Pat Riley and the Heat were lauded for their swift recovery in the aftermath of LeBron James' departure. Bringing in a factotum like Luol Deng was shrewd. Inking Dwyane Wade to a properly priced pact was both a foregone conclusion and smart. Retaining and adding patchwork rotation players—Mario Chalmers, Chris Andersen, Josh McRoberts, Danny Granger, etc.—was necessary and even smarter still.
Handing Bosh a max contract after he spent four years as the team's third fiddle was costly, but essential.
With James gone and Wade ebbing, the Heat needed a superstar cornerstone. And those don't sprout out of the ground like daisies. Bosh was already in Miami, was willing to stay and, on paper, gave the Heat an opportunity to contend for a top-five playoff spot in the scrambled Eastern Conference.
But that max contract came with caveats and conditions. The Heat are not the Cleveland Cavaliers. They would not settle for a years-long slump and charged Bosh with preventing said descent by throwing money at him.
And, relative to those expectations, Bosh is failing.
Failure to Adapt
The individual numbers are fine. Bosh is averaging 21.4 points and 7.7 rebounds per game on 47.4 percent shooting. He's also putting in a career-best 40.3 percent of his long balls on a career-high 3.8 attempts per game.
That his effective field-goal percentage (52)—which measures two- and three-pointers—is the fourth-best of his career despite seeing his usage rate jump by six percentage points from last season is even somewhat remarkable. His player efficiency rating (21.5) is the highest its been since he came to Miami as well.
All good things.
Yet, the Heat are just 18-23 and 1.5 games away from falling entirely out of the Eastern Conference's playoff picture. Seventh place isn't what they had in mind. They were supposed to be better than this.
Injuries haven't helped, of course. Bosh himself has missed eight games; McRoberts is done for the year after having surgery on his right knee to repair a torn meniscus; Wade is on pace to sit for at least 20 games again; and the surging Hassan Whiteside will miss time after injuring his right ankle in Miami's loss to Oklahoma City on Tuesday night, per The Palm Beach Post's Jason Lieser.
A bulk of the blame still falls on Bosh's play style, though. He's failed to fully adapt his game to that of a featured big man.
Only 60 percent of his buckets are coming off assists this season, down from 80.1 percent in 2013-14 and a sign that he's not solely dependent on playmakers the Heat don't employ for his offense. But he's living on the perimeter, like he's still a complementary scorer rather than an alpha dog.
Said Bosh ahead of the new year, per the Sun-Sentinel's Shandel Richardson:
Old habits die hard. It's what I've been doing for four years. That's what we needed, we needed to spread the floor. Now, we can kind of play in the interior a little more. We don't have that 6-8, 260-pound point guard that can get in the lane...
Just getting closer to the basket. I think I've been outside a little bit too much. It's a little easier to kind of float around and shoot a couple more threes but I need to get back to my game, which is 15 feet and in. I want to get to the post a lot more and I think I'm a lot deadlier when I'm closer to the basket. Those two-point shots are a lot better than 20 feet.
Twenty-three percent of Bosh's total shot attempts are coming from deep, the most of his career. Though he is, again, burying those looks with career-best frequency, the absence of a consistent interior game is unsettling.
Here's a look at how Bosh's shot attempts are being distributed this season compared to last:
|Bosh's Shot Distribution|
|%FGA Inside 8 FT||FG%||%FGA 8-16 FT||FG%||%FGA16-24 FT||FG%||%FGA 24+ FT||FG%|
So much for the Heat playing "in the interior a little more."
While Bosh hits jumpers at impressive rates, there's no way more than half of his attempts should be coming between eight and 24 feet—especially when only 41.1 percent came from that same area last season. The Heat are not paying him to be a pre-2008 version of Rashard Lewis.
Mid-range jumpers are becoming progressively taboo in today's NBA. Even mid-range enthusiasts like LaMarcus Aldridge have adjusted their games. (More than 62 percent of his shots are coming between eight and 24 feet this season, but that's down from 68.8 percent in 2013-14, so he's trending in the right direction.)
Defenses will give Bosh those looks, hence why he's taking them. Defenders are just under 4.5 feet away from Bosh when he's shooting, which means he's enjoying the eighth-most space of anyone who has jacked at least 500 shots, per NBAsavant.com.
Not surprisingly, Bosh's average shot attempt is coming 15.1 feet away from the basket. For comparison's sake, Aldridge's average is 13.5 feet.
Bosh needs to be more aware of the shots he's taking. These looks are falling now, but the law of numbers suggests that won't last. And even if his accuracy holds, he's handicapping other aspects of his game with an analytics-eschewing shot selection.
As Bleacher Report's Tom Sunnergren writes:
To his credit, Bosh has developed a really effective three point shot—he’s shooting the triple at a 38.6 percent clip this season—but his efficient shooting within an inefficient area doesn’t do much to help his game.
Scoring efficiency aside, it puts a drag on his ability to collect rebounds, which in turn limits the number of shots his teammates can take—efficient or otherwise.
Miami ranks 27th in available rebounds grabbed. Bosh himself ranks just 64th in rebounding percentage among the 268 players who have made at least 30 appearances. His rebounding rate is actually worse now than it was during his first season with the Heat.
Living on the perimeter also limits his free-throw opportunities. He's averaging 5.7 charity-stripe attempts per game; Anthony Davis, Blake Griffin, Marc Gasol and DeMarcus Cousins—fellow big men with similar usage rates—all clear at least six.
Such is the obstacle Miami faces: structuring an above-average offense around a forward-center who's performance has yet to truly stand out.
More problems arise on the defensive end, where Bosh is having a season to forget.
Opponents are shooting 2.3 points above their average when being defended by him, and he's proved incapable or unwilling to protect the rim, per Grantland's Zach Lowe:
Playing next to Whiteside, as a power forward, has helped; Bosh's defensive performance has been markedly better when he shares the floor with Miami's rising 7-footer:
But that's just a 10-game sample size, and Bosh remains Miami's primary center. More than 80 percent of his minutes have come at the 5, and he's blocking shots at sorry rates. He's never been considered a premier shot-swatter, but rejecting only 1.6 percent of those he defends pins Bosh to Kevin Love territory.
Expending additional energy on offense could be a driving force behind this defensive lethargy. But at 30 years old, in the prime of his career, on a max contract, Bosh needs to be a two-way player. And to this point, he has not.
Not all of the Heat's warts fall on Bosh. Their roster is fragile, their depth nonexistent, their talent inferior.
This, though, is the burden Bosh agreed to carry over the summer. He is most responsible for their livelihood.
They should not be a minus at power forward and center every night as they are, according to 82games.com. They should not be a fringe playoff team threatening to enter the lottery. Not with him, a superstar big man, headlining their roster.
So yes, relative to his contract and the expectations it carries, Bosh is underachieving. And should he fail to improve as the regular season winds down, the Heat will be left coping with a far greater problem: knowing they're paying Bosh to be someone he's not for another four years.