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Q & A: Talking numbers with Heat coach Erik Spoelstra

Discussion in 'NBA Dish' started by Octavianus, Jan 25, 2011.

  1. Octavianus

    Octavianus Member

    Feb 18, 2009
    Likes Received:
    A great read for people who love to know the insides and thoughts of coaches. Talks about statistics and numbers he uses to asses his team.

    Defence lovers will love the interview, as this coach lives and breaths defence.


    Too big to post all, so he's a breakdown.


    # How do the Heat maintain an airtight defensive system without an anchor like Dwight Howard or Kevin Garnett? By treating each possession like it’s a final exam. Screw up and the Heat’s coaching staff will dock you points -- literally. Spoelstra tells Schuhmann that the Heat grade each defensive possession according to 54 different criteria – which is all carried out by a lone scout Brian Hecker who’s been doing this for about a half-decade. Calling it a “thorough” documentation doesn’t begin to express how detailed the Heat’s charts are.

    Watching the Heat, you rarely witness a missed rotation that leads to a wide-open layup and the Heat’s micromanagement is a big reason why. That’s not to say other teams don’t chart plays extensively but 54 categories seems like an astounding number of criteria.
    # One of the newest statistics to hit the mainstream conversation is plus-minus. It’s a stat pilfered from hockey that counts the change in score when a player is on the playing field. It’s no surprise that Spoelstra keeps a close eye on the Heat’s individual and team plus-minus ratings given that he’s been studying basketball data for years before becoming the Heat’s head coach. When LeBron James and Dwyane Wade struggled to play with each other on the court, Spoelstra and his staff could already see it in the numbers as well as on the court. The data backed up their conviction. From the interview:

    “Sometimes, you have a hunch and then you find numbers that substantiate that, it makes either the staff or the players say, "OK, let's fix that." And that's a perfect example of that. I mentioned to them what the number was when they were on the court together. I said, ‘We're not going to hide from this. You guys are going to be on the court the majority of the time together. We've got to start the process of making those minutes more productive, learning how to do it, and making the game easier for each other.’”

    We’ve noted here that the Heat haven’t played well when Bosh leaves the floor and there’s no doubt that Spoelstra is fully informed about the exact numbers as he tells Schuhmann. Spoelstra also expressed to him that he’s careful not to read too far into the plus-minus numbers. This is something the basketball analytics community has stressed for years and it’s a nice breath of fresh air to see a coach endorse plus-minus numbers while also understanding its “correlation vs. causation” pitfalls that sometimes trip up analysts. That’s a clear sign of someone who “gets it.”
    # Are the Heat not scoring enough in the paint? The Heat take a ton of long 2s -- the most as a percentage of their total attempts, mind you -- and that’s a frustrating observation considering the offensive firepower the Heat employ. Schuhmann asked Spoelstra whether he was concerned about the Heat’s share of points in the paint and Spoelstra’s response is interesting. He points out that, yes, they don’t score many buckets in the paint but that it’s also a product of getting to the free throw line. Spoelstra even drops it in the conversation that the Heat rank third in free throws (of course, he knows that off the top of his head). James and Wade are masters at drawing contact at the basket and those trips to the charity stripe aren’t accounted for in the conventional points-in-the-paint statistic. But still, I think we can all agree that some of the team’s dependency on long 2s needs to be weaned out of the offense.

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