Heat: Where is the lob?

One reason I’m in favor of giving Dwyane Wade a chance to handle the ball at the end of close games for the Miami Heat is that he’s really good at getting the ball to LeBron James. We’ve seen Wade throw a Tom Brady-like alley-oop to LeBron that traveled almost the entire length of the court, in addition to throwing lobs while on the run during the season. The problem is we don’t see enough of Wade throwing lob passes to LeBron during halfcourt sets.

I went to the Synergy Sports website and called up the plays when LeBron has taken a pass while cutting through the lane in the halfcourt offense this season. I counted only five alley-oop plays (where all James had to do was dunk or drop the ball through the hoop without landing). I did the same thing for his last year in Cleveland and counted 14 alley-oops.

We forget how effective LeBron can be without the ball in part because he always seems to have the ball. But when you let him move on the weak side of the court and let him get the ball in motion you’re setting up one of the most unstoppable events in the NBA: LeBron James in fifth gear. It’s not as easy for him to get up to full speed when he’s dribbling in the halfcourt offense and the defense can load up against him.

Another incredible thing that happens when LeBron doesn’t have the ball: defenses can lose track of him. You’d think it would be impossible to forget about the best player on the court, but defenders lock in on the ball or they turn their head and then LeBron’s charging into the lane, unguarded.

The Heat aren’t getting the most out of Wade’s playmaking abilities. He’s taking 18 shots per game, one fewer than last year, not surprising given the addition of James and Chris Bosh. But with more talented teammates to pass to you’d expect his assists to go up, not down. Instead Wade is averaging a career-low 4.4 assists, down two from last season. But his turnovers remain the same at 3.3 per game.

On Sunday he said, “I’m used to, of course, coming down in the fourth quarter, having the ball, making mistakes, getting a chance to make up for them.”

Normally that means getting the chance to keep putting up shots even after a string of misses. That’s one of the privileges of being a superstar. But I think Wade would like a chance to create shots for others, even after he’s had a few turnovers. The easiest way to do that would be to incorporate more lobs to LeBron in the halfcourt offense.