When LeBron James decided to return to Cleveland, everyone expected Chris Bosh to sign with the Houston Rockets and form a new Big Three. Instead, in the second most shocking move of the day, Bosh stayed with the Miami Heat, signing a five-year $118 million extension.
After four years in the shadow of LeBron and Dwyane Wade, Bosh is once again back in the spotlight - he will have to be the franchise player he once was with the Toronto Raptors and that the Heat are paying him to be.
While Bosh has had a secondary role with Miami over the last four seasons, he’s still one of the most potent scorers in the NBA. The Heat offense was based around spacing the floor for LeBron and Wade. They both got large stretches of time running the second unit, while Bosh rarely got a chance to play without at least one of them on the floor. He didn't get many post-ups or isolations - his points primarily came within the flow of the offense.
Bosh went from a usage rating of 28.7 in Toronto to 22.3 in Miami and from 16.5 field goal attempts a game to only 12. Despite being used like a role player, he kept making All-Star teams because of how remarkably efficient he was, averaging 16 points on 52% shooting last season. Those are the efficiency numbers you would expect from a first option forced to play a smaller role. Bosh took a step back for the good of the team, not any decline in skills.
When he was given a chance to play without Wade or LeBron, he showed he still had the ability to fill it up. The most notable instance came in a game against the Portland Trail Blazers, where he scored 37 on 15-26 shooting, including the game-winning three. If he regularly got the chance to put up 20+ FGA’s a night, he would have some huge scoring games. He can score at will - at 6'11, he's an elite shooter, ball-handler and athlete for a player his size.
As the primary option for Toronto, Bosh averaged 24 points, 11 rebounds and 2.5 assists on 52% shooting. He was carrying that franchise - Andrea Bargnani was the second leading scorer and Hedo Turkoglu was their third. Without Bosh, the Raptors went from 40 wins to 22 and became one of the worst teams in the NBA. This year’s team, which made the playoffs for the first since time since he left, has only two players remaining from his teams.
And while he isn't quite as explosive as he was in his mid 20’s, he's a much improved player. The biggest difference is the three-point shot - he went from taking 0.3 a game in 2010 to 3.2 in 2014. Not only does the it open up the floor, the shot gives Bosh more space to attack his defender. Opposing big men can't leave him alone on the three-point line and very few can move their feet well enough to guard him when he's handling the ball 25+ feet from the basket.
It's hard to say exactly what his scoring averages will look like next season, but they should go up fairly dramatically. If he gets 15+ FGA's, he could easily be at 23-25 points on a very high percentage, which would put him back in the discussion with guys like Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Love for best PF in the NBA. He's not the rebounder they are, but he's the most complete player of the bunch, with the ability to score, shoot, pass and defend.
Passing is one of the other elements of Bosh's game that he hasn't gotten the chance to utilize in the last four seasons. He had a positive assist-to-turnover ratio for most of his time in Toronto - he can find guys off the dribble as well as hit cutters out of the post. Featuring Bosh, letting him play with the ball in his hands a lot more and expanding his role in the offense will be one of the primary ways the Heat adjust to life without LeBron next season.
LeBron's departure means Wade will resume his role of face of the franchise, but there's little question whose the better player of the two stars left in Miami. Wade's been in steady decline due to his waning athleticism and lack of an outside shot, but Bosh’s game, based on length and shooting ability, will allow him to be a high-level player indefinitely. Even if LeBron had stayed, they would have needed to reorient the offense around Bosh as the 2nd option.
Losing LeBron creates a gaping hole on both sides of the ball and it’s hard to see a scenario where Miami competes for a title without him. They also have much less room for error, especially with Wade’s knees.
If Wade can only play 50+ games, Miami no longer has the firepower to compete without him. Going forward, they will need to do a better job of filling out their supporting cast than they did when they had LeBron. Nevertheless, all is not lost.
There's no way to replace the best player in the world, but he's not leaving behind a completely empty cupboard in South Beach. Josh McRoberts is a massive upgrade from the various players - Rashard Lewis, Shane Battier and Udonis Haslem - who shared the frontcourt with Bosh last year. Bosh and McRoberts upfront will give the Heat some of the best floor spacing in the NBA. And with Luol Deng at SF, they have the nucleus of a 50+ win team.
Chris Bosh is a 9-time All-Star who has averaged 19 points a game on 50% shooting in his career. He's a primary option who also doubles as a high-level interior defender and floor spacer. Even when he wasn’t putting up big numbers, he was one of the most valuable players in the NBA - the only other big man in the who can dribble and shoot 3's like him is Dirk Nowitzki. Bosh can't fill LeBron's shoes, but as long as he's around, Miami will be relevant.