Miami Heat Power Forward Preview: Udonis Haslem is Still Grinding


Analyzing Last Year’s Performance

Udonis Haslem began last season by starting the first six games and then sitting out seven of the next nine. It was his year in miniature; inconsistency, injury and ineffectiveness limiting him to a total of 46 games (and 18 starts). In fact, if it weren’t for Greg Oden’s inability to handle the Indiana Pacers’ Roy Hibbert, there’s a good chance that Haslem may have been a regular fixture on the bench, despite his significance to the franchise and the fans.

But “U.D.” did what he always does and hung tight, ready to contribute in any way possible. He handled Hibbert, whose fragile psyche was further crushed after being outplayed by the much-smaller Haslem. Udonis broke down his ability to guard much bigger players in this piece by the Bleacher Report’s Ethan Skolnick. It may have been his only saving grace, as that baseline jumper of Haslem’s fell with less and less regularity.

Here’s a look at his shooting (50 percent on just 146 shots for the season), courtesy of Nylon Calculus:

Never a spectacular shooter from mid-range, Haslem was really only effective within five feet of the rim. His numbers were all career-lows, averaging 14.2 minutes, 3.8 points and 3.8 rebounds per game. In the playoffs, he played more (seeing limited action in 16 of Miami’s 20 postseason contests) but was even more ineffective, averaging just over 10 minutes, 2.5 points and 2.8 rebounds per game. Set to collect millions over the next two years of his contract with Miami, there were concerns that this hometown hero would be a financial burden for years to come.

How LeBron’s Departure Impacts His Role

Haslem followed suit after LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade all opted out of existing deals. But, unlike James (gone to “The Land”) and Bosh (mo’ money in Miami), he and fellow #HeatLifer Wade re-signed with the only team they’ve played for in the NBA for less money. This is the third time that Haslem has sacrificed millions to remain in South Florida, where the local boy from Overtown competed for Miami Senior High School.

According to a recent report from the Sun Sentinel’s Ira Winderman, Haslem may have been giving up some production as well as dollars, and the impact was due to James’ multi-faceted game. As Winderman reports here:

"The playing style and roster in recent years did not exactly set up well for Haslem, especially with LeBron (James) able to provide many of the intangibles previously provided by Udonis. Also, Haslem has lacked lift since his foot injury, a Lisfranc fracture, in Memphis four years ago. It will be curious to see how much, or how little, Haslem plays, considering Chris Bosh, Josh McRoberts and Chris Andersen all set up ahead of him in the power rotation. In the end, it likely will come down to Haslem’s ability to defend opposing centers, in the way he stepped up against Roy Hibbert."

In addition to doing some of the things that Haslem did well, James always seemed eager to get U.D. going, often driving to the hoop, forcing the defense to collapse and finding an open Haslem along the baseline. Even when those shots weren’t falling, James was determined, even to the point of frustration for some fans.

Projections for this Season

In August 2014, Haslem enters a Subway™ restaurant located in South Florida, walks behind the counter and inserts his hand into a large toaster oven. It’s still hot but he only winces as the odor of seared flesh mixes with the smell of fresh-baked bread. You hear a clicking sound, and a lever has been activated, revealing a tunnel beneath the cold cults to a secret chamber. The room contains a strange mix of alien technology and arcane, black magic. Here, Haslem will await training camp. In a pool of green protoplasmic ooze, he will rest and strengthen his weary bones. He emerges in mid-September, reborn and healthy, once again ready for war and the daily grind of the NBA regular season.

Or, at least, that’s what I wish would happen.

With James gone, that would seem to open up some minutes for Haslem. Instead, it looks like newcomer Danny Granger may see time at the power forward position, a move likely to keep Haslem on the bench.

Unfortunately, U.D. is never going to be a regular starter again. Head coach Erik Spoelstra knows he can count on the veteran Haslem to work hard, be vocal and always defend his teammates during a skirmish. This season will be much like last, intertwined DNP-CD’s along with slight productivity and solid defense. But stats have never defined Haslem and Heat fans will be grateful they have him back on the bench, regardless of how many games he sits there and waits for the chance to prove himself again.

“Why I’m Excited” – Wes Goldberg

Udonis Haslem is barely holding on to his NBA roster spot. Truthfully, he has been that bad over the last two seasons. But we know he is good for one Haslem game a season, and those usually come in the playoffs. I’m looking forward to that, and it comes when you least expect it. But Haslem is also one of the last true Muscles of the NBA. Maybe he doesn’t score, rebound or defend very well anymore, but–boy–if you cross one of his teammates he will mess you up. One Haslem play and the crowd goes wild, and I’m always excited to experience that.

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