Defending the Heat - A Look at Tendencies and Matchups

Dwyane Wade has torched the Sixers to the tune of 30.7 points per game in the regular season. If the Sixers want any chance of pulling the first round upset, they need to find a way to slow Wade down. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)

The Sixers turnaround this year can largely be attributed to their improvement on the defensive side of the ball. They made the jump all the way up to 7th in defensive rating this year -- up from 24th last year and 14th in 2008-2009, the last time the team made the playoffs. With the Sixers drawing the Miami Heat as their first round opponent, that improved defense will be greatly tested.

The Miami Heat come into town with the (in)famous big three and an offensive rating of 111.7 that's good for third in the league. A lot is made of their transition play, and the Heat are good in the open court. In fact they're the most efficient transition team in the league. That being said, don't look at that and assume the Heat struggle in the half court. They shoot 46.1% from the field in the half-court, and their points per possession on half-court attempts ranks in the top 5 in the league. With a plethora of talent and strengths the Sixers struggle defending, the Sixers are between a rock and a hard place when trying to device a strategy to slow the Heat down.

After the jump I'm going to take a look at a few basic metrics, comparing what the Heat like to do with how well the Sixers historically defend those tendencies. I then pulled out the tape and re-watched each of Dwyane Wade and LeBron James' offensive possessions, charting the play type, the primary defender, and the result to try to build a case on who should be used on both of the Heat's dominant wing players.

First, let's take a look at how the Sixers did against the Heat in their three losses, both from a team and individual perspective.

Some basic stats:

Heat team stats - Basic

Game Pts fg% ftm 3ptm 3pt% off reb to
10-27 97 47.8 23 8 50 5 16
11-26 99 44.9 22 6 37.5 12 9
3-25 111 49.4 22 7 35 15 15
Avg vs Sixers 102.3 47.4 22.7 7 40.4 10.7 13.3
Heat Season Avg 102.1 48.1 21.5 6.7 37 9.6 13.9

Overall, it looks like the Sixers did about league average. They gave up their typical points, did a little better on defending their first shot, but let them get to the line a little more than normal, shoot a little bit better from 3, let up a few more offensive rebounds, and didn't force quite as many turnovers. Overall, if you would take away that final game where Wade and James were completely unguardable, much less by a gimpy Iguodala, and you have two pretty strong defensive outings to hang your hat on.

Let's take a look at the advanced stats to see if they tell a similar story:

Heat team stats - Advanced

Game oRTG efg% ftrate oreb% to%
10-27 106 53.6 33.3 15.2 16.2
11-26 115.3 48.7 29.5 27.9 9
3-25 118 53.6 26.5 38.5 13.6
Avg vs Sixers 113.1 52 29.8 27.2 12.9
Heat Season Avg 111.7 52.4 27.9 25.2 13.5

Which pretty much holds true. The Sixers did a good job of defending the intial shot, but a poor job of defensive rebounding (outside of the first game, anyway), and didn't force enough turnovers (again, outside of the first game).

Here are some averages for key Heat players against the Sixers, compared to their yearly averages.

Heat averages against Sixers compared to yearly averages

Player pts fg% 3ptm 3pt% ftm reb ast to
LeBron (vs 76ers) 22.7 47.6 0.7 18.2 8 8 5 5
LeBron (vs NBA) 26.7 51.0 1.2 33.0 6.4 7.5 7 3.6
Wade (76ers) 30.7 51.7 0.7 33.3 8.7 8 6.7 2
Wade (NBA) 25.5 50 0.8 30.6 6.5 6.4 4.6 3.1
Bosh (76ers) 17.7 49.0 0 0 2.3 8.7 1.7 1.3
Bosh (NBA) 18.7 49.6 0.1 24.0 5 8.3 1.9 1.8
Bibby (76ers) 3 25 1 33.3 0 3 6 2
Bibby (NBA) 7.3 43.7 1.8 45.5 0.5 2.2 2.5 1.5
Jones (76ers) 9.7 62.3 3 60 0 0.7 0.3 0
Jones (NBA) 5.9 42.2 1.5 42.9 0.7 2.0 0.5 0.3

The first thing that jumps out is how well Iguodala has done on LeBron. Unfortunately, the second thing that jumps out is how poorly we've done on Wade, who has scored 92 points on 62 shots in the three regular season games. Outside of that, James Jones' increase over his regular season production is of some concern, but that was mainly on the backs of his 20 point outing back in October, he was held in check for the other two matchups.

Obviously, keeping the Heat out of transition will be a key, and luckily the Sixers have been extremely good at taking care of the ball, finishing the season tied for best in the league with a 12.3 turnover percentage, although they have struggled with turnovers at times in the three games against Miami.

In the half-court, Miami does a few things exceptionally well that tend to give the Sixers problems.

First and foremost, Miami is the most efficient team in the league in pick and roll sets, led by Dwyane Wade, who's an absolute terror trying to defend in the pick and roll. Too quick to switch a big onto and too adept at breaking the trap with his dribble to hard trap, defending Wade off the pick and roll is a recipe the Sixers, or the league for that matter, hasn't figured out.

