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Essay: Off The Bench (Like A Bosh)

Last night in Miami, the Chris Bosh-less Heat lost their fourth straight game in an ugly overtime battle with the Atlanta Hawks.  Few bright spots can be taken from a game like last night’s, but it’s undeniable that Miami had one: Joel Anthony. Starting in place of Bosh, the 28-year-old Anthony embossed himself on the game with 16 rebounds (eight offensive, eight defensive), three blocks, and zero points—according to the Heat announcers he doesn’t even shoot the ball in warm-ups.

The Heat were going up against an Atlanta team that was playing with a chip on their shoulder (they tend to do this once or twice a season) after Larry Drew, their coach, reportedly called their play “soft” the previous night. Atlanta was clearly looking to out hustle and physically dominate Miami’s modest frontline, but Anthony’s presence altered all that. Granted the Hawks didn’t have their best rebounder, Al Horford, for part of the second half after he rolled his ankle, but regardless, Anthony was Moses Malone in spurts during his season high 43 minutes of action. On one sequence midway through the fourth quarter, he grabbed three offensive rebounds in 19 seconds, eventually leading to a Mario Chalmers three-ball.

The Heat are 17-5 when Anthony sees 20 minutes or more of action, but only 5-5 when he starts (two of the losses were against Boston and one of the wins came against Orlando). If it weren’t for a strange sequence in overtime where all five Miami players assumed Atlanta was going to call a time-out, turned towards their bench and allowed Joe Johnson to find a wide open Mario West for a go ahead three pointer (this would never happen to the Celtics, Spurs, or Lakers), the Heat likely would have won the game.

Anthony may only be 6’9”, but in half the minutes Bosh plays per game (35.6 to 18.6), he averages twice as many blocks and slightly more defensive plays (steals, blocks, and charges).  Is Joel Anthony better than Chris Bosh? No, I dare not go there, but sporting a starting lineup of Arroyo, Wade, James, Anthony, and Ilgauskas, with Bosh coming off the bench and continuing to play over 30 minutes a game, might give Miami their best scheme going into the playoffs.  As was seen when he received a harsh facial courtesy of Josh Smith, Anthony is fearless protecting the rim (or at least trying to), and his selfless shot selection— he takes one every 18 minutes he’s on the floor—makes him a better complement for James and Wade when both are active on the floor.

It may sound like it, but the point I’m trying to make here isn’t so much that Anthony deserves to start, but that Bosh might be better served coming off the bench. Much like Lamar Odom or Manu Ginobili, Bosh’s ability should be utilized dominating second lines and providing energy, yet still ending games on the floor in crunch time.  As a five time All-Star his skills are undeniable, but heading into this season I was a little skeptical on how all three of them would co-exist when it came to shot selection.  From day one it was clear that Bosh would struggle the most with the adjustment, and surrounding Wade and James with three serviceable role players to start the game might be the most logical move.  It probably won’t happen. The risk vs. reward ratio weighs too heavy on the side of “if this doesn’t work, I’m out of a job” for Spoelstra, but should the team ever hit a slump or fall behind two games in a playoff series, a Chris Bosh reinforcement off the bench might not be such a bad idea.

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