How the Heat are Switching it up on the Offensive Glass

The Miami Heat's roster of versatile, yet flawed offensive players can leave their offense sputtering. How are they attempting to make up for that?

As the NBA has shifted towards a more fast-paced, perimeter-oriented style of play, basketball tenets like offensive rebounding have paid the price. Analytics-friendly coaches prefer players to dart back on defense after a missed shot, so as not to give up easy transition points. Small-ball has pulled smaller power forwards and shooting centers out to the 3-point line, increasing the distance they must travel to grab offensive boards. Long-range three-point shots might also increase the unpredictability of a rebound's trajectory. These ideals legitimately call to question the value of offensive rebounding.

Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra has long been a proponent of punting offensive rebounds in favor of his teams getting back on defense. Per Cleaning The Glass, the Heat ranked 19th, 20th, 26th and 29th, respectively, in offensive rebounding rate throughout the four years of the Big Three era. Just last year they finished 17th.

Considering the current Heat roster, it's not difficult to conclude why Spoelstra has emphasized transition defense. The Heat lack a true primary scorer--one capable of consistently drawing help defenders and creating offense in isolation. Such a team, so limited in offensive options, is perhaps best served grinding out games with effort and discipline on defense.

It was a little surprising, then, when Heat color analyst John Crotty dropped this nugget in the second quarter of Miami's final preseason game:

"We talked to Spo and the Heat are running three different players to the offensive rim. Typically teams may run two different players at the offensive rim, and the other three rotate back to defense. This will lead to an advantage on second chance points."

Interestingly, unlike the hollow clichés of "pushing the pace" and "crashing the glass" we've come to expect from coaches in training camp and the preseason, Spoelstra's words are manifesting themselves on the court.

According to NBA.com, the Heat are ranked 7th in offensive rebounds per game. One might be inclined to immediately attribute this to Miami's 7-foot Hassan Whiteside. While Whiteside is a great offensive rebounder in his own right, there is clearly a level of team initiative.

In fact, you often see multiple Heat players committing to the offensive glass throughout games. Here, not only does Josh Richardson follow his miss after a poor box-out from Tim Hardaway Jr., but Rodney McGruder and Kelly Olynyk come rushing into the paint:

Spoelstra's own brilliance in maximizing his players' contributions, while understanding their limitations, is also on display when you consider how he deploys Derrick Jones Jr. (his length and leaping ability) as a constant pest on the glass. Jones flying in like this has become a common sight throughout games:

Digging into some numbers from last year, you can find the likely reason for this new strategy.

It's not a secret that the Heat often struggled to generate offense consistently last season. Their 1.07 points per possession mark was good for only 20th in the league, per Cleaning The Glass. A reliance on tedious dribble-handoff sets to generate looks on offense became a common thread throughout their season. They were 7th in the league in frequency of shots taken late in the shot-clock, classified by the NBA as the "7-4 seconds" range. In frequency of shots taken very-late in the shot-clock, classified by the NBA as the "4-0 seconds" range, the Heat finished 8th. Keeping these factors in mind, you can see why Spoelstra has adjusted his approach to offensive rebounding.

And there seems to be a tangible increase in scoring opportunities thus far.

They are ranked 4th in pure offensive rebound percentage (albeit in a 16-game sample), per Cleaning The Glass. They are also 3rd in putback plays generated per 100 missed field goals and 8th in putback points scored per 100 missed field goals.

Efforts like these, where Wade's rebounding sets up Adebayo for an easy basket or McGruder and Johnson fight for another possession, end up being extremely valuable over the course of a game. For a team often failing to maximize its possessions, scrounging for points and extra possessions can have a cumulative effect.

Offensive rebounding has long been thought of as working two-fold. Aside from the obvious extra opportunity to score, it's not a stretch to suggest it exacts a psychological toll on the opponent. And what better team to re-adopt a relentless approach to offensive rebounding than the current version of the Miami Heat. What they lack in star talent, they make-up for in effort...or at least try to (bless them).

It will be worth monitoring if their transition defense can hold up throughout this experiment. According to Cleaning the Glass, they are currently 19th in transition points allowed (per 100 possessions). Although, this shouldn't immediately be linked to their heightened focus on offensive rebounding. They are 23rd in transition points allowed off of steals, but an alright 10th in transition defense off of live ball rebounds (presumably instances where they crash the glass and come up empty, or don't crash at all).

The Heat take great pride in remaining as competitive as possible. As they navigate the season without a true star and wait on young players like Josh Richardson and Justise Winslow to carry a greater offensive load, upholding their high standards will require utilizing a variety of game-plans. It will be interesting to see how much offensive rebounding continues to play a factor.

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