Since the summer of 2010, the Miami Heat have been a franchise built on sacrifice.
From the wallet of Mickey Arison down to the extra hours put in by coach Erik Spoelstra and the coaching staff, each and every member of the organization has made some sort of sacrifice in their lives for the ultimate goal of winning an NBA championship.
And people thought this would be easy? It’s been nothing but difficulties and obstacles impeding the Heat’s trio of championship runs over the past three years. Whether they’re dealing with injuries to their top two bench contributors, as seen in 2011, or playing without arguably their most important player, as seen in 2012, the Heat have been making constant sacrifices adjustments since the ‘Big Three’ was formed.
No player is making a bigger sacrifice than combo-forward Shane Battier. The 34-year-old, who is raking in $9 million on a three-year deal, was originally signed to be the team’s resident defensive spark off the bench and designated three-point threat.
That is, until Chris Bosh went down with his abdominal injury in Game 1 of the 2012 playoffs. With options limited, to the point where Dexter Pittman started Game 3 of the same series, the Heat were left scrambling for answers to the Pacers’ titanic frontcourt of Roy Hibbert, David West and Tyler Hansbrough.
With such limited options, the Heat threw Battier into the lion’s den to front West and Hibbert, despite those two having significant height and weight advantages on the veteran.
You ever hear the story of the son being trapped under a car only to be saved by his mother who gained supernatural strength because her son was in danger? That’s what happened with Battier and the Heat, who played the role of the desperate son in need of help.
Over the final three games of the series, West and Hibbert were quiet because they couldn’t get the ball. Yes, Battier did get a lot of help from Miami’s defensive system of also throwing in a defender to sandwich whoever Shane was defending, but the small forward also performed an incredible job at simply denying the ball.
Outside of West’s Game 6 when he dropped 24 points, he and Hibbert had no say in the Heat’s final three wins of the series. The two combined for 18 points on 18 shots in Game 4 and 18 points on 23 shots in Game 5.
Battier started Games 4, 5 and 6, and would play at least 25 minutes in each game as the Heat’s starting power forward, including 39 minutes in the series-clinching Game 6 victory in Indiana.
The Heat went 3-1 in the series when Battier started, only losing Game 3.
A postseason later and Battier’s in the same role. After helping to defend Milwaukee Bucks’ power forward 6’9″ Ersan Ilysova, Battier was left with the difficult assignment of helping out on the likes of the Chicago Bulls’ Taj Gibson and Carlos Boozer.
Boozer averaged eight rebounds per, but Gibson’s role was minimal because of Battier’s influence. Battier’s influence goes far beyond the defensive end as he also helps to draw the opposing defense out to the perimeter.
That means taking the likes of Boozer and Gibson out of the paint and out to the perimeter. Unfortunately, Battier’s shots weren’t falling (he shot 8-of-28 from beyond the arc) and the Bulls were able to cheat a little more in primarily defending the perimeter.
But that shouldn’t take anything away from the sacrifice that Battier is making, which is defending an established, former All-Star power forward and keeping him away from the boards at all costs.
It won’t get any easier for Battier. If Indiana defeats the New York Knicks, he’ll be facing off with West and Hansbrough again. If New York ends up coming back, he’ll most likely not be defending a bigger player, but will be helping to defend the seemingly unstoppable jumper of Carmelo Anthony.
And if Miami gets to the Finals, then the possibility of facing off with the frontcourt of Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol and Ed Davis awaits. There’s no doubt that Battier will most likely be featured on Randolph, even with new addition Chris Andersen replacing the role that was previously occupied by Ronny Turiaf last season.
There are things Battier can do that nobody else can provide. Outside of Bosh, he’s the only player who can hold their own under the rim as a rebounder and defender (his post-up defense is phenomenal. Per SynergySports, Battier ranked 34th giving up 0.69 points per possession and allowed opponents to shoot 33 percent) while also being able to stretch out the defense as a perimeter threat.
Battier may be struggling in the postseason as a shooter thus far, but history, and the law of averages, indicate that he’s due to go off. He struggled through the first two rounds of last year’s postseason, before picking up his stride late in the ECF against the Boston Celtics and then topping off against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA Finals.
LeBron will get all the credit since he won Finals MVP, but there has to be more time spent on Battier shooting 69 percent overall and 58 percent from beyond the arc that series. His Game 2, where he hit five three-pointers, has already been swept under the rug.
Miami plays Battier at the four because they’re better when he’s the power forward. Although 82games.com has Battier’s numbers significantly inferior to his opponent when he is playing the four, his offensive influence and box-out ability reign supreme as reasons why the Heat will continue to utilize Shane at the four.
Especially when it comes down to crunch-time, where Batter is a staggering plus-88 when on the floor in 4th quarter or overtime situations where there is under five minutes remaining and the game is within five points, according to 82games.com.
But get this. According to ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh, the Heat were actually a better rebounding team when Battier was on the floor, “hauling in 52.9 percent of the available rebounds while Batter is on the court.”
That number drops to 47.9 percent when he’s off the floor.
Believe it or not, the Heat were actually a better rebounding team against arguably the league’s top rebounding squad in Chicago when their aging small forward was playing the role of a big man. His fundamental box-outs played as large a role in the Heat’s ability to get caroms before their opponent did then any other player, including Chris Bosh who grabbed 19 rebounds in Miami’s Game 3 win.
Battier only grabbed ten rebounds in 108 minutes, 59 seconds over the entire five-game series, but his role when playing as power forward isn’t to get rebounds; it’s to simply keep the other team from getting those rebounds.
Boxing-out has much more to do with proper fundamentals than it has to do with size, and this is coming from a 5’9″ white guy who willingly plays center in pick-up games. Shane was brought on the Heat not just because of his shooting ability, but also because of his strict fundamental approach to every facet of the game.
You don’t make it this far into the league without having something to fall back on. Battier can barely get to the rim, can’t jump all that well and isn’t a facilitator, but he has arguably the greatest fundamentals of any player in the league next to Tim Duncan.
When you see Battier exhibiting all of his effort to either contain the strength of David West or the insane shooting ability of Carmelo Anthony, remember this article as a reference when you look at his box score and it’s a bunch of miniscule numbers across the board.
Because Shane Battier’s game has evolved to the point where numbers cannot even come close to telling the story the NBA champion is writing every game.