By Dylan Barmmer
He's playing a new position.
He's giving up 20, 30, 40, 50 pounds per game on the defensive end.
He's in just his second season in the HEAT system.
But Shane Battier is getting the job done. And then some.
Battier has accomplished a lot throughout a professional basketball career that has spanned 12 seasons and three NBA teams, so it really should come as no surprise to HEAT fans that the veteran swingman is finding a way to contribute as the HEAT's 6-foot-8, 220-pound starting power forward -- many ways, to be exact.
Through the HEAT's first 11 games of the 2012-13 season, Battier ranks fifth on the HEAT in scoring at 7.5 points per game and is tied with LeBron James for second with 1.0 blocks per game. Not deterred by spending time and energy banging big bodies in the low post, Battier also ranks fifth on the club in 3-point field goal percentage at 47.1% and first in 3-pointers made per game (2.2) through the HEAT's strong 8-3 start.
A sharpshooter on a team stocked with snipers, Battier ranks 13th in the entire NBA in 3-point field goal percentage and is tied for eighth in 3-pointers made per game.
He's drilled a team-high 24 3-pointers in a team-high 51 attempts, and has hit on a sizzling 15-of-24 attempts (62.5%) over the last four games -- all on the road.
Not coincidentally, the HEAT won three of those four games, including the last two without the services of Dwyane Wade, who has been resting a sore foot.
Battier picked up his offense dramatically in those two games, scoring a season-high 18 points in a 98-93 win at Denver on Nov. 15 and 12 in a 97-88 victory at Phoenix two nights later. Battier made 10 of 15 shots in those two wins, all coming from long-range. Talk about efficient.
Battier's superior conditioning and seemingly endless energy make HEAT fans forget that he's a 34-year-old, 12-year NBA veteran, but the smarts, savvy and clutch play of the former Duke University star serve as ample reminders of his vast experience. There's so many things he does well, and many of those things don't show up in your standard box score.
Of course, Battier's value has long transcended standard statistical summation, as evidenced by the New York Times Magazine piece once penned on him by sportswriter Michael Lewis entitled "The No-Stats All-Star."
And this year has been no different -- even as Battier's positional assignment has changed, and he's transitioned from a reserve role into a starting spot.
The win in Denver serves as an ideal example of Battier's multi-faceted and versatile game. Yes, there were the season-high 18 points on the game-high six hits from long range. But there were also the handful of charging calls he drew, most of them coming at key points in the game and helping to spark or extend pivotal HEAT runs. And there were the numerous other times he recklessly yet strategically launched his sinewy, flexible frame into the teeth of the opposing offense.
At times it's almost like Battier is a skilled defensive back in a football game, locking down opponents and relentlessly hunting down the ball every time it's thrown into his airspace. And just like the defensive back often won't get talked about unless he's beaten deep or comes up with a big interception, you often won't hear much mention of Battier unless he hits the deck or drills a timely triple.
But Battier's name has been called more and more by both HEAT coach Erik Spoelstra and game announcers lately. And it's increasingly clear that despite the tough positional assignment that has him battling younger behemoths like the Nuggets' Kenneth Faried and L.A. Clippers star Blake Griffin, Battier is clearly more comfortable in the HEAT system this season than he was last year, when he joined the team as a free-agent signing just before the start of a frantic, lockout-compressed 66-game season.
Of course, Battier emerged as a valuable component of that NBA World Champion HEAT team, averaging 4.8 points, 2.4 rebounds, 1.0 steals and nailing 62 3-pointers in 23.1 minutes off the bench in 65 games. He did serve as a starter in 10 games, mostly filling in for Wade at shooting guard, but seeing some time at small forward as well.
The former No. 6 overall pick in the 2001 NBA Draft was even more valuable during the HEAT's playoff run to their second NBA title, averaging 7.0 points, 3.3 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 1.0 steals in 33.4 minutes a game. His value, role and confidence continuing to grow as the season and postseason progressed, Battier ended up starting 16 of 23 postseason games, mostly at the small forward position, and nailing a HEAT-high 42 3-pointers during the title run.
Battier was especially prolific during the HEAT's five-game NBA Finals win over Oklahoma City, scoring 9 or more points in four of the five games, including 17 in each of the first two and 11 in the closeout game. He canned a remarkable 15 of 26 shots from long-range (57.7%) and grabbed 4 or more rebounds three times. As usual, Battier's all-around game was strong in many other areas, and he helped limit the extremely explosive, young Thunder to under 100 points in three of the five games.
Battier has continued to provide sweet shooting from long-range this season, while somehow managing to mix in spirited defense against men often much larger and longer than him down in the paint.
It's been a win-win sort of situation, as the continued evolution of James' own post game, along with Chris Bosh's move to center, allows Battier to sneak and float back outside for good looks at 3-point shots fairly often on the offensive end, and he has continued to drain those shots when they matter most.
So you might say Shane Battier is doing for the HEAT what he's always done during his decorated basketball career -- a little bit of everything.