It had been so long since his jump shot felt right, Udonis Haslem wondered whether it might be lost to him forever.
Assistant coach Keith Askins helped him find it and, in the end, all it took was scouring through recordings of games three and four years old.
Haslem scored a season high 13 points on Saturday in the Heat’s 30-point victory against the Wizards. He was 6 of 7 from the field in one of his best shooting efforts since injuring his foot three seasons ago. Haslem is playing so well that it appears his place as a starter might be permanent.
“It feels good just to continue to shoot the ball,” Haslem said. “It’s just all about getting comfortable.”
Comfort in his ability as a shooter is something Haslem had lost following his foot injury. He recovered fully from foot surgery in 2010 but it didn’t come without problems. While his foot healed, his shot never did.
Last season, his shooting percentage dropped considerably compared to his career numbers and those midrange jumpers that were his signature offensive contributions eluded him.
In the 2009-10 season, Haslem shot 44 percent (143 of 325) from 15 to 19 feet. Last season — his first full season since the foot injury — he was 36.7 percent from that distance. This season, he is 10 of 29 (34.5 percent) on shots 15 to 19 feet from the basket but his rhythm is slowly returning.
“It’s not easy really getting a rhythm,” Haslem said. “I’m playing a different role, obviously, than I’ve been playing the eight years, nine years, where I made my career, so it’s a work in progress, but I’m buying into it and I got to do what I got to do to help us win.”
A better start
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra named Haslem a starter on Dec.6 against the Knicks. He sat out the Heat’s loss to the Hawks on Dec.10 due to the flu, but in his four games as a starter, Haslem is 13 of 18 from the field.
He has worked tirelessly to regain his old shooting form since his injury, but it wasn’t until he recently broke down old game footage with Askins that Haslem began to understand the problem. The foot injury had altered Haslem’s shooting motion, throwing his body off line and ruining his mid-range jumper.
“We saw that maybe it was something contributed to the foot injury but just I was just leaning to the left, leaning my head and leaning my body as I raise up to shoot the ball,” Haslem said. “So we’ve been correcting that every day as far as just going up and coming straight down and holding the follow through.”
The rebirth of Haslem’s shot is far from complete. Long shooting sessions before and after practices and shootarounds will continue throughout the season. For Spoelstra, improvements in Haslem’s midrange shooting have come at an opportune time. Briefly losing Shane Battier to a knee injury disrupted the team’s rhythm early in games. Haslem’s activity on defense, along with the return of Joel Anthony to the rotation, has helped restore it.
“You love to see it because you see him put in all the time behind the scenes,” Spoelstra said. “That was his bread and butter for so many years. Things like that happen, but we’ll stay the course with it.
“He’s putting in the time, he’s finding where he can get his open shots with the offense with these guys and it’s just a matter of time before it becomes consistent like it always was.”
Starting games instead of coming off the bench has helped a well, says Haslem. At the beginning of games, the team runs set plays to get its players in rhythm. Ball movement is emphasized and, more often than that, Haslem is left wide open, especially with teams focusing on LeBron James and Dwyane Wade..
“Early on, LeBron and D-Wade are getting warm and getting loose and we actually start out with a set play and the set play actually moves the ball a lot for us and sometimes I’m just a recipient of the ball moving and finding me in that corner a lot,” Haslem said. “It’s fortunate. It works out for me to be in that first group, put it that way.”