Photo Credit: Mike Ehrmann
By Dylan Barmmer
It is his turn now.
As Chris Bosh heads into his fifth season with the HEAT, the versatile, intelligent and passionate 30-year-old veteran does so with 11 full NBA seasons, nine NBA All-Star Game selections and four NBA Finals appearances under his belt.
Bosh also enters the 2014-15 NBA season as something else as his role expands beyond what it was before.
Of course, Bosh has always been extremely valuable to the HEAT. During his first four seasons with the club, Bosh did a little bit of everything. And it all added up to a lot of everything for the HEAT, who reached unprecedented heights during that four-season stretch.
Bosh averaged at least 16.2 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.8 steals and 0.6 blocks per game in each of those four seasons. He shot at least 48.7 percent or better from the field, and 79.8 percent or better from the free throw line.
All told, Bosh averaged 17.3 points, 7.4 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.0 blocks and 0.9 steals while shooting 50.9 percent from the field and 81.3 percent from the line in 287 regular-season games over the past four seasons. He started each one of those 287 games, logging at least 32.0 minutes per game and missing just 25 games over that four-season stretch.
Most importantly, Bosh helped the HEAT reach the NBA Finals in each of those four seasons – and was a key component of the HEAT’s back-to-back NBA Champion teams in 2012 and 2013. During that stunning four-season stretch, the HEAT claimed the Southeast Division and Eastern Conference titles each season and compiled an amazing 224-88 regular-season record – which translates to a sizzling 71.8 winning percentage.
Bosh came up big in the HEAT’s playoff runs too, playing in 78 games (including 74 starts) and averaging 14.9 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.1 blocks, 1.1 assists and 0.8 steals while shooting 48.1 percent from the field (including 40.6 percent from 3-point range) and 79.0 percent from the line. His crucial rebound-and-assist in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals set up Ray Allen’s now-legendary corner three-pointer that proved pivotal in forcing a Game 7, which the HEAT won to claim the franchise’s third NBA title.
While Bosh accomplished all of this and more, he also did much of his playing, scoring, rebounding, defending and leading in the long shadows of franchise face Dwyane Wade and global icon LeBron James – who won the NBA MVP Award in two of his four seasons in a HEAT uniform.
With the ultra-athletic James and Wade frequently facilitating and executing the HEAT offense and often anchoring the team’s defense with their incredible quickness, Bosh was often required to play a more complimentary and underappreciated role within the framework of the team. Many times, this role led to limited offensive touches, which in turn often led to modest scoring statistics.
The 6-foot-11, 235-pound Bosh almost always impacted the game on both ends, however, using his rare blend of size, length, quickness, intelligence, power and savvy to do everything from finish rim-rattling dunks to drill corner three-pointers on offense and pull down gritty rebounds and rack up game-turning steals on defense.
During the past two seasons, Bosh also worked extremely hard to develop his long-range shooting touch, evolving his game to the point where he drained a career-high 74 three-pointers in 79 games last season – before canning 30 three-pointers in just 20 playoff games as the HEAT again reached the NBA Finals.
The versatile and cerebral Bosh also started at both center and power forward during his first four seasons in a HEAT uniform, never hesitating to do anything and everything HEAT head coach Erik Spoelstra and his staff asked of him. Many athletes talk about things like service and sacrifice for the greater good of the team, but few elite-level NBA players demonstrate these traits like Bosh.
This season, with the departure of James to his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers, Bosh will get the opportunity to move to the forefront of the team’s offense. It remains to be seen just how the ever-innovative Spoelstra will utilize the always-versatile Bosh, but the veteran HEAT coach sounds excited about all the possibilities that await him and his team on the eve of a new era in HEAT basketball.
“He probably has the toughest responsibilities in terms of doing everything,” said Spoelstra after a recent practice. “Being an anchor for us defensively, having to guard multiple positions and then offensively, yes, we are running some offense through him where he has to generate offense for us. But he is arguably our best facilitator also to get other people involved, and he has to strike that balance. And he also has to space the floor for us. He does all those things. It takes a highly intelligent player and a highly versatile player to be able to manage all those responsibilities and he makes that look easy.”
In preseason play, Bosh has looked aggressive, assertive, hungry and motivated while serving as the focal point of the HEAT offense and the anchor of the defense.
Bosh led the HEAT in scoring in four of the first five preseason games he appeared in, and also finished with a team high in rebounds in four of those five games. His aggressive play also translated to trips to the free-throw line, and his sweet stroke from there resulted in Bosh scoring 24 points on 24-of-32 shooting from the line.
“He’s aggressive,” said Spoelstra. “I just like the way Dwyane and CB have been aggressive, getting to the free-throw line, getting into the paint. They’re both in attack mode, but they’re picking their spots. They’re so unselfish. It helps when your better players are unselfish, other guys can get involved. We just need to keep on working. Other guys are going to find their rhythm playing off of them and understanding how we want to play. It will take some time, but we’re committed to the process.”
For his part, Bosh sounds equally excited about his new role on the new-look HEAT. He signed a long-term contract extension to remain with the club this offseason, and his preseason production has him feeling as confident as ever out on the court.
“It’s going well,” said Bosh after a recent practice. “I can score the basketball. I know I can do that. I’ve always been able to do that. I’ve worked on my game a lot more in preparation for a lot more touches and I’m very confident. I have no problem with scoring the basketball. It’s just getting my teammates involved, making sure I keep those guys happy too. That’s more of a challenge for me. I can score; I’m not worried about that.”
Bosh knows that striking that balance between scoring and facilitating is going to take a lot of hard work on his part. He also knows that Spoelstra and his teammates are going to give him every opportunity to serve as the go-to guy, which will require him to maintain a strong, attacking attitude at all times.
“Last year was more when I get it, shoot it every time and it was more of a difficulty in figuring out when to shoot it and when to move it,” said Bosh. “This year, I have to get guys involved, so it’s a bigger responsibility to look for my shot, but put the team first. Of course I have to be aggressive. Coach is going to get me the ball where I need it, and my teammates are going to get me the ball where I need it, but I have to make sure that I’m moving the ball and finding that balance to where I’m getting other guys involved as well. They’re both difficult positions to be in, but you know I’m trying to get better and better every day at it.”
Bosh clearly relishes the challenge that awaits him and the HEAT this season. He knows that while he must come out aggressive and stay aggressive, he can’t get too worked up or deviate too much from the natural flow of the game and the framework of the overall team structure and strategy.
“I just have to make sure there is a flow to the game at first,” said Bosh. “In the first two, three, four, five minutes, I’ll take easy ones if I get them, but I can’t just be aggressive off the bat. It has to come through the offense and I have to make sure that the ball is moving side to side.”
Such a disciplined, measured and studied approach will help not only Bosh, but his teammates – some of whom will be playing extensively together for the first time as part of the HEAT. As a player who has always sacrificed personal glory for the sake of the team, Bosh understands this as well as anybody.
“So (at) the start, I’m trying to make sure we have a nice flow to the game, everybody gets in a rhythm,” said Bosh. “That way, if I’m successful in the post (and) they start doubling, guys aren’t touching the ball for the first time when we’re asking them to make a play.”