MIAMI — The Heat’s drive-and-kick offense works because of the roster’s aggressiveness and attacking mentality. But how aggressive is too aggressive?
Miami (2-4) knows it crossed that fine line in Monday’s overtime loss to the Timberwolves by committing a season-high 24 turnovers. In fact, the Heat’s turnover issues have been a problem for the past week with 19 or more turnovers in three of their past four games entering Wednesday’s matchup against the Bulls (1-4).
“It’s tough, especially when you got to be aggressive,” said Heat guard Dion Waiters, who drove to the basket a team-high 26 times Monday but also committed five turnovers. “I think we’re doing a good job being aggressive, we just got to make smart decisions. We try to get in the paint, including myself sometimes, and you make that pass right there and then a lot of the time guys are getting deflections and things like that. We just got to take that extra dribble through. Sometimes it’s not going to be there, sometimes it will be. The times that it’s there, a second late and it costs us a turnover.”
The Heat currently rank 20th of 30 NBA teams in turnovers with 16.3 per game. Miami ranked 11th last season with 13.4 turnovers per game.
One of the biggest differences between the two seasons so far has been the amount of turnovers when getting into the paint. Miami committed turnovers on just 6.6 percent of its drives last year, and this is an important number considering the Heat finished with the second-most drives in the league last season at 35.1 per game.
Over the first six games of this season, the Heat lead the NBA with 60.7 drives per game and 8 percent of them are ending in a turnover. Shorten that time frame to the past four games, when Miami has really struggled with sloppy play, and the Heat are committing a turnover on 10.1 percent of their drives.
“We are at our best when we’re an aggressive, attacking team,” coach Erik Spoelstra said Tuesday. “Now, by the very nature of being aggressive and attacking, you cannot play passively. And you cannot play to try to not make mistakes. So it is a fine line. And that’s where reading the game and reading the defense really becomes important.
“There’s a responsibility when you have the ball in your hands, to constantly understand the big picture of what our identity is, but context of game, and what’s needed at that moment. I don’t want guys playing passively. Sometimes that’s also gotten us in trouble — when you’re not a threat, you’re not looking at the rim and you’re playing not to make a mistake.”
Waiters said he’s noticed opponents defending Miami’s drive-and-kick offense differently this season, with most staying on the Heat’s shooters instead of helping on the drive. He pointed to that small change as one of the reasons for Miami’s turnover struggles.
“[Defenses] are starting to stick to their guy on our drives,” Waiters said Tuesday. “Half of the time like last year when [Rodney McGruder] was there, we would always get that slot cut because guys would just stick to their guy and that’s what we’re missing right now. But J-Rich did it yesterday and I made the pass, but unfortunately we just turned it over. But we get three or four of them a game, it keeps the defense at bay and they don’t know what to guard now. It opens up the court more for me. But I got to keep that mentality of just being aggressive, though.”
To put the Heat’s recent turnover problems into perspective, Miami finished with 19 or more turnovers in just six of its 82 games last season. The Heat have already done it three times through six games this season.
“There was some of the best basketball we played offensively [Monday],” Spoelstra said, “and then there was some of the most careless, also, all bundled into one game. So our guys understand how important it is, that responsibility to take care of the ball. We just have to get better at it.”