One of the primary questions hanging over the Miami Heat’s 2014-15 season is how Chris Bosh will acquit himself as the team’s chief offensive weapon, which, with LeBron James in Cleveland and Dwyane Wade on the wane, is presumably what he’ll be.
To a great extent, the Heat’s year will hinge on how well Bosh performs in this new, expanded role. If he can produce like a star, Miami might turn out quite a bit better than the 44-win/No. 6 seed projection ESPN.com’s summer forecasters have it pegged for. If he plays like a third option who’s been thrust by attrition into a larger role than he’s fit for, the Heat could struggle mightily.
"I want to see if I can do what's necessary to go in there and win every night,” Bosh told The Associated Press (via Tim Reynolds of NBC 6 South Florida) after James decamped. “That's the challenge of being a leader. It excites me. It's been a long time, and I feel like I'm a much better player and a leader now, so it'll be fun."
So how will it turn out? Bosh’s time as a Toronto Raptor is instructive here. While it was five years, two titles and 13,000 NBA minutes ago, Bosh’s Raptor career can provide some clues as to how he will handle the heavier offensive load.
First, it’s worth revisiting just how effective Bosh was in Toronto. Over the course of his seven seasons north of the border, CB4 averaged 20.2 points and 9.4 rebounds. And he accomplished this while carrying a team whose roster oscillated between putrid and mediocre.
Consider the performance Bosh submitted in 2006-07, his age 22 season. He averaged 22.6 points, 10.7 rebounds, 2.5 assists and led the Raptors to a 47-35 record—then a tie for the best mark in franchise history—and the Atlantic Division crown. He was rewarded with a second-team All-NBA berth.
This was a remarkable feat. The Raptors second best player that season—by measure of Basketball-Reference.com’s win shares—was Anthony Parker, who was 31 years old and had just spent the previous six seasons playing professional basketball in Israel. Goodness, Andrea Bargnani played over 1,600 minutes for that group.
This was a bad basketball team. And Bosh, through sheer force of will—and a lot of points and rebounds—somehow got them to 47 wins, earning Bryan Colangelo Executive of the Year and Sam Mitchell Coach of the Year. (Those are Chris Bosh’s awards. They should rightly be sitting in his trophy case right now.)
But what was most interesting about Bosh’s efficacy in Toronto—and what augers well for his chances of carrying Miami’s offense this coming season—wasn’t just its extent but its nature. Though Bosh is now widely, and rightly, known for his mid-range game, in the early parts of his career, he played much closer to the basket.
In the aforementioned 2006-07 campaign, Bosh attempted 34.8 percent of his shots from within three feet of the hoop, according to Basketball-Reference.com. For his Raptors career, Bosh took 34.2 percent of his shots from that close range, compared to just 27.5 since he landed in South Beach.
There’s reason to think that, with the Miami offense running through Bosh in 2014-15, he’ll return to these roots. For starters, playing along LeBron and Wade, Bosh’s mid-range shooting created a synergy that drove the Miami offense. His ability to knock down 18-footers pulled opposing bigs away from the paint, opening slashing lanes for James and Wade, in turn creating more space for Bosh to shoot.
But with LeBron LeGone, and Bosh presumably responsible for more direct point creation, the mid-range game is too inefficient to make up a large percentage of his shots. Bosh will have to return to the paint.
Fortunately for Miami, there’s reason to believe he will thrive there. Last season, according to NBA.com, the center finished fourth among qualified players in field-goal percentage from within five feet of the basket. Only LeBron, Kevin Durant and Deandre Jordan bettered Bosh’s 69.7 percent mark from that range. Suffice it to say, that’s good company.
If Bosh can shoot more often from that range without forfeiting much efficiency, he’ll give the Miami O a serious—and seriously needed—post-James boost.
This proximity to the basket could also have a secondary effect that benefits Bosh and the Heat. According to the Washington Post's Seth Partnow, Bosh’s rebounding could get a boost:
As a primary scoring option this season, one with more low- and mid-post scoring chances, Bosh will likely end up close to the basket. This in turn will likely increase his ability to secure offensive rebounds.
In Toronto, while Bosh was more active around the bucket, he had an offensive-rebounding percentage of 8.5. In Miami, it dropped to 6.1.
This rebounding uptick could be especially valuable to a Heat team that struggles mightily in that area. According to ESPN.com, during 2013-14, Miami finished second-to-last in the NBA in offensive rebounding rate.
Granted, this deficiency is partly a matter of ideology. Rather than contend for their own misses, the Heat often choose to get back on defense to quash easy scoring opportunities for opponents. But it's also a matter of human resource allocation. It's a lot more difficult for a team to succeed on the glass when it keeps its biggest guy 18 feet away from it.
This all points to a conclusion Bosh would be wise to keep top of mind this season. If he hopes to prevent the Heat’s prospects from going south, he needs to remember the lessons he learned north of the border.