The Weekside: Chris Bosh’s greatness doesn’t require approval

Jan 20, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; Miami Heat forward Chris Bosh (1) looks to pass during the first half against the Washington Wizards at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 20, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; Miami Heat forward Chris Bosh (1) looks to pass during the first half against the Washington Wizards at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports /

You probably have no idea how good Chris Bosh is. The 11-time All-Star doesn’t get his due among the NBA’s casual fan base and likely never will. Rather than seeing a bona fide Hall of Famer with a rare skill set we have seldom seen in a player of his physical stature, too many people look at him as the third fiddle in a Voltron-assembled super team in Miami, a role that any three-dozen big men in the league could have filled.

They could not have and, more importantly, they did not.

In this weekend’s All-Star festivities, Chris Bosh will try to win the 3-point shootout. In making 36.5% of his attempts from long-range this year, the 6’11” player is not one of the NBA’s premier shooters from behind the arc. One could argue that others — like George Hill, C.J. McCollum, Mirza Teletovic, or Evan Fournier — should have gotten an invitation before Bosh did.

But the Heat big man’s embrace of the long ball highlights a key evolution in the NBA.

Though it has always happened to some degree (look at Mike D’Antoni’s Suns and Dirk Nowitzki), Miami and Erik Spoelstra’s shift towards pace and space has become the norm. When he left Toronto in 2010, Bosh was a somewhat traditional big man who was asked to move further out and space the floor. He was also always an excellent mid-range shooter, so that was no problem. Then he moved back further, often camping out behind the arc to drag his defender away from the rim and open up the lane for penetration or, in what may be the modern game’s signature play, the drive and kick.

This was a large shift for Bosh, who had evolved into a double-double machine in Toronto, reaching a per-game apex of 24 points and 11 boards during his last year in a Raptors uniform. Playing next to LeBron James and Dwyane Wade cut into his shot attempts, but moving away from the hoop also limited his rebounding opportunities. Once an offensive rebounding and putback monster, that style of play all but left his arsenal after he moved to Miami and, increasingly, to the perimeter.

He never became a dead-eye 3-point shooter. But he didn’t have to be. Since the day he was drafted, Chris Bosh could shoot the lights out from just inside the line. In his third year in the league, as a 21-year-old, he hit a stunningly good 49.3% of his attempts from outside of 16 feet and inside the arc while taking more than a quarter of his shots from this region. There are very few players able to convert at that rate — and that number improbably grew to a career-high of 52.9% during his third year in South Beach as the Heat won their second straight title.

This uncanny shooting ability is, as much as LeBron and Dwyane’s immeasurable talent, what allowed the Heat to run the offense they did during the four years they went to four straight NBA Finals.

So, no, Chris Bosh is not Kyle Korver when it comes to making 3s. But call this nod to participate in the long-distance shootout during All-Star weekend a lifetime achievement award for a talented marksman who helped usher in a new era for big men everywhere.

The Criticism

It’s understandable that the average fan can’t quite appreciate what it means for Chris Bosh to be a career 45% shooter from between 16 feet and inside the arc. Most don’t read up on midrange jump-shooting statistics, so it’s easy to see why that number doesn’t sound as impressive as, for example, the 20/10s he was putting up nightly in Toronto. Certain numbers resonate, others do not.

There is also a natural inability to laud too much praise on one entity. When we talk about the performances in The Godfather, we talk about Marlon Brando and Al Pacino while Robert Duvall gets short shrift. But unlike Duvall — who gets his due whenever the conversation lasts long enough for his name to come up — Bosh is seen by too many as someone who was along for the ride. This “many” may be an uneducated lot with bad memories, but they make up a large contingent of a vocal NBA fanbase on Twitter and other internet locales where hoops are discussed.

Twitter is naturally filled with scorn, so perhaps it shouldn’t be so shocking, but the derisive name-calling towards Bosh on the platform gets vicious. It is also usually attached to an attempt to emasculate, with the “Bosh Spice” tag being the, I suppose, more socially acceptable version of the female anatomical nouns regularly thrown around by the more-vulgar lot.

Perhaps it ramped up after he cried following the Heat’s Finals loss to the Dallas Mavericks. Throw that on top of his skinny frame, jump-shooting tendencies, and non-Charles Oakley-like demeanor on the court, and maybe this should all be expected from sports-watching men.

