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The Miami Heat Pace and Space Motion Offense
Last season I discussed the Heat’s double high post offense and this off-season it seems Erik Spoelstra has been busy tinkering with their playbook. The offense has been heavily modified and is now dominated by a “pace and space” motion offense. This offense emphasizes transition baskets, quick plays, and is a read-and-react system.
As I mentioned last season, the old system lacked low post scoring opportunities and suffered from poor rebounding positioning. Another disadvantage was the old system lacked read-and-react opportunities for its players because of the rigidity of the set. This season Spoelstra has addressed these concerns fairly well with a system that takes advantage of his players’ high speed, great conditioning, and high basketball IQ.
Let’s take a look.
Pace and Space Motion Offense
As the name suggests, the hallmark of this system is to push the pace to maximize possessions. This will test the defense’s discipline and conditioning. The offense is also sensitive to spacing to allow each player room to be an offensive threat.
The Heat’s pace and space motion is most commonly run with a 4-out-1-in high set which looks like this:
Here we see it in action:
This version of the 4-out-1-in high places the C opposite the corner fill player but the Heat also run an alternative set that fills both corners. Also, the C can fill either elbow position to aid in setting screens.
That variation looks like this:
The purpose of this set is to allow the C to set screens for the wings or corner and places the PF in a position to help swing the ball from side to side. It also gives enough spacing for drives through the lane and provides passing options for driving players to kick the ball out to the perimeter.
In all of the plays the Heat run in their pace and space motion offense, they try to find an open shot as quickly as possible and allow the open man to shoot it. Generally, this happens by a screen to free up a man and then the ballhandler will pass to the open man for a shot or for a subsequent pass to another open man for a shot. Shots are usually taken before the shot clock hits 10 seconds. This strategy is very similar to the Suns’ 7 seconds-or-less offense under Mike D’Antoni.
Let’s look at our first clip to get an idea how this works:
In this clip Chalmers passes to Wade flashing to the top of the arc off a Joel Anthony screen while Bosh screens for Lebron who attempts to receive the lob from Wade.
The following animation helps illustrate:
Immediately we see a difference from last year. Last year the Heat would have organized in their double high post set as follows:
Wade and Lebron are no longer in the corners and Chalmers is set toward the wing in our clip.
Let’s look at how quickly these plays are run.
Each of these plays are quick-hitting, usually with a single screen to open someone up for a pass or to open up a driving lane. It’s also common for a quick transition pull up jump shot.
Double High Post
Although the Heat mainly run their pace and space offense, they still run double high post plays under certain circumstances.
Roster Specific Plays
A new addition to the Heat roster is PG Norris Cole. He’s an athletic PG that has already made significant contribution to the team and it’s easy to see why. It’s still early but it looks like the Heat are going to try to give Cole some early attacking opportunities
So far we’ve seen a quick high screen for him:
And a transition double high screen:
The Heat also run some double high post set plays with Cole.
In the future, I expect to see more double high post plays with Cole because it allows a double high screen for Cole or a screen for Lebron and Wade in the corners – forcing the defense to make a lot of difficult decisions.
As we’ll see later, he also serves an important purpose on post up plays.
Chris Bosh Post Plays
As we saw earlier under quick plays, Chris Bosh is the recipient of a lot of mid-range opportunities and even a few 3pt shots but his most common designed play will be at the low-to-mid post area.
This year the Heat have decided to give Bosh some cutters through the lane after the post entrance pass to give him some passing options. In the past, Bosh was usually set up in a two-man game between himself and Wade or Lebron. When he was put into post isolation usually the passing player would slide around the perimeter to the defensive balance position.
Here we see the modifications made:
Lebron James Post Plays
Another change this year is James no longer enters the post up position solely by means of a cross-cut. Instead, he is fighting for post position immediately and receiving the pass. This was likely a result of Spoelstra’s desire to maintain a screener at the elbow position as an early available option and to make the plays run quicker.
In this clip we’ll see Lebron entering the post from a cross-cut like last year but we also see how putting Cole at the wing position can add another threat that didn’t exist last season.
Last season the most capable PG option to execute this play would have been Chalmers and I don’t think he would have done as well as Cole did in this clip. Now Wade can remain on the weak side and there can be a two-man game between Cole and Lebron.
What do you think of the changes Spoelstra made? Do you think this read-and-react quick-hitting style takes advantage of his roster’s skill set better or worse than the double high post set from last season? Now that we’ve seen the direction Spoelstra has in mind for the team, do you think the Heat made the right moves over the off-season by picking up Norris Cole and Shane Battier? The season is still fresh so we’ll have to see what toll this kind of offense takes over the course of the season and how effective it will be.