For the first time in the young 2012-’13 campaign, the Miami Heat will face its first true test of how well they can respond to adversity.
Starting power forward Shane Battier was diagnosed with a sprained MCL that has him listed as day-to-day and will most likely keep him out for a “few games”.
The injury occurred after Udonis Haslem fell to the floor and rolled into Battier’s ankle late in the third quarter of the Heat’s win against Cleveland. Battier immediately jogged off the court and into the lockerroom and would not return. The Heat ended up giving extended minutes to Haslem and Mike Miller, who has been getting more play with coach Spoelstra’s recent decisions involving a shake-up of the bench rotation.
A rotation that once featured Rashard Lewis has now forced Lewis to the bench and a pair of DNP’s. In his place, Miller and Joel Anthony have received minutes. That’s some coincidental timing by Spoelstra to give opponents a different look, especially at positions Battier has been featured at throughout the season. What it has done has given the Heat a new look at different lineups, including defensive-minded lineups featuring Joel and pace-and-space lineups with Miller.
No other role player on the team, with the exception of Ray Allen, comes close to providing what Battier has given the Heat in his tenure. Even when he shot a career-low 34 percent from beyond the arc last year, Spoelstra still kept Battier on the court because of how essential he was on the defensive end of the floor. Battier was capable of guarding four positions and allowed LeBron James to garner some needed rest when it came to who the Heat threw at the opposition’s best player.
In the playoffs, Battier and James took turns defending Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant. Both players still managed to flourish, but it wasn’t easy and it showed late in games. With the exception of Carmelo’s Game 4 and Kevin’s Game 1, both players were relatively quiet in the fourth quarter because of how much effort and energy they had to put into solving the defense’s of James and Battier. As a result, it forced guys like J.R. Smith and Russell Westbrook into larger roles, while Durant and Anthony attempted to regain their bearings and couldn’t consistently perform for 48 minutes.
The playoffs are also where the origin of Battier playing at power forward arose from. When Chris Bosh went down with his hamstring injury in Game 1 against Indiana, the Heat were left with either playing the offensively-inept duo of Haslem and Anthony or continuing to experiment with James at the four. LeBron ended up being insanely productive playing at the four–he currently has a PER of 29.8 playing at the four this year–and it also opened the door for Battier to garner some time.
Shane ended up defending the likes of David West, Kevin Garnett and Serge Ibaka on a nightly basis. He even defended 7’2″ Roy Hibbert at some junctures, with success as he smartly fronted the center who wasn’t nearly aggressive enough to get in front of Battier.
It was Shane’s play in the NBA Finals that has brought about this Heat team we see today. Battier playing so well in the Finals is what led the Heat to employing small-ball and why they are still starting a 6’8″ small forward as their power forward; because it works. Ibaka, the league’s leading shot-blocker last season, was forced into playing a mere 26.4 minutes per, miles away from the 33.4 minutes he was playing in the regular season.
Ibaka averaged seven points, five rebounds and two blocks per, once again miles away from his regular season averages of nine points, eight boards and four blocks. He was simply ineffective because he couldn’t defend Battier, a 55 percent shooter from deep in the Finals, along the perimeter. Having Battier at the four, as well as Chris Bosh at the five, put the Thunder in an awkward position with their traditional lineup. They were forced into going small, but couldn’t replicate the results.
Get this: the Heat still outrebounded the Thunder 201-190.
Rebounding has been a concern this year with Battier on the floor, Kenneth Faried and John Henson went off for career games, but the offense has also turned into a juggernaut. Battier leads the league in corner three-pointers and has actually converted more three’s from the corner than entire teams. If you take one look at his shot chart on the season, you’ll find that Battier has made residence dominantly in the left corner.
So, this is where the problem lies. What philosophy are the Heat going to instill without Battier on the floor? There isn’t a player like Battier on this team that can shoot as well as he does–currently converting 2.1 three-pointers per at a 46 percent clip–AND play near the type of defense he provides.
