Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Haslem Looking More Like His Old Self

Pointing out any deficiency in a season that resulted in an NBA Championship is going to sound like nitpicking, especially when you bring it up during training camp. No matter what it was, the team brought home a title, so why bring anything else up?
Because that’s not how teams think, and eventually the narrative of training camp shifts from what happened last season to how things will happen this year – and it probably already has in Miami. The result was bliss, but that doesn’t make the process perfect. Just as how you can have a perfect offensive possession result in a missed shot, a championship doesn’t necessarily validate every detail that came before it.
Some of those details involved Udonis Haslem’s drop in offensive efficiency after surgery to the Lisfranc ligament in his foot that kept him out for more of the previous year, something that started as a big story earlier in the lockout-shortened season and gradually became accepted as ‘just one of those things’. Now everyone starts with a blank slate, and early indications, filtered through even the most cynical of training-camp lenses, are that the Real Haslem might be ready to stand back up.
Chris Bosh is often referred to as the safety valve in Miami’s offense, finding space for open jumpers whenever the first option or two breakdown in a given set. Haslem, however, is expected to fill a similar role, constantly giving the HEAT a relatively efficient shot in times of need, and it was a role he earned through years of being one of the best spot-up shooting big men in the league. The problem last year was that while instincts and role remained the same, Haslem’s jumper took a sabbatical.
Not just his jumper, actually. Haslem’s percentages dropped from nearly every spot on the floor – excluding the right side of the key – and worst of all he shot below 60 percent at the rim for the first time in his entire nine-year career.
Just take a look at his shooting maps from 2009-10, his last fully healthy campaign, and last season, with red areas indicating below league average shooting, yellow slightly above and green areas being at least 10 percent above average performance:

If you didn’t know who those charts belonged to, it would take you hundreds of guesses to figure out that the second one belonged to Haslem, and not one of the league’s smaller guards. Every player is prone to an aberration or two throughout their time in the NBA, but not at the rate that Haslem’s efficiencies fell.
A smooth jumper is supposed to be one of the abilities that ages best in this league. Players aren’t supposed to just lose it.
In reality, Haslem didn’t lose the skill. More than likely, he simply lost the physical ability that supports said skill. While the general public generally accepts that it can take multiple years for a body to fully recover from torn ligaments in the knee, the same can be true of similar damage done to the foot. And when you don’t get a full offseason to spend in team facilities with a familiar coaching staff, it makes sense that it could take some time to recover the usual strength, and trust, in the injured ligament.
At least that what appears to have happened, without toting around an actual degree in medicine.
“They always say that it takes at least a year for you to get back to the form that you were at before you got hurt,” Haslem said. “Last year as much as I felt like I was back to the original form, as much as I wanted to be back in my original form, that probably wasn’t the case.”
“I would love my percentages to be back up but at the end of the day I rebounded well and I did the things that I could do. Sometimes you just don’t make shots and sometimes that’s how games go. You figure out how you can affect the game in other ways.”
Subjective analysis of video from last season doesn’t offer a ton of solid evidence with regards to Haslem’s shot, but it’s not always as simple as watching a few dozen clips and saying, ‘There, that’s the hitch in his shot he has to get rid of’. Maybe it was tougher to get lift on the shot, so Haslem had to think about putting more push into his legs, throwing off his rhythm. It’s all going to be guesswork, but as much as most people are conditioned to take any training-camp comments about how good of shape a player is in with a grain of salt, the context surrounding Haslem seems entirely appropriate.
“He mentioned that to me yesterday because he has such a better flow and movement already in three days in camp,” Erik Spoelstra said. “He’s spent all summer here, and has been knocking down the jumper that he’s been famous for and those things happen, but you spend the full year off and then it goes into the lockout, and then you have those extra months off, its tough sometimes to get back into rhythm at full speed particularly in a year like last year.
“When he mentioned that to me I mentioned it to him – he looks like he did two years ago going into camp. His quickness, his agility, his reaction time, all of the things as a professional athlete you take for granted until you are actually out for an extended period of time.”
LeBron James agreed:
“He’s back to how he was in our first game [two years ago], so it’s great to see him back in that form.”
If we do some rough math, modestly projecting his field-goal attempts from last year – with Haslem’s career-low 13.5 usage percentage in mind – to be closer but still below his career percentages, both at the rim and from mid-range, Haslem can add at least 40 points to his production from last season.
That may not seem like much, but if you add 40 points to Miami’s regular season point total, their offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) jumped from 104.3 to 104.9, and suddenly they jump the Chicago Bulls and become the fifth-most efficient team in the league.
But we can talk about the numbers and percentages once we’re deeper into the season. For now, Haslem has a few days of training camp and you have a few quotes to feel good about. That’s farther along than Haslem was at this time last season, and so far it’s more than reasonable to expect the HEAT to be re-adding an above-average shooter to their frontline once the real games begin.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Spoelstra Envisions 'Positionless' Lineup

Erik Spoelstra envisions a lineup of seemingly interchangeable parts.

“We want to get to a point where we are positionless,” Spoelstra said when asked to specify Ray Allen’s role with the Heat. “He’s a great complement to the champions we have.

“There are only a handful of players in this league that absolutely strike fear into their opponent. And Ray is one of those players. Hopefully, we can play faster.”
Allen is open to coming off the bench.