The Sixers, unfortunately, have struggled to defend the pick and roll at times this year, and rank in the bottom quarter of the league in defending the ballhandler off the pick and roll.

Here are the Sixers primary wing defenders, ranked by their mans point per possession when defending the pick and roll, and where that ranks league wide. Granted, this isn't a perfect measure, as it doesn't show the result when they're forced to kick out, nor does it take into context who they are guarding (i.e., Jrue Holiday is likely getting a tougher guard than Jodie Meeks), but it's a good enough base. Percentile is where that person stands league wide, with the higher the percentile being the more effective defender.

Sixers defending the pick and roll

Player points per poss fg% percentile
Iguodala 0.641 32.6 88
Holiday 0.852 43.1 42
Meeks 0.766 39 69
Williams 0.976 48.9 14
Turner 0.955 46.9 18
Nocioni 0.865 40.7 37

(For reference, Wade shoots 47.1% off the pick and roll, LeBron 49.6%).

I want to preface this by saying that this isn't all the guards fault. Overall, I think our bigs do a poor job defending the pick and roll, often times not showing much, if at all. That being said, all of our perimeter players have to play with the same big men, so this mostly doesn't affect their rankings amongst each other, although it would affect their league-wide rankings.

Outside of Iguodala, there's a lot of bad rankings here. The only other person better than league average outside of Andre is Jodie Meeks, who isn't being asked to defend the pick and roll as frequently as Holiday, Turner, Williams of Iguodala, and is likely drawing lesser pick and roll threats. It's not entirely surprising to see Turner and Holiday struggling to defend the pick and roll, with so much required in the form of technique and strategy, and their experience hasn't yet caught up to their length and foot speed.

Williams and Turner are just incredibly bad at defending the pick and roll right now. Lou isn't likely to be asked to defend Wade or LeBron all that much (and if he is, the pick and roll is the last of my worries), but if Turner's a guy you're counting on to help stop Wade, this isn't offering all that much supportive evidence.

Iguodala being the only legitimate pick and roll defender presents a few problems. The obvious is that his health is a question mark, and if he's not at the all-league defender level, the Sixers have virtually no prayor slowing down this offense. The second is that, while Andre is your best pick and roll defender, he's also your best isolation defender. LeBron might be slightly more efficient than Wade on pick and rolls, as stated above, but Wade bases a larger percentage of his half-court offensive game around the pick and roll, whereas LeBron still gets a large portion of his offense on isolations and pull-up jumpers. Wade is tremendous at coming around the pick and splitting the double team, and uses that space to get into the lane with regularity. It would be great to be look at this data and put Iguodala on Wade to help defend Wade's primary source of half-court offense, but you also need him to defend LeBron's isolations.

Which brings us to isolations. Besides being the best pick and roll team in the game, the Heat are also the most efficient in the league on isolations sets. This is where LeBron comes in, who shoots nearly 44% on isolations attempts, and gets to the line with regularity. Again, the Sixers options on defending isolation wings pretty much starts and stops with Iguodala, especially if coach D?oug Collins doesn't trust Turner enough to have him on the court in the playoffs.

Sixers defending isolation sets

Player points per poss fg% percentile
Iguodala 0.786 39.4 63
Holiday 0.821 40.2 53
Meeks 0.931 44.4 27
Williams 0.906 40.8 32
Turner 0.794 35.8 60
Nocioni 1.059 45.7 10

Here a few more options pop up, at least on paper, with Jrue and Evan both being above league average defenders in isolation sets, which again makes sense and passes the eye test, as Jrue and Evan both have good foot speed, provide consistent effort, and use their length well to deny lanes.

The problem is, LeBron's simply too big for Jrue to defend, and even putting Evan on him for long stretches would be questionable. There's a reason he's the king, and there aren't many physically capable of defending a 6'8", 240+ pound wing player with elite athleticism. This pretty much forces Iguodala into the role by default, which leaves the Sixers no good option to defend Wade, which became painfully obvious as he dropped 30.7 points per game on 51.7% from the field in the three games against the Sixers.

Finally, I went through all three games, watching each possession LeBron and Wade used, and charted who the primary defend was, what the play type was, and what the outcome was, so I could take a look and see LeBron and Wade's effectiveness against each of our wing defenders.

Here's the chart for Wade. This will include fg%, 3pt %, fouls drawn, assists, and turnovers. The 3pt% columns that have a number in parenthesis, that's the number of misses against defenders he didn't make any.

