By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com
MIAMI – The tall, spiky Mohawk is gone now, replaced by a low ridge of dark blond hair that looks more Duck Dynasty than rooster’s comb. But Chris (Birdman) Andersen‘s impact remains the same, or at least nearly so: Considerable.
Through the Miami Heat’s 11 postseason games so far this spring, Andersen has posted some of the defending champions’ most impressive advanced statistics: An offensive rebound percentage of 12.2, a playoffs-best blocked shot percentage of 7.1, a 66.3 true shooting percentage and a PER of 21.9 (compared to his career 16.8 mark).
And then there’s his impact on the scoreboard in the Eastern Conference championship round against Indiana that resumes with Game 3 Saturday night in Miami (8:30 ET, ESPN). In the series opener, Andersen missed only one of his seven shots and scored 14 points with four rebounds, two blocks and a steal. He was a plus-3 in plus/minus rating in a game the Heat lost by 11.
In Game 2, Birdman – who allegedly prefers to be called “Birdzilla” lately – scored just three points but grabbed 12 rebounds. And in the 28:30 Andersen was on the court, Miami was 25 points better than Indiana.
His net offensive/defensive rating of 16.1 across the Heat’s three rounds is better than those of LeBron James (5.3), Dwyane Wade (3.2) or Chris Bosh (1.6). In the second halves of these games, when winning gets dialed up (Miami is 9-2), Andersen’s net is 20.4.
And if your eyes are starting to glaze over at all the numbers an decimal points, here’s Miami coach Erik Spoelstra putting Andersen’s impact in more traditional terms prior to the calendar break in this series: “We needed his energy, his toughness, his rebounding, his defense,” he said. “This is a big-muscle series, so we need what he brings to the table.”
At 6-foot-10, 245 pounds and six weeks shy of his 36th birthday, Andersen is giving up four inches, 45 pounds and nearly eight years to Indiana center Roy Hibbert. But compared to Udonis Haslem (even shorter) and Bosh (even slighter), Birdman is the best choice to body up the Pacers’ big man, and sometimes power forward David West.
Then there’s the way he throws himself at the boards and around the court, a bigger, paler and probably inkier version of Dennis Rodman doing the blue-collar stuff for a team built around future Hall of Famers. Frankly, the way the Heat embraced Andersen and his checkered reputation (drug ban in 2006-07, bogus allegations against him as victim in an extortion scheme in 2012), it is reminiscent of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and the Chicago Bulls accepting – and reaping rewards from – Rodman during their 1996-98 three-peat.
More tats or fewer, hairier or less so, Andersen has shown himself to be a solid playoff performer in his herky-jerky career, posting PER numbers better than his regular season performances in four of the past five seasons. A year ago, he was better even than now, with a 19.2 net rating and a 24.9 PER (17.4 in the regular season). But that was achieved on raw ferocity and activity, coming at the end of his first Miami season.
This time around, Andersen is more familiar with his teammates and Spoelstra’s sets. As he told Jason Lieser, Heat beat writer for the Palm Beach Post, this week: “I feel a lot more comfortable just because I’ve been here for a while. I learned the system by repetition and I just do what I do, so that makes it a little more simplified.”
That qualifies as a soliloquy for the gruff, media-dodging Andersen, who in some interviews can make Gregg Popovich seem Dick Vitale loquacious. It has been the talking Birdman does on the court that has mattered in this round – he’s averaging 24 minutes compared to 14.9 in the regular season and 16.1 in the Heat’s first two series against Charlotte and Brooklyn. He wears himself out as a half-time player, too, from all the banging, the pounding and the intensity level at which he plays.
Spoelstra said of Andersen at one point in these playoffs: “He plays until he has zero in the tank.” Given Birdman’s results, though, the Pacers are the ones feeling a little empty when he’s on the floor.