There is a growing sentiment around the league that the Miami Heat organization is an appealing destination to Damian Lillard if he requests a trade from the Portland Trail Blazers. Ethan Skolnick of the Five Reasons Sports Network stated on June 15th that he was told that Lillard sees Miami as an attractive place if he were to ask out of Portland.
But does Damian Lillard make sense for the Miami Heat? Yes, and no. The Miami Heat will likely use him as a floor spacer if he were to join the team next season. Miami runs an offensive system revolving around dribble handoffs and pick and rolls.
They were second in the league during the regular season in dribble handoffs, averaging 8.3 possessions per game. Head Coach, Erik Spoelstra, gave 42.2 of those possessions to starters Duncan Robinson and Jimmy Butler, as they combined to average 3.5 per game.
On the other hand, the Heat were 22nd in pick and roll possessions, averaging 17.9 per game. The team handed Jimmy Butler 36.9 percent of those possessions, as he averaged 6.6 per game. The structure of the Heat’s offense puts all the other players in the position where they spent most of the minutes as floor spacers.
For example, starting point guards Victor Oladipo, and Kendrick Nunn attempted over 36 percent of their shots from behind the arc, averaging 4.3 and 5.7 per game, respectively. At least 73.7 percent of those attempts were catch-and-shoots as Oladipo and Nunn averaged 4.0 and 4.2 per game, respectively.
Let’s take a look at why it makes more sense for the Miami Heat to pursue Devonte’ Graham over Damian Lillard this offseason.
Lillard has the skills to thrive as a floor spacer as he has converted 40.0 percent of his catch and shoots since 2013 on 2.7 attempts per game. Catch-and-shoots accounted for 32.5 percent of his shots, as he shot 37.6 percent from behind the arc on 8.3 attempts per game.
Although Lillard would be a great fit on the court for the Heat, the problem with acquiring Damian Lillard resides off the court. Damian Lillard will make over $39.2 million in each of the following four seasons. Therefore, to justify paying Damian Lillard over $39.2 million, the Heat would have to give him a more prominent offensive role.
For example, Lillard has thrived in the role of a primary ball-handler. He has averaged 11.7 pick and roll possessions since 2015, shooting 44.5 percent from the field on 9.2 attempts per game. The shooting percentage has allowed him to score 12.3 points per game in the pick and roll: 45.2 percent of his scoring output.
Lillard has been able to pair his pick-and-roll success with isolation success as well. He has averaged 4.1 isolation possessions, per game, since 2015: shooting 40.3 percent from the field on 3.2 attempts per game. In addition, the field goal percentage helped him score 4.2 points in isolation: 15.4 percent of his scoring output.
Lillard’s on-the-ball skill set has accounted for 60.6 percent of his scoring output, as he has combined to average 16.5 points per game. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that he will be able to get a significant amount of time as a primary ball-handler due to the deficiencies of his hypothetical co-star, Jimmy Butler.
Butler’s shooting has gotten worse outside of the restricted area since 2019. Before 2019, Butler shot 37.5 percent outside of the restricted area on 9.7 attempts per game. He has declined 3.1 percent since 2019, shooting 34.4 percent outside of the restricted area on 8.1 shots per game.
The decline can be connected to an injury that he suffered in January of 2019, as he sustained a sprained right wrist. Consequently, if the Heat gives Damian Lillard more time on the ball, Jimmy Butler’s defender will leave Butler wide open, increasing the likelihood that Lillard has to take a contested shot.
One would assume that a possible way out of this situation would be to stagger Butler and Lillard. But, unfortunately, that is not the case, as league insiders expect backup point guard Goran Dragić to be back for at least another season. David Aldridge of The Athletic ($$$) believes that the Miami Heat will give Dragić another short term deal this offseason.
Dragić ranked second on the team in pick and roll possessions, behind Butler, as he averaged 5.1 per game during the regular season. Although it is known that Dragić can play off the ball, as he made 38.6 percent of his catch and shoots since 2013 on 2.5 attempts per game, catch and shoots have contributed to him shooting 37 percent from behind the arc on 4 shots per game.
It is unlikely that Erik Spoelstra will remove him from the ball handler role as he refused to do it when Victor Oladipo was a part of the team for four games. Before arriving in Miami, Oladipo
excelled in the primary ball handler role as he averaged 7 pick and rolls per game, shooting 41.5 percent from the field on 5.6 attempts per game.
The field goal percentage allowed him to score 5.9 points per game: 32.1 percent of his scoring output. However, upon arriving in Miami, his pick and roll possessions dropped by 46.5 percent as he only averaged 3.8 per game.
Playing Damian Lillard off the ball loses value for the Miami Heat
Therefore, it is likely that Lillard will spend a lot of time off the ball in the Miami Heat system. Furthermore, Miami’s offense makes it ill-advised for the team to acquire Lillard due to his contract. More importantly, Portland will want a trade package similar to the big trades we have seen in recent memory.
For instance, the Milwaukee Bucks traded two first-round picks and two pick swaps to acquire Jrue Holiday from the New Orleans Pelicans. Two months later, the Brooklyn Nets traded four first-round picks to acquire James Harden from the Houston Rockets. Those packages would be excessive for the Miami Heat to give up for Damian Lillard just to be a floor spacer.
Consequently, the Miami Heat would be better off looking at floor spacers which would cost significantly less. For example, Devonte’ Graham converted 42 percent of his catch and shoots on 3.3 attempts per game.
Catch and shoots accounted for 45.8 percent of his total attempts, as he shot 36.7 percent from behind the arc on 7.2 shots per game. More importantly, Graham is a restricted free agent projected to make below 15 million dollars per year on his next contract.
Devonte’ Graham’s projected yearly salary would be at least $24 million less than Lillard’s next year. In conclusion, the Miami Heat’s offense structure indicates that Lillard will spend most of his minutes as a floor spacer, and that is too little of a role for the salary he will make over the next coming season.