Miami Heat: Should Chris Bosh Play Center Full-Time?
Speed is one of Chris Bosh's strengths. It's one of the reasons that his coach, Erik Spoelstra, calls him the most versatile big man in the league.
There's one thing Bosh will readily admit he couldn't outrun:
The center position.
He's been quite clear since entering the league that he preferred not to play the pivot, more comfortable sliding down to power forward and even drifting at times to the perimeter. Yet, after he returned early from an abdominal injury, the seven-time All-Star manned the spot successfully during the Heat's win in the NBA Finals. So, essentially, he was stuck.
“I just went ahead and stopped fighting it,” Bosh told reporters after a training camp practice earlier this month. “They say, don’t fight it, just invite it."
That invites a debate about how he'll fare there over a full season.
Pro: The Game Has Changed
Shaquille O'Neal isn't storming through any locker room doors.
And there's no one in today's NBA anything like he was in his prime, someone so massive and yet so quick. In fact, there aren't many old-school centers, period, which is why the NBA is eliminating the center position from its All-Star ballot, allowing fans to choose three frontcourt players instead.
Few teams start true seven-footers at center, and many of them—see Andrew Bogut and Roy Hibbert—aren't the fleetest. Dwight Howard if healthy, and Andrew Bynum if motivated, are the only two centers who figure to pose enough problems that Bosh will be the one who must adjust.
Against the others who are thicker and taller than him, his quickness advantage will more than compensate.
This will force opposing coaches to think about taking their centers off the floor, as Scott Brooks should have done more quickly with Kendrick Perkins during the 2012 NBA Finals. And when opponents slide their traditional power forwards to center, Bosh will be back in his comfort zone, as if nothing's changed at all.
Con: He Must Be Bigger on the Boards
Prior to last season, Bosh vowed to average double-digit rebounds. Instead, he posted his lowest per-game and per-minute rebound totals since his rookie season.
"I was shooting for the stars," Bosh said during training camp. "I didn't even get off the ground."
Now he's backed off, chiding himself for talking too much last season. He's chosen not even to set what he calls "private" statistical goals, since the Heat has "so many good rebounders here" and he can't get every one.
But the reality is that his move to center makes the Heat smaller at the starting forward spots—with Shane Battier joining the lineup full-time—so Miami can't afford many no-shows from Bosh on the glass.
Maybe he won't average 10.
But 7.8 won't be sufficient.
Pro: Few Can Touch His Shooting Touch
So Bosh has chosen to step out, and take his feathery 18-foot jumper a few feet back. He's been regularly sinking three-pointers in practice, and hasn't hesitated to fire in preseason games.
"I feel good out there," Bosh said. "It feels natural."
This weapon makes him even more of a matchup nightmare for opposing centers, most of whom need life preservers when leaving the paint. If they flinch and flail, he simply drives by them.
Con: Will He Play More Passively?
Red flags were raised when Bosh got into foul trouble during the Heat's preseason game in Shanghai.
After all, one could make the argument that, after James, he is Miami's most important player. At most, the Heat will have four other players on its roster taller than 6'8". Only two—Josh Harrellson and Joel Anthony—have ever played any center. Neither of them can contribute what Bosh can.
So Bosh needs to stay on the floor.
James and Wade are elite shot-blockers for their size but, with Anthony sitting rather than starting, Bosh will now be charged with protecting the basket on many possessions.
Will he pick up more cheap fouls?
Or will he pull back too much in an effort to avoid that?
Pro: It's What the Heat Needed
Bosh knew when he signed with Miami that he needed to sacrifice.
He sacrificed some money.
He sacrificed some shots.
He sacrificed some of the stage, earning designation as the third of three stars.
Now he must sacrifice his old spot for the better of the squad.
And this move does that by allowing the Heat to put its best players on the floor as often as it can. Bosh playing center makes that possible by removing the sort of limited players—from Anthony to Zydrunas Ilgauskas to Erick Dampier to Ronny Turiaf—that have fumbled passes, clogged up the paint and limited the Heat rotation for the past two years.
Bosh at center and James acting as a power forward means more minutes for Shane Battier, Mike Miller and Ray Allen on the perimeter and makes Miami much more dynamic.
Con: In the West, the Lakers Loom
The Heat liked Dwight Howard right where he was.
Handling Howard was a hassle four times per season as a member of the Magic in the Southeast Division. But the Heat didn't deem his team a serious challenger for the title.
Now Howard is far away, out West—and yet more of a long-range, legitimate concern.
Bosh has generally played well against the Lakers, and his presence was sorely missed in a loss last March. Bosh may find the Lakers to be a much bigger beast if the teams meet in the NBA Finals in June, with Howard coming to play more consistently than his predecessor, Andrew Bynum, did.
Nor can James help him much, since the reigning MVP will have his own challenging assignment, giving up four inches in height to Pau Gasol.
If Howard dominates Bosh, or gets him in foul trouble, that's major trouble for Miami.
Verdict: The Right Move for Bosh and His Team
Chris Bosh has the skill set to play center in a modern NBA virtually bereft of behemoths.
The question was always whether he had the willingness to do so.
Now that he's indicated he does. Because he recognizes he need not change his game, there's nothing stopping him from being among the elite at the position.
What's to fear? Certainly no center in the division, unless you consider Emeka Okafor elite—and if you do, seek help. In the conference? Joakim Noah? Kevin Garnett? Al Horford? All are converted power forwards Bosh has battled many times before. Hibbert? Bosh will make the giant move his feet. In the West? He'll only see Marc Gasol and Chris Kaman twice and, against those teams, the Heat can exploit other advantages.
So that leaves Howard and Bynum.
On that, Bosh put it best after a recent practice: "I’ve played them before. It’s nothing I haven’t seen. Yeah, they do have a weight advantage, but that’s only in your mind. You know, if teams feel they have an advantage, tell them to dump it down there if they can. That’s my answer to everything. They say Bosh can’t play the 5, we have an advantage, and people think that, tell them to dump it down there. I’ll play defense, and we’ll get the rebound and go."
He appears ready to go forward, as a full-time center.