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Joel Anthony: Visual Impact

“He’s the reason why their defense is so strong.”

That’s what Andre Iguodala had to say about Joel Anthony after the Miami HEAT’s 94-73 annulment of Philadelphia cohesion, musing about all the little things that Anthony does which go unnoticed.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a box-score watcher or dissecting game-tape on a second watch, it’s easy to let your eyes gloss over Anthony like you would a stage hand working just inside your periphery during a concert. He’s an essential piece, and the show does not go on without him, but since he’s not moving bodies, throwing elbows or even grabbing a ton of rebounds, Anthony tends to exist, critically, on a plane between what our eyes recognize and what our numbers explain.

We have some numbers, of course, from our two-game sample size. In the 53 minutes Anthony has played this series, the 76ers are shooting just 33.7 percent with an 87.06 offensive efficiency versus 43.1 percent and 96.39 points per 100 possessions when he’s sitting on the bench. A team that averaged 62 percent at the rim and 39 percent shooting in the paint during the regular season, Anthony’s presence has helped keep them to a 13-of-30 (43 percent) clip inside the restricted area and 2-of-10 in the paint.

In total, when the HEAT are utilizing Anthony’s brand of shrouded confusion, they net 23.31 points per 100 possessions over Philadelphia and 6.17 when he is sitting.

The statistics support his ability as a duelist as well, holding Thaddeus Young, Anthony’s primary mark in Game 2, to 34 percent shooting in the 51 minutes he’s been on the floor, 9-of-21 at the rim and 2-of-7 in the paint.

It’s unfair to Anthony, however, to draw broad conclusions based on the limited information we have. It’s inconceivable that he hasn’t graded out well in Erik Spoelstra’s in-house evaluation system over the past few weeks much less previous two games, but without that data we must turn to the film of Game 2 for the most accurate depiction of his contributions. Just keep your eye on No. 50.

Not only was Anthony effective hedging on screen-rolls, shutting off driving lanes and contesting shots in the paint, but he was able to do all of those things within multiple possessions, allowing Miami to be both aggressive and disciplined in its schemes. But what is most remarkable is that he was able to do all that while hardly ever fouling. Granted there were some plays that could have gone either way, but Anthony earns the benefit of the doubt by playing straight-up, not swiping violently at a shot in hopes of an impressive blocked shot or hacking down on a ballhandler if he felt he might get beat. He simply reacts to the action, slides his feet, keeps his chest up and does his best to legally reduce the chances of a shot going up, and if it goes up, goes in.

We could go on, but there’s no need. Anthony can be described by many as a walking intangible, but that would be inaccurate in light of what’s shown on tape. He may be quiet, he may have his shortcomings on offense and may not strike the most imposing figure on a television screen, but his impact on this series has been very real, and the 76ers are feeling it the most.

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