Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Turning Up The Heat: Joel Anthony
By John Krolik
Heat C Joel Anthony is special on defense. Now it's time to take his offensive game to the next level.
Joel Anthony averaged two points and 3.5 rebounds per game last season. His PER of 7.29 was below half of the league average. When you type in Joel Anthony's name on YouTube, it autocorrects "Joel Anthony Airball Dunk," which leads to this video. Anthony also became a fan favorite, may have humanized the Heat to non-Miami fans, was given the nickname "The Warden" by Dan Le Batard, and was a key part of one of the NBA's best defenses. There were times when Anthony was out of the rotation, and there were long periods of time when Anthony legitimately looked like the fourth-best player on the team.
In the playoffs, Anthony was leaned on heavily until Haslem got healthy in the middle of the Chicago series, mostly because the Heat were hemorrhaging points in a historically appalling fashion when Zydrunas Ilgauskas was on the court and became nearly unbeatable when Anthony was on the court. Anthony lost the lion's share of his minutes to Haslem in the Finals because the Heat's matchups against the Mavericks were better when Haslem played.
Overall, Anthony surprised a lot of people in 2010-11, but it's the next season or two that will show us all whether Anthony is destined to be just a defensive specialist and fan favorite or a true key piece on a championship-caliber team for years to come.
TURNING UP THE HEAT
John Krolik takes a closer look at Miami's rotation players:
Anthony is a special defensive player. He is an extremely talented shot-blocker who can swat away shots from the weak-side, and, importantly, his shot-blocking doesn't hurt the team's work on the glass either -- the Heat were a top-5 team in defensive rebound rate last season.
However, Anthony's defensive game is about much more than shot-blocking. He can shut down faster, face-up type power forwards in one-on-one situations, and he's a good post defender if the opposing center isn't able to completely tower over Anthony. Most importantly, he can shut down pick-and-rolls as well as any player in the league by helping out on the perimeter and then rotating back to the paint in the blink of an eye, which is an invaluable skill in Erik Spoelstra's swarming, rotation-heavy defensive scheme.
LeBron James and Dwyane Wade usually play more minutes, guard better scorers and make more spectacular defensive plays than Anthony does on a given night, but Anthony's ability to seemingly guard two positions at the same time on every play while protecting the rim makes him the backbone of Miami's defense when he's on the court.
What didn't work
Anthony is skill-deprived in all endeavors relating to putting a ball through a regulation-sized NBA hoop. Anthony makes decent cuts and generally knows that he's not supposed to shoot the ball. Those are essentially Anthony's only offensive strengths.
Anthony isn't a strong finisher inside for a player his size, has no shooting range whatsoever, doesn't draw fouls, isn't a good passer, turns the ball over a lot and has exactly one offensive move that isn't a dunk or a layup -- a left-handed hook/floater that he doesn't have much confidence in. He also isn't particularly good at catching passes, in spite of the fact that he's actually worked very hard on the simple act of catching a basketball. Simply put, Anthony just isn't a good offensive player.
Possible lockout viewing material
The Heat don't need Anthony to turn into any kind of offensive force. They just need him to be good enough on offense so he can keep teams honest -- basically, Anthony is great for the Heat as long as he's not clogging the lane and forcing them to play four-on-five offensively. There are two basic routes that Anthony can follow in order to improve his offensive game.
The Heat would do backflips if Anthony ever developed Chuck Hayes' current skill-set.
The first is the Chuck Hayes route. Hayes came into the league as a comically undersized center and rebounding savant, slowly became known for his high-quality defensive play, and has quietly blossomed into a well-rounded center who averaged 7.9 points on 52.7 percent shooting last season. Those aren't Charles Barkley numbers, but remember that Hayes averaged 1.3 points on 37.2 percent field-goal shooting as recently as the 2008-09 season, and once shot free throws like this. Hayes has become comfortable making cuts and finishing at the rim from a variety of angles.
The other route is the Ben Wallace route. Wallace never learned to make free throws, and as he got older he couldn't really convert layups or dunks very well anymore, but he hid himself exceedingly well offensively by staying in constant motion, making good screens and cuts, and executing surprisingly good passes whenever he had the choice between attempting a contested layup against a rotating defense or feeding an open teammate.
When Wallace played with the Cavaliers in the 2008-09 season, the Cavaliers were shockingly good offensively with a starting offensive frontcourt of Wallace and Zydrunas Ilgauskas -- in fact, the Cavaliers were a full four points per 100 possessions better offensively when Wallace played than when he sat. When you consider that Wallace was horrible at both free throws and layups at that point in his career, that's fairly incredible.
Ideally, Anthony will eventually become a two-way player by incorporating a bit of what both Hayes and Wallace have done. He also needs to put more work in on that little left-handed flip shot around the rim, as well as be more aggressive on dunk attempts and more patient on layup attempts and catching the ball.
If he can keep playing defense like he has and start to hold his own on the offensive end, his much-maligned five-year deal could be looked at as one of the biggest bargains in NBA history by the time it ends. With Haslem coming back healthy next season, Anthony may see less minutes if his offense doesn't improve, but he should still be a rotation player under any circumstance and could still be a key player in next year's playoffs.