The Miami Heat came into the offseason knowing that changes had
to be made.
Fresh off a Finals appearance, the Heat mostly underwhelmed last
season. The circumstances were understandable – COVID, injuries,
general fatigue due to a shortened offseason just to list a few –
but the results are hard to dismiss. The defense, due to the heavy
(and mostly soft) switches never felt as good as it ended up being
(110.7, 10th in the NBA). The offense, devoid of shot creation and
hampered by shooting regression, fell off a cliff.
A groove was found toward the end of the season, but was
abruptly snatched away by the eventual-champion Milwaukee Bucks in
the first round. Jimmy Butler turned in the worst playoff series of
his career; ditto for Bam Adebayo, whose creation limitations were
on full display against Milwaukee's deep drop.
The Heat didn't just need a jolt in the arm; they needed to be
reshaped. They were able to do that, adding some toughness and
(theoretical) shooting in the frontcourt with the signings of PJ
Tucker and Markieff Morris.
Their big move, of course, was a sign-and-trade. Out went Goran
Dragic and bouncy Precious Achiuwa, in came six-time All-Star Kyle
Lowry and his three-year, $85 million deal.
Lowry had his own struggles last season, missing 26 games due to
a mixture of injury and maintence.
(Let's be real, Lowry and the Toronto Raptors had little to play
for toward the end of last season.)
Still, he was productive when available, averaging 17.3 points
(shooting 49.3% on twos, 39.6% on threes), 7.3 assists and 5.4
rebounds. In games that Lowry played, the Raptors were over five
points worse per 100 possessions when he was off the floor. That continues a
multi-year trend of the Raptors being a completely different team
with Lowry than without him.
While DeMar DeRozan, Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam took turns
carrying the primary scoring load during Lowry's Raptors tenure, he
always operated as the engine, the organizer. His blend of driving,
playmaking and pull-up shooting juiced offenses, while his defense
– on-ball and off – played a major part in the team defending at a
The Heat are expecting a similar level of impact on both ends.
Let's take a look at the specifics of Lowry's game, and how he
projects to gel with his new team.
The Erik Spoelstra-led Heat don't play fast. You'd have to go
back to the 2011-12 season – the first of two titles in the Big
Three Era – to find a Heat team that didn't rank in the bottom
third of the league in pace.
That number doesn't tell the full story, of course. Selective
running exists; it's not impossible to be a squad that hunts early
looks before grinding things to a halt. The Heat loosely qualified
last season – they ranked 29th in overall pace, but 12th in the
percentage of looks that came via transition, per Cleaning The
Glass. But look at the year-by-year numbers, and the trend becomes
clear: the Heat want to grind you, period.
The Raptors have played much faster. They've ranked in the top
five of transition frequency in each of the past three seasons.
Lowry has been a figurative and literal driver of this; he's graded
in the 70th percentile or better in transition (assists included)
in four of the past five seasons, per Synergy.
Lowry's a versatile threat in open-floor scenarios. With him
being one of the better guard rebounders in the NBA, he's able to
jumpstart possessions by his lonesome. He's not just a willing and
efficient pull-up shooter; he's an artist in that regard.
He's then able to use the threat of the pull-up to head-fake and
bully his way to the rim against back-pedaling defenders.
Hit-aheads are within his wheelhouse as a passer, as well as
traditional dump-offs and kick-outs. On occasion, he operates as
the league's smallest stretch big by operating as the trail man and
stepping into triples, or filling gaps as a cutter.
Lowry won't turn the Heat into the Seven-Seconds-or-Less Suns by
himself, but he'll inject some life into their attack. His ability
to pressure the rim will be a welcome addition to a team that
didn't do so at a high level – not if your name wasn't Jimmy
Butler, at least.
What the Heat have lacked in terms of rim attackers, they make
up for in off-ball movers. Lowry's ability to bob and weave through
traffic should serve as a natural complement to The Others in that
regard. Just helping the Heat get into their offense a little
earlier should pay immediate dividends.
PICK YOUR (P&R) POISON
Lowry has long been one of the NBA's most dynamic threats in
ball-screen scenarios. Lowry graded in the 48th percentile as a
pick-and-roll ball-handler (passes included) last season, per
Synergy. That number is dubbed as "average" in the database, but
it's worth factoring in the injury and Tampa weirdness of last
Zoom out, and that 48th-percentile mark is easily the lowest
mark of Lowry's Raptors tenure. In fact, Lowry ranked in the 84th,
91st, 83rd percentile in the three seasons prior.
