The Birdman Effect

Chris Andersen has given Miami a lift on....offense - USA TODAY Sports

Chris Andersen, a 34-year-old veteran coming off of an injury plagued couple of seasons, has become Miami's best free agent addition. And it's his offense that's making the difference.

We've been through this exercise before, and I'm sorry we have to do it again. But this point has to be made one last time for us to see the value of Miami's newest big man.

Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Erick Dampier. Jamaal Magloire. Juwan Howard.

These players were picked up after the acquisitions of Chris Bosh and LeBron James as Heat president Pat Riley rushed to surround his new cast of stars with veterans.

Preferably big, old ones.

Ones that satisfied Riley's fetish for size, regardless of skill.

We can talk about how they helped foster a healthy locker room, but there is no arguing that none of them were productive role players in their time with the team.

The Heat gave Ronny Turiaf a try last season, and he was better, but they didn't think enough of him to bring him back. And this is not to mention Miami's attempts to squeeze something out of the careers of Mickell Gladness and Dexter Pittman.

Ultimately, Miami shifted some of it's strategy. They moved Bosh into the starting lineup, with holdover Joel Anthony retaining a spot in the team's rotation. Nobody would complain if Miami entered the postseason this way. Some fans would still be nagging about rebounding, but the team would overcome that and probably still be the favorites to win a title.

The Heat still did their diligence and took a flier on some depth.

Miami signed a 34-year old coming off of knee surgery who had missed roughly half the season for two consecutive years. He was also a player who was dealing with a cloud of legal issues, none of which he has been found guilty of, but they hovered and may have buried his value a bit.

But that 10-day deal went a long way. Heat fans should be thankful every day of the week that the team handed out the most impactful 10-day contract of the year to one Chris 'Birdman' Andersen from Blinn College.

BIRDMAN IN ACTION

Andersen was looked at as a player who could help Miami's depth on the interior, and give the team a glass-eating big as insurance. The positives where that he was an agile center who could fit into the Heat's defense, an over-aggressive one that demands a lot of movement, specifically a lot of trapping and show-and-recover sequences from its defenders.

Ironically, Birdman's greatest contribution to the Heat has been his offense.

According to Synergy Sports data, Andersen's defensive splits aren't favorable, and Anthony has fared better. You can make an argument that given Birdman's track record, and the fact that he was playing himself into shape after a surgery, he's rounding into form and will be fine.

But defense aside, he's flashing a valuable offensive skill set already that warrants his spot in the rotation as it is.

Consider the following:

Birdman has converted on 24-of-38 attempts as a pick-and-roll threat. That 63 percent shooting mark gets him 1.31 points per possession, an outlandishly efficient mark. For perspective, as of April 11., Synergy has Andersen ranked sixth in the league in this category.

In possessions that are tracked where Birdman is labeled as a cutter, the 6-foot-10 center is 20-of-26 (1.33 points per possession). That's another ridiculous mark.

The bird doesn't do much else. 29.5 percent of his possessions are screen-and-rolls and 23.5 percent of them are cuts. He is excelling at a few undervalued skills from the average fan's perspective, but they are becoming staples of the Heat's second-team attack. Birdman is slipping screens on pick-and-rolls, and attentively finding lanes on off-the-ball cuts.

Let's go over a few screen-and-rolls first.

BIRDMAN ROLLS

On this play, Birdman is playing with is usual activity, and after setting a few screens off the ball, he gives Norris Cole a quick one before slipping into the lane unchallenged and slamming in a reverse jam.


Andersen mobility and timing make him solid at slipping these screens.

Here is a similar play of Andersen running a middle-high pick-and-roll with James, and turning the extra attention James receives into another slam.


And this brings me to a few points.

* When reviewing Andersen's plays, there are times that defenses don't pay a lot of attention to him. For one, he is pretty good at it, but he also benefits from the fact that defenses are paying more attention to say, Dwyane Wade and James, when they are involved in plays together. It's a pick-your poison approach, and the sting of Wade and James' poison is a little scarier than Andersen's. That's working in his favor.

