July 11 2012; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat player Rashard Lewis (center) holds up his jersey next to president Pat Riley (left) and head coach Erik Spoelstra during a press conference at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

Miami Heat: Should Rashard Lewis Become the Team’s Starting Power Forward


For once, the Miami Heat aren’t speaking of how to occupy the point guard or center positions. No, those are nearly set in stone with Mario Chalmers set to run the point after an excellent postseason and Chris Bosh to start at center due to the individual success the Heat saw from him on the boards, as well as his ability to stretch the floor and draw out the opponent’s best post defender.

Strangely enough, it’s the power forward spot that is up for grabs this time around. The spot was previously occupied by Bosh the previous two seasons, but with the coaching staff experiment Bosh at center and warranting positive results, they may just end up keeping him at the five for good. If the coaching staff plans to start Bosh at the five, it’ll leave an obvious void in at the four.

So who would end up taking the spot?

Perhaps it could be Shane Battier. Although he may not have the build of your average power forward, Battier put his versatility as a player who can defend multiple positions to work in the postseason. Battier spent time defending David West, Kevin Garnett, Brandon Bass, Serge Ibaka and even Kendrick Perkins as a result of Bosh’s injury. However, even with Bosh back on the floor, the Heat elected to continue starting him at the four because of his effects on both sides of the floor.

As we all know, his defense is incredible and it’s proven to stand the test of time. His offense is what could land him a starting job. Because he’s naturally a small forward who can shoot three’s, Battier found himself being defended by post players who don’t usually stray as far out as the perimeter. With Battier and Bosh on the floor, the Heat rendered Perkins and Ibaka nearly useless as they couldn’t keep up with the Heat’s smaller and more efficient lineup.

However, Battier still has size working against him and the Heat wouldn’t elect to have themselves at another disadvantage in the size category. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Heat started Battier at the four because that’s how they left off in the NBA Finals, but it may not last considering he would work just as well coming off the bench and relieving LeBron James of his defensive duties and being yet another perimeter threat off the bench.

If not Battier, then how about the Heat’s legendary blue-collar worker Udonis Haslem?

Haslem has been the Heat’s power forward since 2003 and was the starter for the 2006 championship team. He was a consistent starter from 2004 until 2009, when Michael Beasley would eventually take over the starting position. Haslem has been on the bench since, although he did start ten games last year with the Heat mixing up their lineups, attempting to find a perfect combination at the four and five.

What Udonis brings to the table is work ethic and a never-give-up mentality. He’s the warrior of this team because he’s come up big in so many situations, he’s backed his teammates up when they need him and is willing to do whatever it takes to help his team to victory, even if it means taking a significant paycut or giving up your starting job to a second-year player.

However, what’s keeping Udonis from a starting job is what the Heat saw last year. It was a depressing sight to see Haslem constantly missing his patented mid-range jumper and not possessing the same lift he had in years past. Whether it was because he wasn’t fully recovered from the torn ligament injury he suffered back in 2010 or because of the lockout, Haslem just didn’t look or play like himself and it hurt the Heat.

Haslem averaged a career-low six points on only 42 percent shooting, but did finish with a solid 7.3 rebounds per off the bench. By season’s end, he appeared to be more comfortable and began hitting his shots. While he may be the best defensive answer at the four, the coaches will be on the lookout to see if the 32-year-old Haslem has regained his lift and the jump shot the Heat need him to hit to spread the floor.

Battier and Haslem are formidable options to have at the four, but they may not start if the recently acquired Rashard Lewis is able to impress in training camp and preseason.

Signing for the veteran’s minimum, Lewis has mostly been looked at as a punchline over the past few seasons due to his unreasonable salary and the below-average play he had accompanying it. With injuries taking a heavy toll on his game, Lewis only played in 28 games last year with Washington and struggled mightily, converting only 24 percent of his three-pointers and 39 percent of his shots overall.

Lewis was then traded to New Orleans where he would be bought out of his contract. The $13 million he made as a result explains why he was willing to take the veteran’s minimum of only $1 million for the season. Needless to say, when the Miami Heat came calling, Lewis answered. Not to mention that he’ll also be reunited with Ray Allen; the two had previously played in Seattle together forming one of the league’s top duos.

What Lewis provides to the Heat as a starter is a second player in the starting lineup who can stretch the floor from beyond the perimeter, with the other starter being Chalmers. However, what Lewis provides from beyond the perimeter is far more essential than what Mario provides because of who’s guarding him. Any guard can defend the perimeter, but it takes a skilled power forward to be able to defend out to the perimeter.

Lewis has been known to make the opposition pay. After all, he is a 39 percent career shooter from beyond the arc that had shot as well as 40 percent and was converting nearly three three-pointers per game only three years ago. The capability is still within him; the Heat just need to hold out hope that his knees hold up and that he can remain healthy.

If Lewis proves to the Heat that he can still shoot and be somewhat active on the boards, he could be a shoo-in at the four. However, the team will also take a close look at his defensive capabilities to see if he can keep his man in front of him. With so much stress on defense on this team, it wouldn’t come as a surprise if the Heat have Haslem or Battier start, while Lewis is utilized as a perimeter spark off the bench.

Still, Lewis has a lot to prove. He wants to show that he’s not just here for the ride and play a key role on the team as one of its top shooters. With some motivation on his side and a commitment to bounceback from two forgetful seasons, Lewis could end up pushing hard for that vacant spot at the four.

After all, who wouldn’t be motivated as a shooter to get into the same lineup as LeBron James?

 

 

Tags: Miami Heat Rashard Lewis Shane Battier