HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Last season’s Miami Heat were the best shooting team in NBA history, with an effective field goal percentage of 55.2 percent. And through eight games, this season’s Heat have been better (58.9 percent).
It’s early, but the idea that Miami could sustain last year’s level of shooting is scary for the rest of the league. The Heat lead the league in offensive efficiency again, scoring 10.4 more points per 100 possession than the league average, the best mark since 1977-78, when turnovers were first counted.
The Heat’s defense is a story for another day. Coach Erik Spoelstra was looking for a better start on that end of the floor, because his squad was a bottom-10 defensive team through five weeks last season. But they’re there again, ranking 24th defensively through Thursday.
That the Heat lead the league in effective field goal percentage and offensive efficiency isn’t a surprise. What is a surprise is that they also lead the league in assist rate.
Miami has assisted on 71.7 percent of their field goals, the second-highest mark since the NBA-ABA merger, trailing only John Stockton and Karl Malone‘s last season in Utah.
Highest assist rate since 1976-77
This season’s Hawks are sixth on this list at 70.8 percent.
It’s hard to fathom that the Heat will sustain that rate over 82 games, but it is the continuation of a trend with the Heat. Each of the last two seasons, their assist rate has taken a big jump.
Heat assist rate, last four seasons
Historically, there’s never been a correlation between assist rate and offensive efficiency. There have always been great offensive teams with low assist rates (last year’s Thunder and Knicks are great examples) and bad offensive teams with high assist rates (like last year’s Bulls and Timberwolves). Heck, the Heat themselves ranked third in offensive efficiency when they ranked 25th in assist rate in LeBron James‘ first season in Miami.
But Spoelstra likes his team assisting more. The idea is that James and Dwyane Wade are more dangerous when the ball is moving … and when they’re moving themselves.
And James and Wade have seen the greatest jump in percentage of their buckets that have been assisted. In fact, they’ve seen their numbers go up every season in Miami.
Percentage of field goals assisted, James and Wade
|First 7 seasons||37.2%||28.8%||33.6%|
As difficult as it may have been to game plan against James in Cleveland, it has to be even tougher when he’s catching the ball a variety of locations around the floor.
We’re looking at only 126 baskets between the two of them this season. But it’s certainly a noticeable trend. And while there’s been transition highlights along the way, only 10 of the Heat’s 49 assists to James have come on fast breaks. Another six have come on the secondary break, but 33 have come in half-court situations (31) or out of bounds plays (two).
As good as the Heat are when James and Wade have the ball in their hands in isolation situations, they may be even more potent when the ball is moving. And the early signs are the ball is moving more than ever in Miami.