The Chris Bosh Disappearing Act

“We can state the obvious: They’re [Bosh and Wade] both struggling,” LeBron James said prior to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Indiana Pacers.

While the Heat have since gone on to the NBA Finals, so, too, have the struggles of James’ sidekicks.

In Game 1 of this year’s NBA Finals against the well-rested San Antonio Spurs, the Heat’s heat flamed out in the fourth quarter as they were outscored 23-16 by a methodical Popovich team that kept plugging away one critical possession at a time, tying their own NBA record for fewest turnovers in a Finals game.

If the Heat don’t raise the red flag and put an end to Bosh’s continued reliance and belief in the three point shot, they will be raising the white flag of surrender as they get steamrolled out of the Finals.

Standing at 6’11”, Chris Bosh has always been a finesse player. But he has also been a head smart, savvy talent, too, that has known when to mix it up. Since joining the Miami Heat, Bosh has taken off the hat of a team’s superstar and settled, taking shot after shot miles from the rim that he would not have dared launching when with the Raptors.

Nevermind Chris Bosh’s decline in points per game. That’s a given when you join up with two other superstars of Wade and LeBron’s caliber, the latter arguably the most dominant player the NBA has seen since Shaquille O’Neal wore purple and gold.

It’s his shot selection.

Let us compare the numbers. In Bosh’s first three seasons with the Raptors (2003-06), he attempted a total of 37 three pointers. Fast forward to 2012-13 with Miami. Chris Bosh launches 74 from downtown with 21 falling through the net (28%, not exactly a high percentage shot from your 6’11” anchor).

The more movement away from the paint, the less opportunity you have to help your team on the boards — and a pretty good reason the Heat are THE worst rebounding team in the NBA this year.

It is as if they take pride in it.

In a December 19 game against the Minnesota Timberwolves in which the Miami Heat were outrebounded by a 2-to-1 margin (53 to 24), Erick Spoelstra had this to say.

“Rebounding helps, but there are a lot of other factors for rebounding. If you go through the statistics in the playoffs and ranked them, that isn’t necessarily the biggest key.”

Which is why the Heat were about this close to watching the Hoosier state punch their tickets for this year’s NBA Finals while they took their rods and reels and Nike’s and went fishing down in South Beach.

In just three years, Bosh’s career rebounding average has declined from 10.8 RPG his last year in Toronto to an abysmal 6.8 RPG this year with Miami.

What’s even more alarming is the further declining rebounding rate we have witnessed from Bosh since being pushed around by Roy Hibbert and David West in the Indiana series (4.3 RPG). Then in Game 1 against the lengthy Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter, Bosh snags a mere five rebounds. While Miami won the battle of the boards (46 to 37) against the Spurs in a 92-88 Game 1 loss, their big (Bosh) was out in no man’s land calling for the rock when he should have been vying for position on the block.

“Look,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said following the Game 1 loss, “We’re not going to overreact to those misses. He [Bosh] was open. He hit some big ones already.”

He was open for a reason Spoelstra. It’s because he is 6’11” and shoots 28% from downtown. Better out there than grabbing a putback dunk off a James penetration.

The three-point stripe and European influence have long been whispering to NBA bigs for quite some time to “step on back here and jack one up.”

And Bosh has welcomed it much to the detriment of his team and to his own game.

If the Heat plan to make this a series and win not one, not two, not three but seven rings (and one up Jordan and Pippen — good luck), Bosh better park his behind in the paint and play like Pat Riley will send him back up north across the border if he doesn’t.

And Dwyane Wade? Well, let’s just say a scoreless fourth quarter is its own story.

A Phoenix Sun Soon to Rise

Although the Phoenix Suns management and coaching staff have yet to piece together a championship caliber team that can gut it out past 82 games, there is one area you cannot fault them, and that’s finding the perfect point guard.

In 1996 with the 15th overall selection in the NBA Draft, the Suns picked up a little fellow out of Santa Clara University by the name of Steve Nash. This all while securing Jason Kidd from the Mavericks to command the driver’s seat while Nash waited in study. After losing both Nash and Kidd to the trade block, they signed Nash again in 2004, who went on to win multiple MVPs while carrying the franchise to the top of the Pacific Division from 2004-07.

Out goes Steve Nash in the 2012 offseason to quarterback it in Los Angeles alongside Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Dwight Howard. In comes Kendall Marshall (North Carolina), recipient of the 2012 Bob Cousy Award.

Are you seeing a pattern? I’m seeing a pattern – and it has nothing to do with the bad astigmatism in my left eye.

For those of us lucky enough to live in ACC country, we become privy to the extraordinary in college basketball. And Kendall Marshall is extraordinary, crushing the all-time ACC record in assists in a single season. This all while being a sophomore. Yes, you read that sentence correctly and you are welcome to read it again. As a sophomore.

Here’s the thing about Kendall Marshall: when UNCs starting point, Larry Drew II, abruptly quit in February of 2011 – and I do mean quit (leaving it up to his dad to call Roy Williams to deliver the news) – on his team following a 106-74 victory over Boston College, Marshall’s star immediately went on the rise, relishing his new unshared role as North Carolina’s floor general. The turnover-prone Tar Heels went on a tear, finishing the season at 29-8 with a loss to the Kentucky Wildcats in the Elite 8.

Compare this to their previous year when they finished 20-17 and failed to reach the NCAA Tournament, which is about as close to blasphemy (“failed to reach the NCAA Tournament”) as you can get on Tobacco Road.

