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Commentary: Miami’s Jump Shooting Savior

Forget about statistics for just a moment and go with your gut to answer the following question: Which player, when the ball leaves his fingertips—mid-range jumper, maybe 10 feet to the three-point line—do you envision the shot slipping through the net every single time. No questions asked, and no need even watching the ball cut through the gym’s humidity, this jump shot is finding the rim’s square center. For this hypothetical, throw pressure situations out the window; it isn’t to win a game or put a team up one with 30 seconds left. This shot comes with 5:38 left in the second quarter down eight or with 8:21 left in the fourth up 14. This is the overlooked; the forgetful.

For the last couple of years my answer to this question has been known to raise some eyebrows. It’s admittedly a strange choice, but whenever Udonis Haslem raises up to shoot with no hesitation, I have 100 percent confidence in it being successful. Every single time he attempts a field goal, I’m already imagining his team’s score growing by two.

While Haslem’s been out since November, many have said what the Heat are missing out most on is his toughness, grit, and rebounding. Those are all wonderful attributes and remain among Miami’s serious weaknesses, but what the Heat are more lacking with Haslem on the sidelines is a reliable spot up shooter. Mike Miller has been beyond disappointing, Big Z plays 16 minutes a night, James Jones and Eddie House can’t crack the rotation, and the only front court player with any semblance of a shot is Chris Bosh. If Haslem were healthy this entire season, it goes without saying that despite a likely reduction in shots, the former Gator—a career 10 points per game scorer—could have had a career best year in point production competing alongside a playmaking genius like LeBron James. But, alas, Haslem hasn’t been able to heal quite like Heat fans would have wished.

Courtesy of the Palm Beach Post’s Ethan J. Skolnick:

The question, of course, is when Haslem will be ready, and it’s a question he still can’t answer and would prefer outsiders stop answering for him. He hasn’t played since tearing a ligament in his left foot Nov. 20, but his first road trip since still seems a success, as he looked fluid and comfortable while shooting jumpers from several spots on the floor.

“Believe it or not, I forgot the plays,” Haslem said. “So I’ve been watching those guys, and kind of visualizing myself going through the plays a little bit.”

He can handle the side-to-side sliding in the half court, but the running up and down the court puts pressure on his big toe.

“As much as I want to be out there ASAP, this is one time, if any, that I really have to be patient and be smart,” Haslem said. “But one thing I can say is we’re getting better, it’s taking strides every day. I will be out there. I just can’t say when.”

His consistency throughout his career has been remarkable. In 2005, Haslem’s second year in the league, only three players were more accurate from the field: Shaquille O’Neal, Amar’e Stoudemire, and Yao Ming. Much like the game winning shot you watched above, almost all of Haslem’s shots are catch and shoot, directly assisted by a teammate. (According to Hoopdata, 98.6% of his jumpers taken from 16-23 feet were assisted last season. He made 45% of them.) Haslem is somewhat of a rare power forward in that he takes more shots from the perimeter than at the rim—last season he attempted 5.3 shots from 10-23 feet and 2.8 from nine feet and in—but he’s still able to finagle his 6’8″ frame into the paint for about two offensive rebounds a game.

Haslem’s shot looks funky when you watch it live, like he’s shot putting a basketball into a high, looping arc. So far this season Miami has by no means been slacking in jump shot efficiency—they’re second in the league in attempts and third in FG% from 16-23 feet—but nearly all of it comes from their Big 3. The proven and undeviating Haslem jumper could be exactly what the Heat are missing most come playoff time.

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