As the Miami Heat move more and more towards small ball, Udonis Haslem’s role becomes more of a question. What does he mean to the Heat and how does head coach Erik Spoelstra plan to use him in the future?
Haslem’s minutes have decreased every season since 2007 by an average of 3.58 minutes per year. Given that Haslem averaged 18.9 minutes last season, that means he would play about 15.3 minutes per game in 2014.
However, Haslem took his most dramatic dip in four years last season, playing 5.9 fewer minutes than the year previous. That’s the second-highest drop between seasons of his career. The highest was when he took a cut of 6.2 minutes per game (from 34.1 mpg to 27.9 mpg) in the 2009-2010 season when he came off the bench for Michael Beasley.
Part of the reason is because the Heat decided to embrace small ball for a majority of the game, giving Haslem less value as a power forward. He started 59 games last season but was often the first man out for Ray Allen or Shane Battier.
The Heat opted to start Mike Miller in place of Haslem during some of the NBA Finals. Much of that was for matchup reasons against the Spurs and to space out the floor for LeBron James.
But, as we learned two years ago in the NBA Finals against Oklahoma City when they played Shane Battier at the four to defend Serge Ibaka, the Heat could take what they did in the Finals and adapt it for the following regular season.
The Heat don’t have Miller anymore but Battier, who started 20 games last season, could start at forward in place of Haslem. You could even see Rashard Lewis get some looks at that position.
The other part of this to consider is Haslem’s decline in play.
Haslem used to be the team’s best rebounder and hustle guy. Recently, LeBron has become the team’s most consistent rebounder and the Big Three is surrounded by multiple hustle guys with Battier leading the pack.
Haslem’s role has become based more on his relative size and strength — something that he played in spite of throughout most of his career.
In fact, Haslem’s role is similar to Miller in a way. Miller, who lacked consistency, was good for one or two “hero games” a postseason and was used for floor-spacing purposes.
Haslem, whose points have dipped along with his minutes, can still come up with a few “hero games” of his own — such as games 3 and 5 against the Pacers when he efficiently scored 17 and 16 points on 8 of 9 shooting respectively.
Haslem is also used for spacing purposes when the team needs to place Bosh at power forward and keep someone with rebounding as well as mid-range shooting skills on the floor (as opposed to Anthony or Andersen).
With Miller gone, Haslem could find himself taking his minutes. Miller averaged 15.3 mpg in the regular season and 13.6 mpg in the playoffs.
However, Haslem provides spacing problems for Bosh. With Haslem out in favor of a stretch-four, Bosh sees less congestion in the paint and becomes a better rebounder. Bosh can take battling one-on-one for a rebound since his length and athleticism is elite for his position, but it becomes much more difficult for him to grab a board when he has to compete with multiple bigs.
Based on whether you use the trends in Haslem’s minutes or Miller’s vacant ones, Haslem will see the same 15.3 minutes per game in the regular season and about 13 minutes in the postseason when the Heat tend to play smaller.
The Heat might have to sign someone to replace Miller’s shooting, but his spark off the bench could be replaced by Haslem. I’ll venture to say that Haslem will see about 15 minutes per game next season coming off the bench for Battier.