By Dylan Barmmer
Good things can come to those who wait.
Need further proof? Just look at HEAT forward Rashard Lewis.
A savvy, lengthy, versatile veteran with a knack for draining the 3-point shot, the 34-year-old Lewis came to the HEAT last season with all kinds of accolades accumulated over 14 NBA seasons.
He had made two NBA All-Star teams. He had averaged 16 or more points for 8 consecutive seasons. He had surpassed the 15,000-point plateau. He had scored 50 points in a single game. He had teamed with All-Star center Dwight Howard to lead the Orlando Magic to a 2009 NBA Finals appearance. He had made more 3-point field goals than all but a few fistfuls of players in league history.
But if he was to join the star-studded, sharp-shooting, veteran-laden HEAT, the then-free agent Lewis had to accept a significantly smaller role. Nothing was assured, not even a regular spot in the playing rotation.
Lewis was fine with that assignment. He wanted to do something he had yet to accomplish in his decorated career – win a NBA Championship. So he signed on for a two-year stint with the reigning NBA Champions. And when called upon, Lewis delivered. In many areas.
And in the end, Lewis was right there with his HEAT teammates last June, grinning his trademark grin from ear to ear, and hoisting the Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy proudly above his head.
This season has seen the same sort of quiet and dedicated professionalism from the 6-foot-10, 235-pound Lewis. Except with former HEAT bench sparkplug Mike Miller now in Memphis, and Future Hall of Famers Ray Allen and Dwyane Wade battling some early season setbacks, Lewis has seen his role – and playing time – expand dramatically during the first month of the 2013-14 season.
The results have been equally impressive. Lewis does a little bit of everything. He does it all very well. And the HEAT just keep on winning.
Lewis proved especially valuable during the recent absence of fellow veteran and two-time teammates Allen, who missed 3 games while battling the flu.
Playing without their top bench scorer and facilitator – and arguably one of the best and smartest all-around players in NBA history – the HEAT went a flawless 3-0. Lewis' own blend of savvy, smarts and skill was a big reason why.
Lewis logged 24 minutes during the HEAT's 118-95 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Nov. 12, scoring 7 points, grabbing 3 rebounds, snaring 2 steals and dishing 1 assist in a well-rounded performance. Lewis was a flawless 3-for-3 from the field in that game, draining his lone 3-point attempt as the HEAT overcame the absence of Allen to post yet another win.
With Allen out again three nights later, Lewis turned in his most prolific outing of the young season, scoring 11 points, grabbing 3 rebounds, handing out 2 assists and snaring 1 steal in 29 minutes of a thrilling 110-104 triumph over the up-tempo Dallas Mavericks. The 29 minutes and 11 points set high marks for Lewis through his first 8 appearances of the 2013-14 season, and he once again put on a clinic in efficient and effective shooting, drilling 4-of-6 field goals, including 3-of-5 from behind the 3-point arc.
The next night, Lewis once again played an extended and vital role in a HEAT victory, logging a season-high 33 minutes in a 97-81 road win over the improved Charlotte Bobcats. Lewis' 33 minutes easily led all HEAT reserves, and he scored 9 points and pulled down a season-, HEAT- and game-high 9 rebounds in his extended court time. The 9 rebounds not only led all players in the game, but also represented Lewis' highest rebounding total in a HEAT uniform. Lewis also hit 1 of the team's 6 3-pointers in the HEAT's third consecutive win, which also marked their 13th straight victory over Southeast Division rival Charlotte.
Lewis also stepped in and stepped up in fine fashion in just the second game of the season, when the HEAT decided to give Wade a night off in Philadelphia to rest his sore knees on Oct. 30. The HEAT lost that game 114-110, but Lewis was an all-around force off the bench, scoring 11 points, dishing a season-high 5 assists, grabbing 1 rebound and snaring 1 steal in 20 high-energy minutes. Lewis hit 4-of-8 field goal attempts – including 1-of-4 3-pointers – and swished 2-of-3 free-throw attempts in that game, and his 5 assists were second only to James' game-high 13 among all HEAT players.
With Wade again sitting out as a precautionary measure this week, but Allen back in the playing rotation, Lewis once again led all reserves with 26 minutes of action in the HEAT's 104-88 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Nov. 19. With a refreshed Allen pouring in 17 points, Lewis chipped in 2 points, a game- and season-high 5 steals, 3 assists and 2 rebounds in another strong all-around effort. The HEAT improved to 8-3 with their fourth consecutive win, also their eighth over division rival Atlanta.
The next night, with Wade once again resting, Lewis again led all HEAT bench players with 25 minutes of playing time, scoring 2 points, dishing 3 assists, grabbing 2 rebounds and snaring 2 steals in a 120-92 win at Orlando. Lewis also helped assist in a strong HEAT defensive effort that limited the energetic Magic to just 40.8-percent shooting on their own floor. With their season-high fifth consecutive victory, the HEAT improved to 8-1 in their previous 9 games, with the lone loss coming on a last-second, desperation 3-pointer at the hands of Boston's Jeff Green.
Through the first 12 games of the season, the HEAT boast a 9-3 record and a 5-game winning streak, and Lewis is averaging 5.2 points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.2 steals in 19.1 minutes per game. Lewis has hit 45.5 percent of his field goal attempts, including 41.7 percent (10-of-24) from long-range. The 1.2-steals-per-game average ranks third on the HEAT, behind only starters Wade and Mario Chalmers.
