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A Strong Start for Chris Bosh, the Miami Heat's Man of Many Roles

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A Strong Start for Chris Bosh, the Miami Heat's Man of Many Roles

Maybe it's us. 

Maybe we should stop measuring him by how tall he stands, or by the standard statistics he produces, or by our outdated notions of how a center should play. 

Maybe we should be a little more flexiblea little more like, well, him.

That all came to mind again Monday night, watching Chris Bosh play in the Miami Heat's preseason-opening 92-87 win against the Atlanta Hawks, as he shot 7-of-8 for 21 points in just 20 minutes.

It came to mind as he stroked a jumper, as he drained a straightaway three, and as he fumbled the ball on the left wing, recovered, spun past two defenders, and laid the ball up on the right side. It came to mind when he darted to the hoop to receive a LeBron James pass for a layup, and when he darted a no-look assist to James later on. 

"I didn't know if anybody saw that," Bosh said, when the latter was mentioned. "Appreciate it." 

He smiled as he said it, not long before his general media session concluded, and he began to affix his bow tie and splash his cologne. Appreciation, after all, has been elusive at times since the 6'10" big man joined the Heat in 2010, seeing his shots decrease as the victories increased. It would be wrong to say that his role has been reduced—it's just been different. And this season, it will be different still. 

Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports
Bosh (left) defends during Monday's preseason-opening win over the Hawks.

"It won’t be a destination," Erik Spoelstra said. "It will continue to evolve. So it doesn’t stop for him. He’s position-less, offensively; he’s become position-less, defensively. We talk about LeBron being 1 through 5; Chris in many situations for us has turned out to be 1 through 5. He has to guard so many areas of the floor."

That requires effort, but perhaps a bit less thought. It's on offense where Chris Bosh has most had to sacrifice, with the Heat running few plays for him in the spots that the Toronto Raptors did—the spots within an arm's length of the basket. 

"The more times he’s in it, the more comfortable and confident he’ll feel about it," Spoelstra said. "Because he has so many different areas on the floor where we expect him to be efficient offensively. He’s getting more comfortable each year. The more aggressive he is, the better it is for us. And he’s a natural facilitator, and the offense can flow through him. But when his eyes are on the rim, that does make our offense look different."

Bosh acknowledged that he is challenging himself to get in the paint more, even as James' transition to a post-up player and the Heat's desire for Bosh to space the floor have taken away some of the easier opportunities. But he's not doing so to prove he's a traditional center—he never wanted that designation in the first place. He just came to accept it. 

"I said last year, I’m not fighting it any more. Just put me out there," Bosh said.

Then he put up numbers more suited for an All-Star small forward. His rebounding numbers nosedived, to a career low 7.3 per 36 minutes. 

Meanwhile, his perimeter shooting percentages soared, to a remarkable 53 percent from 16 to 23 feet, according to Hoopdata

"The coaching staff told me a long time ago, 'We’re better when you’re at the 5 most nights,'" Bosh said. "That doesn’t mean I’m going to try to just be a bruiser. I’m going to be on the floor, my position has a number. But when it’s all said and done, I’m going to just play my game. Because I’m not helping my team or myself if I’m not playing my game."

Al Horford can relate. 

The Hawks center, who finished with 10 and nine rebounds in 26 minutes Monday, has been in a similar spot to Bosh—shuffled between power forward and center, sometimes encountering much more mountainous men. 

"Playing at the 5, you have to do a lot more dirty work and rebounding and bang with bigger bodies, but that’s part of the challenge," Horford said.

"But I know I’m doing it for the team, and Chris is doing what’s best for his team. And for the most part, it works. He was shooting threes at the end of last year pretty regularly. It’s all about trying to have as much balance as you can and remembering who you are at the end of the day. You still want to go out there and shoot those, but you want to play in the mid-range area and in the paint, and just mix it up."

Even if the skeptics sometimes want you to simply get down low, to bang and board. 

"A guy like Chris, they’ve won championships here, and he’s playing the right way," Horford said. "So I would say people in the league definitely respect and acknowledge that."

The Heat certainly seem to. They show it by entrusting him with so much responsibility, not just physically, but intellectually.

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"I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it. It’s just something until I’m done playing, it will always be a challenge every year, and it will be difficult," Bosh conceded. "That’s the name of the game for me. I’ve never been in the situation to where I’m like, 'OK, this is what I do and that’s it.' My advantage is to be able to go everywhere. That helps this team out."

To be "positionless." 

"That word," Bosh said. "[Spoelstra's] talking is always, 'New role.' And that’s it. He gives me the opportunity to figure it out for myself. Which, I mean, is always better. I think I’m intelligent enough to figure it out. It might take a whole year, but as long as we have a chance to compete for a championship, that’s all that matters for me."

Or, as he more colorfully put it: "You just go ahead and bring the pain on, and the pain runs away. You know what I’m saying?"

Some will. Some won't. Not yet, anyway. But someday, maybe all of us will figure it out. 

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