In July 2010, the Heat's LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all took pay cuts to sign together. Not only just to sign together, but also to create room to keep someone to start alongside of them, forward Udonis Haslem. Udonis played only 13 games with the Heat that season as he suffered through a left foot injury and never was himself.
Last season, Haslem found himself coming off the bench when Shane Battier emerged as a starter alongside Chris Bosh in the front court to see the Heat go on their way to the NBA Championship. But this season, Haslem has been reinserted into the starting lineup and we saw the Heat go on a 27-game win steak with him in the lineup.
If you've been a Heat fan for very long (or at least since before the LeBron James era), then you have a good appreciation for Haslem. He complimented Shaquille O'Neal so nicely in the front court on the way to the 2006 NBA Championship and he has more than once taken a pay cut to remain in Miami. He willingly gave up his starting role to allow Michael Beasley to have a chance to shine, which didn't happen often. And Haslem has always been willing to do the dirty work, leading the Heat in charges taken for years.
And if you listen to the Heat players much, you'll hear as a part of their game plan the word, "trigger." Trigger simply means an option in the offense that is created by a double team, or penetration upon which a player is left in a position to succeed. Think of it as a pressure releaser. The Heat have a lot of triggers. Ray Allen, Shane Battier and Mario Chalmers anywhere beyond the three point line. Chris Bosh from 18-20 feet, and he even Chris Andersen rolling to the basket. But the one trigger that's been there the longest in Udonis Haslem's mid range jumper.
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When Wade or James are able to penetrate and create it gives their role players a chance to contribute where they are needed. Although Ray Allen continually found himself open against the Bucks, good defensive teams will track him better, and will leave someone like Haslem open instead. For years, Haslem's mid range jumper was money. He would sink them in his sleep. But since the ligament injury in 2010, Haslem hasn't been the same shooting the ball.
But when he does contribute and is on, the Heat are even more efficient and difficult to stop than before. This season, the Heat are 16-2 when Haslem shoots 75% or better. The last two games against the Bucks, Haslem has contributed 13 and 12 points. But he only scored in double figures 6 times in the regular season.
Maybe you can remember Game 4 against the Indiana Pacers in last season's playoffs. Haslem contributed 14 points in 25 minutes, many in crunch time, to help prevent the Heat from going down 3-1 to the Pacers (yes, Wade and James played magnificent games also). But what you can begin to see is Haslem becoming a trigger once again. When Udonis can sink that baseline or free throw range jumper, the Heat offense is more explosive, efficient and dangerous.
When UD is able to hit his jumper it makes life easier on Wade and James, knowing they can pass to him in confidence. When the defense must respect his shot, it sucks a power forward or center out of the lane just enough to create more space, which is what the Heat's offense is all about. But UD does so much more than hit those jumpers. Like I said, he is a tremendous defensive player, and he grabs a high rate of rebounds in his vicinity in his limited minutes. He is an intelligent player and a scrapper. He often finds himself in the right position on roles or rotations offensively. Oh, and he's been known to stand up for his teammates a time or two.
Haslem may not get the glamour as Ray, Shane or even Mike Miller when a shot goes down. But his baseline jumper is as important to the Heat offense when he is in the game as all the other triggers. In playoff basketball, sometimes you're only as good as your weakest link. Haslem has the experience offensively and defensively to be an important and small factor in the Heat's success this postseason.
No Udonis Haslem is not the most "potent" trigger. That probably stays with Ray, Shane or Mario outside the Big 3. But Haslem can't be forgotten for his importance in the offense and his contributions.
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