Let’s take a look at the options:
This seems obvious, right? Lewis, percentage speaking, has been the Heat’s best three-point threat this year converting at a 54 percent clip and chipping in 7.2 points per game. Quite the surprise from Lewis considering that he was given $13 million by the New Orleans Hornets to essentially go away. Lewis cost the Heat the veteran’s minimum–the same contract given to Eddy Curry last season–and has been wildly effective as a shooter who can space the floor.
However, his defense is atrocious. It’s good to see that Lewis has regained the lift necessary to convert the shots he enjoys taking, but it’s obvious to see the rest of his lower body has yet to make the transition to being completely healthy. It’s what the Heat should have expected from a 33-year-old coming off the two injury-plagued seasons, and it’s why he was signed for the veteran’s minimum and nothing more.
Lewis has been poor on the defensive end and has exceeded expectations on the offensive end. If the Heat choose to start Lewis, it’ll be clear that this Heat team does not want to abandon its pace-and-space, fast-paced offense that currently has the team ranked first in points per game.
If the Heat choose to go with the former starter at that position, it’ll be clear that the team is looking to move back more to its roots of being a stingy, gritty defensive team. Miami’s offense has been electric, but it hasn’t been a secret that their rebounding and defensive numbers are well below the standards they hold themselves to. In fact, the Heat–a team that’s been ranked in the top five in points allowed per game over the past two seasons–are ranked 25th in points allowed and 27th in rebounds per.
Believe it or not, Haslem and Shane Battier don’t have too large a margin in terms of their defense against opposing power forwards.
What Haslem provides that Battier doesn’t, however, is rebounding. While Battier has a defensive rebounding percentage of seven percent, Haslem boasts a 24.1 percentage in the same category. Per 36 minutes, Battier is garnering 3.3 rebounds per, while Haslem per 36 average is a staggering 10.4. Obviously, there’s a huge difference in rebounding; a difference that significantly favors Udonis.
However, the Heat are still wary of just how effective Haslem’s jumper is. He’s not just averaging a career-low 17.5 minutes per because of the loaded rotation, but also because his inefficiency on the offensive end has hurt the Heat far more than it has helped. On the court, the Heat are getting 109.1 points per 100 possessions; 116.6 points per when he’s off.
The defense improves as a result of their being far less second-chance points. Heat opponents have a 5.8 net loss with Haslem on the court, while giving up 10.2 points more on defense with Battier.
Instilling Joel Anthony means that the Heat are taking a strong look back at their roots as one of the league’s top defenses.
It’s difficult to make a clear case on Anthony based on stats because of how little he has played this season. He’s only played 42 minutes and has been the biggest victim of the Heat’s new pace-and-space and small-ball offensive philosophy. There’s just no need for Anthony to be on the floor when there are options who can score in guys like Lewis and Miller. Even if they can’t play defense nearly as well as Joel, they don’t represent a ball-stopper on offense.
Even in the short time Joel has been on the floor, the Heat are significantly worse on the offensive end. When Joel is on the court, the Heat are getting 102.5 points per 100 possessions. Compare that to when he’s off the court and the Heat are garnering 114.8 points per 100 possessions. The defense actually features Joel having negative effect, although that could be attributed to the small sample size.
Those offensive numbers, however, are far too significant to not make note of.
It’s more than likely LeBron James will play at power forward. If so, the Heat could move him to the four and have Mike Miller start at small forward with the team more than likely to keep Ray Allen coming off the bench as an offensive spark. LeBron certainly would be the most efficient option at power forward because he’s at his best when he’s playing that position.
However, it comes down to how willing LeBron James is playing that position for an extended amount of time. We all know that James has said playing at power forward is “taxing” and it wouldn’t be surprising if LeBron doesn’t want to tire himself, since he’s already playing in 40-minute games against opponents he should be sitting out entire fourth quarters against.
Or the Heat may not run into this problem at all. Battier was only listed as day-to-day and the Heat just so happened to blessed without having another game until Thursday’s meeting with the San Antonio Spurs.
More than likely, though, we should see the Heat sporting a different lineup with a new, or possibly old, power forward.