Considering the fact that the 2012 NBA season is still a question mark, with few analysts sure how long the lockout will last, success for each team once it begins could come down to who made the best use of their time during the work stoppage.
The Miami Heat will be looking to get back to the Finals in their second year of the "Big Three;" however, with the season greatly shortened, veteran teams like the world champion Dallas Mavericks, Lakers and Celtics will have to play fewer games and be fresher by the time the postseason arrives. That means that Heat players must work on their games during the lockout if they want to get back to the Finals and win it all.
For all the talk about LeBron James' struggles in the Finals, (and I will concede, he definitely needs to find a post game and consistent jumper soon, in order for this team to succeed) Chris Bosh, also had his troubles with the Mavericks front line in the Finals and showed that he needs to better integrate himself into the Heat system in order for this team to win its final game of the postseason.
Here are six suggestions for Chris Bosh to become a bigger factor for the Heat next season.
There is a myth about being a big man in the NBA, which states that in order to be effective you must be a dunking, chest-pounding, physical intimidator who happily takes hard fouls and uses your elbows more than your shooting touch to secure baskets. This is obviously untrue.
Many of the league's best players have been more finesse oriented, including Lakers forward Pau Gasol. Gasol may not be a fan of rough-and-tumble play, but Gasol finds a way to use his size and outside shooting touch to play his game, while staying true to his unphysical nature.
I don't think that Bosh needs to be Amar'e Stoudemire to be effective for this team. The last thing he needs to do is buy into the notion that he must become a bruiser to help this team win. That is not the player he is and it will only hurt the team in the long run if he tries to adapt a style of play that is contrary to his comfort zone.
He does need to realize, however, that even finesse players know how to exploit their matchups with their opponents and Bosh needs to become better at adapting. For example, he has made it clear that he does not like to play center. Critics speculate that if he played center, he would get abused in the paint.
The advantage to his playing center would be his solid outside shooting touch and quick first step, qualities that could force opposing bigs away from the basket, which would benefit Bosh's offensive game and that of his teammates.
Last season, when the Miami Heat began to struggle during a five-game losing streak and appeared as if their season was falling apart, they were able to get back on track thanks to Chris Bosh's insistence on more touches. The team obliged him and raced all the way to the Finals. He needs to understand that he must be more vocal both on the court and in the locker room about what his expectations are and what his teammates need from him on a given night.
The Miami Heat showed throughout the season that they are willing to follow his lead, provided he is willing to consistently challenge himself and his teammates on the floor. Part of the Heat's success in the Eastern Conference finals was the way he handled the slight from Carlos Boozer prior to the series. Boozer, a career-long underachiever and in no position to suggest that anyone is overrated, said that the Heat had only "two good players," according to Shandel Richardson of the South Florida Sun Sentinel, which may have motivated Bosh.
Bosh's excellent play in the series was as much a reason as any for the victory, but Bosh must bring that kind of effort consistently and not be afraid to step on Dwyane Wade's toes by asserting more of a leadership role on the team.
Most great teams have traditionally had multiple vocal leaders. For the Lakers it has been Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher, for the Boston Celtics it has been Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett. Each of these guys is willing to express, either verbally or through his play, what the team needs to do to secure a win. Bosh must show more of that type of attitude if this team is to be successful next season.
Because he is playing with two singular talents in James and Wade, Bosh has been dismissed as merely a "third wheel," simply along for the ride and not nearly as good as he is said to be.
This despite the fact that Bosh was the only third option in the league last season to average 18.5 PPG and 8.3 RPG. No other third option in the NBA—not Andrew Bynum, not Luol Deng, not Kevin Garnett—boosted better numbers as a third option.
However, one of the things that those players have that Bosh hasn't quite mastered yet is the ability to produce more in the intangibles department. That means blocking more than a mere 0.6 blocks a game, as he did last season, which was a career low. He needs to realize that he will be expected to score for this team, but it will be the other areas that will allow him a chance to make his presence best felt.
He needs to focus more attention on rebounding the ball. I realize he is playing with two of the best rebounders at their positions in the NBA, but he needs to look to create as many offensive opportunities for this team as possible and that is done by rebounding. Although the Heat won the series against the Bulls, Chicago made a killing on the offensive glass throughout the series as Bosh and the Heat bigs had trouble boxing out the Bulls front line.
Certain non-stat-related intangibles like boxing out, going after field-goal attempts, running the floor harder and diving on the floor for loose balls, may not be pretty, but they will be contributions that the team need from him next season.
To be sure, Bosh is no low-post banger, but he is the only player currently on the Heat roster with a fully developed and effective offensive post game. That ability to give the Heat an element that no other player can consistently provide makes it all the more important that he play more with his back to the basket.
Offensive and defensive rebounds, scoring in the paint and second-chance opportunities were all deficiencies that cost the Heat the Finals to the Mavericks. The offense was generally coming from 12 or more feet out as opposed to an inside-out attack that would have put more pressure on the Mavericks zone defense.
Bosh cannot be seduced into being just a perimeter-oriented big man. That is not what the Heat need, because the roster is filled with players whose games are perimeter centered.
He needs to work in the post, where his quickness and athleticism can best be utilized.
His lack of a real physical game could prevent him from going up against the league's elite centers in the paint. However, with the lack of league-wide depth at the center position (the great defenders aren't usually great scorers) Bosh should be able to find the seams in the defense and show more initiative in the post.
On one hand, I'm almost tempted to give Bosh credit for being so frank about his feelings and opinions about his team and his game on the basketball court. On the other hand, I wish he would stop giving his critics so much water-cooler fodder to use to attack the team with.
When he makes statements like "We just want to chill," and "My emotions got the best of me," he does himself and his team no favors because now the media can focus on that for a week and the team must field questions about these comments, which becomes distracting.
Bosh needs to understand that the media is not like the shrink's couch where he can just express his feelings in complete confidentiality. By their very nature the sportswriters are seeking out some slip, gaffe, contradiction or misstatement to post as a headline on their blog, and Bosh is doing himself a disservice by constantly providing one.
It may not make for a particularly compelling postgame press conference, but until the nation finally tires of bashing every aspect of this team, he needs to become more like a politician with the press: stay on message and stick to his talking points.
This would allow the media a bit less ammunition and the team fewer off-the-court distractions.
In my opinion, there is an impression about Chris Bosh that asserts he is easy to intimidate. His game can be neutralized by getting in his head and taking him out of his flow. Granted, the same thing was probably said about Scottie Pippen and Pau Gasol before they won titles, but until Bosh wins one (or retires, whichever comes first), he must bear the burden of public opinion that he is not "tough enough" to win at the highest level.
Based on Chris Bosh's play in the postseason, I would argue that I did not see many moments where he appeared to "break down" mentally and be taken out of his game. The Boston Celtics put in a Herculean effort to intimidate Bosh, and excluding Game 3 of the series, in which Bosh admitted, "I have to take the emotions out and play basketball," the bully tactics seemed not to work.
However, Bosh's demonstrative reaction in the tunnel following the Game 6 loss to the Mavericks appeared to suggest that his emotional fragility was still very much open for debate. Whether the Heat win or lose, he must not allow a loss to prevent him from being prepared for the next battle for this team. He needs to be mentally tougher and not give his opponents the satisfaction of seeing him defeated.
Perhaps Bosh would be wise to handle every loss with the mantra, "That is one less defeat I have to deal with on the way toward my goal." He must stay focused and emotionally pensive if this team is to make it back to the Finals next season.