Friday, September 21, 2012

HEAT Check: Analyzing the Miami Offense and Why the Mavs are Full of Shit

Which plays did the Miami HEAT rely on most for scoring points last season and which plays were the most efficient?

The Dallas Mavericks' Director of Basketball Analytics claimed the pick-and-roll, perhaps the most popular play in the NBA, was the least efficient option for offenses during a presentation at the Sports Analytics Innovation Summit titled, NBA Playoff Success Predictors in the “Synergy Era” …What Wins in Your Sport?

Personally, my first reaction to Beech's claim was to say it only applied to teams that didn't have superstars (like LeBron James or Dwyane Wade) to run the pick-and-roll. My second reaction was to look up the Synergy Sports stats for the HEAT offense.

Synergy Sports tracks plays that end in a turnover or shot attempt from the floor or free throw line. Here's a list of the 5 plays most frequently used by the HEAT, according to
  1. Spot-Ups: 1,838 plays
  2. Pick-and-Rolls: 1,612 plays
  3. Transition: 1,261 plays
  4. Isolation: 1,050 plays
  5. Post-Ups: 943 plays

If you're a HEAT fan that watches every game, then that list doesn't surprise you. What may surprise HEAT fans is a list of the 5 HEAT plays that scored the most points, according to
  1. Spot-Ups: 1,801 points
  2. Transition: 1,475 points
  3. Pick-and-Rolls: 1,460 points
  4. Cuts: 1,048 points
  5. Isolation: 851 points

Pick-and-rolls drop from being ranked 2nd in plays to 3rd in scoring while Post-Ups disappear from the top 5 and are replaced by Cuts. If you listened to Coach Erik Spoelstra talk about "triggers" or read the columns on by Couper Moorhead, then you know how important cuts were to the HEAT offense last season and may not be surprised they scored more points off cuts than post-ups.

When you put it all together, here's a list of the 5 most efficient HEAT plays from last season, according to
  1. Cuts: 1.25 points per play
  2. Transition: 1.17 points per play
  3. Offensive Rebounds: 1.10 points per play
  4. Spot-Ups: 0.98 points per play
  5. Pick-and-Rolls: 0.91 points per play

The spreadsheet below lists the stats from for the 2012 HEAT offense.

Overall, the HEAT produced an average of 0.95 points per play last season, which means the pick-and-roll was a below average play for the team. On the surface, it seems like the HEAT tried to score with too many pick-and-rolls last season. 

It's important to note, however, that the pick-and-roll is used to create mismatches that draw defenders' attention to setup cuts and spot-ups. The use of so many pick-and-rolls could be a result of teams defending cuts and spot-ups so well that the HEAT were forced to try and score out of the pick-and-roll instead of one of those "triggers."

The big takeaway from this analysis for me was that the Mavs are full of shit. The pick-and-roll was an inefficient play for the HEAT but it wasn't the least efficient play. That's not why the Mavs are full of shit, though.

Guess which play the Mavs offense used the most last season? That's right - PICK-AND-ROLLS! Here's a list of the top 3 plays used by the Mavs in 2012:
  1. Pick-and-Rolls: 1,539 plays
  2. Spot-Ups: 1,511 plays
  3. Post-Ups: 877 plays

Despite their Director of Basketball Analytics' claim the pick-and-roll was the least efficient play in the NBA, the Mavs used it the most last season. Was the pick-and-roll a more efficient choice for the Mavs than the other plays tracked by Synergy Sports? No. The Mavs scored 0.95 points per play off the pick-and-roll, which ranked 6th out of the 8 play types tracked at

The spreadsheet below lists the stats from for the 2012 Mavs offense.

Cuban likes to brag about the Mavs' coaches and analytics - what happened? Was Rick Carlisle asleep at the wheel? Did Beech wait until the 2012 season was over to make the discovery that pick-and-rolls were inefficient?

Funny thing is, the Mavs' pick-and-rolls were less efficient in 2011 (0.90 points per play) than they were last season, but they used the pick-and-roll more in 2012 (21.4% of plays) than 2011 (18.2% of plays). At least in 2011 the crack analytics team & coaching staff were smart enough to ensure the players used more spot-ups (2,393) than pick-and-rolls (1,894)... #sarcasm. Pick-and-rolls were still the Mavs' 2nd-most frequently used play in 2011 despite ranking 7th out of 8 play types in efficiency.

Now that the Mavs' Director of Basketball Analytics has deemed the pick-and-roll the least efficient play in the NBA, will they use less of it after giving opposing defenses high doses of it the last two seasons? Will they make it more efficient with new players like O.J. Mayo and Chris Kaman playing with Dirk Nowitzki?

Doubt it. As always, the important thing to remember about the Mavs is that they're hacks and frauds. Trust and believe them at your own peril.

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