Welcome to "One Play!" Throughout the 2019-20 NBA season, our NBA.com Staff will break down certain possessions from certain games and peel back the curtains to reveal its bigger meaning.
Today, with the dawn of their Eastern Conference Semifinals series against the Milwaukee Bucks upon us, Bam Adebayo and Duncan Robinson of the Miami Heat take the spotlight.
Context: You know that feeling when you know what's going to happen but there's absolutely nothing you can do to stop it?
That's how I imagine every coach in the league feels when they see Duncan Robinson curl around a screen and run full speed towards Bam Adebayo.
If that sentence has you confused, then you haven't been paying close enough attention to what's been going on in Miami this season. You'll never hear Robinson and Adebayo being mentioned as one of the league's best one-two punches - that's a list reserved for the likes of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, James Harden and Russell Westbrook, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George - but the two have been running circles around defences all season long with one simple play.
Here's how they've done it and why almost nobody has an answer.
The play: Adebayo hands the ball off to Robinson for a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer.
Breakdown: Adebayo brings the ball up the court following a missed shot from New Orleans Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday.
As soon as Adebayo crosses halfcourt, Robinson motions towards Kendrick Nunn, who is camping out in the corner closest to him, to let him know that he's coming to set a screen.
Nunn moves towards Robinson as he approaches the 3-point line.
According to NBA.com, Nunn generated nearly a fifth of his scoring off of screens and handoffs this season. Knowing that, Holiday follows Nunn step for step while Lonzo Ball drops back to put himself in better position in case Robinson either cuts backdoor or slips the screen.
The problem? Nunn doesn't actually use Robinson's screen ... and Robinson doesn't actually set a screen.
Before the two come in contact, Robinson and Nunn split.
The Pelicans are now in trouble.
Holiday is playing catchup with Nunn, as is Ball with Robinson. To make matters worse for Ball, Adebayo sets a screen on him after he hands the ball off to Robinson.
With Derrick Favors hanging a couple feet off of Adebayo and Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson both occupied with Jimmy Butler and Derrick Jones Jr. in the weakside, there's nobody in position to help Ball.
This is your reminder that Robinson took 8.3 3-pointers per game this season and converted them at a 44.6 percent clip. The only other player in NBA history to post those numbers in a single season? Stephen Curry. (He's done it twice).
If Robinson gets this sort of space...
...you might as well start making your way to the other end of the court.
Why it matters: Trivia time!
According to PBP Stats, Adebayo assisted Robinson on 78 3-pointers during the regular season.
Care to guess how many players in the league set up a teammate for more 3-pointers?
Not a single one.
The next most was Chris Paul to Danilo Gallinari (65), followed by Damian Lillard to CJ McCollum (62).
|Bam Adebayo||Duncan Robinson||78|
|Chris Paul||Danilo Gallinari||65|
|Damian Lillard||CJ McCollum||62|
|LeBron James||Danny Green||56|
|T.J. McConnell||Justin Holiday||55|
|Ja Morant||Dillon Brooks||54|
|DeMar DeRozan||Bryn Forbes||53|
|Ish Smith||Davis Bertans||53|
|Luka Doncic||Tim Hardaway Jr.||52|
|Luka Doncic||Dorian Finney-Smith||52|
|Spencer Dinwiddie||Joe Harris||51|
|Jrue Holiday||JJ Redick||50|
|Jimmy Butler||Duncan Robinson||50|
In other words, Adebayo gift wrapping a 3-pointer for Robinson happens a lot. So much, in fact, that it's become a huge part of Miami's success in the halfcourt.
According to NBA.com, Miami scored more points off of handoffs than any other team in the league this season. Robinson isn't the only player Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra ran handoffs for - again, Nunn scored a decent amount of his points off of those plays, as did Goran Dragic and Tyler Herro - but he's by far and away the most prolific. Robinson actually led the league in points scored off of handoffs and did so at an incredible rate of 1.38 points per possession, ranking him in the 98th percentile.
There's no public data on how many of those handoffs Adebayo was involved in, but it's safe to assume that it was the vast majority of them. Robinson logged the bulk of his minutes alongside Adebayo and Kelly Olynyk is Miami's only other big who can be on the giving end of a handoff.
It isn't just that Robinson was the league's biggest catch-and-shoot threat this season that makes those actions so difficult to defend either.
He might not be a big-time shooter off the dribble - not yet, anyway - but Robinson can put the ball on the floor once or twice before rising up for a 3-pointer.
He isn't a big-time scorer in the paint, but Robinson is smart enough to sense when his defender is cheating.
He isn't a big-time facilitator, but Robinson has gotten better at slipping passes to Adebayo on the roll when teams overhelp.
Oh, and Adebayo is more than capable of taking matters in his own hands.
Essentially, Adebayo and Robinson have close to every trick in the book. The defence's only real hope is to switch, but that requires having at least one defender who is big enough to guard Adebayo and quick enough to keep up with Robinson on the perimeter, of which there aren't many. (You're basically talking about the likes of OG Anunoby and Ben Simmons, although even they will struggle to defend Adebayo if he ever develops a post game).
The best part of it all? This is only the beginning.
Adebayo is in only his third season while Robinson is in his second. Who knows what the future will hold - Adebayo has yet to sign his rookie-scale extension and Robinson will be a restricted free agent after next season - but as long as they're on the same team, you can expect them to continue running circles around opponents with the same simple play.
As much of a nightmare as it must be to defend, it sure is a joy to watch.
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