In a basketball world where great players are often belittled for their stylistic "softness," where misconceptions persist that a big man must dominate from the post and where any deviation from tradition earns sneering judgment from retired-players-turned-analysts, Miami's Chris Bosh has always seemed pretty comfortable in his own skin.
These days, the 6-foot-10 Bosh is a jump shooter first and foremost. After evolving in that direction in his first three years with the Heat, Bosh attempted 60 percent of his shots outside the paint this year while shooting more three-pointers than ever before (2.8 per game, up from a career high of 1.0 set in 2012-13). On average, Bosh's field-goal attempts came 13.2 feet from the rim in the regular season, the longest such mark of his career and one of the longest among Heat players. Shooting from distance is what Bosh does, and he does it well.
The considerable benefits of that shooting ability makes for something of a strategic flash point. Bosh's range opens up room for the drives and post-ups of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. His pull on the attention and positioning of defensive big men stresses an opponent's help principles, which can force the concession of open three-pointers. That Bosh shoots jumpers so often and so well also creates the expectation that he'll default to that option when possible, a prospect that the 30-year-old and the Heat can toy with in certain situations.
Their second-round series against the Nets is one such case. Brooklyn tends to run small in its lineups, a stylistic choice with which Miami is intimately familiar. That approach, while plenty advantageous in other ways, can at times leave the rim unprotected. The Nets play a smart, cohesive brand of team defense, but only so much can be done to disguise the fact that players like Paul Pierce and Andray Blatche are at times all that stands between a finisher and the basket.
Bosh is in a unique position to take advantage of this, both as the Heat's most prominent ball screener and as a player expected to pop off screens for a mid-range jumper. Opponents plan around Bosh's shooting ability for all of the reasons noted above, which then makes rolling to the rim a brutally effective counter. Bosh converted 75 percent of his shots on rolls or slips to the rim in the regular season, according to Synergy Sports, for just this reason.
In Game 1 against Brooklyn, however, Bosh's trends flipped. Whether that was simply a result of his missing a few early jumpers or a more explicit strategic point made by Heat coach Erik Spoelstra is almost irrelevant; on some level, a deliberate decision was made for Bosh to attack the rim, which in turn resulted in his attempting seven of 11 shots from the restricted area. That's more than double the proportion of interior shots that Bosh attempted in the regular season, a shift that read as calculated given the matchup in play. (Bosh finished with 15 points on 5-of-11 shooting.)
Consider this sequence, in which Bosh rolls off an initial screen for Wade, slips a second ball screen set for Mario Chalmers and ends up with a dunk:
The setup on that second screen is particularly juicy for Bosh. Brooklyn elected to switch screens between perimeter players selectively in Game 1, which in this case landed Pierce -- the functional power forward in this lineup -- on Chalmers as the possession developed. That mismatch in itself isn't much of a problem for Brooklyn, but as a result of the switch -- and Bosh's ensuing screen, which brought Kevin Garnett out to the perimeter -- the Nets' interior defense banked entirely on the help of Deron Williams and Joe Johnson. Bosh slipped his pick, Chalmers read the play perfectly and Brooklyn was left with little chance to adapt or respond.
This won't be the last time Bosh gets such an inviting window to roll to the rim against a funky Nets defense. In many ways, this isn't a typical Garnett-led strong-side-heavy scheme. The usual principles are still very much there, but they are supplemented by those situational switches, a wider range of matchup control and, in the context of this series, specific overloading against LeBron.
In total, those strategic devices may help Brooklyn handle James and Wade better, though at some secondary cost. Among all Heat players, Bosh is in the best position to exploit that trade-off -- whether by rolling through to uncontested rebounds, ducking inside for easy scores, cutting to the rim after an off-ball screen or balancing the baseline against a quasi-zone.
Bosh won't pile up touches from the post and power his way to 20 points a night anytime soon. The unique threat of his shooting, though, may well give him access to scoring angles that are far more valuable.Statistical support for this post courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com.