Do the Miami Heat Have a Rebounding Problem?

Dylan MurphyFeatured ColumnistJanuary 30, 2014

Miami Heat power forward Chris Andersen (11) and Detroit Pistons small forward Josh Smith (6) battle for a rebound in the first quarter of an NBA basketball game in Auburn Hills, Mich., Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013.  (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Paul Sancya/Associated Press

Short answer, yes. Long answer, no. 

Here's the short version: According to, the Miami Heat grab 47.9 percent of all available rebounds—the fourth worst rebounding rate in the league. Narrowing that further, the Heat are 18th in defensive rebounding—coming down with 73.9 percent—and dead last in offensive rebounding at 19.6 percent. 

The long version is a bit more complicated: Rebounding is often considered a crucial component of winning games. Teams that control the glass win the possession battle, and therefore have more opportunities for field-goal attempts. If a team is shooting well and rebounding the basketball, it's all but over for the opposition.

So how has Miami won the NBA title two years in a row and remained in contention this season while maintaining a notoriously poor rebounding rate? By building a scheme, both offensively and defensively, that cancels out this apparent negative.

Let's start on the offensive end of the floor. As B/R's Jared Wade wrote last summer, the Heat employ a scheme Erik Spoelstra refers to as "Pace and Space"—which, quite literally, is about playing with pace and spacing the floor. 

With such a devastating weapon in LeBron James, the Heat can go small without actually going small. Though he's more traditionally known as a small forward, James often plays the power forward position in "small" Miami lineups. This gives him a distinct advantage athletically against slower opposing bigs, and his immense strength and defensive instincts allow him to hold his own defensively.

The rest of the Miami lineup is small, if only in a positional sense. They'll try to stack the floor with at least three perimeter shooters, all of whom force the defense to spread out and pick their poison: Help on LeBron James' drives and give up open three-pointers, or stick with shooters and allow James to finish at the rim—where he's shooting 62.8 percent this season, according to Synergy Sports (subscription required). 

This is a common tactic in today's NBA; but in Miami's particular case, they're often trotting out players who don't chase offensive rebounds. Coupled with their extreme distance from the basket, it's usually only a single big, and sometimes James or Dwyane Wade, who hits the glass.

Part of the value of offensive rebounding isn't just extra possessions; it's extra and easy points, too.

The putback after an offensive rebound is one of the easiest shots in basketball, and Miami's lack of offensive rebounding is limiting these opportunities.

But the "Pace and Space" counteracts this point loss through efficient shot location. Miami either shoots threes or has two of the best at-the-rim finishers in the game attack the basket. And this efficiency is reflected in the stats: at 0.992 points per half-court possession, per Synergy Sports, Miami is the most efficient scoring team in the league when it slows it down.

Add in their devastating transition game—1.19 points per possession, per Synergy Sports, good for third in the NBA—and Miami has no need for those extra scoring opportunities.

Here is the essence of their offense, with LeBron James simply taking the Lakers' Jodie Meeks off the bounce. The Heat don't even run a play here, but the ensuing action exemplifies what makes them so tough: 


As James begins to drive to the basket, Pau Gasol is already in a help position. Chris Bosh has rolled down to the rim, and Miami's three other players are spaced around the three-point line: 


Nick Young doesn't rotate to help because he's a in a short stunt: He's only faking the help and scrambling back to his man, Norris Cole, who's a shooter. They're choosing to send help from the inside and not give up the corner three-pointer. 

But notice the rest of the defense: They're so concerned with James that they collapse the paint almost instantaneously. LeBron, reading the defense, kicks the ball out to Ray Allen for three.

So what does this mean in terms of offensive rebounding? Well, only Bosh is in a position to rebound the basketball. The rest of Miami's players are way out of position. If this shot is a miss, Miami is only getting it back on a lucky bounce:

For the Heat, this is totally fine. They get a great shot by spacing the floor. If they have a crash-the-glass mentality, it's likely that their perimeter players will begin to sneak in a tick early when they sense a shot coming. This in turn could cramp spacing, and therefore not generate as great a look.

Now let's analyze the rebounding from a defensive perspective.

Because Miami often hard-hedges or traps the pick-and-roll, weak-side defenders do a lot of scrambling and rotating. The hedging/trapping big is left on a perimeter island, and it's left to the remaining defenders to pick up the roller and weak-side shooters.

Here, Greg Oden and James trap Boston's Jeff Green:


Let's say, for argument's sake, that the trap is late and Green rises for a jump shot. Now take a look at the left block. You'll notice that Norris Cole has rotated onto the roller, Jared Sullinger, in what is a giant mismatch. If that's a miss, Sullinger is in prime position for an offensive rebound. 

What actually happens is that Green turns it over. This is the gamble Miami lives with. If Green gets the shot off or swings the ball out to the three-point line, they'll simply battle for the rebound. 

But the trade-off is working for Miami. Despite being the 18th best defensive rebounding team, their high-pressure system is creating turnovers at the highest rate in the league, according to—which in turn feeds into their dangerous transition offense. 

One of the reasons why head coach Erik Spoelstra is one of the best in the league is his willingness to adjust. Instead of adhering to a specific system, he tailored his game plan to fit Miami's personnel.

Because they're not a great rebounding team to begin with, he threw that portion of the game under the bus in order to strengthen everything else.

Given their track record, it seems to be working.