Does size still matter in the NBA?
The Miami Heat would answer in the negative. Last season, they became the first team in modern league history to win the title by playing "small ball."
Granted, they may have been the exception that proved the rule. After all, not every team can be so fortunate as to employ LeBron James, whose peculiar talents enabled the Heat to succeed without slotting players into a traditional 1-through-5 lineup.
On second thought, Wade's two titles, one Finals MVP and longstanding tenure on South Beach all but assure that he won't be anything worse than LeBron's chief sidekick—at least for the time being.
The better question, then is, which secondary star is more important to Miami's prospects for success?
Conventional wisdom would suggest that such an honor belongs to Bosh. Sure, the Heat don't need a traditional post-up center to succeed, but they certainly need someone to rebound, block shots and defend down low.
Not that Chris is necessarily the best choice. Strangely enough, his rebounding rates have declined across the board since he left the Toronto Raptors for warmer climes. So, too, has the frequency of his blocks, steals and charges, according to HoopData.
However, despite this apparent decline in defensive ability, Bosh's man-to-man defense has been surprisingly stellar. According to 82Games.com, Bosh held opposing centers to a player efficiency rating (PER) of just 12.4 last season.
Still, on the other end, it's not as though Bosh has been particularly prevalent in the paint, as one might expect him to be. His 4.7 at-rim attempts per game in 2011-12 were only the third-most of any Heat player, behind (you guessed it) Dwyane Wade and LeBron James.
For a 6'11" forward-center on a team devoid of size, Bosh spent quite a bit of time outside the paint. His 4.9 shots per game between 16 and 23 feet were the 17th-most of anyone in the NBA, placing him just eight spots behind LeBron (per HoopData).
To be sure, this isn't anything new for Bosh. He's long been a face-up 4 who's at his best when he's stretching opposing defenses with his shooting and ball-handling ability. That, in turn, opens up the floor for his teammates—like, say, LeBron and Wade—to cut and drive to the hoop for easy baskets.
The fact that Bosh is willing and able to play center, as opposed to entrenching himself at power forward, is also vital to Miami's modus operandi. Bosh's abilities allow head coach Erik Spoelstra to keep the likes of Joel Anthony and Dexter Pittman tethered to the bench rather than having to run them out there to soak up minutes in the middle.
More importantly, with Chris at the 5, LeBron can spend more time at the 4, where he dominated to the tune of a 37.1 PER last season (per 82games.com).
Still, in reality—and counter to conventional wisdom—Wade looks like the more important second fiddle amongst Miami's Big Three. His one- and two-year adjusted plus-minus ratings have both been better than Bosh's, according to BasketballValue.com, and he's been a more efficient player than Bosh (26.3 PER vs. 18.9).
He also happens to be a much better full-court, alley-oop partner for LeBron:
Forget about the advanced stats and flashy plays for a moment, though. One need only to look at Miami's run to the title to figure out which player means more to the Heat.
Remember, Bosh went down with an abdominal injury in Game 1 of the Heat's second-round series against the Indiana Pacers. Miami then fell into a 1-2 series hole, but that had as much (if not more) to do with Wade's poor play (10-of-35 from the field with eight turnovers in Games 2 and 3) as it did Bosh's absence.
It wasn't until Wade caught fire in Game 4 of the series that the Heat truly took off. They won five games in a row, during which Wade averaged 28.8 points, 6.2 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.4 blocks and shot a mind-boggling 60.2 percent from the field.
In all fairness, LeBron still did a lot of the heavy lifting, as his 32.8 points, 11.4 rebounds, 6.8 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.4 blocks during that same stretch suggests. But the Heat wouldn't have finished off the Pacers so handily in Bosh's absence without Wade returning to Flash-like form.
Can you honestly imagine things working out so well had the situation been flipped? Could you envision Bosh stepping up so mightily for a Wade-less Heat team during such crucial times in the playoffs?
There's no way of knowing for certain unless/until it happens, but realistically, the answer's an emphatic "NO!". Bosh isn't and hasn't been that type of player since he arrived in Miami, and though he's a crucial cog in Miami's machinery, it's tough to claim that he's more vital than Wade to the whole operation.
In fact, the Heat actually lost Bosh's first game back from injury, though playing a desperate Boston Celtics team down 0-2 with its veteran experience and home-court advantage made winning that game a tall task.
Which "Big Three" star is more important to the Heat?
That being said, Bosh's role within the Big Three may well expand out of necessity in the seasons to come.
Wade's body betrayed him on several occasions last season, forcing him to miss 17 games. He chose surgery on his frequently drained knee over the Olympics this summer, and with his 31st birthday coming up in January, Wade's not likely to heal any faster or stay any healthier from here on out.
Bosh is no picture of health himself—he stayed home from London to rest his abdominal injury—but, compared to Wade, he might as well be. He's more than two years Wade's junior, hasn't had quite the troubles with his body and plays a position that doesn't require such a strong reliance on depreciating physical gifts (i.e., speed and athleticism).
Whereas a D-Wade without the quickness, agility and leaping ability of yore is no D-Wade at all.
Which is precisely why the Heat must monitor Wade's condition carefully over the course of the season. The prospect of playing 100-plus games (including playoffs) is considerably more daunting than that of the 85 the Heat slogged through in last year's lockout-shortened season—even if this year's slate comes with more rest and fewer back-to-backs.
Miami has the talent to defend its crown, especially with Ray Allen joining the Heatles via free agency. The Heat will be the prohibitive favorite to repeat until proved otherwise.
Or, unless Wade and/or Bosh should succumb to injury. Dwyane may be more important to the Heat than Chris is, but in the bigger picture, the Heat will need both of their "second-tier" stars on hand to come away with another title at season's end.