Dwyane Wade production, vs specific defenders

Defender fgm fg% 3ptm 3pt% fouls drawn assists to's
Holiday 8 50 0 0 (1) 6 4 1
Meeks 8 44.4 0 0 (3) 6 8 2
Iguodala 9 52.6 1 100 4 5 3
Turner 4 83.3 1 100 3 3 0
Nocioni 0 0 0 0 1 0 0
Young 0 0 0 0 1 0 0
Kapono 1 100 0 0 0 0 0

What's surprising here is that Meeks, on paper, held his own as well as anyone. In reality, this is one where I think having watched the shot attempts over, I'm not confident on that success (and I use that term lightly) carrying over. Virtually all of Wade's missed attempts when Meeks was guarding him were makeable shots at the rim which very well could, and with Wade likely would, make in the future. This is supported by the high number of fouls he drew while Meeks was guarding him as well as the huge number of assists he piled up against Meeks, both indicative of a player getting into the paint at will. When Wade was guarded by Holiday, Iguodala and Turner, he was primarily getting into the lane off pick and rolls. When he went up against Meeks, he was able to beat him off the dribble with regularity, and took Meeks down to the post on post-ups with high levels of success. Having watched all the possessions, Jrue did a better job on Wade than Meeks in my opinion, even if the numbers don't completely support that.

Other than that, it's sort of surprising how poorly Turner did against Wade, although the sample size was rather small. Again, with how much Wade relies on the pick and roll, it's no surprise Turner would struggle against him, knowing the data we looked at earlier.

And the same chart for LeBron:

LeBron James production, vs specific defenders

Defender fgm fg% 3ptm 3pt% fouls drawn assists to's
Iguodala 7 40 1 25 5 8 9
Nocioni 3 60 0 0 (2) 1 0 1
Turner 3 42.9 0 0 (2) 2 3 2
Young 1 50 1 100 1 2 1
Holiday 1 100 0 0 0 1 1
Meeks 1 100 0 0 2 0 1
Speights 0 0 0 0 1 0 0
Williams 2 100 0 0 1 0 0
Brand 1 33.3 0 0 0 0 0
Kapono 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

The first thing that jumps out is the remarkable job Andre Iguodala did on LeBron. If you watched the games, you realized that Iguodala was a huge reason LeBron was held to rather pedestrian (for himself, anyway) stats of 22.7 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, and 5 turnovers on 47.6% from the field. Watching the tape, Iguodala was the only defender (with Turner being able to at times) who was able to consistently force LeBron to settle for pull-up jump shots. Everybody outside of Iguodala, Turner, and Nocioni who ended up defending LeBron did so off of a switch. Those were your primary three defenders against the king.

Looking at this table confirms what the previous table on isolation defenders hinted at: Iguodala and Turner are your best options to defend LeBron, and Nocioni shouldn't even be in consideration. Try as he might, Nocioni just doesn't have the foot speed to stay with LeBron, and James beat him into the lane with regularity. Iguodala almost has to match up with LeBron whenever he's on the court, and during stretches where Iguodala needs a rest, Turner should be the only other person up for consideration, as he's the only other one that has (somewhat) adequate size who can (somewhat) stay with LeBron on the perimeter.

Conclusion

What does it mean? Here's what I would do:

  • I think it's pretty clear Iguodala has to virtually shadow LeBron, a tall order for anyone, much less someone still injured. If the Sixers are to have any chance, Iguodala needs to pull off the masterful defensive job he did during the regular season.
  • With Iguodala on LeBron, I think it's also clear the Sixers really have no answer for Dwyane Wade. Finding a way of slowing him down would be huge, but I don't know where it could come from. What i would do is:
  • Never, ever, ever put Louis Williams on Wade. Keep him on Bibby/Chalmers when he's in the game. Never put a Lou/Jodie backcourt in place.
  • Put Jodie Meeks on Mike Bibby, and Jrue on Wade. Jrue's not optimal to defend Wade, but I think he stands a better chance than Jodie. Limit the amount of time Jodie's on Wade as much as possible. Meeks has played a big role offensively against the Heat, and you have to hope he's hitting his shots to deserve the minutes, as his floor spacing will be crucial on the other end. Bibby's not much of a threat on anything beyond catch and shoots anymore
  • When Iguodala needs a blow, Evan Turner should be the only guy to guard LeBron. No Nocioni. Try to give Turner 5-10 minutes on LeBron, either to give Iguodala rest or to allow him to try to defend Wade.
  • Don't have the bigs try to hard trap or hedge the pick and roll with Wade. He's too quick, and will likely split it. If he doesn't, he's too big and will likely pass out of it. Have the guards go under the screen, and have the bigs play off him and provide weak side shotblocking help should he get into the lane. They like to run the pick and roll with Bosh, so when Wade drives, the other big needs to be quick on his rotations.
  • Because of the need for this second shotblocking threat, and because Miami can slide LeBron to the 4, taking away Thad's athletic advantage, this is a hard series to play Thad at the 4, and Collins may have to play Thad/Brand less than he normally would. Hawes actually has a better +/- during the three previous Heat games than (-5) than either Brand (-31) or Young (-12), and the Brand/Hawes combo (+0) actually did better than Brand/Young (-13) did in the last Sixers/Heat game.

Overall, the Heat present a lot of matchup problems for the Sixers, mainly from a personnel perspective. Doug Collins is going to have to pull more than a few rabbits out of his hat to make this competitive. Despite featuring LeBron James, finding a way to control Dwyane Wade may be more crucial to making this a competitive series.

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