Until recently, Miami Heat forward Udonis Haslem hasn't been much of a source for attention or news. He has been a steady contributor off the Heat bench, never leaving you wanting for rebounds or a few ‘inside the paint' scores and dunks. However, thanks to LeBron James being the kind of player that he is, Haslem found the ball in his hands in the final seconds of the Utah game last week, with the Heat down by one and just a couple seconds on the clock.
All Haslem had time to do was put up a wide open 18-20 foot shot that trailed off to the left and barely grazed the side of the rim. In the past, Udonis has been money from anywhere inside of 20 feet, but perhaps his reserve role needing him primarily to defend and rebound, the outside jumper has gone a bit by the wayside.
That could be due to the new system the Heat has been playing since acquiring LeBron James, Chris Bosh and totally revamping the entire roster, other then U-D and Dwyane Wade. Now Haslem isn't as sure of his positioning on offense with so many playmakers and so much freedom allowed to those players to operate.
I have no doubt that Udonis will make the right adjustments and become as stable and consistent as he has always been throughout his career with the Heat. Few men work as hard, on and off the court, as Haslem, and in time that hard work will show during games.
Other then on offense, Udonis has been playing just as well as Heat fans could've hoped. He still plays some amazing defense when called upon, especially against some of the more aggressive big guys he's asked to guard. Combine that with grabbing 7.8 rebounds per game while playing in just 25.6 minutes off the bench, and you have to be pretty pleased with those aspects of his game.
Now if only his shooting touch will return. The shot he missed at the end of the Utah game I'm sure had Heat fans cringing, not because it was Udonis taking the shot, but because this years' version of U-D hasn't been the consistent, automatic driller of those mid-range J's. This season he is shooting his lowest percentage from the field in his whole career, and I'm sure that can be attributed to still adapting to his new teammates and their high-octane style of offense.
Remember, Haslem missed all but the first 13 games of last season before making a brief comeback at the end of the Eastern Conference Finals and into the NBA Finals. Still, that's not nearly enough time to practice and get better acclimated with new teammates and a new style of offense.
This season, however, Udonis has plenty of time to make the proper adjustments, and I think he will do just that. The NBA Lockout shortened off-season practice time, training camp and then gave players an abbreviated season with little to no time for full practices. Taking all those factors into account, its no surprise at all that Haslem is shooting the worst percentage from the field in his whole career (41.3%).
None of that is going to faze Udonis though, as he will just keep on chuggin'. Keep working his tail off so that when opportunities do arise, that he can as well rise to those challenges. And guess what, he just got one of those opportunities in the Heat's last game, Wednesday night's win over Atlanta. Well...two opportunities really.
The first came with the Heat leading by just 1 point with 1:07 left in the game. Dwyane Wade had the ball, drew defenders over to him and then passed the ball to a wide-open Udonis Haslem right at the elbow. Haslem showed no hesitation as he rose up and took his patented jumper, that touched nothing but the bottom of the net.
Haslem wouldn't be done there though, as the Hawks battled back in the final minute, eventually drawing back within just one point of the Heat with under 30 seconds left. Obviously everyone in the arena and everyone watching was thinking ‘This is LeBron or D-Wade time', so when it was Wade that wad dribbling down the clock, apparently trying to set up a shot just as the 24-second clock expired, Wade instead made a move towards the basket and as he turned to shoot, threw a perfect lob to a back-cutting Haslem who caught the ball in mid-air and slammed down the ally-oop exclamation point, putting the Heat up by 3 with just under 12 seconds left.
For what its worth, Dwyane Wade assisted on both of Haslem's late scores, as well as a Chris Bosh jumper in between U-D's buckets. Wade also hit a pair of free throws with 2 seconds left to ice the game and the win for Miami. Does this last game example mean that Udonis Haslem is back to form? Not quite. However, it's a big step in the right direction, and as long as he keeps moving forward, we could be seeing the ‘Haslem of old' by the time the Playoffs roll around, and how awesome would that be?