Ranking Chris Bosh Among NBA's Top Big Men

Ethan Skolnick@@EthanJSkolnickNBA Senior WriterDecember 18, 2012

Ranking Chris Bosh Among NBA's Top Big Men

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    It has become sport for many, over the past couple of years, to bash Chris Bosh

    There's an incessant focus on what he isn't, rather than what he is. 

    “I’m not like 260 pounds,” Bosh said this week. ”What, I’m going to go gain a lot of weight and just go down there and beast everybody? It’s not going to happen. I don’t have those gifts. I have others and, you know, that works for me.”

    Through 21 games of this season, Bosh is posting averages that are nearly identical to what he's produced in his first two seasons with the Heat, at 18.1 points and 8.1 rebounds, and he's generating that scoring by taking fewer shots from the field and more from the line, which is the formula Miami prefers.

    He's doing so while transitioning full-time to the center position, after playing a mostly-finesse brand of power forward for his first nine seasons.

    And he's on his way to his eighth All-Star Game, if not as a starter, since he currently ranks fourth in frontcourt voting behind teammate LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Garnett, then almost certainly as a sub. 

    That would seem to suggest that he's firmly among the game's elite, as would the ring that he earned as an indispensable part of the 2012 championship squad.

    Still, now that he's no longer the centerpiece of a team, he doesn't always get mentioned in that class.

    Where does he rank in several categories, and overall?

    Let's break it down.

    (All quotes for this piece were gathered in the course of the author's coverage of the Miami Heat for the Palm Beach Post. All statistics were updated entering Monday night's play.) 

Shooter: There's No 'Big' Better

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    Chris Bosh always had an outside touch.

    At Lincoln High in Dallas, where he was the primary force on an undefeated team, he simply saved his outside shooting for practice, intent to "embarrass people" with high-flying, rim-rocking theatrics in games.

    After one season at Georgia Tech, he quickly became a starter for the Toronto Raptors, and soon "I had to do everything," which meant attacking and posting because there wasn't anyone else who could do either especially well.

    Still, he never completely lost his love for the mid-range or long-range jumper. After signing up to play with two stars in Miami, he struggled at first to move without the ball, find his place in the offense and find the right spots on the floor.

    Now, though, he appears to have entirely adjusted. 

    Bosh was not aware, when told Saturday, that he was shooting 59.3 percent from 16 to 23 feet, or that it ranked first among all players, not just big men, who had shot even half as many times from that range as he has.

    His percentage from that area has skyrocketed from 43, 41, 47, 43, 45 and 40 percent the past six seasons, according to hoopdata.com. For many players, the long two, just a step inside the 3-point line, is a bad shot.

    Not for Bosh. He says he drew inspiration from observers always saying that it was dangerous to leave other big men, like Kevin Garnett and Dirk Nowitzki, open. 

    "I’m like, well, I can shoot it too," Bosh said.

    Better than any big in the league so far, if we're counting only players 6-foot-9 or taller, not 3-point specialists such as Steve Novak or Matt Bonner...and not, well, Kevin Durant, who mostly plays on the wing.

    There are some well-known names who have made well over 40 percent of their long-range jumpers, from Ryan Anderson to Kevin Garnett to Tim Duncan to David Lee to David West to Marc Gasol.

    Only Bosh, though, is pushing 60, and he's supplementing that by shooting 83.2 percent from the line, nearly doubling up the likes of Dwight Howard

Rebounder: Some Regression, Rather Than Aggression

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    There were no goals this season, none stated, and none scribbled on a sheet of paper.

    Before last season, Bosh said he saw no reason why he couldn't get back to averaging double-figure rebounds, as he did his last two seasons in Toronto. 

    Then he posted his worst average since his rookie season, just 7.9, tying for the team lead with LeBron James but badly trailing shorter teammate Udonis Haslem in rebounds-per-minute. 

    Before this season?

    Bosh backed away from any predictions, 

    "Yeah, I was talking too much last year," Bosh said. "Every time I set a goal, I never make it. I don't even want to set private statistics. I didn't even land in the clouds. I was shooting for the stars, and I didn't even get off the ground. We just have so many good rebounders here."

    That may be true but, even with Haslem rejoining him in the starting lineup, in place of stretch shooter Shane Battier, Miami is still at a size disadvantage against almost every opponent.

    So it needs more consistency on the glass. Bosh has had six double-digit rebound games, including 18 against Milwaukee, but he's also had games of 2, 3, 4, 4 and 5. 

    And entering Monday night's play, he ranked 25th in the NBA in rebounds per game, behind shorter men such as West and James and Paul Millsap, and also behind lower-minute men such as J.J. Hickson, Reggie Evans and Nikola Vucevic. 

