Whenever an established player begins to shift toward a different full-time position, there is an immediate and insistent pushback. We become so accustomed to certain players in particular roles that a departure from that norm apparently seems unfathomable, despite the fact that positions in the contemporary NBA are hardly rigid constructions.
Such was certainly the case with prolonged Chris Bosh's flirtation with the center position—an initially unwanted courtship that has since gone on to serve both Bosh and the Miami Heat well. In Bosh's Toronto days, playing "center" meant taking on entirely too much defensive responsibility, battling players nightly who were well above his fighting weight and forever being chided for the idea that he wasn't a "true" center.
But in Miami, it's something different entirely—the Heat's offensive and defensive systems allow Bosh to play his game while still providing incredible value as a nominal 5, and have made him the team's most credible center option over the long term.
Maybe Bosh wasn't meant to play center in a universal sense, but for this particular team and this particular coach, he's a perfect fit. A playoff tweak by Erik Spoelstra may well redefine Bosh's slotted position, and though there are sure to be some matchups that get the better of the Heat's likely center, he's nonetheless in a position to do some incredible work for the best team in basketball.
According to 82games.com, Bosh produced about as well as a center last season as he did when playing power forward, but he improved his already-strong defensive performance against opposing centers. When slotted as a 5, Bosh held his positional counterparts to a 12.4 PER—a below-league-average mark that gave the Heat a significant positional edge in a championship season.
What position should Chris Bosh play for the Miami Heat?
One could certainly point to Miami's problems in containing Dwight Howard or a few other select bigs, but doing so misses the point. Howard hasn't performed well against the Heat because Bosh, Joel Anthony and Udonis Haslem are bad defenders—he's performed well against the Heat because he's a highly talented and highly athletic player that, in Orlando, was surrounded by outside shooters. It's that total recipe that made things difficult for Miami, and not the hole-at-center undercurrent that so often swept through the Heat narrative.
Plus, with the way that team defense has evolved over the last five years or so, having a mobile back-line defender like Bosh may be one of the NBA's most pressing team-building considerations. Bosh has become an excellent defender in rotation over the last few seasons, and the Heat's defensive system gives him ample time to hedge pick-and-rolls before recovering to his spot. He's as dependent on the system as the system is dependent on him, but Bosh is nevertheless a flawless fit for the Heat's defensive mold.
The more significant value comes in what Bosh does for the Heat's lineups when he slides over to the 5. By shifting to center and allowing LeBron James to assume a role as a power forward, Bosh grants Spoelstra the freedom to utilize another shooter on the floor—a development that makes the work of James and Dwyane Wade that much more difficult for opponents to defend. With Bosh at center, opposing teams utilize help defense at a price—be it a Bosh mid-range jumper or a hit to Ray Allen in the corner for a three.
Even if Bosh weren't an effective center on his own terms, that advantage alone might make shifting him to the 5 worthwhile. Yet Spoelstra and the Heat don't even need to concern themselves with such hypotheticals. Bosh has passed the center test in almost every qualitative and quantitative test to date, and though he may not fit the traditional mold, he and the Heat represent the payoff of open-minded coaching and intrapositional flexibility.