Teams bathed in the national spotlight tend to be classified in exaggerations—it's simply the unfortunate result of countless sports fans and media members lending their voices to a teetering mass. It's within those classifications that very good players somehow become legends, and very good—but very different—players somehow are deemed to be completely incapable. When the volume of the collective gets loud enough, every player seems to be either a mouse or a lion, and every team a title favorite or completely hopeless.
All of which ignores the ample room in between, particularly in cases similar to that of Chris Bosh. Today's Miami Heat are one of the biggest stories to ever hit the NBA scene, and as a result, each player involved tends to get soaked in hyperbole. Bosh is no exception, and even after his recent upswing in public approval rating, he remains wholly underrated in both his value to the Heat and his overall talent.
Ode to a finesse big
Bosh's difficulties with public opinion trace those associated with any "finesse" big; basketball fans have little patience with big men who choose to shoot jumpers and are guilty of floating on the perimeter and typically express their displeasure in no uncertain terms. The Heat big man has felt his share of that criticism over his two-year tour in the national spotlight, but few have taken the time to note that Bosh's finesse game happens to be a perfect fit for this particular roster.
Were Bosh a traditional back-to-the-basket big man who demanded regular touches on the block, Miami's spacing would be virtually shot. For all of their talents, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade don't make much sense for the Heat when functioning as spot-up three-point shooters, making traditional post play from a range-limited big man a bit of a difficulty.
Yet by stepping out to the perimeter, Bosh positions himself to both be directly involved in many plays as a screener and allow indirectly for penetration by spreading the floor. It's still important that the Heat find ways to create points from the low and mid-block on occasion, but Bosh's mobility and shooting range have turned into a huge plus for a team that needs as much outside shooting as it can possibly get.
An unexpected evolution
During his time in Toronto, Bosh was at least valued for his shot creating ability; many invoked the foolish line of questioning regarding his legitimacy as "The Man" on that particular team, but at the very least, Bosh's high scoring averages and totals gave him some sense of credibility on that particular end of the court.
Yet after two years with better teammates and better coaching, Bosh has shown that he may be even better suited for success on the fairer end of the court. Interior defenders don't come much quicker or longer than Bosh, and though the Heat's new starting center wouldn't be a center by most rigid, traditional definitions, he's nonetheless the perfect man for this particular defensive job.
Erik Spoelstra's defense doesn't just require smart defensive bigs, but agile ones. Pick and rolls are hedged aggressively from the start, often by chasing elite perimeter threats into a backpedal when faced with an impromptu double team. Then, following that perimeter pressure, Miami's bigs are expected to recover quickly and protect the rim—a necessity given the aggressive approach that James and and Wade so often employ on the outside. All of that requires bigs to cover a lot of space in the blink of an eye, and Bosh's efforts in that particular aspect of his defensive game have been tremendous.
He isn't ideal in terms of his ability to fight for every step in the low block, but the Heat have found a perfect big for their defensive foundation. Without Bosh, the championship dreams in Miami would still be just that.
A different kind of facilitator
Even with all of that said, Bosh's greatest value to the Heat—and a key reason why he's so incredibly underrated—is how much he does for others. It's only because Bosh is so versatile offensively and so quick defensively that the rest of Miami's system is able to function according to plan and that the Heat's two best players are able to be as effective as they are. He's only the third-best player on his team, but he could reasonably claim to be Miami's most important cog.
Nowhere is Bosh's facilitating value more blatantly obvious than in his positional flexibility. Due to Bosh's ability to be a defensive center and a offensive stretch big, Spoelstra was finally able to shift James into a slotted role as a big and surround the Heat's big three with added shooting. It's because of Bosh's evolution that adding a player like Ray Allen makes all that much sense in the first place and that Miami was able to find so much success by challenging the positional mold.