The Importance of Chris Bosh

There have been other instances of similar stories, but for this generation of big men, the specter of Rasheed Wallace looms large. This was the player that slowly drifted further and further out to the perimeter – eventually taking almost 300 threes a season for the last ten years of his career. This was a player that could destroy any player he desired to destroy in the post, but because of his penchant for the long ball, became a beacon for the anonymous cries of “wasted talent”.

Never mind that Wallace was a wonderful basketball player. Never mind that he was consistently one of the best defensive players in the league. Never mind that he approached 35 percent shooting from downtown over those last ten seasons.

Big men are supposed to park themselves on the block.

Wallace didn’t live in the paint. He was criticized for it. Sometimes rightfully so. But that criticism eventually manifested itself in many watchers of basketball as a latent concern that any big men who took too many jumpers would eventually fall into the same trap as Wallace. A few, such as Dirk Nowitzki, were given a pass, but the moment a power forward or center began taking threes, the red flags of passivity were raised.

He doesn’t need to be out there taking threes. He needs to play where he belongs.

For a moment, let’s table most points that deal with the changing game of basketball. Chris Bosh isn’t Rasheed Wallace any more than the other six billion people on this planet, but the moment he began talking about stretching out his jumper, eyebrows were raised. He had barely taken a shot this season before criticisms began rolling in. Bosh might have bulked up during the offseason and come into training camp talking about his rebounding, but at the slightest hint of taking a few steps back on his jumper, he needed to re-focus.

But it wasn’t just Bosh stepping back. Erik Spoelstra wanted to give his team’s offense another boost of spacing, and part of that was developing sets that pulled Bosh from the elbow to the top of the arc – even as a passer – and from his sweet spot along the baseline out to the corner. The math made sense, and opponents would know that, too. Three pointers are worth more points that two pointers, so if Bosh could approach 35 percent from three he would see an uptick in efficiency over his usual 40 percent on long two-pointers (shots he was always going to take playing the emergency release in Miami’s offense).

If he could be efficient from a spot, defenders would have to play him honest. And honest defenders don’t sink off an efficient shooter to sink into the paint and hinder a driving Dwyane Wade or LeBron James.

“I knew where things were changing where I could help this team out,” Bosh said. “I know the stigmas and the criticisms that are out there. That’s not going to help you win basketball games. Dedication and belief in yourself is going to help you win basketball games.

“I didn’t give it much time for people to see it coming. It just kind of happened very quickly. [The three] been a good shot for me. As long as I’m open and whenever it’s needed. I know I can go inside, but LeBron and Dwyane have it going so well, they need somebody to space the floor. I was put in that situation, and I told myself I was going to do the best job I can to bring that to this team.”

You’re saying that Bosh could score more points per possession, be more efficient with his jumper and create even more room for Wade and James to operate? You’re asking me if that’s something I might be interested in?

Despite an apparent consensus that he should keep working on his interior game, Bosh embarked on an experiment that would take him hours upon hours, practice shots upon thousands of practice shots, to only take 35 threes all regular season. Imagine that. All that time spent to take a measly 35 shots.

“I know it will surprise a lot of other people, but I’ve been practicing those things all year,” Bosh said. “We’ve been getting a lot of shots up all year. We kind of knew in big-time situations that they were going to be open, and I would able to shoot it without hesitation.”

The first big-time moment came in an early-season game against the Atlanta Hawks. With Wade and James out, Bosh shouldered a massive offensive load, scoring 33 points. Down three with one possession left, Bosh let go of a three from the right wing and nailed it, forcing extra time. Three overtimes later, the HEAT prevailed.

Eventually, the threes became a non-issue. Bosh wasn’t taking enough of them. He wasn’t becoming Rasheed Wallace. All was good among those who judge.

Then he got hurt against the Indiana Pacers, missing three weeks of playoff basketball. Returning in Game 5 against the Boston Celtics, Bosh clearly wasn’t moving at full speed, but Miami needed him on the floor to attempt to occupy Kevin Garnett and buy some more of that precious space for the ballhandlers.

Space wasn’t automatic, though. While Brandon Bass stuck to Bosh wherever he went, Garnett was still free to roam and create chaos. No respect until you earn it.

In Game 7, Bosh earned it.

Two big threes, from the corner, in the fourth quarter of the game that decided who would travel to Oklahoma City, and here is how Garnett was playing him before the pass:

Both times, Garnett helped into the paint. First on Mario Chalmers, then on James. Both times, the ball found Bosh, and Bosh guided it into the rim. First to earn Miami the lead, then to extend it.

“I felt like when I got the drive that KG may sink in and try to take my drive away,” James said. “So when I saw that happen, I just kicked it to him, he just lined it up and and made it.”

In the possessions after each of Bosh’s threes, this is how both Bass and Garnett played him:

It’s just one step out, but one step often makes all the difference. First, Wade splits the defense, gets in the middle of the paint and dunk while Bass stays with Bosh on the corner. Then, James drives down the left side of the paint and Garnett was never once a defensive factor. Two points, two times.

With those threes, Bosh upped his season shooting percentages to 40 percent on corner threes and almost 35 from three overall. Those are numbers that will fluctuate with such a small sample size, but those are percentages the defense has to defend. Bosh has never drifted too far from the rim when he didn’t need to – in pick-and-rolls, for example – but when those extra inches of space are needed, there’s little downside to taking the step or two behind the arc.

By now, Bosh should have put to rest the concerns over shooting the three. He will never be Rasheed Wallace, but doing things that Wallace did well doesn’t have to be a negative. There’s efficiency in what he did, and there’s that defense, too.

We’ve spent all this time talking about those jumpers, when Bosh’s defense truly might have been more remarkable. In 72 minutes with Bosh on the court this series, Boston scored just 90.2 points per 100 possessions, which would have been the worst offensive rating in the league by a significant margin. Even when he isn’t at full speed, he hasn’t the mobility to cover ground where most power forwards can’t, and the length to get to the basketball where others might get beat.

Plus, the awareness to provide help exactly when it is needed, whether it’s calling a switch on defense and playing Paul Pierce one-on-one, or stopping one of the few lob passes to Garnett that Miami stopped all series.

“Game ball automatically goes to him. Without his production tonight, we don’t win,” James said.

Against Oklahoma City in the Finals, the latter part of that statement will continue to ring true. Miami will need spacing from Bosh. They’ll need defense from him, too. Most of all, they’ll need Bosh to be Bosh. Not the one people want him to be, just the one that helps them win games.