The Miami Heat have a Udonis Haslem problem, and the solution may not be an easy one.
Haslem exemplifies what the Miami Heat organization is all about. He is loyal, professional, willing to do whatever it takes, a true team first player and person and a well-deserved captain of the team.
Haslem is also still a solid on-court performer. He has above average rebounding numbers per 36 minutes. He is a willing and effective defender of bigger men. He is smart, making timely cuts to the basket and he hits open shots.
The problem is Haslem’s presence in the starting line up is hurting the team. It’s not his fault. Haslem is doing nothing wrong, in fact he appears at times to be the only Heat player doing well during the starts of games this year. But his presence is a huge part of the Heat’s slow starts. In a nutshell, here’s why:
- Spacing – The Miami Heat offense is predicated on spacing. With LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, two of the NBA’s best driving players, spacing is key. With Haslem on the court, the opposition is able to camp out a rim protector near the basket. This effectively nullifies James and Wade rim forays early in the contest. You will not find a coach in the NBA not willing to give Haslem an open 15 footer over those two crashing to the rim. Unfortunately for Haslem, Wade is not an effective floor spacer when he’s off the ball either, but if you need to remove one, Haslem is the obvious choice.
- Match Ups – Chris Bosh is an undersized center. On the defensive end of the floor, he often struggles with the sheer bulk of his true center opponents. However, his length and height as well as his incredible pick and roll trapping ability make up for his size issues. It is on the other end of the court where the Bosh versus true center match up most benefits the Heat. As a stretch five, Bosh pulls his defender far from the basket and leaves the opponents best rim protector spectating as Wade and James go to the basket. There is no question that Bosh’s jump shot must be defended. But with Haslem on the floor with Bosh, the Heat lose that advantage. It is a simple solution for the opposition to switch its center onto Haslem and leave him lurking near the rim.
The problem here is glaring, but sadly the solution obscure. Is there a better alternative? Maybe. But is that alternative enough better to justify diminishing your captain’s on-court role to a negligible degree? I don’t know. In considering a solution, first we need to eliminate both Michael Beasley and Greg Oden as options. Eventually one or both may become rotation players, but until then it’s just unfounded speculation to use them here.
The only two actually viable options are Shane Battier and Rashard Lewis. Although the Heat have used Battier in this role last season, putting him there for an extended run will prove counter productive. Battier is closer to a 2 than a 4, and although willing to do whatever it takes, the constant pounding will take a toll on his 35-year-old body. This is an option best saved for the playoffs, if needed.
Lewis may be an answer, though. At 6-10 and 235 lbs, he has the size to defend power forwards. Also, Lewis has spent the bulk of his career in that position. Lewis may have been the prototype for the stretch four role. He gives the Heat a great catch and shoot three point option. Most importantly, Lewis is much healthier this season. His mobility is far better, which will at least limit how much of a defensive liability he is. The opposition will be forced to send its bigs out to the perimeter to watch the both Bosh and Lewis. Add Mario Chalmers threat of the three, and James and Wade have room to work, either on the drive or in the post.
So, the Heat have a problem with no clear solution. Hopefully one that does not derail its threepeat chances.