How much is Heat’s three-point shooting issue hurting the offense? A closer look

Nell Redmond/AP

The Miami Heat’s offense would obviously be better if more three-pointers went in. But just how much better?

Even Heat guard Tyler Herro is curious to know.

“I would be interested to see if our three-point shooting was at X percent, where that would take our offensive rating to,” Herro said.

Using this season’s volume of 1,797 three-point attempts, the Heat’s offensive rating be ranked 12th best if it shot the league-average of 36.4 percent from three-point range.

If the Heat could replicate its NBA-best team three-point percentage of 37.9 percent from last regular season, its offensive rating would jump to fifth best this season.

But the reality is the Heat has been one of the NBA’s worst three-point shooting teams this season, entering Monday with the 27th-ranked team three-point percentage at 33.4 percent. Those struggles have Miami with the league’s fourth-worst offensive rating through the first 51 games of the season.

“If we made more threes, obviously, we would be a better offense,” Herro said, with the Heat continuing its four-game trip on Tuesday against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse (7 p.m., Bally Sports Sun). “But we haven’t made them.”

The Heat’s seasonlong three-point shooting issues continued in Sunday’s ugly 122-117 loss to the struggling Charlotte Hornets to begin the trip. After making eight of its first 20 three-point attempts (40 percent) through the first three quarters, Miami shot just 2 of 11 (18.2 percent) from deep in the fourth quarter to finish the game an inefficient 10 of 31 (32.3 percent) on threes.

What makes the Heat’s three-point shooting regression hard to explain is the fact that the players taking the shots haven’t really changed much from last season. It’s just that nearly every single one of them has taken a step back in that area of their game this season.

Caleb Martin is shooting a team-best 37 percent from three-point range this season after shooting 41.3 percent from deep last season.

Herro is also shooting a team-best 37 percent from deep this season after shooting 39.9 percent on threes last season.

Max Strus is shooting 33.9 percent from beyond the arc this season after shooting 41 percent from three-point range last season.

Kyle Lowry is shooting 33.5 percent on threes this season after making 37.7 percent of his threes last season.

Duncan Robinson is shooting 33.1 percent from deep this season after making 37.2 percent of his threes last season.

Gabe Vincent is shooting 32.6 percent from three-point range this season after converting on 36.8 percent of his threes last season.

In addition, Victor Oladipo is shooting just 29.8 percent on 4.8 three-point attempts per game this season after missing most of last season because of injury.

Add all that up and the Heat is shooting just 33.4 percent on 23.6 catch-and-shoot three-point attempts per game this season for the second-worst percentage in the NBA, compared to 38.1 percent on 24.7 catch-and-shoot three-point attempts per game last season.

So many on the Heat’s roster have declined in terms of three-point shooting that Jimmy Butler has been the team’s most efficient player on catch-and-shoot threes this season, making a team-best 36.1 percent of those shots on one attempt per game. Herro, Strus, P.J. Tucker and Martin each shot 40 percent or better on catch-and-shoot threes for the Heat last season.

“Just got to keep shooting,” Strus said. “There’s really nothing else to it. We’re getting good looks. We’re getting great shots. Just got to find a way to make them and I think tides will turn eventually.”

Strus is right, the Heat is missing a lot of open three-point looks. Miami is shooting just 34.5 percent on 29.4 open and wide open three-pointers per game (defined as those when the closest defender is more than four feet away) this season compared to 39 percent on 28.5 of those type of three-point opportunities per game last season.

“I don’t think we’re taking bad shots. I don’t think we’re getting bad looks,” Vincent said. “We maybe could shoot a few more of them and hunt for a couple more. But at the end of the day, it’s 50-50 when that ball goes up in the air. We got a lot of great shooters, a lot of guys I believe in, myself included. We’re going to continue to shoot those shots and let them fall and go from there.”

A few Heat players pointed to the way opponents have defended its three-point game this season as one of the factors behind the team’s shooting struggles.

“I think teams have scouted our handoffs and stuff like that,” Herro said. “My first two years and even Duncan and Max, when nobody knows who you are, you come off a handoff and you’re wide open. That’s a little different. But now that teams have scouted us, things aren’t as easy. So it’s going to take more than just one handoff. It might take two drives to a handoff to another drive and then a three.”

Strus added: “Everybody knows I can shoot now. Everybody kind of knows who I am now. But I think teams know what we want to do and obviously their job is to take us out of our tendencies. So I think they’ve been doing a great job of that.”

Players have also spoken about the different ways the Heat is generating three-point looks this season, as it runs more pick-and-rolls and isolations to put its best players such as Bam Adebayo, Butler and Herro in position to attack the paint.

“This year we’re attacking the paint a lot more,” Vincent said. “We have a lot more attackers and a lot more guys that can get into the paint. We try to find our threes when we can.”

Lately there have simply been fewer three-point attempts, with the Heat instead leaning into its paint and midrange offense amid its ongoing problems from beyond the arc. Coach Erik Spoelstra’s goal since last season has been for the Heat to reach at least 40 three-point attempts each game, but it hasn’t reached that mark in over a month.

Through the end of December, 39.3 percent of the Heat’s shot attempts were threes and 31.3 percent were midrange looks. Since the start of January, those numbers have flipped with 33.5 percent of Miami’s shots coming from three-point range and 38.3 percent coming from midrange.

Considering that the Heat is also among the teams that take the fewest shots at the rim, its shot chart is not set up for efficiency. Miami shot chart is so sub-optimal that its location effective field-goal percentage (if a team shot league average from each location based on its shot chart) is ranked fifth-worst in the NBA since the start of January, according to Cleaning the Glass.

“We just got to find ways to get up more shots,” Lowry said. “... We’re getting shots, but we’re playing a little bit through Bam a lot and he’s playing well. We’re playing pocket passes and getting Bam the ball, and it kind of changes the spacing on the floor also. But there’s no excuses for us.”

Even after Sunday’s loss in Charlotte, the Heat has still won 16 of its last 24 games to reach the 51-game mark at 28-23 behind a top-five defense. Miami has actually won a lot of those games in spite of its three-point shooting issues.

Whether that’s a sustainable winning formula, especially as the competition gets tougher, remains to be seen. But one thing is for sure: This formula leaves a very thin margin for error.

“Just got to keep shooting them and hopefully they start falling,” Strus said.