With the pre-season a roster rollercoaster of sorts, there seems to be ill-advised criticism of starting center Joel Anthony based on unimpressive statistics. Adding to critique is the misconception that the starting center for this team should be more productive all around. Want your cake and eat it too? Joel is not the starter because he's conceptually better than others at his position but he is the big man of choice to start the defensively oriented engine.
Judgment on Joel is harsh from a numbers standpoint and selective from a viewer perspective but when more closely analyzed, his strengths outweigh his weaknesses. I promise. Here's a quick play clips collection of his performance against the young contenders in Oklahoma City, to the tune of the fallible Canadian band The Dears. Just because:
1. Hesitates on pass, passes late, deflected, Heat turnover
2. Hesitates, pass to open Hasbrouck, Heat miss
Joel will not find himself with the ball often but when he does there clearly needs to be quicker decision making.
Anthony does not have natural rebounding instincts but is solid at boxing out and finding the open space on offense. On defense he is often contesting shots, leaving few opportunities for the gathering of rebounds.
1. Block on Durant, leads to fast break and open shot for Bosh
2. Post defense, contests shot, Aldrich basket
3. Block on Sefolosha, leads to fast break and Lebron dunk
4. Contests shot on help defense, Sefolosha basket
5. Contests shot after Durant gets past Lebron, foul
6. Contests shot beautifully, Ibaka miss
7. Contests shot left handed, Jeff Green miss
8. Well timed help defense, blocks Durant's shot
9. Contests shot on Wesbtrook with Lebron, foul
10. Contests shot left handed, Westbrook misses in the post
11. Late on switch, Kevin Durant misses (lucky miss)
12. Contests shot, Jeff Green miss
13. Late on help defense, foul on Sefolosha
14. Help defense after Lebron bites on pump fake, blocked shot on Sefolosha
15. No bite on pump fake, slow to contest Ibaka shot, Thunder basket
Similar to Miami Heat mentor Alonzo Mourning, Joel is excellent in his timing and ability to contest shots with either hand. His help on defense is average at best but, when executed correctly, dramatically decreases the opponent's chance at a basket. As a result, Joel currently stands 2nd in blocks per 48 minutes in pre-season play. Not too shabby.
For further dissection, a quick look at his first 5 games in pre-season:
Obvious are his perfect lack of points and field goal attempts and high number of blocked shots. Conversely, his attempts at contesting shots every time yields him a high foul rate. Most impressive? When Joel is on the court the Heat are yet to be outscored. All this in his brief performance average of 15 minutes per game.
Whether one sees a quirky undersized center who can't rebound and trembles with the ball in his hands, or a hard working energetic big man that makes the opponent think twice about attacking the paint, the choice will be in the eye of the beholder. There is plenty room for improvement, as is the case with every NBA player, but the job description for a center in Miami could have netted much worse with the available funds. *cough* Darko $4.4M *cough*
There is one thing most everyone can agree on. His solid defense creates offense, and it being the Miami Heat's motto, it seems Joel is just right for the job.