The Miami Heat has been playing better of late on the offensive end.
The team is scoring more (104 points per game), turning it over fewer than anybody else in the league (9.8 per game) and shooting better (47.2 percent) over its last five games than it did during its 15 games of the season (94.8 points per game, 13.8 turnovers, 41.8 percent field goal percentage).
Blind luck? Or, does it have it do with Wayne Ellington, one of the better catch-and-shoot offensive players in the league, and Josh McRoberts, one of the best ball-handling big men in the league, suddenly becoming much more involved?
The answer seems obvious.
“In the last five, six games our [offensive] menu is as diverse as it’s been all year,” Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said when asked specifically about what Ellington has brought the Heat with his ability to score off the catch-and-shoot.
“We're not only pick-and-roll dominant, we now have the catch-and-shoot package with him. Now our post-up game with Hassan [Whiteside] is becoming more developed each game as well. All of it adds to the diversity of your offense. If we only come at teams with one thing, no matter how dynamic you can be with it, teams will adapt and adjust and defend the heck out of that.
“I don't see it as a coincidence our offensive numbers and uptick has gone up with his catch-and shoot-package, with Goran [Dragic] playing at a high level, and with Hassan also helping out with more post-ups. It’s been more diversity.”
Ellington, who is averaging 15 points and 1.3 steals per game, is shooting 51.3 percent from the field, 37 percent from three-point range and scoring 7.3 points per game on catch-and-shoots. Only 11 other players in the league are scoring seven points or more on catch-and-shoots. You can pretty much guess who those guys are (Hint: The top two play for the Golden State Warriors).
Ellington, 29, has never shot better than 43.4 percent in his career for a season, but he’s also never been in the kind of shape he’s in now. The Heat met with him this summer and asked him to lose 15 to 20 pounds and drop his body fat percentage. He’s down to 7 percent body fat and in the best shape of his career. He played 39 minutes in Saturday’s loss at Portland and was still running hard of screens late in the game.
“That’s the standard here so I put that extra work in, running and in the weight room, doing cardio and it’s paying off for me big time,” Ellington said Monday after practice. “I can be out there longer. I’m more efficient. The better shape I am, the harder I am to guard, the better defender I am. It’s completed my all-around game. It’s really helped me.”
McRoberts’ impact has been more low-key. But you can argue for what the Heat is paying him and how much time he’s missed over the last two season’s, McRoberts is finally beginning to do some of the things the team has wanted him to do for a while.
Although he made only eight of the first 36 shots he took this season (an embarrassing 22.2 percent field goal percentage), he scored a season-high 13 points in Saturday’s loss in Portland and has made 10 of his last 19 shots including a pair of three-pointers over his last two games, both starts. More importantly, he’s provided “point guard relief” for Dragic and leadership on both ends of the court.
“He brings so much to our team with his voice, his communication,” Spoelstra said. “He's a veteran savvy player. If I need to play him at the four or the five, he can play either. But I think this particular group, having an experienced veteran player, that makes every guy better.
“You can see he's improving each game. I would expect that continues as he gets in better game shape. He brings a lot to the table.”
His teammates agree.
James Johnson calls McRoberts “the stability guy.”
“He's really vocal,” Josh Richardson said of McRoberts. “On the court, he’s like one of our most vocal people on our team, just getting the calls. He’s like a point guard on offense who is 6-11.
“On defense, he's always getting it organized. He's calling flats and zones, just being positive on the court. I think it's good for our group – especially with not having CB [Chris Bosh] who is a real vocal leader. For him to come back and be a big guy that can talk also is big for us.”