Lewis' key contributions in multiple areas came as no surprise to HEAT coaches, teammates and fans, who watched the Texas native fit seamlessly into the HEAT culture and fill in admirably on the floor whenever called upon last season.
During the HEAT's run to a second consecutive NBA Championship, Lewis averaged 5.2 points, 2.2 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.4 steals and 0.3 blocks in 14.4 minutes per game over 55 games in their record-setting regular season. He hit 41.4 percent of his field goal attempts, including 38.9 from 3-point range.
Lewis even started 9 games for the HEAT, averaging 7.2 points, 3.0 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.9 blocks and 0.4 steals in those 9 starts. As the HEAT sat several players with nagging injuries during the final month of their remarkable 66-16 season, Lewis reminded everyone of his immense talents and prolific scoring touch by averaging 11.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.9 steals and 0.6 blocks in 28.1 minutes per game over 9 April games.
Lewis poured in 14 or more points in 6 of those 9 games, including a season-high 19 in 2 of the final 4 games, and hit 3 3-pointers in 4 different games. Most importantly, the HEAT went 8-1 down the stretch run, including a flawless 8-0 to close out the season and finish with the NBA's best record. That distinction provided the HEAT with homecourt advantage throughout the 2013 NBA Playoffs – an edge that would prove pivotal in their thrilling 7-game series wins over the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals and San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals.
Lewis saw limited action in the postseason, but produced when called upon, averaging 1.5 points, 0.6 rebounds, 0.4 assists, 0.2 blocks and 0.2 steals in just 4.3 minutes per game over 11 playoff games. He scored 4 points, grabbed 1 rebound and handed out 1 assist in 5 minutes of action in Game 2 of the 2013 NBA Finals, a 103-84 HEAT win over the San Antonio Spurs.
It was a marked departure from Lewis' role on that 2009 Orlando Magic team, when he averaged 19.0 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.0 steals in 41.1 minutes per game over 24 games to lead the Magic to a Finals showdown with the Los Angeles Lakers. But where that experience ended with a loss to Kobe Bryant and the Lakers, this run culminated in an unforgettable, hard-won NBA Championship. Lewis' megawatt smile from the HEAT's Championship Podium stood out more than any individual stat line ever could.
Good things definitely came to Lewis during his 14th NBA season, and he showed that he is more than capable of patiently waiting to contribute when and where he is needed. On a deep and determined team that features the NBA MVP Award winner in 4 of the past 5 seasons in LeBron James, Lewis' selfless approach is needed as much as a superior skill set.
This season, his 16th in the NBA, Lewis has not had to wait nearly as long to log major minutes, and he has once again answered the bell in professional fashion. In so doing, he has helped the HEAT overcome an early challenge that included not only the illness absence of Allen, but nagging knee issues with Wade and back spasms that slowed fellow veteran forward Udonis Haslem and, to a lesser degree, James. Finally free from his own knee ailments after several setbacks over the past few seasons, Lewis looks quicker and more explosive this season, and has been able to log more than 20 minutes of court time in 7 of his first 10 appearances, including each of the past 5 games. The HEAT are also a flawless 5-0 during that 5-game stretch.
Lewis has been in the NBA for so long, he played alongside 18-year veteran Allen for a team that no longer exists. Both players made NBA All-Star teams while racking up points and 3-point hits in bunches for the Seattle SuperSonics, who drafted Lewis straight out of Alief Elsik High School with the 32nd overall pick of the 1998 NBA Draft. Lewis spent the first 9 seasons of his compelling career in Seattle, averaging 14.8 points or more in each of his final 7 seasons, including at least 20.1 points in each of the last 3. The 38-year-old Allen played alongside Lewis in Seattle during those final 5 seasons, and averaged at least 23.0 points or more himself. Both players left Seattle for new teams following the 2006-07 season, and the SuperSonics left Seattle to become the Oklahoma City Thunder a year later.
Lewis has hit 1,751 3-pointers and counting during his career, one of the closest active players to Allen's all-time NBA record of 2,871 and counting. That impressive total is also good enough for eighth all-time in NBA annals – and just 10 long-range hits away from passing former Sacramento sharpshooter Peja Stojakovic (1,760) for the No. 7 spot on that elite list. Among active players, only Allen, Detroit's Chauncey Billups and the Brooklyn Nets duo of Paul Pierce and Jason Terry have converted more 3-point field goal attempts than Lewis, who currently ranks fifth on the sharpshooting HEAT in 3-point percentage (41.7 percent) and sixth in 3-pointers made (10).
And when the HEAT topped in-state rival Orlando Wednesday night, Lewis achieved yet another major milestone in his well-decorated NBA career: 1,000 regular-season games played.
Lewis also has extensive postseason experience, having seen action in 75 playoff games, including 63 starts.
Lewis' career averages of 15.4 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.1 steals and 0.5 blocks over those 1,000 regular-season games, and 14.6 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 0.8 steals and 0.5 blocks in the 75 postseason games, demonstrate not just elite-level production in many areas of the game, but remarkable consistency and steadiness.
Just how big a role Lewis continues to play for the HEAT this season will ultimately be decided by head coach Erik Spoelstra and the usual variety of variables that factor into the up-tempo grind that defines each and every NBA season. But no matter what the net result is, Spoelstra, HEAT players and fans alike can all rest assured knowing that Lewis will continue to do whatever the team needs from him.
And do it all at an extremely high level.