Shane Battier has never been one to fill up stat columns with gaudy numbers nor has he ever been the type to end up on the positive end of highlight reels.
Battier isn’t a respected 11-year veteran because of ESPN. No, he’s one of the league’s most respected players because of his ability to compensate for his lack of athleticism with tenacious defense and corner three-pointers that always seem to come at the right time. He’s a warrior; willing to do to whatever it takes to get to victory, even if it means defending the opposition’s best player and being on the receiving end of some excellent games.
Guys like Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant are capable of going off sporadically against Battier, but they weren’t able to maintain any sort of offensive consistency in a seven-game series because of how aggressive and smart Shane plays on the defensive end. He’s the type of defender that will wear you down; always in your face and always sticking a hand in your face upon every shot.
NBA players can make it because they’re that good, but over a seven-game series? Not happening.
LeBron James may have ended up receiving a large majority of the credit for bringing home a title to the Heat, but it doesn’t happen without Battier stepping up and starting at power forward–a position that isn’t usually suited for 6’8″, 220-pound 33-year-olds. But the Heat were desperate for answers and with Udonis Haslem failing to deliver on a consistent basis, the Heat employed the services of Battier.
It was scary how badly Battier beat Serge Ibaka at his own position. Ibaka managed seven points, five rebounds and two blocks per in Oklahoma City’s NBA Finals matchup with the Heat. All the while, Battier was averaging 11 points and three boards per, while proving to be the x-factor in the series shooting a staggering 58 percent from beyond the arc. Battier averaged 37 minutes per, while Ibaka played only 26.
And it’s already beginning to show this year through the Heat’s first few preseason games. Opposing power forwards have no chance of defending Battier along the perimeter, which explains why he’s been unconscious in converting 54 percent of his three-point attempts. He’s beginning to make the shots he was missing last year’s regular season possibly as a result of the adjustment to catching-and-shooting while under little duress.
For a second consecutive season, Battier is going to have to end up playing a pivotal role on this Heat team if they intend to win a championship. He will be starting at power forward for the first time in his NBA career with the Heat electing to permanently move Chris Bosh to the center position, in order to compensate for the team’s lack of consistent and reliable height. The move now puts defenders in an awkward position knowing that they must defend the perimeter throughout a 48-minute contest.
As for rebounding and defending? It’ll have to be a team effort. Miami doesn’t rely heavily on man-to-man defense, instead relying more on a strategy that features all five players actively working together, constantly rotating and forcing the opposition into jumpers.
The Heat are so much more than a ‘Big Three’. It’s Shane Battier moving to a different position and playing against opponents with significant size advantages; it’s Mario Chalmers going off for 25 points in a game that would have sent the Heat back to Oklahoma City for Game 6 had they lost; it’s Norris Cole dropping eight quick points to cut a gargantuan Thunder lead in half within two minutes.
There’s a lot more than just LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, and the Heat aren’t winning a title without the ‘Little 12′, a moniker first made up by Udonis Haslem last year. Even Haslem, who struggled significantly last season with the lift on his shots, stepped up when needed most in the form of hitting a few jumpers near the end of Game 4 against the Indiana Pacers. Had he not hit those jumpers, the Heat could have been down 3-1 heading into Game 5.
All credit due to James, Wade and Bosh for their overwhelming influence that allows the role players to get open, but it still takes more than just being open to get the job done. It takes the rare ability to come alive at any given moment to support your All-Star teammates when the opposition is focusing primarily on three players. The role players are here to be that safety blanket in case they’re needed.
And they’ve been needed plenty. Battier for his perimeter defense, Chalmers for his three-point shooting, Miller for his versatility, Haslem for his rebounding, Joel Anthony for his shot-blocking; I could go on. Each of these players serve a significant purpose and each player has made several sacrifices–in the form of money and their standing on the court–in order to make themselves and their team better.
There’s no doubt you’ll end up seeing the same from Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis. Both will be expected to contribute as floor-spacers; as well as Allen as a ball-handler and Lewis as a rebounder.
Listen: the Miami Heat are one of the farthest teams away from being anywhere near perfect. The offense still stalls, there’s a daunting lack of size, they throw the ball around with too much carelessness; I can go on about this too. However, while the ‘Big Three’ quells those gargantuan holes, it’s the role players who are busy plugging up the little holes that get by the ‘Big Three’; things like shooting from the perimeter especially.
The Heat are betting a lot on their three-point shooters this year, which is why they used all the money they had available to attract the services of two of the league’s greatest three-point shooters to ever play. Game 5 against the Thunder proved that this team is unstoppable when the shooters are hitting their open jumpers. What better player to sign for those types of opportunities than Ray Allen, who is only the greatest shooter to ever live.
But it’s not just on Allen. Miami will still be expecting Mario to continue building off last year’s success and they’ll also expect Udonis to return back to the form he was in prior to the signings of the ‘Big Three’. There will be a lot expected out of Haslem this year with the team gambling on an experiment that’s going to put the undersized Battier at the four. Miami will be looking to Udonis has their strongest rebounder off the bench.
Miami’s bench is as strong as it’s ever been and is even in contention for one of the league’s deepest benches. In order to be known as such, however, they’ll be expected to perform as they did throughout last year’s postseason: as the guys who do all the little things to make life easier for the three All-Stars.