It's a responsibility the forward is prepared for. And it’s a responsibility he embraces. Bosh told ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh, after his erstwhile teammate announced he was decamping for the Cleveland Cavaliers, that he is looking forward to the opportunity to prove to the league, and maybe to himself, that he can still carry a franchise.
Bosh said this when asked about the "alpha dog" role:
I think sometimes you miss it. You wonder if you can still do it and step up to the challenge. I haven't had to be that guy. I played with the best player in the world. I didn't have to be the alpha... You know, I'm not the same player that I was when I was 25, the last time I got to [be the No. 1 option]. I'm more mature, my game is more mature and I can do a bunch of things on and off the court to fully maximize this team's potential.
This is a responsibility Bosh has to bear for Miami. It’s a team without a great deal of potential, so what it has sorely needs maximizing. Dwyane Wade is the only other credible threat to score on the roster, and the guard—as has been written assiduously and accurately for the last few seasons—is declining quickly. It’s not clear what Miami will get out of him this coming season, let alone down the road.
Interestingly, Bosh’s ascension through attrition will probably reveal he shouldn’t attempt to be the No. 1 scoring threat in Miami, even if he could.
Bosh’s genius—the genius he’s developed during the last few seasons in Miami—is in enabling the excellence of others. The NBA is a league that’s increasingly become dominated by what happens around the basket and the three-point line. What makes Bosh great isn’t what he does from these areas of the floor, but the way he allows his teammates to dominate there.
To call someone a great complementary player is usually viewed as the most backhanded of compliments, but that’s precisely what the stretch 4 is: a perfect supporting piece.
What we’re talking about here is Bosh’s mid-range game—which is extraordinary. Since 2005-06, according to Basketball-Reference.com, he has never shot below 41.1 percent from 16 to 23 feet and has been better than 45 percent in six separate seasons. The last two years with the Heat, he shot a remarkable 52.9 and 48.7 percent from this range.
His consistency away from the basket is, perhaps, what most impresses. Bosh is an effective scorer from each discrete area of the floor. In 2013-14 he connected on 49.5 percent of his attempts from three to 10 feet away from the hoop, 48.1 percent from 10 to 16 and, again, 48.7 from 16 to 23. Like clockwork.
This puts an extraordinary amount of pressure on defenses. Even on a team with LeBron James and a peak-level Dwyane Wade, the omnipresent threat of a Bosh 15-footer had a gravitational effect on big interior defenders, drawing them out of the post and toward Bosh.
Consider this: In their four seasons playing alongside Bosh, James posted four of the five best true shooting percentages of his career, according to Basketball Reference.com, and Wade posted two of his three highest, including his best mark ever in 2013-14. This was a function, in no small part, of the space that Bosh—and the threat of a Bosh jumper—created for them to operate.
Take it from Grantland’s Kirk Goldsberry:
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.
None of that is to say Bosh is a one-trick pony. While he might be best suited as the enabler on the perimeter, creating space for his teammates and filling in when necessary, he both has and is developing the skills necessary to carry a modern NBA offense.
He was wildly successful scoring around the basket last season. According to NBA.com, he finished fourth in the NBA in field-goal percentage from within five feet during 2013-14. He’s also quickly developing a three-point shot that, in conjunction with the rest of his arsenal, could be deadly.
Bosh attempted a career-high 218 triples last season and hit 33.9 percent of them. These aren’t gaudy numbers, but if he could improve upon them just a bit—a 35 percent three-point shooter is widely said to be sufficiently efficient to fire away from behind the arc with abandon—he would have the rarest of games.
He would be a scorer who can fill it up from any part of the floor.
There is a caveat to this rosy projection, however, and it's a large one. To be precise, it's a 6'8", 250 pound caveat. Bosh probably won't be as efficient without LeBron James. This is a safe assumption because, in Miami, Bosh wasn't nearly as efficient without LeBron James
In 2013-14, Bosh had a gaudy effective field goal percentage of 58 with LeBron on the floor and a true shooting percentage of 61.7, according to NBAwow.com. When James was on the bench, those numbers slipped to 45.3 and 48.9 percent, both below league average.
The difference wasn't quite as stark in the other four seasons the two played together, but it persisted: from 2010-2014, Bosh posted an eFG% and a TS% of 55.7 and 59.5 percent with James and a more pedestrian 49.9 and 54.1 percent without him.
This speaks to the powerful synergy the Heat created between their three stars, and the greatness of James, but it's also suggestive of the problem Miami will have in LeBron's absence: Miami didn't just lose James, but it might have lost the most efficient version of Bosh too. Not only did Bosh's midrange prowess create space for James to work his magic, but the fact of James' presence also took some attention away from the stretch 4 who's now expected to carry the team.
Miami has added some extra weapons, and they may offset this. Josh McRoberts in particular figures to draw bodies to the perimeter and, in doing so, perhaps create some breathing room for Bosh if he spends more time in the low post in 2014-15.
But Luol Deng is not a perimeter threat, nor is he particularly effective at scoring around the rim. He connected on 64.5 percent of his attempts from within three feet last season, per Basketball-Reference, roughly a league average performance. He will not have the attentional impact James did.
Meanwhile, Shabazz Napier is too unseasoned to be counted on for much. Danny Granger is too seasoned.
This is the future of the Miami offense. It's still built around a multifaceted chess piece who carries the offensive load, and, in doing so, creates space and opportunity for his teammates to get the most out of their own abilities. It's just that the piece itself is a bit less multiple, and the abilities of the teammates not quite as pregnant with possibility.
Things will be the same in Miami. Just worse.
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