On the face of it, it isn’t a mystery why the Miami Heat offense works so well.
Occam’s Razor states that the simplest explanation is most often the correct one. The simplest explanation here is pretty darn simple: The Heat's O sizzles because it has an unusual, if not an unprecedented, collection of offensive firepower. In James and Wade, the franchise has not one but two hyper-efficient shot creators and in Bosh it has an overqualified, and deeply unselfish, complimentary piece.
This isn’t the end of the story, though. Miami succeeds, and does so so wildly, not merely because of the strength of its component parts, but because of the beautiful way they complement one another. It’s a gestalt.
And a lot of it has to do with Chris Bosh.
First some backstory. Even in the Big Three’s first season together, when they were still learning to play alongside one another—still getting a handle on the contours of their collective powers—they were a tremendously effective offensive basketball team. According to ESPN, Miami scored 109.3 points per 100 possessions during the 2010-11 season, good for third in basketball.
But then, after a 2011-12 season that, though it ended in a title, was a down year for the Miami attack—and for the league at large; the lockout deflated scoring significantly that season—the Heat exploded in 2012-13.
Grantland’s Zach Lowe, writing in March of 2013, explained Miami’s incredible apotheosis thusly:
The Heat have almost totally reinvented their offense over those three seasons, and in the process they’ve done something very rare: taken a good offense and transformed it into something almost historically great. The Heat ranked eighth in points per 100 possessions last season, sporting a mark about two points above the league’s overall average, per Basketball-Reference.com.2 They’re no. 1 this season, a full seven points over the league’s overall average — a huge five-point year-over-year jump in comparison to the NBA’s general scoring output.
En route to 66 wins and their second straight title, the Heat ended up scoring a league best 110.3 points per 100 possessions that campaign. And though the defense has stagnated some in the interim, the party has continued this season and through the playoffs.
The Heat placed second in the NBA in points per 100 possession this season with 109, per ESPN, and led the Association with a remarkable true shooting percentage of 59. (To ground this figure: This is a better mark than Michael Jordan managed in his career with the Chicago Bulls, per Basketball-Reference.) In these playoffs, Miami is scoring a blistering 112.6 per 100 possessions.
Miami’s current dominance comes largely courtesy of a template that was established during that 2012-13 run. To simplify: James, though an uber-versatile swiss army knife, makes hay in the post, Wade acts as a cutter and Bosh fills in as the mid-range maestro who is silently instrumental to the whole enterprise.
The erstwhile Toronto Raptor’s game works like this: The threat of Bosh from mid-range pulls big defender away from the post and toward him, which creates space for James and Wade to operate.
This works because Bosh is a capital “G” Great mid-range shooter. In the last two seasons, Bosh has hit on 52.9 and 48.7 percent of his attempts from between 16 and 23 feet, per Basketball-Reference—he placed third in the NBA in mid-range shooting among players who took more than 300 such attempts, according to Grantland’s Kirk Goldsberry—and is at 45.6 percent for his career. The league average is around 38 percent, per Hoopdata.
James and Wade, already superstars, have taken huge leaps in efficiency due, in part, to the presence of Bosh. The pair has posted, according to Basketball-Reference, true shooting percentages above their career averages in all but one individual season since the Big Three joined forces. (Wade’s 2011-12 season.)
But Bosh has benefited from this arrangement as well, posting the two highest true shooting percentages of his career in 2012-13 and 2013-14, per Basketball-Reference, in addition to his aforementioned mid-range magnificence.
Goldsberry pithily explained Bosh’s appeal on May 28 in a post titled, aptly, “Best Supporting Actor.”
His ability to hit 18-footers became a cornerstone of the team’s pace and space tactics. The combination of James’s and Wade’s attacking skills and Bosh’s midrange game made the offense almost impossible to defend. James and Wade would punish teams that stuck on Bosh after screens, and Bosh would punish those that didn’t.
Bosh, in a conversation with Goldsberry, attributed his success to hard work and context. His success is fundamental to the system's, but the system is the thing that allows him to succeed. It all comes full circle in Miami.
Is Chris Bosh's role in Miami's success understated?
“I work on my game a lot. I’ve always had that shot. I’ve always been able to shoot. Once I came here, I knew I was going to be open a little bit more. I knew that midrange shot was a shot I had to take and be aggressive with it because that worked as a part of our ecosystem,” he says. “It opens up the defense a lot more and makes the defender take a little step out toward me because one of every two of those shots is going in.”
They do. And that’s what makes the whole thing work for Miami.
LeBron James might be the greatest basketball player who ever played. Dwyane Wade will surely be inducted into the Hall of Fame whenever his tremendous career comes to a close. Chris Bosh, though a nine-time All-Star, is relatively anonymous.
But that anonymity collapses when you watch the team closely. As Miami closes in on what might become a third consecutive NBA title, it’s the forgotten big man who—finally emerging from the shadows—may ultimately make all the difference.