That doesn’t make it any more perplexing, though, and does make you wonder what collective mental disorder the world suffers from. Hearing negative sentiments about Chris Bosh over and over from seemingly serious fans leaves you scratching your head in the same way it would if you kept listening to people, loudly and genuinely, proclaiming that oranges don’t taste good.

The Ring Saving Rebound

The non-discussion around Chris Bosh’s title-saving offensive rebound may be what confuses me the most. Yes, a game-winning(ish) offensive rebound is not Michael Jordan hitting a step-back jumper over Bryon Russell. But it was the type of gutsy, heads-up, self-sacrificial, blue-collar play that you would expect to be forever ingrained in the collective conscience of the NBA fanbase.

But for whatever reason, the common belief about Bosh is that he is soft. And this play doesn’t fit into that. So we ignore it, and begrudgingly give the credit for this game winner to Ray Allen. Then we give the rest of the acclaim for the title to LeBron, Dwyane Wade, and Pat Riley.

Not to take anything away from any of those guys — Ray’s presence of mind to get out to the arc was incredible as well — but the only reason the Spurs didn’t win in six games is because Chris Bosh busted his ass. After setting a screen on two men to free LeBron for the original shot, he got the offensive board and then made a perfect pass to Ray Allen in the corner. This was a new-generational take on “There’s a steal by Bird, underneath to DJ.” The blend of smarts, quickness, and savvy was all there. Chris Bosh did that.

But nobody talks about Chris Bosh doing that.

The call him Bosh Spice.

Other Acts of Clutch

Bosh being clutch isn’t just a singular offensive rebound.

This goes back to even before Bosh joined Erik Spoelstra’s pace-and-space offense and became a regular 3-pointer shooter. Even back when in his days of braids, when the player most likely to look like a dinosaur wore the uniform of a team named for a dinosaur, Bosh was hitting clutch 3s.

And he has done it often in Miami.

After LeBron

After LeBron left, the Miami Heat went from appearing in four straight Finals to missing the playoffs and winning just 37 games. Chris Bosh signed a five-year extension to stay even after knowing James was headed back home to Ohio. But the team was nowhere near as good — and everyone knows why.

The losing wasn’t the worst part of the season for Bosh though.

That came when he almost died.

Shortly after the All-Star break last season, after playing through chest pain for weeks, doctors discovered that Chris Bosh had a blood clot in his lung that was blocking an artery. He found out one day after NBA legend Jerome Kersey had died of a similar condition.

He wouldn’t play another game that season. And he feared he might not live long enough to ever touch a basketball again, as explained by Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated.

Chris Bosh spent the worst week of his life lying in a bed at Baptist Hospital in Miami, listening to the slow drip of fluid leaking from his lungs and wondering if he’d ever be able to play basketball again. “Not be able to play, not be able to live,” Bosh says. “It was that close. It was that serious.” He lifts his T-shirt to reveal matching scars on his left side, where two tubes entered his body and ran up through his chest, sucking fluid from the pleural space surrounding his lungs.

Fortunately, the doctors caught the problem in time. Bosh was able to recover and has returned to the court. Now, less than a year later, he has once again earned the forward spot on the Eastern Conference All-Star team that has essentially been reserved for him for over a decade now.

Chris Bosh is back to doing what he does best: Being incredible at basketball and helping the Miami Heat win. While the team’s offense has struggled all season and everyone on the roster believes they are underachieving in fifth place with a 29-24 record, this team wins when Bosh plays well.

He is scoring 20.5 points per game on 48.6% shooting, including 38.9% from 3-point range, in Miami’s 29 wins. Compare this to numbers in losses — 17.4 points on 44.3%, with 33.3% from deep — and it’s clear that the Heat team revolves around his play as much as anything.

Fortunately for the team, he is showing few signs that the health scare or the 31 years on his body are slowing him down. He has actually been at his best in back-to-backs this season, and just recently showed that his legs still have some of those Raptors-days bounce.

Can Bosh and the Heat knock off his former teammate and the Cavs in this year’s playoffs? It looks unlikely. But as Dwyane Wade’s advanced age continues to have more and more of an effect on Miami’s ability to dominate opponents, Bosh remains a constant.

