Would Udonis Haslem be the Miami Heat’s Best Bet at Power Forward?

The Miami Heat realized that they weren’t going to find a reliable center for a bargain price in today’s market.

Instead of using the position on a center-by-committee status for a third consecutive season, the Heat simply improvised by converting power forward Chris Bosh into someone who is going to start at center every night. Bosh had been reluctant to play at center throughout his time in Toronto, but has become more open-minded to the idea, even embracing the challenge.

Bosh will end up being outweighed by nearly every assignment, but he hasn’t let it phase him, going as far as to dismiss future opponents in Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum.

Seeing the personal success that was garnered by LeBron James when he added a few more dimensions to his game may have just convinced Bosh that a move to center may maximize his potential on a team that doesn’t always use him as a main priority on the offensive end.

With Bosh playing center, the opposition is either going to have to risk leaving their center on the floor to defend the perimeter or play in the Heat’s favor of going with a small lineup. It plays right into the Heat’s strategy of getting the big’s off the court, in order to free up the lane for the drives of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.

Miami employed the strategy against the Oklahoma City Thunder in last year’s Finals. Thunder coach Scott Brooks was forced to keep Kendrick Perkins on the bench much more than he anticipated because of the center’s inability to keep up with Bosh on the perimeter. Perkins, as well as Serge Ibaka, were both made non-threats due to the Heat employing two perimeter players at the four and five.

So, the Heat’s starting lineup is set, right? Wrong. With Bosh moving to center, the Heat are in obvious need of a player to fill the void at power forward. It’s doubtful that coach Spoelstra moves LeBron James to start at the four since it better suits the team when he does so in the playoffs, but also because James describes playing the position as “taxing”.

The team is left the choice of starting either Shane Battier, Udonis Haslem, Rashard Lewis or Joel Anthony.

First off, throw out Anthony. Joel’s role is becoming more and more diminished, especially after a quiet postseason, and Miami would prefer not to play 5-on-4 on offense. The fact that the team brought in former draft pick Jarvis Varnado, a defensive-minded power forward, may be a sign their looking to part ways with their top shot-blocker.

Shane Battier is naturally a small forward and it would be wasteful of the Heat to utilize an excellent perimeter defender to defend assignments who will be twice his size. Battier is better left coming off the bench to give relief to Wade or James on defending the perimeter, while also providing a consistent three-point shot.

Let’s not forget that Battier will be much better from beyond the arc and on offense this season. The relatively consistent shooter managed 39 percent shooting from the field and 34 percent shooting from beyond the arc last season, far behind the averages of the 45 and 39 percent he was shooting going into the 2011-’12 season.

This positional battle is going to come down to Haslem and Lewis; the Heat’s warrior and the newcomer.

While both players struggled mightily last season, that shouldn’t be the case this year. Both players are claiming to be as healthy as they’ve been in years, with news of Lewis’ recovery worth getting excited over. Lewis was dubbed to be a bonus in the Heat winning the Ray Allen sweepstakes, as the team signed him with low risk and high reward expectations.

Lewis came to the Heat coming off the two worst seasons of his career. He had played in only 28 games the year before with Washington and shot career low’s while dealing with knee trouble. He played in only 57 games with the Magic and Wizards the year before.

However, Lewis now claims to be as healthy as he’s been since he was with Orlando two years prior. He’s ecstatic over the idea of playing alongside some of the league’s best players and is motivated to get back on the court healthy for the first time in awhile. Lewis is still out to prove that he is capable of being a rotation player who can contribute on both ends.

But that’s exactly where the problem lies and why Udonis Haslem should get the start at the four. Rashard Lewis has never been a great defender and it’s doubtful that he’s going to start becoming one now. With such a stress on defense, Miami does not need to have two skinny players at the four and five possibly getting overwhelmed.

It certainly stretches the offense, but this team has been all about defense and the coaching staff would rather have a mediocre offensive threat and a good defender over a good offensive threat that isn’t a good defender.

Plus, Lewis’ hasn’t been too authoritative on the boards, either. Despite being 6’10”, Lewis is averaging 5.6 boards per for his career and hasn’t averaged more than six since 2007. Miami cannot afford to have LeBron James utilizing energy to hit the boards on every possession like he did in the Heat’s series against Indiana.

If Bosh is going to start at center, there is going to be need for a player who can rebound. The only player on the current roster who can fill that void is Udonis Haslem. Although Haslem struggled with the lift on his jumpers last season, he still managed to average 7.3 boards off the bench, good enough for 10.6 per 36 minutes.

The obvious focus on Haslem starting at the four is if he’s going to be able to contribute on the offensive end, because, in case you didn’t notice, Udonis had the worst year of his career when it came to shooting the ball last season.

A 50 percent shooter for his career, Udonis shot only 42 percent from the field and managed to shoot only 38 percent in the 3-9 foot range, 38 percent in the 10-15 foot range, and 36 percent in the 16-23 foot range; all of those numbers were the lowest of his career.

Even his shooting near the rim reached its lowest point, as he converted only 55 percent; disappointing when you consider that his previous low from that range was 61 percent.

However, Haslem has claimed to be in far better health than he was last year. The effects of tearing a ligament in his foot in November of 2010 seemed to have lasted throughout last season, but that may no longer be the case with the high spirits of Haslem and the coaching staff refuting the idea of the injury continuing to ail their former starter.

The Heat are going to need Udonis to begin converting at his usual rate if they do expect to start him. They’re going to need for him to be effective off the pick-and-roll and to be ready for the baseline jumper that has become a staple of his career. He isn’t simply a bailout option, he’s an integral part of the team that has a large influence all over the court.

Plus, Haslem adds some toughness to the starting lineup. LeBron, Dwyane and Mario are all good defenders in their own right, but they don’t provide that mean streak Udonis provides with his defense. They’re not going to send a message like Haslem would to someone who disrespects his teammate.

It’s been a few years, but seeing Udonis back in the starting lineup is going to be a familiar sight that we hopefully end up seeing for as long as he can consistently contribute and produce.

 

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