Following his team's 97-88 win over the Phoenix Suns to conclude a grueling six-game road trip, Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra was quick to praise one player in particular, per Brett Pollakoff of Pro Basketball Talk.
Can you guess who?
“He is our most important player, and he’s as steady and consistent as he always has been for the last two and a half years."
Not sure? This quote might help:
“He makes it look easy and he makes it look quiet, and yet he’s so impactful in the game."
Still stumped? Here's your final clue, courtesy of Coach Spo:
"He was big under the rim and not just his scoring, but the big plays defensively at the end.”
With LeBron battling flu-like symptoms and Dwyane Wade sidelined with a foot injury, Bosh stepped up to the plate with game highs in points (24, on 9-of-11 shooting), rebounds (nine) and blocks (two), along with three assists and a steal.
Spoelstra's support of Bosh isn't about just one game, though—nor should it be. LeBron is clearly Miami's best player (and, perhaps, still the NBA's most valuable) and Wade, when healthy, is second on the team's totem pole.
But Bosh is the linchpin that holds Miami's unorthodox operation together. He's the one true, quality big man that the Heat have on their roster. As much fun as Spo's small-ball has been to watch, it wouldn't be successful without CB4 in the middle.
Bosh is a perfect fit for the Heat's offensive scheme. He can operate in the post, burn the opposition with a smooth face-up game, and when it's LeBron's turn to go down low, Bosh is comfortable popping out for jumpers, with recently expanded range behind the three-point line.
In other words, Bosh is versatile, and it's that versatility that allows James and Wade the freedom to play to their strengths.
But as crucial as he is on the offensive end, it's his defensive presence that renders him so central to Miami's title defense.
Bosh is the only passable pivot in the Heat's starting five. Shane Battier serves as a nominal power forward, but as smart and savvy a defender as he is, Battier can hardly be counted on to contain bigger, stronger 4s all by his lonesome. LeBron would be a better phenotypic fit in that regard, though Spo would be foolish to ask James to absorb that kind of beating on both ends of the floor.
All of which leaves Bosh, who's a rather lithe 6'11" and 235 pounds, to handle bulky centers (of which there are admittedly few who can walk and chew gum at the same time) and help when his mismatched teammates are taken to task. Bosh aside, the Heat have but one other big who gets minutes—Udonis Haslem—that would be considered a defensive presence of any sort.
As a result of this size-deprived arrangement, the Heat have ranked among the worst defensive squads in basketball so far this season. According to Team Rankings, Miami checks in 27th in defensive efficiency, yielding 1.036 points per possession. This, after finishing fourth last season with a stifling 0.97 points per possession relinquished.
Who is Miami's most important player?
Without many reliable backstops in the rotation, the Heat have often been forced to collapse their defense and send help against teams with size inside, thereby leaving snipers open on the perimeter. Not surprisingly, Miami's opponents are shooting a staggering 37.8 percent from three-point range through the team's first 11 games.
Neither is it a shock to see the Heat surrender 39 points per game in the paint, the seventh-most in the NBA (per Hoops Stats), or check in among the bottom third of the league in rebound differential. Teams with powerful pivots (i.e. the Memphis Grizzlies, the Los Angeles Clippers, the Denver Nuggets) have made minced meat of Miami on the interior and wound up with open jumpers as byproducts of that approach.
But if not for Bosh, things could (and likely would) be so much worse for Miami. According to NBA.com's advanced stats tool, the Heat give up 5.3 points per 100 possessions more when Bosh isn't on the floor.
LeBron is still Miami's mojo—or, in the parlance of Walter White, "the one who knocks." But even his efforts wouldn't mean nearly as much, as far as wins and losses are concerned, without Bosh patrolling the paint.