5 Ways Chris Andersen Has Impacted Miami Heat Success
Chris "Birdman" Andersen is the furthest thing from an overnight sensation.
He didn't make his NBA debut until spending time in the Chinese and minor leagues. Then, after establishing himself as a decent pro, he got sidetracked by a drug-related suspension before emerging as a critical role player on a quality Denver Nuggets squad.
His career appeared to run its course last season, as he lost playing time, was accused of Internet-related crime and wasn't re-signed by Denver.
Never charged of the crime, and thoroughly investigated by the Miami Heat, he joined the team on a 10-day contract, signed another, then signed for the season on Feb. 8.
Now look at him.
"It is incredible," Andersen said of his current situation.
His addition coincided with the Heat's near-record romp in the second half of the regular season. They were 39-3 in games he played, and were 10-2 in the postseason entering Game 4 against the Indiana Pacers.
He has also become a fan favorite due to his energy and appearance, with the littlest fans dressed up as "Baby Bird."
It's hard to think of a midseason move, for any contending team, that has paid off so well.
"He's big-time for our team," LeBron James has repeatedly said, even as Andersen continues to play no more than about 15 to 17 minutes per night.
How, and why, has he made such a big impact?
(All quotes for this piece were collected over the course of the author's coverage of the Miami Heat for the Palm Beach Post.)
5. Bringing More Life to the Locker Room
The Miami Heat weren't playing poorly during the first half of the season.
Otherwise, Erik Spoelstra wouldn't have earned the spot of East All-Star coach.
Still, there sometimes seemed to be something missing. The team, defending a championship with many of the same core pieces, appeared absent of fresh motivation for the grind of the regular season.
They were especially listless on the road, splitting their first 22 games away from AmericanAirlines Arena.
They needed a jolt.
Enter the Mohawk.
"We didn't know how he would fit with our team," Dwyane Wade said.
But Andersen endeared himself early, rapping "Ice Ice Baby" with Mike Miller at a charity event (Battioke) hosted by Shane Battier. Then he took on a starring, wing-flapping role in the team's Harlem Shake video. He brought some levity to the locker room and energy to the court.
"He came right in and he fit in with this team like he's been here the whole time, the whole three years," Wade said.
How well? After wins, such as Game 3 against the Indiana Pacers, LeBron James makes bird calls across the room. And Andersen responds in kind.
4. Taking Pressure off Chris Bosh
You'll never hear the Miami Heat public address announcer play "Bad to the Bone" when Chris Bosh scores.
That just doesn't fit Bosh's personality. This is a guy who starred in a public service announcement promoting computer coding for kids, and whose "book game," as he calls it, is so advanced that when Erik Spoelstra gives the team books to read, chances are Bosh has already read them.
Chris Andersen is a different animal—or aviary creature—altogether.
Yet it has appeared that his odd couple of centers has complemented each other well off the court, with Bosh often seen to be amused by Andersen's personality.
On the court, they have also fit well.
That was the case when Andersen was simply substituting for Bosh, and bringing a different sort of game—less fluid, more frenetic—to the second unit.
And it has been the case recently, when Erik Spoelstra has given them more of an opportunity to collaborate, especially against teams with interior size like the Indiana Pacers.
In the regular season, they played just 12 games and 60 minutes together, averaging a minus-0.8 during their shared appearances.
In the playoffs, they have already played seven games, and 28 minutes together, and they are a plus-1.3.
While that's still a small sample size, there's no question that Andersen's glass work has taken some of the scrutiny away from Bosh's shortcomings in that area. During the postseason, Andersen is averaging 10.1 rebounds per 36 minutes, while Bosh has averaged just 7.9.
3. Providing Protection at the Rim
Early in his stint with the Miami Heat, Chris Andersen was repeatedly asked about his conditioning, and specifically about the state of his legs.
"Birdman don't need legs to fly," Andersen said, straight-faced as always.
That may be true, but his legs have looked quite lively over the past few weeks, even while they include knees that aren't quite what they once were.
Andersen is still limited in his minutes—he's played over 20 in only five games with the Heat, including Game 3 against the Indiana Pacers.
He plays those minutes, however, with abandon, especially on the defensive end. Over time, he has come to better understand the Heat's system and is left stranded in the wrong spot less often.
But where's he's really helped is on the back line, in front of the rim.
Andersen averaged 2.5 blocks per 36 minutes in the regular season.
That has increased to 3.4 blocks per 36 minutes in the playoffs.
That doesn't include all the shots that he has impacted by, well, flying around.
This has allowed some of his teammates to spread their own wings a bit, with Norris Cole, Mario Chalmers, Dwyane Wade or LeBron James jumping the passing lanes. It has also helped protect the Heat's lesser defenders, notably Ray Allen, who often plays with him on the second unit.
It hasn't always gone well, such as when Paul George dunked on him in Game 2.
But Andersen clearly isn't afraid to stand in the way again.
2. An Easy Option for Lobs
Joel Anthony was a worthy project for the Miami Heat.
Anthony rose from undrafted free agent to core member of the Heat rotation, becoming someone who could set screens, swat shots and mostly stay out of the way.
He played a major role in a first round playoff series win against the Philadelphia 76ers, and even started in the 2011 NBA Finals.
For all of that, he deserved a hand.
And not just in terms of applause.
Anthony had, and still has, hands of stone, which left the Heat often playing 4-on-5 on the offensive end. Once he set the screen, there wasn't much he could offer, since he couldn't step out for a 15-foot jumper, and he could rarely cleanly catch a pass if he dove to the rim.
Then Chris Andersen arrived, supplanted Anthony in the rotation and, after getting his wind, started regularly slamming lobs off pick-and-rolls.
And, in post-game interview sessions, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James kept talking about how they welcomed that aspect of Andersen's game more than any other.
Simply, as they both acknowledged, as politely as possible, it was something that the Heat hadn't had. And it has often become more lethal, as Wade, James and Norris Cole have recognized the elasticity of Andersen's wingspan and the adhesiveness of his claws.
"It keeps the defense honest," James said.
No offense, of course, to Mr. Anthony.
1. Unexpected Agility Inside
It's an oddity.
For someone with tattoos on nearly every square inch of skin, Chris Andersen really doesn't like calling attention to himself.
He has shied away from the media for the most part since joining the Miami Heat, and when he's asked about his exploits, he tends to downplay them.
That was the case again after Game 3 against the Indiana Pacers, when he was asked about his cartoonish efficiency. Andersen is now 35-for-41 in the playoffs, including making his last 16 dating back to the series against the Chicago Bulls.
If you go back to the final four games of the regular season, he is 45-for-53.
And, to him, no big deal.
“I’m getting the basketball around the rim,” Andersen said. “If I can’t make it a foot away from the basket, I shouldn’t be playing this sport.”
Plenty of guys get the ball close to the basket, however, and they don't do what he's doing.
It's not all dunks.
Several times recently, he has nimbly danced along the baseline to convert challenging up-and-under layups.
“I don’t ask for the ball, I don’t call for the ball, I don’t ask for plays,” Andersen said. “It’s in LeBron’s hands and (Dwyane) Wade’s hands, (Mario) Chalmers' hands. They make the decisions. I try to space the floor, give them opportunities to get to the basket.”
He's done that.
And he's also scored plenty of baskets of his own.