Breaking Down the Miami Heat's Go-to Offensive Set

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Breaking Down the Miami Heat's Go-to Offensive Set
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra calling a play for Miami against Chicago.

Let's, for just a moment, put aside the Miami Heat's well-documented current frailties (defense, complacency and the kryptonite from New York), and quickly focus on how they are playing the game at the offensive end.

More specifically, what is the Heat's go-to offensive set when they simply must find a basket?

While it's a simple question, it has a complex answer, for the answer has changed dramatically over the course of the first two-and-a-bit seasons for the "super friends".

Since LeBron James' evolution as a post monster in 2012, and the Heat's subsequent utilization of an offensive nirvana, Miami's play on that end has, just like that, fallen into place.

With the uneasy alpha-dog battle between James and Dwyane Wade put to bed, the Heat's offense has gone to a new level, operating at a dizzying efficiency by running everything through James.

With that in mind, here's a look at the change in the Heat's go-to method at the offensive end, and what they might look to do in the future.


Previous Go-To Set

Before James' move to the post and simultaneous shift to the power forward position, the Heat would use their "elbow sets" as their primary method for scoring.

Showed visually in the following still-shot, this would see Miami set up in a 1-2-2 formation, with a ball-handler at the top, two players at each elbow and two guards in the corners.

Freeze frame of Miami at the beginning of an elbow set.

From there, the ball-handler, often James, would pass to one of the elbow players and cut to the strong side to set a screen for Wade. 

Wade would then curl toward the basket to receive the ball from the elbow player, while a screen would be set on the weak side to allow the guard in the other corner (Mario Chalmers) to rotate to the wing to provide a kick-out option.

The play would also be run with James and Wade switching places, resulting in the current MVP catching the ball on his way to the basket.

The following clip shows how this play was run to utilize the athletic slashing abilities of both the Heat's superstars.

Wade curls to the basket in a Heat elbow set.


However, as time wore on, opposing teams began to defend this play more effectively, closing down on the curl and forcing the Heat into stagnant possessions. The following clip shows the same play being run in a different game, and while James hits a three to finish the possession, it's hardly a good look.

Chicago forces a contested three after a Miami elbow set.


Miami, of course, still uses these elbow sets quite regularly, but it's no longer the Heat's go-to offensive play, which brings us to where the Heat are now.


Current Go-To Set

Miami's favored method of attack now revolves around James and his abilities in the post. Although the Heat have an array of plays that they can use at the end of games, going to their MVP in the post is their most destructive method.

To isolate James in the post, the Heat will often use a "wall screen" on the weak side, using two, sometimes three players, to form a wall on one side of the paint, allowing James to beat his man to his spot.

On other occasions, Miami will simply clear out one side of the floor and allow James to go man-to-man with his opposite number.

The following clip shows the ways in which Miami get James into the post, a position where he is simply unguardable.

LeBron James in the post against Milwaukee.


While this may not be seen as all that complex, it is the method that has brought about a significant shift in Miami's approach.

With James anchored down low, the team can score through LeBron like this:

LeBron James posts-up against Charlotte.


Or, they can utilize James' insane passing abilities, when used at the same position, to score like this: 

LeBron James' assists from the post.


Future Go-To Play

However, there is one other play that we might see a lot more from the Heat, particularly in crunch situations toward the end of playoff games.

The following video shows Ray Allen hitting a dagger three to claim victory over Denver earlier this season. If you examine the clip closely, noting the off-the-ball action, you'll appreciate how well the play is conducted.

Ray Allen hits the three to win the game against Denver.


Wade and Chris Bosh set up at the elbows, while Chalmers camps in the corner. Bosh stays anchored to the elbow, while Wade curls behind him. This completely clears out the paint as well as one side of the floor, allowing James to attack the basket. The enormous hole in the defense causes the Nuggets to collapse, allowing the rotating Allen to get a clear look in the corner.

It's a brilliantly drawn-up play, because the opposition has to respect the threat of Wade, forcing them to follow his off-the-ball action, creating the space for LeBron which eventually frees Allen.

If the most dominant force in basketball is able to play a two-man game on one side of the court with the best three-point shooter in history, good results will follow.

Although pounding the ball into the post to the league's best player is still its go-to method to get a basket, expect to see this last play a few more times from Miami as the season continues.

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