Ask any Miami fan, and he or she will quickly tell you the Heat is on the verge of becoming a dynasty. Even many fans of other teams will grudgingly admit the boys from South Beach have the potential to be great.
However, despite the signing of the “Three Kings” there’s been no dearth of criticism and nit-picking of the Heat, with many writers, analysts, and bloggers speculating about whether Miami has enough solid players surrounding the big three to truly succeed.
One of the most prevalent thoughts about the shortcomings of the Heat concerns Miami’s center, Joel Anthony. Many of these naysayers will point to his lack of scoring with giddiness and say to themselves, “See, they ain’t even got a center on that team, how they gonna win anything without a center?”
First, such a statement is ridiculous on its face. Sure, Joel isn’t a scoring machine, and if he were to average something like five points a game this upcoming season it would not only be a career high for him (he’s averaged 2.6 PPG over his three-year career so far), it would probably come as a shock to most.
Yet, it wouldn’t shock me.
His first season with the Heat he played in just 24 games, averaging about 21 minutes a game, and had a scoring average that rookie season of 3.5 PPG to go along with 3.9 RPG and 1.3 BPG.
Some of his numbers went down the next two seasons, as he averaged just 2.2 PPG, 3.0 RPG, and 1.4 BPG during the 2008-09 campaign, and 2.7 PPG, 3.1 RPG, and 1.4 BPG last year. However, while the number of games he played in significantly increased from 24 games to 65 games and then to 80 games, his minutes over those two seasons were pretty steady at approximately 16 MPG.
That’s not surprising considering we had Jermaine O’Neal during a majority of those two years, and the hopes of Heat fans rested solidly with him at the center position. Even before the Heat traded for O’Neal midway through the 2008-09 season, they were utilizing Mark Blount as well as Udonis Haslem at the center position for a good part of the beginning of that year.
Considering Riley just signed Anthony to the five-year contract he did, to me it would be amazing if his minutes didn’t increase to at least 20-24 per game over this coming season. Zydrunas Ilgauskas will certainly get 10-15 minutes per game in order to utilize his ability to pull opposing centers away from the basket with the range on his jumpshot, and Jamaal Magloire will come in occasionally to be the bruiser he is, but the majority of the minutes at the center position are likely to go to Joel.
With that said, I know it might be a stretch to expect Anthony to average five points a game, but I believe it’s easily attainable.
Beyond that, his scoring isn’t why he’s on the floor. Miami has plenty of scorers. In fact, they’ve got enough offensive talent many have speculated there won’t be enough balls for the “Three Kings” to maintain their career scoring averages. I’ve made it clear in numerous articles I believe this is hogwash, and have made arguments for the idea all three will actually see their stats go up a little, but that’s a debate for another day.
Joel Anthony was brought in by Riley not because of his scoring, but for a myriad of other reasons. He’s there to rebound, block shots, set picks, and provide a defensive presence inside. While he’s not come out in the pre-season and made anyone gasp with wonder at his prowess in these things, people need to remember, it is pre-season.
Joel has shown himself over the past three seasons to be excellent in all of these areas of play, especially blocking shots and setting picks. In fact, I’d dare to say that he’s as good at both of those things as any center in the NBA. His rebounding leaves a little to be desired, but he’s been working his tail off this offseason trying to improve his footwork and positioning, and I’m confident it’ll pay off once the season starts.
One thing that struck me as I began to do a little research for this piece is that there really aren’t many elite centers left in the NBA. Seriously, folks, beyond Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum, and Yao Ming when he’s healthy, the pickings are pretty damn slim at the center position in the association.
The NBA used to be a place where centers reigned. However, gone are the days when you saw such monsters as Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing, Dikembe Mutombo, and Shaquille O’Neal roaming the hardwood at the same time in their prime and all their glory. No, those days are gone forever.
Shaq is still playing, and is still relevant to a degree. In fact, beyond the aforementioned Howard, Bynum, and Ming, I’d say Shaq is probably the best true big man left in the NBA.
That’s not to say there aren’t centers out there who can’t play fabulously on any given day. Dallas has Brendan Haywood, whom Riley and the Heat would have loved to have signed, and he can certainly play the position well at times. Yet, would anyone truly consider him an elite center?
In his ten-year career, Haywood has averaged 7.7 PPG, 6.4 RPG, and 1.5 BPG, and has only averaged more than 10 points a game once in his career, and more than 10 rebounds per game once as well; and not in the same season. Hardly elite.
I could list all the rest of the others, and many of them have better numbers than Haywood, including Chris Kaman of the Los Angeles Clippers, Nené Hilario with the Denver Nuggets, Brook Lopez with the New Jersey Nets, Al Horford with the Atlanta Hawks, and Mehmet Okur with the Utah Jazz.
However, the most important question that needs to be focused on here isn’t whether any of these centers and others are good or not, it’s whether any of them would truly dominate Joel Anthony in a game to such a degree it would affect the outcome of a game.
In my opinion, that just ain’t gonna happen. Sure, 80 percent or more of the centers around the league will likely outscore and even outrebound Joel on any given night when the Heat play their teams. But if someone is going to try and tell me that Al Horford filling up the boxscore better than Anthony is gonna get a win for the Atlanta Hawks over my beloved Miami Heat, I’m gonna laugh in their face.
Whatever the discrepancy in scoring will be between a player like Horford and Anthony, the discrepancy in scoring between Miami’s “Three Kings” and the top three scorers on Atlanta will be three times greater. Any Hawk fan who believes the matchup of their center against Miami’s is going to win them a game is insane.
Simply put, Joel Anthony is what Miami needs right now at the position. He can run the floor well, he blocks shots better than most centers in the NBA, and has been the best big man on the Heat at setting picks his entire career so far.
He won’t win any games for Miami, but he’s never gonna lose any for them either. He’s there to do his job, and he’ll likely do it very well. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and others will do theirs as well, and will be the ones winning games for the Heat.
The season-opener against the Boston Celtics will likely prove my point out, as I believe Shaquille O’Neal and Jermaine O’Neal will almost certainly have a statline that dwarfs Anthony’s when the game is over. However, I expect Miami to fully dominate the Boston Celtics that night as well, and that’ll be a testament to how the Heat will fare throughout the season against other teams.
If Miami lucks out and Dexter Pittman truly develops into the big man he can be, or if they find a way to trade or draft another great big man, it’ll be great. Till then, we have Joel Anthony, and I’m of the opinion he’s gonna be more than good enough for this team to become a dynasty.
Tags: Al Horford Andrew Bynum Brendan Haywood Brook Lopez Chris Kaman Dexter Pittman Dikembe Mutombo Dwight Howard Hakeem Olajuwon Jamaal Magloire Joel Anthony Mark Blount Mehmet Okur Miami Heat NBA Nene Hilario Patrick Ewing Shaquille O'neal Three Kings Udonis Haslem Yao Ming Zydrunas Ilgauskas