He has the ball in his hands more than he did when Wade and LeBron were the offensive focus. He is the team’s best option late in the shot clock during the — many — possessions when the offense goes awry. He has become more of a vocal leader to newcomers like Goran Dragic and Justise Winslow. He, along with Wade, is Spoelstra’s coach in the locker room, ensuring everyone stays focused during film sessions.

But even with all the new responsibilities — and especially after all he’s gone through in the past year — he is making sure to enjoy himself off the court while he thrives on it.

“I don’t let myself go through the motions,” Bosh recently told Zach Buckley of Bleacher Report. “I don’t give myself excuses as to why I can’t go up and down the floor quickly or whatever. I just try to go out there and do it and go out there and try to win a game, and each day I feel I have an opportunity to really just do something I love.”

Approval Rating

Asking someone what they think about Chris Bosh might be the best barometer for knowing if they understand basketball. To a person, almost everyone I know who has a deep knowledge and curiosity to learn more about the NBA thinks Bosh is incredible. Others? They pigeonholed him a long time ago and continue to devise vapid arguments against the resume and on-court brilliance.

Chris Bosh cares about the criticism. But he has grown to live with it.

He explained it all in 2014 in a sitdown with Tom Haberstroh of ESPN for a long-form profile.

“For a while, they were questioning my sexuality. They still do. They were questioning my sexuality, questioning my game. And I’m like, ‘Why are they all messing with me?’ I didn’t do anything to anybody. I didn’t do nothing. I just came here to play basketball. And they’re like, ‘Oh, he’s not a real superstar.’ I never cared about being a superstar.” … “Even when I lived in the paint. I put up 24 and 10 in Toronto and lost and people complained. I put up 18 and 8 here and win and people still complain.”

Older, wiser, and clad with more rings, the criticism likely affects him less and less with each passing year. Chris Bosh knows just how damn great he is at this sport. He knows he has excelled as a big man, first in a more traditional way and then in a more revolutionary way, like few to ever lace ’em up.

And he probably knows that most fans will never change their mind about him.

But they should. Because Chris Bosh — the 11-time All-Star, two-time champion, era-bridging big man — is one of the NBA’s all-time greats. People can call him by any demeaning nickname they want, but nothing will change the fact that, in just a few more years, they will have to call him “Hall of Famer,” too.

Stat Speak

Offensive rebounding can be a gift and a curse. Being proficient at creating second-chance opportunities will generally get a team more points. But exerting effort towards that goal also often leaves a team’s transition defense exposed.

So it becomes a fine balance in which you should only divert your limited on-court resources towards offensive rebounding if you can score more points by doing so than you give up.

That mouthful can be said simpler.

For every team, to crash the glass or not to crash the glass, that is the question.

Mike Honkasalo recently shared a nice graphic showing which teams are on the right side of the equation so far this season. It is no surprise to see that a team’s success in this respect correlates pretty closely to their ability to win games. Given how much offensive rebounding percentage correlates with overall offensive and defensive efficiency (not that much), this probably is less a defining characteristic of good play and more of a symbol of teams that understand how to employ proper strategy in all aspects of the game.

By that, I mean that if a coach and team can’t even get this relatively basic balance correct, then they probably are making a lot of other strategic blunders as well. Or they simply lack the talent and smarts to succeed in many areas of the game.

Tom Thibodeau recently discussed this topic during his appearance on Bill Simmons’ podcast.

As an assistant under Doc Rivers in Boston, he served on one team that eschewed offensive boards. Their strategy preferred to have KG get back quickly to lead and set up their incredible defense rather than stick around and fight for extra shots after a miss. He mentioned that this also allowed Rajon Rondo an opportunity to freelance a bit more and chase down long rebounds at times, as Garnett took on the main responsibility for “balancing the floor” by getting back that is customarily the job of the point guard.

Gregg Popovich has generally embraced the Don’t Try For Second Shots strategy as well. Even when he had Tim Duncan and David Robinson, his Spurs were rarely an offensive rebounding powerhouse. Then, as the team became more perimeter oriented, he abandoned the idea entirely. After several years of sitting in the top half of the league in offensive rebounding percentage, San Antonio ranking 20th, 27th, and 26th in 2005-06, 2006-07, and 2007-08, respectively, per Basketball-Reference.

