Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Chris Bosh: Indispensable in More Ways than You Know

Bosh should have stayed in Toronto
solely because he actually looks like a Raptor.
The list was LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Dirk Nowitzki. After them, in no particular order was Chris Bosh, Amar'e Stoudemire, Ray Allen, Carlos Boozer, Joe Johnson, Rudy Gay and David Lee. These were the free agents of 2010 for the National Basketball Association. Never before had so many perennial All-Stars been free agents in the same summer. Some, more than others, had the ability to transform the fortunes of a franchise for the next decade.
When the clock turned to 12:00 on July 1, every basketball writer on the planet was focused on getting the scoop on where each of these esteemed ballers were heading, and for what money. The rumors flew fast and furious at a pace that made even Ric Bucher's hair move.
I remember having very little doubt that Wade was going to remain in Miami, regardless of whoever came there with him, and that Dirk's return to Dallas was all but sealed. I thought that Boozer, Stoudemire and Johnson would probably move, and would have a positive impact on whatever new environ they settled in. But nothing mattered as much as where LeBron landed.
From there, we all know the story. We covered it extensively on this blog (here and here) which I'm sure you went directly towards regardless of the other 14,569 articles...just on Yahoo Sports. With James following Wade and Bosh to Miami, the storylines were as follows:

Will LeBron ever be able to win the big one, even with more help?
How will Wade and James co-exist?
Does Wade's and James' skillsets render each other's redundant?
Who gets the shot with 2 seconds on the clock?
Can LeBron solve his fourth quarter woes even with a better supporting cast?
Does going to Miami increase the pressure on LeBron?
How will Cleveland handle LeBron's return?
Who's team is it: LeBron's, or Dwyane's?
Why would LeBron chooes to side with his biggest rival, Wade, rather than try to defeat him?
How many teams have ever had two of the best five players in the league?
All of those questions ignore Chris Bosh. He's made 7 All-Star teams and is Toronto's all-time leader in points, minutes played, rebounds, blocks and double-doubles. He is one of the finest players in the NBA and within its top 25 most talented. He is very very good. So why does he constantly get ignored when talking about the Miami Heat? Especially when I think he may be its most irreplaceable player?
Chris Bosh is more "not a lot of things on the Heat" than "is a lot of things on the Heat". What do I mean by that? He is not their best player, nor is he their MVP. He doesn't have the most well-rounded skill set, nor is he the best scorer. He's not the best rebounder...hell...he's not even the third best rebounder. He's not their best shot blocker, and wouldn't be considered the first, second, third or even fifth best defender.
But Bosh is Miami's most irreplaceable player. It's relatively simple. Without him, the Heat go from a slightly flawed title contender to a very flawed playoff team.  If the team is missing either LeBron or Wade, the Heat could still win a championship (not both, obviously -- don't get crazy now). But without Chris Bosh, I don't even think they could get past the Knicks.
The most basic metric here, as should be with any form of competition, is winning and losing. Without Bosh, the Heat are on a two-game losing streak. I don't think that there's very many conclusions you could draw from such a small, isolated sample size. However, without either James OR Wade, the team is 10-1. Now that's a sample size we can work with. 
Bosh has a completely different skill set than Wade and James
Chris Bosh fell to the Curse of Degrassi -- just because it's shown in Canada and there's nothing else good on, doesn't mean that Degrassi is good. Handle it, Canada.
What I mean by this is that every statistic that Bosh put up in Toronto was somewhat deceiving because he played in a vacuum. It wasn't just that his best teammate was either Andrea Bargnani, Jose Calderon or Vince Carter and his tank, but it was that he played for the Toronto Raptors. Despite the fact that T-Dot is the biggest city in Canada, it's no secret that within city limits, it's only the fourth most important franchise, trailing the Maple Leafs, Blue Jays and even the mighty Argonauts of the Canadian Football League. There's very little pressure to perform in a hockey-crazy town, in a hockey-crazy country. A five year stint like Bosh's 2006-2010 might look nice on paper (23/10 on 50% shooting), but you have to take all those numbers with some perspective.
That all being said, Bosh is still a phenomenal player. I ran off a list of thing that Chris Bosh is not, but what he certainly is on the Heat is the team's best jump shooter. Bosh has never been a true low post threat, and even though he does have the moves to play down deep in the paint, he's far more comfortable throwing up elbow jumpers and 7 footers from around the free throw line. He's not most effective as a facilitator or a slasher, but rather as a tremendously deadly finisher within the three point line. Like Wade and James, he's got great hands around the rim, but unlike either of them, seems more comfortable (and capable of) shooting a fall-away jumper.

For all of their strengths, you can't say the same of LeBron or Dwyane. Yes, they both can complete plays and are fantastic on the break, either as initiators or finishers. But they are the guys that have the ball at the top of the key, and create scoring opportunities for others. Both Wade and Bron aren't going to be parked out in or around the key, waiting for his number to be called. They're both in constant motion, and if one of those two guys has the ball, and they can't make it go through the hoop, then it's most likely going to end up in Chris Bosh's hands, one way or another.
Wade and James, for all their greatness, are completely redundant
Bosh's value, in part, is created somewhat artificially rather than by the sheer force of his own game. As many interpreted as a problem from the outset, LeBron and Wade both seem to have a skillset that deeply mirrors each other's. They're both ball dominant swingmen with incredible court vision and toughness. They create an incredible amount of their team's offense by either scoring or passing, not to mention creating points off of turnovers from the All-League defense they play. They're at their most effective mowing down opposing defenses in cutting a swath of humanity on the way to the rack. Both players can take any player in the league one-on-one,  and then stop on a dime, pull up and hit a jumper from anywhere on the floor. LeBron is the better shooter, better rebounder and stronger of the two, but Wade is the better finisher at the rim and oddly enough, a better shot blocker.
Other than these differences, the bulk of their skills are the same. As such, each can achieve greatness on the court, but greatly predicated on the cast surrounding them. Every team in the league knows that both Wade and James are going to attack the basket. Knowing that, every team is going to pack the paint, and force them to shoot from the outside. But then what happens when they're able to pass the ball to the three-point line and Mario Chalmers hits a shot? Or if they can quickly dump the ball to Chris Bosh in the low post for an easy two? Or if he sits back at the top of the key and is ready to hit a now open jumper? What happens is the East's most potent offense and the 3rd best record in the league.
LeBron and Dwyane overlap each other, and can't (yet) properly complement each other without the requisite shooters, but most importantly, Chris Bosh, manning the four-spot.
Without Bosh, scoring in the paint suffers -- though not in the way you think
The logic would of course be that Bosh is the power forward, so at 6'11", his absence is going to directly affect the Heat's scoring in the paint. Looking at their past two games without Bosh, Miami's scored 40 and 38 points down low, as opposed to their 42.6 ppg average for the season. That's not a huge dropoff, but if you watched either game, you'll see that Al Jefferson, Enes Kanter, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum just abused them inside defensively. The Heat, as they always do with players like Wade and James going inside so often, find a way to score in the paint with tough role players like Udonis Haslem, Shane Battier and Joel Anthony hitting put backs and getting hustle points. But it's not so much that they missed Bosh scoring inside, but rather that they missed the spacing he gives the team.
According to basketball-reference.com, over half of Bosh's shots this season have been from 10 feet and further, with fewer than 19% coming at between 3 and 9 feet. Contrast that with Pau Gasol, another "finesse" power forward, who's taken 60% of his shots from within 10 feet:  29% at the rim and 31% between 3 and 9 feet.
Bosh isn't a traditional low post threat as we've covered, but that doesn't mean he isn't valuable to this team. He's shooting a very deadly 45% on 66 for 147 from 16 feet to the 3-point line, which is staggeringly high for a power forward. In fact, that type of production can only be matched by Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Garnett (both long renowned for their shooting at those spots on the floor) and Gasol.
Contrast that with Bosh's teammates. LeBron is scoring nearly 61% of his paints within 9 feet, while Wade is doing 68% of his offensive damage from that range. If you watched the Lakers game on Sunday, it was pretty apparent that both guys weren't getting that type of production as easily as they have been all season long.
My thoughts? The paradox of the Heat is that its two swingmen are the biggest inside threats, while their power forward operates as the guy who creates the best floor spacing with his shooting. Without Bosh to open up lanes by shooting those 16 foot Js and put pressure on the defense by trying to keep him away from offensive rebounds or a slashing finish from James or Wade, Miami's offense sputters. LeBron and Dwyane simply can't fill the same type of role that Bosh very happily fills. Miami wins because they're very rarely without that deadly reverse inside-out combo on the floor; Wade and LeBron can play alternating minutes with Bosh playing 34 minutes a night. Guys like Haslem, Anthony and even Battier can fill in for Bosh in 5 minute spurts, but couldn't be expected to hold down a full 48 like the previous two contests.
Though the Heat will obviously not be a better team without either James or Wade, I still fully believe they could win a championship -- the basic game plan with Bosh is still in place. #3 and #6 are so effective playing in the same game because their brutality simply will run down an opponent. How do you guard against that onslaught for an entire game? The answer is, you can't.
Chris Bosh is the most irreplacable member of the team. Could Udonis Haslem get lucky for a game or two and play a poor man's Bosh? Sure. Could LeBron turn on some superhuman 50/17/15 performance and carry the Heat to a title? Absolutely. But this isn't happening every night. As much as we want every game to be NBA Jam, just as there are no actual flaming basketballs on a regulation court, there's no way Bosh's teammates could supply what he gives over a 7 games series, not to mention a 2 month playoff run. Maybe we all should have been paying more attention to Toronto in July 2010.


  1. You are such a speciest by saying "because he actually looks like a Raptor".