A few weeks back, I wrote a piece dealing with the Miami Heat’s brand new dilemma at who to start at power forward.
With the team electing to go with Chris Bosh as their new starting center, it has left the Heat in a situation where they must find a new starter at a position they had no prior problems at before. However, the Heat’s series against the Oklahoma City Thunder proved a lot of things, including the fact that opponents have trouble instilling a center who can keep up with Chris Bosh. The fact that Bosh was so effective in neutralizing Kendrick Perkins has left the rest of the NBA on notice, forcing them to concoct a plan that can somehow keep Bosh’s production limited.
Bosh didn’t have everything to do with the Heat’s success against Oklahoma City’s frontcourt. The Heat’s decision to continue starting Shane Battier at the power forward position may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back in convincing the team to run a small-ball lineup. Serge Ibaka, last year’s leading regular season shot-blocker with 3.7 bpg, averaged only two and had 10–five coming in Game 2–through the entire five-game series.
How’d this happen? Because he was busy defending a 6’8″ small forward who spends the majority of offensive possessions residing in the corner of the floor. Ibaka still played 26 minutes per game, but was beaten in nearly every statistical category by someone who was playing out of position and couldn’t nearly match in terms of their physical statures. And yet, it’s Battier averaging 11.6 points, shooting 61 percent from the field and an absurd 58 percent from beyond the arc.
Ibaka averaged seven points on 42 percent shooting to go along with five boards, which was nearly matched by Battier who was grabbing 3.4 per. Battier was also featured in 55 more minutes than Ibaka, who became nearly non-existent on the floor and had his highest scoring game come in Game 1 when he dropped ten points.
Plain and simple, Battier drastically outplayed someone at their own position. And not just anyone, either, but a Defensive Player of the Year candidate who could have ended up playing a large role in the deterrence of Heat slashers. Coach Erik Spoelstra, being the genius mind he is, decided that having Ibaka, as well as Perkins, defend a perimeter player was the best way to keep the Thunder’s famed shot-blockers and defenders out of the lane.
That’s the effect of dragging a post player out to the perimeter; they can’t play it that well because their feet aren’t quick enough to keep up with the average small forward. Throwing Shane Battier and Chris Bosh out in the starting lineup gives the Heat three significant perimeter threats and two of the league’s deadliest slashers to accompany them.
Opponents are left with the pick-your-posion choice of allowing drives by Wade and James or giving up three-pointers to some of the league’s top shooters, even Bosh who is quietly developing a three-point stroke.
Battier’s move to the four was facilitated not just because of Bosh’s absence, but because there wasn’t much of a choice. Miami didn’t want to force LeBron James into constantly playing at the four and Udonis Haslem wasn’t an option because of how below-average he had played throughout the year. When it came down to it, the team thought they would find more success in going with the crafty, healthy veteran and not the pure power forward who only ended up playing 81 minutes in the entire NBA Finals.
But now that Udonis is healthy and appears to have regained his shot, we should expect to see him back at power and Battier on the bench, right? Not quite.
In three preseason games, Battier has started at power forward each time, with Udonis yet to play and Rashard Lewis struggling to get his legs back under his shot. I argued in favor of Haslem starting when I wrote my previous article on the subject, but even I’m beginning to be more on the fence of the idea of Battier starting at a position that isn’t natural to him. After all, this team did just win a title partly because Battier was the starter at power forward.
And as the old saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
However, the Heat also need to realize that running with Battier at the four could make a weak part of their game even more weaker. The Heat have always been perceived as a team that’s soft in the middle, even when they had true centers in guys like Erick Dampier, Ronny Turiaf and Dexter Pittman starting at the five. Making Bosh move to the five is one thing, but also having a 34-year-old that stands at 6’8″ at power forward? Obvious rebounding and defensive concerns arise.
I know it’s only preseason, but DeAndre Jordan and that 8-of-8 performance against a foul-prone Chris Bosh, as well as Jordan and Blake Griffin combining for 19 rebounds, in Shanghai wasn’t encouraging.
Miami can only hope that the perimeter presence’s of Bosh and Battier offset the rebounding and size advantages they give up down low, such as last year’s NBA Finals success when Perkins and Ibaka became non-threats. Battier is an excellent defender who can actually hold his own against certain opposing four’s, but is he the right player for the long-run? Would running Udonis Haslem, a pure power forward, at the four be the best choice to aid Bosh in his rebounding battles?
The Heat’s experimentation should prolong into the regular season, where they will most likely use it as their laboratory before testing out the finished product in the postseason.