Beating the Heat

The question of "Can the Bulls stop a Heat 3 peat next season?" was posed on Blogabull a few days ago. Link.

At the time, I took a few minutes to post about how the Pacers and Spurs found success against the Heat despite losing their series 4-3. My notes can be found here. Assuming you don't feel like rereading the whole thing, the basic idea is that there are a few ways in which you can beat the Heat:

  • Pound the ball inside offensively, make their inside opportunities tough, and chase them off the three point line. Basically, play big boy basketball.
  • Score with the Heat and force them to work really hard on the defensive end, and then do any one of the above as well.

The Bulls have tried the first strategy for the past several years. While the Bulls are solid at making their inside opportunities tough and beyond fantastic at chasing them off the three point line, they have never been able to have that punishing inside game. Noah has a limited post up game, and Boozer can't take advantage of the matchups he gets against the Heat. Indy did a good job of this, but ultimately didn't have enough scoring to compliment this strategy. The Spurs tried the second strategy and simply did a piss poor job of chasing the Heat off the three point line to make it work.

Since that post, I have dug into things further. Let's look at the Heat in terms of Dean Oliver's four factors. For those not familiar, Dean Oliver broke basketball success down into four areas: shooting, turnovers, rebounding, and free throws. Your success is determined by how well you do in these categories and how well you limit these factors in your opponent. He believes that 50% of your success comes from shooting, 25% from turnovers, 20% from rebounding, and 15% from free throws. With that in mind, let's look at how the Heat have done in these categories over the past four years:


Stat - Heat Rank - Opp Rank

eFG% - 1st - 3rd
TOR - 19th - 26th
ORR - 19th - 4th
FTR - 2nd - 13th


eFG% - 6th - 8th
TOR - 24th - 3rd
ORR - 19th - 10th
FTR - 4th - 17th


eFG% - 1st - 9th
TOR - 13th - 5th
ORR - 26th - 23rd
FTR - 8th - 10th

My thinking is simple: to beat a team consistently, you must limit their strengths and exploit their weaknesses. The better a job you do at either one of those, the less you need to do the other. So, what are the Heat best at? Well, Dean Oliver would very easily be able to explain to you why the Heat have won so many games. The Heat excel at scoring the basketball and limiting opponent shooting. Since that's literally half the battle, that makes their life easy. The Heat are also great at generating turnovers. Although, they have not been great at limiting their own. Obviously, the Heat's biggest weakness is rebounding. So, to me it's simple. The recipe to beat the Heat is three things:

  1. Limit the Heat's shooting. Chase them off the three point line and make those inside chances a bit tougher. You'd rather have them get to the line a bit then get easy transition buckets or halfcourt layups.
  2. Find a way to score more effectively against the Heat. Having lot's of shooters would be extremely helpful.
  3. Take advantage of the Heat's poor rebounding. This will get you extra possessions.

So, where do the Bulls stand in terms of this "Beat the Heat recipe"?

  1. The Bulls are the best team in the league at forcing teams to take tough shots. Aside from keeping solid defenders (especially Joakim Noah) on the roster and never, ever letting go of Tom Thibodeau, the Bulls are in great shape here.
  2. Well, here's where they struggle. The Bulls 3 point shooting is crap. They need more shooters and Derrick Rose back to get those shooters more open looks.
  3. Again, the Bulls are solid here. Even the Bulls guards rebound well.

Here is the problem that most teams have against the Heat: how do you do well in all three of these areas at the same time? The first two can go very well together. You could easily have a good shooting team and one that's good enough to chase the Heat off the line out there, but how well will that team rebound? Probably not well. And since the Heat's biggest strengths are shooting and limiting shooting, you will likely still need to take advantage of them on the boards in order to be successful. So, what is the solution?

To me, the easiest solution to this problem is to acquire a three point shooting stretch 4. Imagine if Taj had no post game, but could still rebound well and could shoot threes. The Bulls would have a great chance of beating the Heat. This doesn't have to be an actual PF, but rather a player that rebounds and shoots threes well. I did a search for players with a TRB% over 13% (Taj has been over that number all three seasons, but not by much last year and it would seem to be above average rebounding) and a three point percentage over 36% (the league average) and over 2 attempts per game (the league average). Here are the guys I found:

Ersan Ilyasova (well, technically LeBron too) and that's it! The guy has a TRB% or nearly 14% and shoots 44% from the three point line on nearly 3 attempts per game. His DRB% is up around 20% as well, which would make him the third best defensive rebounder on the Bulls. That said, if you expand th search to the last three seasons, other guys come in to play including Kevin Love and Ryan Anderson.

If I were the Bulls, I'd be inquiring about Anderson or Ilyasova. Both of these guys have bigger contracts, but not too big to take on. I think a lineup of Rose - Jimmy - Deng - Taj/Anderson or Ilysova - Noah would stand a great chance against the Heat, especially if there were some shooters/scorers off the bench to bring in (in a dream world, having Nate and Korver off the bench would be fantastic). I also don't think they'd cost us much in terms of personnel and draft picks. I'd inquire about Love too, but I'd only want him if we could keep Rose, Jimmy, and Noah. I'm fine with losing Deng, Charlotte pick and/or Mirotic for a guy of Love's caliber, but I am betting they want more. I don't know how available any of these guys are, but I really think a stretch 4 is the way to go. If Deng were a better shooter and/or rebounder, you could play him as a stretch 4 and stick another shooter in the lineup, but I just don't think Deng is a good enough shooter or rebounder to make that a viable option.


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