“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,” head coach Erik Spoelstra told presumably stunned reporters in November 2012.
“He makes it look easy and he makes it look quiet, and yet he’s so impactful in the game.”
While the coach’s praise was a bit hyperbolic—if not downright disingenuous—it also reveals a consequential kernel of truth: If the Heat are going to join the rarefied ranks of NBA three-peaters, they need Chris Bosh to be his best self—which, for the record, is pretty darn good.
Bosh is an unusual animal. While he has some nifty moves inside—according to NBA.com, among players with more than 300 such attempts, he finished fourth in the Association in field-goal percentage from within five feet of the basket—what really sets the forward apart is his work on the perimeter.
The mid-range maestro has shot, in the last two seasons, a scintillating 52.9 and 48.7 percent from between 16 and 23 feet, per Basketball-Reference.com, and has posted a career mark of 45.6 percent. The league average is about 38 percent, according to Hoopdata.
This is hugely important to the Heat. The threat Bosh poses from outside pulls defenses toward him, opening up the floor for LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. This arrangement is made especially—and, for Miami’s opponents, devastatingly—effective by the additional space the team creates with its heavy use of the corner three.
Grantland’s Kirk Goldsberry explained Bosh’s impact thusly:
The combination of Bosh’s size and shooting prowess create a gravity that pulls opposing bigs like Noah or Larry Sanders away from their native defensive habitat, out to zones where they are much less dominant. But perhaps most important, this gravitational pull opens up corridors for the Heat’s two primary offensive forces: Dwyane Wade and LeBron James.
Bosh has also been inching further outside as the season has worn on—creating more space and easier scoring opportunities for Wade and James.
In November and December, according to NBA.com, the big attempted 17.5 and 12.3 percent of his field goals from three-point range, but that figure increased in each subsequent month. By April, Bosh was attempting nearly a third of his attempts from beyond the arc. On the season, he finished 74-of-218 from three. Each number more than tripled his previous career high.
This extra room is especially helpful for Wade. While James has developed into a terrific shooter, Wade still struggles from the perimeter. To be an effective scorer, Wade needs to get to the rim. According to Basketball-Reference, with Bosh in tow the last four seasons, Wade has posted true shooting percentages of 58.1, 55.9, 57.1 and 58.8, the latter of which was a career high for the Hall of Famer in waiting.
Bosh also exerts an outsize influence in two other salient aspects of the Heat: Their very good defense and very questionable rebounding.
Bosh is a poor rebounder. While it's difficult to assign positions in Miami's free-flowing attack, the average power forward, according to BoxScore Geeks, pulls down 11.6 boards per 48 minutes while the average center grabs 13.5. Bosh managed only 9.9 rebounds per 48 this season and 9.8 in 2012-13. Miami suffers for this. According to ESPN, the Heat were 24th in the NBA in defensive rebounding rate, 29th offensively and 27th overall. This is a major liability.
While rebounding is a huge component of defense—your opponent can't score if they don't have possession—Bosh offsets this, in part, by his more traditional defensive work. As David Thorpe of ESPN explained in December (paywalled), the Bostrich has become, among big men, one of the finest defenders in space in the Association.
Bosh is quickly becoming known as maybe the best defensive power forward on the perimeter, and Miami uses his rare quickness and agility to great advantage; it's the best overall pick-and-roll defensive team in the league.
Bosh’s importance to the Heat is also borne out in his own offensive numbers. In the regular season, the Heat’s success was unusually contingent on Bosh’s shot dropping. To a greater extent, even, than the successes of Wade and James.
According to NBA.com, Bosh shot 54.8 percent from the floor in Miami wins but only 45.5 percent in defeats. This is a greater win-loss split than either James or Wade posted.
The playoffs have been a similar story. In the 2013 postseason, Bosh shot 49.7 percent in victory and 37.3 percent in defeat after posting a split of 52.1 and 37.9 percent in the 2012 title run.
Conversely, when Bosh struggles, so do the Heat. Since the middle of last month, the big man’s struggles have coincided with, and in some ways defined, Miami’s late-season swoon. The Miami Herald’s Adam Beasley traces the issue back to a loss at the hands of the Denver Nuggets:
Then came the Heat’s home loss to Denver on March 14, and Bosh’s mojo evaporated. He missed 8 of his 12 shots that night. And he really hasn’t found his range since.
In his final 18 games of the season, Bosh has misfired on 55 percent of his attempts from his field, bricking more than three of four from long range.
Not coincidentally, the Heat won just 10 of those 18 games.
This is a trend that needs to reverse itself for Miami to win a third straight Larry O’Brien Trophy. Spoelstra, for one, is confident that it will.
“I’m not concerned about that. I’m really not,” he told Beasley about Bosh’s—and the Heat’s—recent hiccup. “Our offense, once we get everybody together and we understand where we’re going and playing off each other, I think the guys will be taking the right kind of shots. The ball will go where it needs to go.”
One of those places is the capable hands of Bosh.
Not long ago, the running joke was that Bosh was a member of the Big Three in name only—that Miami really only had a Big Two-and-a-Half. It might be true that, in standing and stature, the former Raptor isn’t on the same tier as his more heralded teammates. But it also stands that if Wade and James want to further bolster their Hall of Fame resumes, they’ll need a huge performance from Bosh in the next two months.