* The second point this brings me too is the glaring difference between Andersen and the player he replaced, Anthony. Joel is a skilled defensive player, and he actually is decent at sucking defenses in by slipping these screens in a similar fashion to Birdman. But Anthony struggles to finish at the rim, and that's if he can catch the ball first, another weakness of his. His offensive production is among the worst for centers who have played similar minutes over the last few seasons.

In the next few videos, we'll notice Birdman cutting off-the-ball and looking for the basketball aggressively. There are times when Anthony seems to lack confidence on the floor, and his teammates seem hesitant to give him the ball because they feel the same. With every passing game, it seem's like Birdman is getting in more and more rhythm with his teammates.

BIRDMAN CUTS:

On this play, Miami runs a simple set that they have a few variations of. It's initially designed to get Wade the ball on the left block for a post-up.


After Cole sets the pin-down screen on the right block to free Wade and the Heat whip a few passes before it reaches him, Birdman dives to the rim to capitalize on a double team by the Pistons. That's the poison picking we were talking about.

Here is another heady play from Bird:


On this play, even though Luol Deng successfully forced James to come out a little too far to receive a post entry pass, it allowed him to face Deng up and see the floor. This is where James' brilliance as a passer comes in, but also Birdman's knack for finding a crease in the defense. He totally caught Taj Gibson with his back to him on the baseline, an absolute sin on defense, but give Bird credit for sneaking behind him.

Last one:

On this one, Miami runs a 'horns' set they used a few times against San Antonio recently. I led into this last clip to show that even if he's not in a traditional screen situation, Birdman can be utilized as a trigger in a play and the team can trust that he can execute offensively, something that is out of the question with Anthony on the court.


When Bosh gets the ball on the right elbow, it sets off a series of actions, notably Mike Miller going opposite of a screen on the baseline and Ray Allen getting a pass off of a screen coming back to the left elbow, where a Birdman dive to the hole is a last resort that results in another high percentage shot.

MORE NUMBERS (Bear with me!)

To put his production in perspective, Birdman is an above average player. All-around. Despite coming off an injury and missing training camp, he's posted a 16 player efficiency rating (The average is considered 15) and has shot 55 percent from the floor this season, with an awesome 61.3 true shooting percentage (A number that adjusts to the value of free throws and 3-pointers). If you're into win shares, he's getting a super solid 19 win shares per 48 minutes.

Ray Allen has been a nice pickup as well, and they are very different players, but considering Birdman will be more critical defensively, and is outproducing him on a per-minute basis as it is, an argument can be made that Birdman has been the team's best pickup in 2012-13.

I'll be the first to admit I underrated him. Considering that Birdman was a walking double-double per 36 minutes with an above average career PER, I shouldn't have slept on his offense.

Andersen has a minimalist game, and he can't create on his own, but the few things he does are effective.

Miami thought they were getting some depth and help on the boards, and they will get some of that.

But what they really got was an offensive weapon.

After failing to get much out of recyclable big men for a few off seasons, Miami found one in Birdman, and it will give defenses even more to think about this postseason.

NOTES: 
* In terms of on/off court splits (+/-) Anthony and Andersen have essentially the same offensive impact in lineups they play with. In both cases, the offense is roughly three points worse with one of them on the court.
* Which brings us to our next point. The plus/minus between these two is heavily influenced by the lineups they play with. Now that they have both played just about the same amount of minutes on the year (Just over 500), we can look a little deeper.
Among 5-man units, both players have mostly played with a second team unit featuring Allen, Cole, Shane Battier and one of Miami's two star wings, Wade and James. In these lineups, units with Birdman are posting a +4.5 point differential (119 minutes) with the Wade lineup, while Anthony is posting a +4.6 differential (25 minutes).
With LeBron, however, Andersen lineups with the other three usual subs have a +19.4 differential in 117 minutes, while Anthony's units with this lineup have struggled and had a negative differential in 101 minutes.
* These on/off splits don't necessarily paint a clear picture, but a trend begins to surface in which the most used lineups with Andersen are also outscoring team's in four and three man combinations. * We went over the most common plays in which Birdman scores, but don't forget, he had a steal and dunk this year too, and even hit a 3-pointer the other day. He's shot a few more jumpers than I expected, actually. He probably won't take too many, but it factors in ever so slightly in the fact that he's by far a better option offensively than Joel ever would be.

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