    So here's a worthy goal, if he decides to set any:

    Get in the top 15. 

Defender: More Important Than Assumed

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    This is how you know Bosh has made progress, since his days on the defenseless Raptors:

    We now can tell when he's not at his best on that end, as has sometimes been the case lately.

    Bosh has made tremendous progress as a team defender in his three seasons in Miami, enough that many scouts will tell you he's in the top half of starting centers in defense, even without ranking high in the sexiest stat, blocks (a 1.3 average this season, compared to 1.1 for his career). 

    “I know I’m not popular,” Bosh said recently, of his defense. “I know that. Because my defensive plays aren’t loud. My head isn’t going to be at the rim like LeBron. I’m not going to be in the passing lane for a steal and a dunk. I just want to stay solid. It’s not really about the accolades for me.”

    His coach, Erik Spoelstra, has given him plenty, when it's been appropriate. 

    “The biggest thing with him is he’s open to it, mentally,” Spoelstra said. “He doesn’t fight it. He embraces new challenges, and he knows how important it is for us to be able to defend multiple ways, multiple positions, and to use his size, his quickness, his length, to help us. I don’t have any hesitation anymore now putting him in any situation defensively.”

    That may not be appreciated everywhere, but it is in Miami, since it was so missed when Bosh was absent during much of the 2012 postseason.

    He doesn't impact the game in the same way that Dwight Howard, Tyson Chandler, DeAndre Jordan or even Roy Hibbert do, but he's not a liability anymore, and he's far better than average when engaged.

    That, with his offensive skill set, is sufficient to keep him among the overall elite. 

Versatility: All Options Available, If Not Always Taken

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    Erik Spoelstra commonly calls Chris Bosh the Heat's "most important player" as well as "the most versatile big in the league." 

    That may strike some as hyperbole (after all, LeBron James has some impact on Miami's success), but there's no doubt that Bosh can beat teams in a number of ways. 

    We've addressed the perimeter shooting already; he's as good as anyone.

    He can create havoc with his defensive activity.

    He can run the floor, filling a lane or providing a trailer.

    He can drive by defenders who press him, particularly at the elbow.

    He can finish with either hand. 

    And, yes, he can post up.

    The one complaint, perhaps, is that sometimes he can drift, or stray from a certain area of his game, notably the latter, content to allow LeBron James and Dwyane Wade to beat him to the block.

    Part of that, of course, is the nature of the role he plays. He's listed as the Heat's center, but he's not the franchise's center of attention.

    In every area, you can probably find someone who's better. Marc Gasol is a better passer. Zach Randolph is better on the block. Blake Griffin and Josh Smith are much better in the air. 

    Yet, when measuring the ability to contribute a little something of everything, he's in the upper echelon. The best rebounders, Joakim Noah and Anderson Varejao, aren't as polished offensively.

    The more active shot-blockers, such as Dwight Howard, Roy Hibbert and Tyson Chandler, can't step out and stroke jumpers with him. And, at this stage of their careers, certifiable Hall of Famers such as Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan can't quite match his first step.

    That versatility keeps him somewhere in the conversation.

Ranking: In This New Era, He's Still Firmly in Top-10 Tier

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    Accomplishments and attributes need to be assessed based on an era.

    How would Chris Bosh rate in the glory days of Shaquille O'Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson and Patrick Ewing?

    Wrong question.

    The question is how he rates now. And while some nights he still leaves you wanting, the reality is that, if you remove contractual considerations, the Heat would trade him for few centers or power forwards in the league.

    And that would be true even when eliminating age as a consideration, and simply pondering which player would help Miami the most this season.

    Certainly, anybody would take a healthy Dwight Howard, regardless of the Lakers' early struggles.

    Certainly, Kevin Love, whom Miami faces Tuesday, has proven to be an elite producer, even if he hasn't yet taken his team to the playoffs.

    Certainly, two members of the Memphis front line, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, have played mammoth roles in that team's rise.

    Certainly, David Lee, Joakim Noah and Anderson Varejao are having exceptional seasons, Tyson Chandler is a defensive force, Al Jefferson can score in the post, Blake Griffin has shown some growth in his game, and both LaMarcus Aldridge and Al Horford have their moments.

    Certainly, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan and, whenever they return, Dirk Nowitzki and Andrew Bynum, can't be discounted. 

    Certainly, Pau Gasol is much better than he's shown. 

    Still, Bosh belongs somewhere in that class, and his ability to adjust to an entirely different role, something that has proven puzzling for Pau, earns him some extra credit.

    That's why, in February, Bosh will be an All-Star again, one of six or seven traditional power forwards or centers on the two rosters, likely joined by Howard, Griffin, Love, Randolph, Duncan, Garnett and perhaps another.

    And few will have reasonable cause to dispute it.