The Miami Heat might have a bit of trouble at the center position, but they’re hardly alone. To crib a snappy line from The Wages of Wins Journal, there’s simply a short supply of tall people in the NBA.
There just aren’t a lot of 7-footers on the planet to begin with—by one back-of-the-envelope estimate on NaturalHeightGrowth.com, there are about 2,800—and fewer still who have the athleticism and motor skills to play professional sports.
That said, because of the overwhelming advantage associated with being tall in basketball, a staggering proportion of 7-footers make it to the show. According to David Epstein’s The Sports Gene, about 17 percent of American men who are between the ages of 20 and 40 and at least 7 feet tall are in the NBA right now. That’s remarkable.
So center is the hardest position to fill. And the Heat, like most every team, don’t have a perfect answer there.
Even when LeBron James was in town and the Heat were rolling to four straight Eastern Conference championships and a pair of NBA titles, Miami had a dearth of reliable rim protectors. According to Grantland’s Zach Lowe, this forced them to develop the trapping, attacking defensive style that became the calling card of those teams:
[Miami] could also try to find a traditional center, an element they never really nailed down with LeBron around. Miami made up for its lack of size by playing a frenzied trapping defense, but they began toning it down last season, and they may undergo a complete overhaul into a more conservative defense now that James is gone. Having a rim protector on the back line would be nice.
It would be. But he’s not on the roster now. And he isn’t coming anytime soon.
But this is okay for the Heat. While Miami doesn’t have a classic center on the roster, few other teams do either. And the scrappy group Miami has in the frontcourt should be more than enough, and might even prove to be a strength.
Though at first blush it doesn’t make a great deal of sense to continue playing Chris Bosh at the 5 with small-ball enabler LeBron back home with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami would be wise do continue to do so.
At the moment, it seems the Heat’s strongest possible starting lineup is Shabazz Napier at point guard (Mario Chalmers is now the presumptive starter, but my instinct is that Napier will supplant him at some time early in the season), Dwyane Wade at the 2, Luol Deng at the 3, Josh McRoberts playing stretch 4 and Bosh continuing as an unconventional center.
This lineup gives the Heat off-the-dribble shot creation from Wade and Napier, unusual frontcourt spacing from Bosh and McRoberts and defensive prowess in the form of Bosh and Deng.
Bosh also seems more than capable of playing as a more conventional center. Though his sine qua non is mid-range shooting, Bosh was excellent inside last season.
According to NBA.com, he finished fourth among qualified players in field-goal percentage from within five feet of the basket. From inside, Bosh could be an offensive anchor for the Heat, and he’s suggested a willingness, maybe even an eagerness, to do so.
“I can do a bunch of things on and off the court to fully maximize this team's potential,” he told ESPN.com’s Tom Haberstroh when asked about the likelihood of returning, at 30, to his old role of offensive focal point.
Bosh’s backups are also strong. Among players who logged more than 1,000 minutes in 2013-14, Chris Andersen finished ninth in the NBA in win shares per 48 minutes, per Basketball-Reference.com, and second in true shooting percentage. The Birdman isn’t just the most productive backup center in basketball, he’s one of the most productive players—bench or starter—at any position.
And Andersen’s sub, Justin Hamilton, isn’t well-regarded, but he’s hardly a stiff either. Though the 24-year-old only played 68 minutes for the Heat last season, according to Basketball-Reference, he finished with a win shares per 48 minutes of .105, a figure that’s five percent above league average.
Sure, the Heat aren’t particularly deep at center, and an injury to Bosh or Andersen could leave them in the lurch, but that’s par for the course in the NBA. The league has a short supply of tall people. And while Miami is no exception to this axiom, the big guys it has should do just fine.