Ever since LeBron James and Chris Bosh famously took their talents to South Beach, Bosh has been an easy target for critics. He’s not a traditional big man, he’s not as flashy as Dwyane Wade and he became a clear third option upon joining two true superstars.
But as glamorous as it’s been for James and Wade along the way, Bosh has continued to adapt to his role on the team. He’s stuck to his style of play, and as he’s continued to improve on the perimeter, he’s become the perfect complement to James.
With the Miami Heat battling the Indiana Pacers for Eastern Conference supremacy, Bosh is setting up James game in and game out. You won’t always see it on the stat sheet, but that’s the beautiful thing about this arrangement—the team still succeeds.
Nobody is going to take anything away from what Wade has meant to the 2013 Heat and, more specifically, to the franchise over the years. However, with Wade banged up, Bosh is making the case that he has become the true wingman to the NBA’s best player.
When you think of a wingman, whether in basketball or any other setting, you think of someone who sacrifices himself for the greater good of someone else. You think of someone who does the dirty work to set up the star, and that’s exactly what Bosh is doing by playing the 5-spot.
Who is the better wingman for LeBron James?
At 6’11”, 235 pounds, Bosh is outsized by most of the game’s true centers. Roy Hibbert is no exception, as he has a solid three inches and 45 pounds on Bosh during the Eastern Conference finals.
But with James taking to the post—and finding resounding success—having a center who can spread the floor is crucial. As a big man who creates looks from the outside, Bosh stretches the defense with his shooting and makes life easier on James.
For any low-post scorer with a mismatch, the best strategy is to bring multiple defenders. Simple enough, right? Not with James.
James has the ability to pass out of double teams, whether his back is to the basket or he’s dribbling across half court. That threat is there regardless of who is on his team, but with Bosh now a competent three-point shooter, bringing a second defender to James becomes that much more difficult.
In Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, James was given his moment to shine. He caught the ball near the top of the key, turned the corner and found himself open at the rim for the game-winning bucket.
But despite the heroics of James, the major storyline following the last-second layup was: Where in the world was Hibbert?
Frank Vogel, head coach of the Pacers, benched his star center—fearing the big man couldn't keep up with Bosh. As it turned out, Indiana could have drastically used him clogging the middle.
While there’s no guarantee Hibbert changes the outcome, his absence was a clear benefit to James in the end.
Bosh creates mismatches every time he plays the 5-spot, and Vogel recognized that. The coaching decision to sit Hibbert can be argued all day long if you choose, but the more important message is that the threat of Bosh on the perimeter created a golden opportunity for James to do what he does best.
In the 2012 postseason, it was Wade who was the clear-cut most important player behind James. Bosh was hurt, and the 2-guard was able to record 22.8 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game—along with 1.3 blocks and 1.7 steals—making him the obvious choice as James’ No. 1 sidekick.
In 2013, however, Wade and Bosh have seemingly switched roles. Wade is the one who is less than 100 percent (although an ankle injury to Bosh in Game 4 of the ECF could impact his health as the playoffs continue).
With Wade’s knee acting up, Bosh has become that much more important to this group. The truth is that, statistically, his postseason performance isn’t much more impressive than it was the year prior; but you can’t undervalue the fact that he is taking 2.1 three-pointers per game—knocking down 44.4 percent.
Chris Bosh added the 3 and LeBron James has game-winning layup. Imagine Z-Bo in a world where Marc Gasol can drag a big to the corner.— Henry Abbott (@TrueHoop) May 24, 2013
Wade has never been a three-point shooter, and at this point in his career, he’s never going to be. Size and shooting are things that don’t disappear, and with Bosh continuing to improve, he’s the one drawing defenders away from the rim.
So does being James’ wingman automatically make Bosh the second option on the Heat? Not necessarily.
When healthy, Wade is No. 2 on this roster. He’s a dynamic scorer by nature, and he knows how to attract defenses both on the perimeter and in backdoor situations.
But with Wade less than 100 percent, and with Bosh continuing to adapt his game alongside James, you have to believe that the big man has become one of the most important players for James’ success.
Fair or not, Bosh was labeled a third wheel almost instantly upon arriving in Miami. It’s time we officially shed that label, and recognize just how important he is in the Heat’s run toward another title.