The problem with Miami is how their superstar limits their offense. The same is true for the Milwaukee Bucks and Giannis. In 2020, you need to spread the floor because defenses are so prepared, you have to be able to shoot. Check out this clip from yesterday:
At the 3:11 mark in the 4th Quarter, the Heat set-up quickly into their offense out of transition with a Butler and Adebayo PnR to get Jimmy 1 on 1 with someone. But what happens, the two defenders just back up.
It’s almost like they are daring Jimmy to shoot the ball and he does. Clanks it off the back iron, and the Lakers are fine with him shooting that shot because they know he doesn’t want to.
Butler dropped 40 points without a three in game 3. Why would he start jacking threes now? Because if he doesn’t, the defense can control the possession as they did. Imagine with me that Jimmy is 3-6 or 4-7 from three in the game. LeBron doesn’t aimlessly meander over to Butler’s shot, he closes it out correctly, and Adebayo gets a free dunk.
That’s what made the Warriors so good, that’s what made the Heat and Spurs so good back in the day, they controlled the offense and got the shot they wanted. They didn’t let the defense dictate their shot selection.
So Jimmy takes a three that looks awkward and misses. It could have been a tie-game after a rim-rattling Bam dunk. But instead, it was the Lakers stifling defense winning the quick mental battle.
The thing is, Jimmy doesn’t need to be Steph or Klay or even Kawhi, he just has to have a serviceable three-point shot to prevent the defense from getting easy possessions.
Giannis and Ben Simmons struggle with the exact same thing.
In 2020 Your Superstar has to Shoot
Giannis has been getting better and better, and every time the playoffs come around, teams just wall up (the LeBron defense) and take away the paint and he can’t score. He doesn’t have a polished enough offensive game to feel comfortable taking 15 shots outside the paint. We don’t even have to get started with Simmons, he hit a three and a whole city reacted like they just beat the 73-9 Warriors.
These three guys don’t need to morph into Klay Thompson, they just need a three-point shot that their coaches and teammates feel comfortable with.
Unless Jimmy develops a 3-point game (something Giannis and Simmons have utterly failed to do) the Heat are always going to lose out to better offensive teams. Teams that are smart enough to stop the midrange game and drives to the cup. It doesn’t matter how many Euro-steps or fadeaways you have, if you can’t shoot 3s at an average rate, you’re missing half of the game.
The good news for the Heat and the bad news for the Bucks and 76ers is that Jimmy does have a smooth looking jumper. Meanwhile, Giannis and Simmons both look morbid shooting the rock from distance.
Butler could very well come back next season with a polished three-point stroke. But shooting is difficult, just ask Shaq. There are no guarantees the Heat star can add range to his game. Some people can, and some can’t. That’s just how it goes, but you can bet that Jimmy is going to try.
Final Thoughts on Spacing and Shooting in the 2020 NBA Finals
I want to talk more about the Bucks and 76ers quickly. It’s no wonder that Joel Embiid gets swarmed and Giannis faces 4 defenders in the paint every drive. The spacing isn’t quite right, and in 2020 spacing is everything.
When you watched peak-Warriors, it didn’t even look like they were trying hard, and they really weren’t. The game opens up and flows when you space the floor with good shooting. It becomes extremely difficult when you have to fight for every last bucket.
You can put Giannis and Ben Simmons on a team with four JJ Reddick’s and the spacing will still be a bit off because the guy with the ball can’t shoot! You need all five players to be competent from beyond the arc to truly unlock perfect basketball.
Watching Jimmy the other day I thought “this dude is scrapping and clawing in every single 1 on 1 just to get two points. Meanwhile, the Lakers come down and run a simple play and AD hits a three. Effortless almost.
Shooting is how you win in 2020. More specifically, superstar shooting is how you win. You need spacing, shooting, and good defense. The Heat are a good defensive team, they just don’t have the right spacing and shooting, and the star-player needs to be able to shoot from range. If not, they cap the level of play of their entire team.
The Heat are learning this lesson now, and I expect Butler to take a few more threes in game 5. The question is, will the Giannis and the 76ers realize the problem before its too late?
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