Heat Only Team Built to Stifle Young, Hawks


Trae Young just had his worst game of the season on national television.

His eight points was the least he has scored in a game since January 2021. His 1-for-12 shooting was matched once in his career, and that was during his rookie season. All that is without mentioning is 2:3 assist-to-turnover ratio.

This is all, of course, courtesy of the Miami Heat defense and the scheme employed to slow Young down.

The Context

Slowing Young down is absolutely a difficult feat. In the playoffs last season, no team could find the formula to do so along the Hawks’ Eastern Conference Finals run, and this is completely understandable; he’s one of the league’s top offensive players.

He’s good enough to be a one-man offense. While averaging 28.4 points and 9.7 assists per game with a 60.3 TS% on the season, he led the Hawks to the second-best Offensive Rating in the league. The Hawks’ offense was just Young pick and rolls, and it worked. Per nba.com, he was the ball handler in 1,066 possessions– 222 more than second-place Luka Doncic, and generated 0.97 points per possession.

They ran into the worst first-round matchup possible, however. The Heat were built to stop this Hawks team.

Similar to how the Bucks had five or six guys to throw at Jimmy Butler in last year’s playoff matchup, the Heat have a multitude of players that can be stuck onto Young, and this showed in Game 1. There wasn’t a singular matchup that Young could expect coming up the court. He saw Butler, Kyle Lowry, Gabe Vincent, PJ Tucker and Bam Adebayo.

They didn’t even bring Caleb Martin off the bench for this game.

Second, the Heat can switch ball screens better than any other team in the league. This is led by Adebayo (who deserved DPOY love), who switched more screens than any big in the league despite missing 26 games. Add the tough-minded Tucker, Lowry and Butler, and switching is easy for this team. The Heat can also easily switch against the Hawks because there isn’t a worry about any of their bigs or wings punishing smaller players.

That’s why Max Strus is switching, too.

The Film

The Heat came out ready. Just look at this first possession.

Lowry starts on Young, but after Young sets a quick screen for Kevin Huerter, Strus is on Young when he gets the ball back. Danilo Gallinari comes to set a screen for Young, and it’s a Tucker switch onto Young. Onyeka Okongwu comes to set a screen for Young but is then waved off. Gallinari sets a soft screen to force Strus to guard Young, and it leads to a poor lob attempt by Young.

There’s a lot to unpack here.

It’s no surprise the Heat look to switch everything with Lowry, Strus, Butler, Tucker and Adebayo out there. There’s no reason not to, as there’s no disadvantage they will be put in. The only downside could be having Strus on Young, but even then, look at this possession; that wasn’t an issue.

Look at the attention off ball. When Young is isolating Strus towards the end of the possession, Tucker is ready to pounce, continuously stunting. When Huerter — Lowry’s man — cuts with two seconds left, Adebayo steps up because Lowry is ready to jump the passing lane to Gallinari. Even Butler was stunting at the slightest Young move in his direction.

Young waving off Okongwu was undoubtedly with purpose. He doesn’t want to be guarded by Adebayo, and that was clear throughout the quarter. 

Quick pickups by Young. That second-to-last possession in particular shows why the Heat are comfortable with switching. It’s difficult for Young to make entry passes by Adebayo’s length, and Lowry is an incredibly tough defender. While Okongwu is much taller than Lowry, he doesn’t pose a threat that will stop the Heat from switching Lowry onto him in order to have Adebayo on Young.

And sheesh, that last possession. Young actually tries Adebayo and quickly realizes he was making the right business decision on all those prior possessions. Lowry is off-ball in the corner, continuously stunting to steer Young from a drive in his direction. And this is what it was: the off ball-movement and stunts of the Heat to keep Young on his toes.

While it ended in a foul by the Heat, there’s no way this isn’t tough for Young. After using screens all quarter, he finally denies one to get away from Adebayo, and there is Tucker in front of him, stunting to not let Young know his next move. Butler rotates from the opposite wing, leaving Strus to x-out (though the communication between these two on this play could be a little improved).

When Young found himself isolating on one side of the court for the first time in the game, it’s likely he didn’t go back to it for the rest of the game because of what he saw in front of him.

Oh, that came after a whole possession of four switches: Butler to Tucker to Adebayo to Strus. That’s just tough. Attacking Strus didn’t go well for Young — or the Hawks in general. The team shot a combined 3-for-12 when guarded by Strus.

It isn’t crazy to say Dewayne Dedmon doesn’t quite bring the versatility or athleticism that Adebayo brings, so it isn’t crazy to say the Hawks could go at him during the series. Well, it’s hard to go at a player when a team communicates and is in unison as much as the Heat defense was in this game.

Young calls for Gallinari to set a screen for him because Dedmon is guarding him, but he just passes him off to Butler, bringing on yet another switch to put Butler on Young rather than Dedmon. This ended in a mistimed lob by the Hawks.

All of this came before Vincent entered the game. He quickly made a statement.

The first quarter, to put it simply, was a defensive masterclass in every facet.

Given Young’s struggles on-ball in the first, it’s no surprise the Hawks looked to initiate actions with him off it in the second quarter. 

Switches killed it. Nothing. Young scored 0.5 points per possession on his pick and rolls this game.

Teams are finally respecting Adebayo. All regular-season long, teams would go at Adebayo following a switch, thinking they had a mismatch. It couldn’t be further from the truth. 

It’s also just as crazy that in order to get Adebayo off Young, they would rather have Butler — another world-class defender — guarding him. This defines the Heat’s defense; teams will have to pick their poisons throughout this postseason.

With a 20-point deficit opening the second half, Young wanted nothing to do with the Heat, routinely letting others get going on offense while standing 30 feet out. It’s tough to blame him; the Heat made it tough on him.

And to cap it all off, Young got his lunch money stolen by Lowry.

How many times was Young ripped like this during the season? The total number isn’t available, but the safe bet is not many. This, also, epitomized Lowry’s night guarding Young. Among Young defenders, Lowry guarded Young for the longest and held him to 0-5 shooting, along with that one turnover.

Granted, some of these shots will fall; Young is too good for them to keep missing. Especially those like this.

The defensive gameplan and scheme brought forth by Coach Erik Spoelstra and company was practically flawless in Game 1. Change is expected, however. The Hawks will find ways to adjust and get Young going, so the Heat will come out differently. The stunts and switches are to stay, but the particular details in which the Heat throw Young off his game are yet to be seen.

Spoelstra hasn’t even shown all of his cards. The player that Heat fans expected to be the “Trae stopper”, Caleb Martin, didn’t even see the court. He could find himself off the bench as yet another body that the Heat throw in Young’s direction.

And while, yes, the Hawks will adjust, it’s hard to believe that it’ll be enough to overcome the 1-0 deficit and defeat the Heat. The Heat looked too dominant with edges all over the board, including coaching and defense.

About Charlie Spungin

Twitter: @CharlieS3_

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