Fan-favorite ‘Birdman’ fought through pain for injury-riddled Heat

Entering the season, Miami Heat forward Chris Andersen had only started 10 total games in his 12-year career, but ended up starting 20 games and averaged 5.3 points on 58 percent field goal shooting, 5.0 rebounds and 1.0 blocks.

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Chris "Birdman" Andersen has been an invaluable member of the Miami Heat since he signed a 10-day contract on January 20, 2013 and that undoubtedly remained the case during the 2014-15 season.

The Heat built up their memorable 27-game winning streak and closed out the 2012-13 season by going 37-3 once Andersen was on board. His arrival brought much-needed size and grit to the bench, and his unique style and persona quickly made him a fan favorite with Heat Nation.

In the aftermath of LeBron James’ decision to rejoin the Cleveland Cavaliers last summer, Andersen never wavered on his preference to return with the Miami Heat despite heavy interest from several teams and he re-signed for two years and a reported $10.4 million. It was a small price to pay after the service he put in the previous two seasons at the veteran’s minimum.

Though he was projected to back up a frontcourt rotation featuring Chris Bosh, Josh McRoberts and Udonis Haslem, injuries decimated their depth and thrust Andersen into a bigger role than was anticipated. Entering the season, the 36-year-old had only started 10 total games in his 12-year career, but ended up starting 20 games — a third of the games he appeared in — and averaged 5.3 points on 58 percent field goal shooting, 5.0 rebounds and 1.0 blocks. The Heat finished 9-11 in games with Andersen in the starting lineup.

Perhaps because of this extra workload, Andersen himself was not immune to the injury bug either and missed 22 games with an assortment of injuries. He played through pain in many more games and wasn’t able to match his scoring numbers from last season. His field goal percentage dipped from 64.4 percent down to a still-respectable 58 percent, though he did continue to gobble up rebounds and block shots at largely the same rate.

"He gives you everything he has," said coach Erik Spoelstra in March of his mohawk-wearing warrior.

Andersen finished the season with 11 games in which he reached double-figures in scoring and three games in which he grabbed 10 or more rebounds.

WHAT HE DID RIGHT

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Where to begin? He brought so much energy, passion and hustle to each game he played in that it’s hard to imagine where the Heat would have been without him during such a trying season.

Andersen’s idiosyncratic personality was also a bright presence both on the bench and in the locker room to lift his teammates’ spirits and he was one the biggest supporters of Hassan Whiteside during his emergence.

WHERE HE NEEDS TO IMPROVE

He still has good hops for a player of his age and can still finish at the rim with the best of them, so while the occasional 3-point attempt is tolerable he shouldn’t be trying them frequently. As a matter of fact, because Andersen is so efficient in close range, he needs to limit any field-goal attempts beyond five feet of the basket in order to maximize his scoring opportunities.

BEST GAME

Andersen stepped up in the absence of a suspended Whiteside in a 104-98 win against the Brooklyn Nets on March 11 to tie a career-high with 18 points on 8-9 shooting and a season-high 14 rebounds in 30 minutes. It was his only double-double of the season and his 22nd of his career.

He had 14 points — already a season-high — by halftime despite playing with a leg contusion that almost held him out of the game.

"Birdman played great," Dwyane Wade said after the game. "Some days you feel okay, some days you don’t, but today he had a little extra pep in his step. He gave us a lot. I’m glad he did play."

LOOKING AHEAD

He hasn’t played in nearly as many games as you would think an NBA veteran who entered the league in 2001 would have because of injuries and lengthy suspensions earlier in his career. Still, it remains to be seen how much he can really give this upcoming season.

Andersen enters the final year of his contract (and perhaps of his career) expected to give as much energy and effort as his body is able to. Miami was fortunate enough to pluck Whiteside out of obscurity and into the spotlight last season, but they’ll need a younger player to groom under Andersen and Haslem’s watch. Former Heat training camp invitees Khem Birch and Shawn Jones, who were both All-NBA D-League selections as rookies for the Heat’s affiliate team, the Sioux Falls Skyforce, could possibly fit the bill.

Andersen can’t be expected to maintain his energetic style of play at the same rate he has shown, but the Heat can always be sure he will give maximum effort no matter the circumstances.

You can follow Surya Fernandez on Twitter @SuryaHeatNBA or email him at SuryaFoxSports@gmail.com.