By Dylan Barmmer
His impact has been immediate.
And his energy, electric.
When the HEAT signed 10-year veteran forward-center Chris Andersen to a 10-day contract on Jan. 20, they knew they were getting a player who has always proven capable of providing copious amounts of both – the impact imprinting itself all across the court and the stat sheet, and the energy coursing out of seemingly every pore of his rangy 6-foot, 10-inch frame.
But with Andersen having played only sparingly over the past few seasons (just 32 games for the Nuggets in last year's lockout-shortened season, and not at all this season prior to signing with the HEAT), and the colorful big man having turned 34 last summer, what was uncertain was just how much Andersen could provide to a brand new organization with a deeply ingrained culture and core group. And just how long it would take him to make a truly meaningful contribution.
The answers? A lot. And not long at all.
Andersen made his HEAT debut in a 110-88 home win over the Detroit Pistons on Jan. 25, five days after signing that initial 10-day contract – and 10 months to the day since his last appearance in an NBA game – and made his presence felt right away, scoring 2 points and snaring 2 rebounds in just 4 minutes off the bench.
HEAT coach Erik Spoelstra held Andersen out of a 100-98 double-overtime loss at Boston two days later, and on Jan. 30, he was signed by the team to a second 10-day contract. Andersen responded by racking up 3 points, 5 rebounds, 1 block and 1 steal in 10 electric minutes of a 105-85 win at Brooklyn that evening. Two nights later, he scored a season-high 9 points (on perfect 4-for-4 shooting from the floor, and 1-for-1 from the free-throw line), grabbed 3 rebounds and added 1 assist, 1 block and 1 steal in 12 minutes of a 102-89 loss at Indiana.
That would be the only game Andersen would appear in that the HEAT would not emerge victorious, as they sprinted into the All-Star break on a season-best 7-game winning streak that started with a 100-85 win over Toronto two nights later. Andersen had 1 point and 4 rebounds in 11 more active minutes of that game, and the next evening, he stuffed the stat sheet with 4 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 steal in 16 live-wire minutes of a 99-94 win over Charlotte.
Four days later, the HEAT knew they had seen enough, and extended Andersen's contract for the remainder of the season. That evening, Spoelstra granted Andersen a season-high 18 minutes on the floor, and he responded with an 8-point, 4-rebound, 2-assist, 2-steal masterpiece in a 111-89 victory over the L.A. Clippers, who entered that game with a sparkling 35-16 record. Andersen also played a key role in limiting Clippers All-Star power forward Blake Griffin to just 13 points and 5 rebounds, well below his season averages of 18.5 and 8.7.
In his first 10 games in a HEAT uniform, Anderson has averaged a rock-solid 3.1 points, 3.5 rebounds, 0.6 blocks and 0.6 steals – in just 10.8 minutes per game. Despite being 11th on the club in minutes per game, he currently ranks fifth in rebounding average and sixth in blocks and steals per game. Andersen has also pulled down at least 4 rebounds in 6 of those 10 games – despite averaging just 12.3 minutes over those 6 games.
And Andersen has managed to do all this while admittedly still working his way back into NBA-level conditioning – remember, he hadn't appeared in an NBA game since March 25, 2012 – and finding his ideal fit in the HEAT culture, both on and off the floor.
Most importantly, the HEAT are 9-1 in those 10 games. Infused with a jolt of glass-scraping adrenaline from Andersen off the bench, the HEAT have also won the rebounding battle in 6 of those 10 games, including each of the last four heading into the All-Star break.
Prior to donning a Heat uniform, Andersen had played in 482 NBA games, averaging 5.4 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in a shade under 18 minutes per game for Denver and New Orleans. So his numbers are pretty much right on par with his career averages, which were compiled while playing for teams boasting far less overall talent than the defending NBA Champion HEAT.
But much like more-established HEAT standouts Shane Battier, Udonis Haslem and Mario Chalmers, much of Andersen's value seems to come in ways that are not easily measured by statistical analysis alone.
Andersen plays like a leaping, sprinting, blocking, rebounding, diving, defending demon. In fact, his all-out effort and intensity is so dazzling at times, he seems to be in two places at once. HEAT star and reigning NBA MVP LeBron James has publicly praised the "energy" Andersen has brought to the HEAT lineup on a few occasions already, and his frenetic frontcourt tenacity and rebounding acumen call to mind the style of NBA Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman, who was a vital and often underrated cog in the Michael Jordan-led championship Chicago Bulls teams.
Then there are games like Andersen's last one before the All-Star break -– a rousing 110-100 HEAT win in Oklahoma City, where the Thunder had racked up a 23-3 record prior to that evening.
A quick glance afterward at the box score reveals that Andersen scored 1 point and grabbed 4 rebounds – while racking up 4 fouls – in just 7 minutes off the bench. But to watch the game was to see Andersen's all-out hustle and assault on the boards help give the HEAT a decided edge in attitude, especially on the inside. And his aggressive and agitating defense on Thunder star Kevin Durant not only played a key role in the HEAT securing a commanding 63-46 halftime lead, but incited the capacity Chesapeake Energy Arena crowd into a lusty expression of disapproval.
It remains to be seen what the rest of the regular season – and the ensuing postseason run – holds for the HEAT as a whole and Andersen in particular. There are still many moving pieces in the HEAT's frontcourt rotation, and on nights when matchups dictate the need for outside shooting over inside aggression, Andersen will likely find his minutes reduced.
But no matter what happens, it seems likely that the HEAT have found at least the beginnings of a winning formula with Andersen, who wasted no time in resuming his already impressive NBA career with an instant flourish.