NBA Finals Player Breakdowns: Miami Heat Frontcourt
Shane Battier: He’s listed first here because it would surprise if Erik Spoelstra deviated from his team’s last 12 playoff games and started two true “bigs” – like Udonis Haslem and Chris Bosh – instead of sticking small with Battier. A lot changes for Miami on each end of the floor when they go to more traditional quintets and despite the improved health and play of Bosh and Haslem’s sheer importance to the Heat, it’s likely Miami’s most-utilized lineups will be with Batter and LeBron James as defacto 3/4s. If the Thunder are unable to exploit the former on the glass and on defense, that is. Battier’s a smart defender but is far from the player that caused so many elite wings headaches over the last decade, never more obvious than when Carmelo Anthony thrashed him in round one of the postseason. That’s not to say he doesn’t have value on that end, though, as his great natural instincts can still lead to a contested jumper, charge, or even a “blocked” shot for the Miami defense. Assuming he’s in the game from the opening tip and utilized almost solely as a 4, he’ll start defending Serge Ibaka. While Ibaka is raw and still growing into his game on offense, he can hit the open jumper and is a good finisher in the paint. He can’t be counted on as a legitimate post-up threat, however, so Battier’s size disadvantage isn’t quite what it seems there. Where it will matter most is on the glass, as Ibaka’s natural gifts are far superior to Battier’s. When the Thunder go small, of course, Battier will find himself across from any perimeter player – be it Durant, Westbrook, Harden, Sefolosha, or Fisher. LeBron James will take the lion’s share of minutes on Durant, but it’s likely s will try to give him a rest for several minutes a game by sticking Battier on KD. And that matchup, as with Westbrook and Harden, is a win for OKC; Battier just isn’t quick enough to defend them if they make the right decision and put the ball on the floor.
Battier’s got a chance to make his mark offensively in this series and Miami will need him to, especially if Dwyane Wade continues his inconsistent play and Bosh is still limited by injury. Father Time has relegated him to a stationary three-point shooter at this point in his career, and unfortunately for Battier he’s as ineffective from there as he’s ever been. He shot just 33.9% from deep during the regular season and 32.1% in the playoffs despite most of these attempts coming as open looks from the corner, the easiest and most efficient long jumper in basketball. Battier can get hot, though, as he’s shown by connecting on at least three triples in four postseason games; it’s less impressive considering he’s shooting 4.7 per outing, but should bother OKC nonetheless.
Chris Bosh: Whether or not Spoelstra re-inserts Bosh into the starting lineup doesn’t really matter, as he showed in game 7 against Boston that he’s more than capable of playing big minutes in this series. That’s a good thing for Miami, too, as they may need every bit of his scoring punch to counteract a Thunder offense that’s been absolutely devastating in the postseason. Bosh’s value to the Heat comes on both ends of the floor, but he’s especially important offensively as a third option, jump-shooter, and big the opposition is forced to worry about. James and Dwyane Wade are focal points one and two of every defense Miami faces, so a player that can hurt a defense as much as Bosh if not paid proper respect is huge for the Heat. With Bosh as ball-screener or on the weak-side ready to shoot, defenses aren’t as comfortable shading so dramatically to James/Wade when they have the ball. Those two have more room to operate as a result, and if defenders get caught ball-watching or over-rotating to penetration Bosh is good at finding soft spots for the jumpers that have become the staple of his game in Miami. Bosh even showed he can hit the corner three-pointer against the Celtics, a shot that’s almost always available for Miami when they want it. He’s obviously more than just a jump-shooter, though, as he’s clearly the Heat’s best finisher among their bigs and can still do damage in isolations, too. He’ll be checked by Ibaka or Kendrick Perkins the majority of his time on the floor, and Miami should do what they can to force the latter to guard him as opposed to the former; Perk prefers to stay in the paint and doesn’t have the agility or coordination to contest Bosh jumpers like Ibaka does.
Bosh is hardly a dominant rebounder, but just his combination of length and mobility is big for a Heat team that lacks a true center and relies so much on the talents of James and Wade on the glass. He’s especially important against the Thunder here, a team that boasts supremely long and talented athletes on each level of the floor not to mention guys like Perkins and Nick Collison that are plus rebounders, too. Bosh needs to be extra aggressive going after misses, as Durant is almost James’ equal in that regard and Westbrook is arguably basketball’s best rebounder at point-guard. Bosh’s individual responsibility on defense isn’t likely to change much whether the Thunder or Heat go small; he’ll stick to Ibaka, Perkins, or Collison in most every scenario and as a result can act as somewhat of a rover, especially when assigned to Perk. He’ll be involved in countless pick and rolls if covering the other two, though, and needs to keep his head on a swivel in terms of reacting and helping in those scenarios.
Udonis Haslem: Haslem’s had a perplexing two years since re-signing with Miami at a discount in the summer of 2010, and never more so than in this postseason. He got consistent minutes in the Heat’s round one win over New York and was effective, but was so abysmal offensively in the next round against Indy that Spoelstra almost benched him completely in games 2 and 3. Everything changed the next outing, though, a Haslem hit big shot after big shot to seal a Miami win, then followed that performance up with a flagrant foul of Tyler Hansbrough that got him suspended for game 6. And though his jumper has been typically inconsistent, Haslem’s been a fixture of the Miami lineup ever since, averaging 27.3 minutes and 9.3 rebounds per game. His minutes in this series depend largely on the comfort of Bosh and how often either team plays small, but Haslem’s clearly re-established himself as a cog in Miami’s rotation. When his best he’s an ideal pick and pop partner, awesome rebounder, and the general frontcourt aggressor that the Heat need. His role on offense is pretty well defined in this series, but defensively he offers some versatility that Bosh and even Battier don’t. Haslem is comfortable defending wings on switches late in the shot clock, obviously adept banging in the paint, and effective trapping ballhandlers, so his presence allows Miami the type of scrambling, pressure defense that’s come to define them. And against OKC that’s huge, as the team in general but Russell Westbrook especially can often get lost when forced to make quick decisions with the ball.