Miami Heat

Chris Bosh now center of gravity for Miami Heat

Invoking the name of San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan in the Heat’s locker room is never a casual thing, so when Dwyane Wade dropped the reference Sunday to drive home his point about Chris Bosh, Wade paused a moment as if to emphasize the gravity of his statement.

Like Duncan before him, Bosh has a unique and timeless skill set that could make him one of the best power forwards in the league well into the twilight of his career. Bosh is 6-11, trim, athletic and he can shoot from the outside. There aren’t many people on the planet that fit that description.

“As long as he wants,” Wade said when asked how long Bosh could thrive. “As long as he doesn’t get bored with the game. He shot 23 shots [Sunday] and I could have sworn that 19 of them were wide open.

“I don’t understand it, why they leave him open so much. But he’s a consistent shooter and his game, he has taken the athletic part of his game and kind of put it to the side.”

To the side and also, maybe, a few feet backwards.

Bosh has long been one of the league’s best mid-range shooters, but, over the last two seasons, he has gradually added an efficient three-point shot to his offensive repertoire.

Traditionalists might groan every time Bosh takes a shot beyond the three-point arc, but the added dynamic to the Heat’s offense is here to stay, and it’s an important one. On Sunday against the Chicago Bulls, Bosh attempted a career-high nine three-pointers. He made four of those shots, which accounted for more than half of the three-pointers the Heat made.

“I thought I was going to shoot at least four, but they kept giving me open looks, and after I kind of got a rhythm for it, after the first half, I was like, ‘All right, I pretty much got to let it go because they were really packing that paint, they were very far back and I have to draw them out,” Bosh said. “I kept trying to draw them out.”

He’ll do the same in the playoffs, and Bosh’s outside shooting could be the deciding factor in whether the Heat breakdown the Indiana Pacers’ rugged defense and, ultimately, advance to the Finals for the fourth consecutive year.

Of course, three-point shooting is nothing knew for Bosh. People apparently are just now starting to notice. Bosh shot over 50 percent from three-point range during the 2012-13 playoffs and he was 15 of 37 from three-point range (40.5 percent) during the 2013-14 title run.

Bosh’s numbers from outside have increased ever since a talk with Shane Battier a few seasons ago. Bosh was already thinking about stepping back beyond the arc, but Battier convinced him with a pep talk.

Battier’s message, according to Bosh: “He said just take a step back. You can get more points per possession. Help the team out.”

It was a talk of advanced metrics that spurred Bosh’s development as a shooter, so it would only make sense to take a closer look at Bosh’s impact from outside using measurements that are now shaping how teams are constructed, players are valued and, ultimately, how money is made.

But first the traditional stuff.

Bosh is shooting 36.9 percent from three-point range this season and has already attempted 122 shots from beyond the arc. By comparison, that’s more than guard Norris Cole (120 attempts). What’s more, Bosh’s three-point percentage is better than that of LeBron James (36.6 percent), Ray Allen (35.4), Battier (34.8) and Rashard Lewis (34.3).

Impressive, to be sure, but a better barometer of Bosh’s impact might be found in statistics a bit more obscure. Bosh’s effective field-goal percentage (56.5) and true shooting percentage (61) are better than Dallas Mavericks power forward Dirk Nowitzki, the league’s gold standard for tall players who take long shots.

Of course, that’s not to say Bosh is a better three-point shooter than Nowitzki. He’s not, or not yet, at least. Nowitzki is shooting over 41 percent from three-point range this season. But advanced statistics now have an important place in the game, and it’s there that Bosh’s impact is best appreciated.

Effective field-goal percentage is a statistic that adjusts for the value of three-point shots and true shooting calculates a player’s shooting percentage adjusting for free throws and three-point field goals. Bosh’s effective field-goal percentage is better than Kevin Durant’s (56.2) and Bosh’s true shooting percentage is better than Steph Curry’s (60.1).

In other words, the Heat’s hard to quantify big man is one of the most efficient player’s in the league no matter who you stack him up against.

“It’s tough to compare him because [Bosh] has a different responsibility for us,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “It really is a hybrid position. It’s ‘position-less’. It really is, and depending on who’s on the floor, that dictates where he is on the floor. It could be maddening for some players.

“You have to have a high IQ and a high intelligence level, which he does, and a high skill level.”

Of course, Bosh’s value to the Heat has always been difficult to understand for outsiders. Nearly every season since he’s been with the Heat he has been the subject of trade rumors just about as vague as his position on the court. Bosh’s greatest gift, like James, might be that they both just make it work. They adjust to whatever the team needs at the moment.

Bosh says it took him “three and half years” to fully figure out his place on the team, and it didn’t stat to truly click until “I stopped fighting it.”

“And I wasn’t really fighting it last year,” Bosh said. “I was just trying to get in where I fit in. I just stopped fighting it, and prepared to play wherever they needed me to play, and play well.”