Lowry is a quick processor on the floor. Combine that with a
threatening pull-up jumper (and a quick trigger to boot), and you
have a player who can dice teams up if he's paired with an
Creep up to take away his jumper, and Lowry can slip in pocket
passes or toss early lobs to rollers. If your big is hedging out
and doesn't 1) move his feet well or 2) doesn't have a keen
understanding of angles, Lowry's able to drive past the hedge and
cause further panic.
Playing a deep drop against Lowry is asking for trouble. His
trigger is too quick and jumper is too buttery. He'll flow into
pull-ups until you cry "uncle." Switching can also be problematic
if you aren't able to chew up space in the process.
What makes Lowry unique is that he's able to play in both sides
of ball screens. He doesn't mind getting his hands dirty, operating
as the screener for bigger ball-handlers. It's easy to envision
Lowry screening for Butler to create late-game mismatches, or Lowry
replacing Duncan Robinson as the screener for Adebayo as part of
their "rub" actions.
Lowry represents something new for the Heat: an on-ball guard
with the ability to draw two to the ball. As good as Dragic was,
his slow load-up on jumpers allowed defenses to play more
conservatively. As effective as Dragic was as a driver, his
physical, jerky style isn't the type to force defenses into
The suddeness of Lowry, as a driver and shooter, should cause
different reactions. The threat of the pull-up can open up more
short-roll opportunities for Adebayo. Extra eyeballs on that
two-man action can lead to relocation opportunities for Robinson,
or slot cuts for Butler.
If the Heat were able to get good mileage out of inverted ball
screens with Butler and Dragic, why wouldn't the Butler-Lowry combo
work once factoring in Lowry's movement shooting?
The fit is a pretty snug one.
One of the many fun parts of Lowry's game is that he doesn't
quit moving. He'll probe pick-and-rolls to their logical end, then
probe some more. He'll straight-line attack, loop around, give the
ball up, then find a pocket to fill.
He's just as likely to fill the wing in transition as he is to
set a random drag screen for a big ball-handler. He'll set up shop
in a corner, only to fly above the break to stress a help defender.
Impromptu screens in the half-court; random handoffs when the
initial action breaks down; quick trips to the dunker spot. You
name it, Lowry will do it.
Lowry remains infuriating to dribble against. He's strong and
physical, able to impede the path of enemy ball-handlers. He's also
a trickster, to be kind. Attempt to dole out the same physicality
that he does, and the Hardenian head-jolts will come out. He falls
firmly in the "love-him-on-your-team, hate-him-otherwise" camp
because of it.
Between injury and aging, it's fair to say that Lowry has fallen
out of the All-Defensive class. But he remains a positive as a
point-of-attack defender, able to swim, rip and spin around picks
like a defensive end. Attachment became an issue against the
league's quicker guards – a natural issue for a 35-year-old point
guard – but it was still rare to see him
completely out of a play.
That Lowry can still navigate screens well is a positive for
Miami. That allows them some scheme versatility when necessary.
During the Heat's Finals run in 2019-20, they transitioned from a
drop-coverage team to a switch-heavy squad. They practically punted
on drop coverage last season, largely because their non-Gabe
Vincent guards couldn't stay attached consistently. Lowry can
change the math on that a bit.
And if there's worry about Lowry's foot speed, the Heat can
simply continue leaning into the switching element of their
defense. Lowry's strength may be his best physical asset at this
stage. He's been able to punch well above his weight for years now,
making big-on-small matchups less intimidating than they appear on
If all else fails, there will be charges. Lots of charges. An
infuriating amount of charges if you're on the other side of the
coin. Not only is Lowry a master at weakside rotations, he simply
doesn't give a bleep about his own safety.
There are concerns to be had. Lowry did experience some physical
slippage last season. While it wasn't enough to make him a
negative, there's always the fear of the bottom falling out with
smaller, older guards.
Lowry won't be tasked with being the top scoring option, but
within a championship lens, it's a bit problematic that he may be
Miami's best shot creator late in games. He's a player who can
score, but not necessarily who you want to feed a
heavy dose of isolation possessions to.
But the positives should outweigh the negatives here. At
minimum, Lowry complements Miami's other stars on just about every
level. His presence should make it easier to sit one of Butler and
Adebayo without fear of the second unit hemorrhaging
The inverse is also true; Butler and Adebayo will make life
easier on Lowry. If Lowry's rim pressure declines, Butler and
Adebayo are capable of picking up the slack. More off-ball reps for
Lowry won't be a bad thing; he's a strong shooter and a smart
A healthier, rejuvenated Lowry will absolutely help this Heat
team. The jury is out on if he'll be enough to lift the Heat into
the Bucks-Nets tier at the top of the East. At the very least,
he'll put them in the tier below. And as we saw in 2020, all the
Heat need is a chance.