With James drawing the defense’s attention every time he touched the ball (on drives, post-ups, whatever), Bosh’s man often left him alone, regrettably creating a mid-range assassin. The nine-time All-Star clubbed opponents over the head time and time again with wide-open jumper after wide-open jumper. It was his 95 mph strikeout pitch.
In four years with the Heat, Bosh shot 47.3 percent from 16 to 23 feet. That’s an incredible number that becomes even more impressive when you find out nearly a third of all his field-goal attempts were launched from that area.
Bosh alone is a very capable player, but with James by his side, the mid-range jumper became one of the most unstoppable weapons in the entire league; it all but cemented Bosh as a future Hall of Famer and turned him into one of the game’s most important and indispensable sidekicks.
But James is now back with the Cleveland Cavaliers, which begs the question: Will Bosh—who just signed a five-year maximum contract with the Miami Heat to stay on as their best player—be able to maintain his effectiveness with escalated offensive responsibility? Will he move away from the one part of his game we most identify with the prime of his career?
Before gazing into the future, let’s dig deeper into the past with a closer look at just how beneficial James was to Bosh (and vice versa).
Last season, Bosh attempted 289 mid-range jumpers—or 35.9 percent of his overall attack—with James on the court. (For comparison’s sake, that’s 4.0 percent more than his output in the restricted area.) The long two normally isn’t a desirable look, but Bosh sunk 50.9 percent of them, more than making it worthwhile for Miami’s offense.
When LeBron sat, the mid-range shot surprisingly took up a larger chunk of Bosh’s output, rising 6.0 percent. Not a surprise: He was less accurate, making only 37.1 percent of them. Even though the sample size for the latter scenario is tiny (Bosh only played 344 minutes last year without James by his side), the impact of playing with the world’s greatest player/playmaker is crystal clear.
Here’s a screenshot to help visualize how Bosh benefited off the type of attention LeBron once attracted:
Then-Philadelphia 76ers center Spencer Hawes is less than thrilled leaving Bosh wide open on the perimeter, but the other option is watching one of his teammates defend James by himself, something no person on Earth is capable of doing.
So Hawes cuts off the baseline, faux-trapping James in the corner. The play commences with LeBron coolly whipping a behind-the-back bounce pass to Bosh for the open jumper. It went down as one of the 142 assists James had on Bosh’s 492 baskets last year, the most supplied by any Heat teammate.
Bosh will of still have that shot in his repertoire, but the way he uses it has to change. With Luol Deng and Dwyane Wade figuring to be Miami’s second and third offensive options, Bosh’s man will no longer be called to help as often as before. Those players are neither lethal threats off the dribble nor fantastic passers capable of finding Bosh open in the face of a double team.
Spacing is a general question mark, with Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis and James (who made 39.1 percent of his threes over the past two seasons) no longer in town. Reggie Williams was signed by Miami three days ago, but he’s made just 30.8 percent of his threes since 2012 in limited minutes.
Bosh's role will alter. Here he is talking to ESPN.com’s Tom Haberstroh about the new role he’ll need to assume in Miami next season:
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. But now, I get to see if I have it in me, and not many people are going to believe I have what's necessary. But that's what makes it exciting. 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.
The floor won’t be as spacious. Windows will be tighter, and angles will come with an even sharper edge; shots that were once open will now be contested. Being that he’s long, agile and nearly seven feet, a move to the post makes plenty of sense at this stage in his career.
It wasn't necessary last season, so Bosh rarely made his living on the block. According to Synergy Sports (subscription required), only 7.1 percent of his plays came via post-ups, but he scored an impressive 51 percent of the time. Note that all this is with his back to the basket. Bosh is quicker than most centers across the league, and his face-up game creates multiple problems for other large men to deal with.
Opposing bigs drawn to cover him outside the paint are susceptible to blow-by's off the dribble, especially since they need to defend him tight (for fear of that pinpoint jump shot). He has a left-handed hook shot, too, and can draw contact and fouls with the best of them.
In his last season with the Toronto Raptors back in 2009-10, Bosh’s average field-goal attempt came 8.8 feet from the basket. Last year in Miami, that number grew to 13.4. Expect it to drop down again, be it off drives, post-ups, pick-and-rolls to the rim, offensive rebounds or cuts off the ball.
The mid-range shot is still a handy weapon, and it’s not like James is the only player in the world capable of drawing it out. Mario Chalmers is a capable pick-and-roll ball-handler, and the addition of Shabazz Napier (combined with assumed development from Norris Cole) gives Miami a few more speedsters who may be able to free Miami's best player up on the perimeter.
But in the end, the Heat need Bosh to be more active in other areas. Now faced with the most responsibility he’s had in five years, Bosh must maintain efficiency while creating various scoring opportunities for himself. James is no longer around to set the table, but Bosh will find other ways to keep from going hungry.
Michael Pina covers the NBA for Bleacher Report, Fox Sports, ESPN, Grantland and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelVPina.