First off, Chris Andersen is exactly who you would expect to be the first suspended in this series (even if Dwyane Wade did give it a run). And it’s absolutely no surprise that Tyler Hansbrough incited the incident, given that he may be the most seemingly punchable player in the league. And Andersen did deserve to be kicked out of Game 5, so the suspension is justified. With that out of the way, let’s take a look at how this could impact the potential deciding Game 6 in Miami*.
*Update: Game 6 is in Indiana.
The Birdman hasn’t missed a field goal attempt all series, and he is blocking 1.6 shots per game in only a little over 18 minutes. It would seem that he would be a tough loss for the Heat, one that could swing a pivotal game in a tight series.
Digging a little deeper though, it becomes clear that this is not only not a big loss, but possibly a gain for Miami.
Plus-minus data for the series shows that the Heat are actually being outscored by 1.2 points per game when Andersen is on the floor against the Pacers. While it would be convenient to say that this is occurring because he is playing with the second unit, all but about four minutes of his playing time in each game have come with LeBron James on the floor.
In these minutes even the MVP couldn’t pull the team above board. With both on the floor in the series the team is still being outscored by 1.2 points and James is shooting just 41% (per nba.com). This stands in sharp contrast to the 59-47-73 shooting splits that he is managing without Andersen on the court.
Well if he isn’t helping on offense, at least the Miami defense must benefit from Andersen’s Birdman act, right? Not exactly. The Pacers have scored at an incredible rate through most of the series given that they were a below average squad over the course of the regular season, and Andersen has not helped that. His defense on Roy Hibbert has been especially worrisome, as he does not have the bulk to deal with the 7’2” center on the block and is too worried about covering the weak side to effectively front.
Andersen’s value on defense comes primarily from squelching drives at the rim from off the ball. Indiana’s bruising post players require too much attention for that sort of thing, and the Heat have paid the price with Andersen on the floor.
While on the surface it looks like the Heat could be in jeopardy of giving up a critical home game, the loss of Andersen may actually put more focused players (with longer fuses) in position to play more, potentially allowing for better focus on defense and better spacing for LeBron on offense.
Of course the unintended side effects of losing a rotation player are always hard to predict, and the addition of currently unused players may throw off Miami’s rhythm just enough for the Pacers to force a Game 7. Either way, expect another close game in Miami as the Heat look to return to the Finals for the 3rd straight year, where Andersen will be of more use going against the San Antonio Spurs and Tony Parker.