Shane Battier was a key cog in the Miami Heat’s rotation during their back-to-back championship runs. In Game 7 of last season’s NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs, Battier hit six three-pointers to help carry the Heat to victory. The year prior, during the Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Battier hit 15 threes in the series. He was also the primary defender on the Thunder’s top scoring threat, Kevin Durant. Whenever the Heat needed a role player to step up, Battier was there to answer the call.
However, this season, Battier has fallen out of head coach Erik Spoelstra’s playoff rotation. In Miami’s first-round matchup of the 2014 NBA Playoffs against the Charlotte Bobcats, Battier played just two minutes the entire series. His minutes have been given to Rashard Lewis and James Jones, two players who saw very limited playing time in the Heat’s previous championship seasons.
One of the reasons Battier has lost his spot in the rotation has been his poor three-point shooting. Battier shot 34.8 percent from three this season, down from 43 percent last year. A deeper look into the statistics shows that he has even struggled shooting corner threes. Battier has lived off hitting three-pointers from the corners for Miami, frequently settling outside the arc along the baseline to space the floor for drives by LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. After making 46 percent of these shots during the 2012-13 season, Battier shot just 39 percent from the corners this year.
Battier has also slowed defensively. He can no longer be counted on to shut down the likes of Durant or Kobe Bryant. Moreover, he appears unable to defend bigger power forwards for long stretches as he has done the previous two postseasons.
Despite Battier’s struggles and recent loss of playing time, he could find himself getting important minutes in the Heat’s second-round series against the Brooklyn Nets. The Nets have found success playing with small lineups, often putting Paul Pierce at the power forward position. If Brooklyn continues to use this small lineup against Miami, Battier may get the opportunity to guard Pierce for stretches. Pierce is not an elite athlete or an overpowering post player, allowing for Battier to better handle him defensively.
Inserting Battier into the rotation would also allow the Heat to see if he has anything left in the tank for one more run to the Finals. If Battier can regain his outside touch and find a way to slow down Pierce, he will likely find himself with a bigger role as the Heat march towards their third straight championship.