This season, the Spurs — even with all their size in the front court — are just 20th in offensive rebounding.

By design.

Words With Friends

This week’s five must-read articles about the NBA. Excerpts here — click through to read the full piece.

1. Crying Jordan Is the Greatest Meme Ever Made
by Jim Cavan, The Cauldron

The thing is outrageously funny looking — an accidental masterpiece of lighting, timing, and angles. Start with the eyes, Gary Busey-red, yet pulled by some middle-distance dream. Pouty lips the cameras somehow caught mid-quiver. Stubble you’re not sure if it was ignored or simply sprouted on the cab ride over. The tears, doe. You instinctively flail for a napkin, unsure if your screen just went full-on salt stigmata. Drop a canoe where the bottom eyelashes end and you could let the current carry you plum to New Orleans — double-time if you opt to paddle.

2. Meet the man that engineered Kristaps Porzingis’ first steps toward stardom
by Kevin O’Connor , SB Nation

“Scott and I came in at the right time for Kristaps’ career. He’s had some really good coaches, but Kris never had anybody that would really could talk to him about NBA life from a professional standpoint.” Norris and Roth had been through it all, and Norris could see Porzingis’ “double trouble superstar potential,” as something more than a typical stretch big. Norris conditioned Porzingis to attack the offensive boards for put-back dunks because, he says, “no one boxes out and it’s real easy to rebound when you’re active.” Norris also taught him low post moves since his “shot isn’t going to be on every night and the one’s that can excel down low are the ones that have longevity.”

3. How Stephen Curry got the best worst ankles in sports
by Pablo S. Torre, ESPN

The best marksman in NBA history, perhaps unsurprisingly, turned out to be a quick study at exercise technique. “Steph’s central nervous system is the best I’ve worked with,” Lyles says. “It’s why he’s a great golfer, a great bowler, a great shooter.” Curry swiftly perfected a yoga pose called the single-leg hip airplane, designed to build balance and core strength. He conquered the hip hinge, the fundamental movement of explosive lower-body exercises, in 10 minutes. He even mastered textbook trap-bar dead lifts, which amplify glutes and hamstrings, during his introductory session with Lyles. Other players typically need a week. At first, a willowy Curry could deadlift a pitiable 200 to 225 pounds. But then the labor began: less a Rocky training montage, heaving with theatrical workouts, than a time-lapse video, comically dense with, well, time. “The man was always in the gym,” teammate Klay Thompson says. “Steph just stuck with the routine. He works on his body just as much as he works on his jump shot.” By Curry’s second year in the program, his dead lifts could touch 400 pounds — more than twice his bodyweight and second most on the Warriors behind 6-foot-11, 265-pound center Festus Ezeli

4. Critiquing a friend: Lakers’ analysts face tricky role in assessing Byron Scott
by Bill Oran, Orange County Register

James Worthy steeled himself, then offered a blunt assessment. The Lakers, in the midst of a losing season, had reached their nadir with a 48-point loss to the Clippers. The Hall of Famer glared into the camera and did what many other analysts would have. He blamed the coach … Such frank analysis was welcomed by fed-up fans begging for a change on the bench. It’s also the sort of criticism from which Byron Scott, a teammate of Worthy’s from 1983-93, has recently been spared during an 11-43 season. Worthy is one of four former “Showtime”-era Lakers navigating the potentially murky waters of analyzing a team coached by a close friend … wo years after D’Antoni’s departure, fans are once again restless. Many believe another change on the bench could key a reversal of fortune. There will be critics who agree. And loudly. But Worthy won’t be among them. “People want to put their process of thinking into our heads,” he said. “And it’s not going to happen.”

5. Confusing Ricky Rubio and Marco Rubio
by Derek James, Hardwood Paroxysm

Being a basketball fan from Minnesota, I automatically think Ricky when I see tweets about a “Rubio.” Now, I realize that ball isn’t in fact life, especially during this election cycle. In fact, more often than not, people are talking about Marco, the Florida senator seeking the GOP nomination. Shockingly, not everyone is glued to their TVs for Timberwolves games. When a debate or town hall is on at the same time as a game, being on Twitter is a little confusing. After all, there is no law that says people should attach Ricky or Marco’s first initial to their surname, just to let us know who the hell they’re actually talking about because it gets confusing.