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.