“Whatever is going to be best for me in this situation is going to figure itself out,” Allen said. “This team won a championship without me. I’m not going to come in and expect for coach to cater to who I am or what I do.

“I’m not trying to come here and win on my terms. Whether you start or come off the bench, the best compliment is who you finish the game up with.”

Heat Agree To Two-Year Contract With Rashard Lewis

Rashard Lewis has agreed to a two-year deal with the Heat.
Lewis will receive the $1.35 million veteran's minimum in 12-13. The second season is a player's option.
Lewis was bought out by the Hornets following a trade from the Wizards.

Grading The Deal: Heat Burn Celtics, Sign Ray Allen

The Heat and Celtics have engaged in a heated rivalry since LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade to shape the new Big Three -- joining forces just three years after Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett aligned with Paul Pierce as their predecessors and inspiration.
Allen will be called a ring-chaser and labeled gluttonous for leaving the Celtics in favor of the Heat, but in actuality Allen only opted for greener pastures with a better chance at another championship. In many ways, he did what we all insist we would do in the same position. If he found it hard to be loyal, why not play for a team that has a great shot at winning it all?
Allen will sign a contract with Miami that will be worth a fraction of what he could have been able to sign with Boston. He’s agreed to play basketball for less money and it was clear from well before free agency began on July 1 that the Heat wanted to add him to their arsenal. It’s not as though he called LeBron and Wade begging them to get him a job.

Grade for Allen: A-
There is something to be said for loyalty, but playing for the Heat should extend the effectiveness of Allen’s career, which some declared dead in May. Allen was playing on a badly injured ankle -- he’ll never admit how bad it was before surgery -- and a shooter of his caliber simply doesn’t forget how to hit the bottom of the net. He’s also in better cardiovascular shape than 99% of the league.
With LeBron and Wade penetrating into open space as Bosh spreads the floor in the mid-range, Allen will be the recipient of many an open three. If not, his presence will make things easier for his predecessors as a moderately-paid decoy. He’s the greatest perimeter shooter of his generation in an offense that is nearly unstoppable when the supporting cast is hitting shots (see Game 5 of the 2012 NBA Finals).

Grade for Miami: A+
The benefit for Erik Spoelstra and Co. is two-fold. Not only are they adding a dangerous perimeter threat, but they are taking a clutch shooter away from their biggest adversary.
Allen is one of the most respected players in the NBA and in six years covering games, it’s impossible to think of a star that is more professional. In a locker room full of surly personalities, he made time for the media and seemed to genuinely enjoy conversing. If you look in the archives of any major Boston newspaper over the last five years, I guarantee that Allen is quoted more often than anyone not named Doc Rivers.

Grade for Boston: C-
The Celtics began preparing for Allen’s departure when Avery Bradley received more minutes as the veteran’s ankle barked. Bradley was so effective in the starting lineup, bringing a stronger defensively presence, that Allen was moved to the bench when he returned.
Rivers will soon find that Bradley isn’t nearly as reliable as Allen -- at least not yet. He isn’t going to garner the same level of defensive attention, making things harder for Pierce, Garnett and Rajon Rondo.
Ah, Rondo.
It was evident in Boston that the relationship between Rondo and Allen was souring long before national reporters began citing it as a reason why the latter might leave. I don’t know the exact reason why the pair didn’t get along well, but there are a number of plausible reasons.
Rondo is a moody player so perhaps Allen tired of his antics. Rondo may have preferred playing with the younger, more athletic Bradley on the perimeter. Maybe Allen resented Rondo’s increased responsibility and profile in Boston -- going from the Big Three’s plus-one, to the fourth member of the Big Four, to the best and most important player on the roster. We may never know.
Allen is also believed to be upset about a near-trade to the Grizzlies before this past season’s deadline. That may have been the third strike in his mind.
As much as people in Boston don’t want to hear it (take a look at some of the tweets from Boston writers/reporters on Friday night), there were only a few places that made real sense for Allen and Miami was tops among them.
Allen wanted a three-year, $27 million deal from the Celtics, according to the Boston Herald. If the report is accurate, he wanted the same respect and loyalty from the organization that Garnett received just a few days ago when he agreed to a new contract worth $34 million over three seasons.
If his deal with Miami is for the same length, he’ll make a total of $9.5 million. He was content enough leaving Boston that it would have taken three times as much money to keep him in green. That says more than anything he could admit to the media.
Danny Ainge wasn’t willing to meet his request, so the next best option was to sign with the Heat. The weather is nice, he can play golf even in the winter months and Pat Riley made him feel wanted during their brief courtship.
Here’s the head-scratching part for me. Ainge is reportedly going to give Jeff Green a contract in the neighborhood of four years and $40 million. If management is signing off on that type of contract, are you telling me that they wouldn’t sign off on a $27 million deal for Allen?
The Celtics may not regret letting Ray Allen go immediately, but his absence will be made abundantly clear when Avery Bradley struggles from deep and perhaps even when he hits a fourth quarter dagger for the Heat next May in Boston.
When he jogs back down the court with his fist clenched and arm swaying at a ninety degree angle, the Celtics will be sporting green on their jerseys and envy in their eyes.