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Chris Bosh does not get enough credit for changing the game of basketball.
Every NBA team is looking for a center who can switch defensively and space the floor offensively. That was not the case before Bosh, who will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Saturday. Heck, even Bosh was not that player when he entered the league for the Toronto Raptors in 2003.
Mike Krzyzewski played Bosh five minutes off the bench in Team USA's 101-95 loss to Greece at the 2006 FIBA World Championship, two years after the U.S. lost three games en route to an Olympic bronze medal. Something had to give, and that something was more Bosh. Sure, it helped to add Kobe Bryant in 2008, but fellow Redeem Team member Tayshaun Prince once told me Bosh was "our most important player."
"Dwight [Howard] had a hard time chasing out to those big fives who could shoot the basketball," Prince said of the prevalence of stretch centers internationally, "so when he would come out and we would put Bosh in, we could just switch pick-and-roll. … When we put Bosh in at the five, we had so many different variables that we could do from a defensive perspective, and he was the big cog in our defensive style."
The NBA took notice. Inside of a decade, traditional centers were all but extinct. If the NBA looks more like the international game, it is because Krzyzewski employed Bosh's defensive versatility at center in Beijing. Connect the dots from that decision to the Death Lineup that made the Golden State Warriors a dynasty.
Everyone needs a Bosh, even LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
You forget just how good Bosh was in Toronto, where he made five All-Star appearances by the age of 25. He averaged 24 points, 10.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists in his final season with a Raptors team that counted Andrea Bargnani as its second option and finished sub-.500. Bosh was left off the All-NBA roster in favor of Andrew Bogut, who he dropped 44 points on earlier that season. You might want a change of scenery, too.
Bosh caught hell his first season on the Miami Heat, even though nobody sacrificed more for the good of a potential dynasty. He played the vast majority of his first two seasons out of position alongside lane-clogging centers Joel Anthony, Zydrunas Ilgauskas or Erick Dampier, which seems ludicrous in retrospect.
Ask Ray Allen how thankless a job it was to cede touches to Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett on the Big Three that preceded and helped forge the Heat. It was also necessary. Bosh has not been ostracized like Allen was from the Boston Celtics, but his contributions to a pair of championships have been marginalized.
The Heat trailed those Celtics 3-2 in the 2012 Eastern Conference finals. Bosh missed the first four games of the series with an abdominal strain and played just 14 minutes off the bench in Game 5. James wrote his signature performance in Game 6, but Miami was struggling to score against Boston's defense in Game 7.
Enter stretch Bosh, who unlocked the Heat's five-out potential the same way he did for the Redeem Team. Bosh's first 3-pointer of the night capped his string of seven straight points to draw even with the Celtics early in the second quarter. His second 3 gave the Heat a 76-75 lead a minute into the fourth quarter, and his third handed Miami its first two-possession lead of the game, 86-82, with seven minutes remaining. It was a backbreaker. The Celtics would not get within a single possession again and ultimately lost, 101-88.
Still rehabbing his injury, Bosh finished Game 7 with 19 points on 8-for-10 shooting, including 3 of 4 from distance. They do not win without him. He averaged one 3-point attempt every three games in his previous 663 regular-season and playoff games combined. His previous career single-game highs for makes and attempts were two and three, respectively. Bosh knew James and Wade needed more space and delivered.
After losing Game 1 of the 2012 Finals, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra employed Bosh as his starting small-ball center. He had previously played only 174 meaningful possessions in lineups featuring James, Wade, Mario Chalmers and either Shane Battier or Mike Miller during the regular season, per Cleaning the Glass. Those units outscored the Oklahoma City Thunder by 36 over 114 minutes in four straight wins to capture the title.
Do not forget Bosh also came away with the offensive rebound in Game 6 of the 2013 Finals, finding Allen in the corner to save Miami's season again. Neither of those championships are possible without his wildly underrated contributions. This bears repeating: Eight years into his career, four years after helping to deliver the U.S. a gold medal, Bosh flipped a playoff switch and transformed into the archetypal small-ball five.
The Heat abandoned traditional centers in the 2012-13 season, when Bosh doubled his 3-point attempts. He tripled them again in 2013-14, when he attempted three per game on a team making its fourth straight Finals appearance. In the final two years of his career, Bosh shot 37% on four 3-point attempts a night. This after shooting 31% on fewer than one attempt per game in his previous 11 seasons. He was getting better.
The game of basketball was shifting to Bosh's brand.
Only, blood-clotting issues prevented him from finishing either of those last two campaigns. Health forced him into early retirement at age 31, robbing us of a likely showdown between the remaining Heat and James' Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2016 Eastern Conference finals. Bosh might still be playing today for a contender in Miami or elsewhere if not for the blood clots, because his game was aging like a fine wine.
What he did manage to bottle up in 13 seasons — 11 straight All-Star appearances, four Finals and two titles — was a transformative Hall of Fame career, and every NBA team is still looking for the next Bosh.
Nikola Jokic is a better passer. Joel Embiid is more dominant in the post. Karl-Anthony Towns is a better shooter. Rudy Gobert is a better rim protector. Bam Adebayo is even more athletic defending in space. But none of the best centers in a resurgent era for the position check every small-ball box quite like Bosh did.
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