In the 2011-12 season in which the North Carolina Tar Heels went 32-6 (losing Marshall to a fractured wrist in their win against Creighton), Marshall racked up an astonishing 351 assists to 101 turnovers (3.48 ratio). As Luke Winn of Sports Illustrated points out: Marshall was only thieved of the ball seven times, or 0.4 percent of total possessions played. What’s even more mind boggling is that the Tar Heel point guard was never called for a single traveling or carrying violation. Talk about efficiency and protecting the ball. I can picture Bob Cousy dribbling around in circles in his grave with a smile on his face, proud of his modern day heir.

So here I am, June 28, watching the 2012 NBA Draft live on television. About to scream at my television to be precise. Sure, it is early on but I am viewing team after team pass on Marshall. Then comes the lucky number 13 pick by the Phoenix Suns. Finally, management with a little sense.

You want to know who is a sure thing? Kendall Marshall, barring injury of course.

The NBA is point guard rich these days; or, I should say small guard rich. You have Russell Westbrook and Pistol Pete’s Spanish doppelganger, Ricky Rubio. You’ve got Tony Parker, Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, and Rajon Rondo.

In that list, only Rondo, Paul, and Rubio are true points. Let’s call the other guys what they are: scoring guards. Too small to be a shooting guard and too trigger-happy to be a point.

But Kendall Marshall, he’s a point guard. A true point guard. And he’s the future, sure enough, for not only the Phoenix Suns but the NBA.

Goran Dragic isn’t a slouch. Give the man credit and give the Suns credit for knowing this too, which is why they signed the unrestricted free agent to a four-year/$34 million deal in the offseason. With that said, it’s only a matter of time before Marshall gets his chance and Dragic’s sun sets and a new sun rises. Let’s just hope the Phoenix Suns don’t make the same mistake twice by letting one slip out the door, as they did with Steve Nash in 1998. They were lucky to land Nash again in 2004 after letting him walk the first time. They might not be that lucky with Marshall; but like he showed us on Tobacco Road with Larry Drew II’s departure, a freshman can step up and a sophomore season can make for quite the stellar performance.

Don’t be foolish and overlook this kid. He has an off-the-charts basketball IQ and a knack for the game the NBA only sees once or twice in a decade.

Sometimes the number 13 ain’t such a bad number after all.

Kevin Love: The New Big Fundamental

When Kevin Love declared for the NBA Draft in April 2008, I shook my head. Like Tyler Hansbrough, who was dominating college basketball at the time, I thought of Love as only a college player. He didn’t have what it would take to muster a valid career in the NBA. He would average 10 and 5 for a few years, find himself caught in the middle of a packaged three team deal, then slink to the end of the bench on a non-contender and disappear, never to be seen or heard from again.

Too pudgy. Lacks athleticism and lateral quickness. Plays below the rim. Can’t get up and down the court.

Justified by watching tape of the UCLA Bruins, these were all legitimate knocks on Love’s game.

Sure, he had plenty of strengths to match: great hands, developed post moves and footwork, nice passer, uncanny rebounder, and can step behind the arc and knock down some treys, etc.; but these strengths would be overshadowed and could not compensate for the obvious holes in his game.

Never mind that Love scored in double figures in all 39 games he played as a frosh at UCLA, and that 23 of those games consisted of notching a double-double.

The NBA is fast and Love is slow.

Bust.

But I was wrong. Kevin Love just plays basketball. That’s what he does. He plays the game. He knows the game. Fundamentals may be missing in much of today’s NBA players, but not in Kevin Love; and, while I’m not equating Love with Larry Bird—he’s no Larry Bird by any stretch of the imagination—the supposed weaknesses and what the critics said about the Indiana St. Sycamore in 1978 parallel.

Despite carrying 10 lbs. of concrete in each Converse, Larry Bird still figured out how to get from Point A to Point B in the same amount of time as James Worthy; so, too, has Love honed his craft to not only recompense for his weaknesses, but to mask them almost entirely with his ridiculously high basketball IQ.

“Plays below the rim,” says the critics. With 90% of rebounds snatched below the iron anyway, who needs hops when you have position? Not last year’s rebounding leader with 15.2 per game.

I doubted Love’s ability in much the way Stephen A. Smith doubted Tim Tebow all season long. Although I was watching an elite athlete do his thing before my very eyes, I still couldn’t believe it. Has to be a fluke. Must be a fluke.

Then, on November 12, 2010, Love became the 19th player in NBA history—the first since 1982 (Moses Malone)—to record a “30-30” game, pulling down 31 rebounds to match his 31 points. Then there was that whole double-double streak of 53 consecutive games, the longest streak since the NBA-ABA merger of ’76.

‘Tis no fluke.

Said Kevin Love during an interview with ESPN this January: “I believe I’m the best ’4? in the league. I think you have to believe that you’re the best. I think Mohammad Ali even said, ‘I was the greatest before I knew I was.’ I think everybody needs to have that mindset. That’s part of winning the mind game from the very start. You have to believe it. You have to hold yourself accountable.”

While it’s debatable that Love is the best PF in the Association (I have to go with Nowitzki myself), what we’re seeing is a bonafide freak of nature in the making—a young man with a chip on his shoulder who is just scratching the surface thus far in his career.

Part of being the best is believing you are and Love, as he quotes Ali, already has this. From the very start, before he ever laced up his shoes and stepped foot on an NBA floor, Love had one-upped his critics.

As the malapropic Yogi Berra once said, “[Sport] is 90% mental, the other half physical.”

Therefore, when a story breaks with the headline “Love’s Buzzer Beater Lifts Wolves,” I am no longer surprised. It’s to be expected. I would be more surprised if it said he missed. Now, the real story of Friday’s game wasn’t that Love hit a game-winning three in the final seconds; it’s that Darko Milicic had 22 points and 7 rebounds.

Don’t make me eat another hat Darko. Don’t make me eat another hat.