You can’t judge a book by its cover.
Well, scratch that: You probably can and should judge a book by its cover occasionally—like, while book shopping—but be quick to reevaluate the book once more complete information becomes available. The moral is, don’t be too confident in suppositions—literary or otherwise—that are based solely on covers. Read a review or two first.
Which brings us to Chris Andersen.
The Mohawked, heavily tattooed center, who once got kicked out of the NBA for testing positive for recreational drugs, doesn’t look like the most reliable reserve on a quasi-dynasty, but that’s precisely what he is. And with the Miami Heat girding for a run at their fourth consecutive finals appearance and third title in as many seasons, the Birdman appears poised to, yet again, galvanize his team.
Andersen has been extraordinary for the Heat in 2013-14. This isn’t hyperbole; by some measures he’s been second only to LeBron James in production. Despite playing just 19.6 minutes a night, the center is second on Miami in wins produced, per Boxscore Geeks, third in win shares and fourth in player efficiency rating, according to Basketball-Reference.
“He’s been consistent for us with his energy and toughness,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told The Miami Herald’s David J. Neal. “What you’re seeing is Bird is healthy with a full training camp, a better understanding of what we’re doing. And it’s making him quicker and even more active.”
Consider this remarkable bit of information. By measure of win shares per 48 minutes, Andersen ranks seventh in the NBA among players who have logged more than 1,000 minutes on the season, according to Basketball-Reference. The only guys ahead of him are Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, LeBron, Kevin Love, Anthony Davis and James Harden.
That’s pretty elite company. And it's a fraternity Andersen was able to join largely because of his efficiency as a scorer. The man simply doesn't miss.
Among players who have crossed the 1,000-minute threshold thus far in 2013-14, Birdman leads the NBA with a 69.3 true shooting percentage, according to Basketball-Reference. The secret to his success is twofold: He takes only very high percentage shots, and he hits them at an unusually high percentage.
According to the fine folks at NBA.com, Andersen has taken a remarkable 223 of his 264 field goal attempts within five feet of the basket. He’s hitting a whopping 72.6 percent of these shots—which places him fifth in the Association among players with more than 100 such attempts.
Anderson has been so extraordinary this season, that Azam Masood of Hot Hot Hoops recently argued the center should be the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year.
He has been Miami's most consistent reserve, arguably even the most consistent overall player on the team. He has played under 10 minutes only once this year and only over 30 minutes twice. His role is probably the most secure on the entire roster. As the starting lineup and bench rotations continue to get reshuffled, Andersen has always been the first big man off the bench, playing his absolute heart out and energizing the home crowd with his soaring theatrics.
This season isn’t a fluke either. While his 2013-14 performance, if it holds up, will likely go down as his best as a pro, the 35-year-old has strung together quite a recent run of games. According to Basketball-Reference, since 2008-09, his lowest win shares per 48 minutes has been .166, and he hasn’t notched a PER below the league average of 15.
He’s been very productive for several years now. Which is propitious, because Miami might need him now more than ever.
With Shane Battier, Ray Allen, Michael Beasley and Udonis Haslem struggling, the Heat reserve corps is as thin as it has been in recent memory. Andersen—by virtue of his production—is an antidote to this. LeBron and the Big Three can’t win titles alone.
As has been documented ad nauseam, including in this space, in each of the Heat’s consecutive titles, Miami got big contributions at big times from unexpected places. To win a third, they’ll need a huge effort from a source that, at this point, isn’t that surprising. Or at least shouldn’t be.
Just last season, Andersen was terrific in the playoffs for the Heat—leading the NBA with an eye-popping 81.5 true shooting percentage and 80.7 effective field-goal percentage, per Basketball-Reference. In his 51-game postseason career, Andersen has notched a 70.1 true shooting percentage and .213 win shares per 48 minutes. LeBron, for point of reference, has career marks of 56.7 and .238 in the playoffs.
The conventional wisdom is that the Heat need their Big Three to be humming to successfully defend their title(s). But Miami might actually be relying on a Big Four.