The Inbounds: Chris Bosh and being what you’re not your way

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Chris Bosh has accepted that he has to play center for the Miami Heat. He doesn’t want to, it’s not what he has preferred, not from the moment he signed up for the Triad in South Beach. He likes his finesse game, feels that he’s better as a four, likes the freedom of power forward, and generally has turned his nose up at the idea of being the center. But last year, the Heat won the title with Bosh at center. Kind of.

Bosh played what you would call center because he was the fifth player on the floor and the tallest. He was the primary defender on the biggest player, and his game focused more on inside play. At the same time, though, Bosh was nailing threes and being used as the outlet valve on the drive-and-kick. Bosh tried to bulk up this summer, and then eventually abandoned that plan, and slimmed down even more. The compromise is clear. He’ll play center, but he’ll play it his way.

Bosh wants to be faster than the opposing center, and that’s something that he can rely on the rest of the offense to justify. The Heat rely on team defense to create turnovers and stops, then translate those to transition opportunities using their freakish athleticism. So though Bosh will be matched up against the biggest opponent a lot of the time, he’ll have help from swiping guards and forwards, and as we saw last season, LeBron James will even take some of the work, as he guarded Dwight Howard for stretches. Bosh gets the best of both worlds. He gets to get the pressure of playing five off his back while still essentially playing the four.

That’s kind of the secret to the Heat. Smallball is playing players smaller than traditionally accepted at various positions. What the Heat do is remove the five entirely. They don’t have a shot-blocker/rim-protector (who can catch, hi there Joel Anthony), so they just eliminated it. Their positional flexibility and athletic superiority gifts them the luxury of simply scrapping the positions all together. Their small forward plays point-center and their shooting guard plays point-forward. Their power forward plays power forward and calls it center, and their point guard plays shooting guard.

Say hello my old friend Mr. McCraig, with a leg for an arm, and an arm for a leg!”

Bosh gets to shoot threes, run the floor, play in the pick-and-pop. His compromise is crashing the glass and finishing on putbacks. Bosh’s struggles in out-boxing bigger opponents isn’t a major concern here, because the Heat are going to shoot a high percentage anyway. And his length makes up for his lack of bulk.

That may be what speaks the most to the changes in the NBA. It’s not about size, it’s not about bulk, it’s all about length. Anthony Davis is rail thin and will still be effective. Bosh is scrawny-strong, and can just reach over guys to finish plays. It’s maximizing the resources you have instead of trying to translate a player’s skill into a body type where his skills may not be so comfortable.

At its core, the combination of James, Wade , and Bosh was never perfect. You look at the new-look Lakers, and dynamic distributing point guard with efficient shooting stroke, plus high-usage sh0t-making shooting guard with exceptional skill plus dominant center with hyper-athleticism makes sense. That’s a combination that intuitively makes sense. Distributor plus scorer plus finisher. Passer plus shooter plus rebounder. That’s before you add Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace, but the effect is the same. The Heat, on the other hand, had a creating, scoring, all-around small forward, a scoring, gambling shooting guard, and a finesse power forward. The fit’s not obvious.

But the Heat made it work by having a translation of their skills. There’s not a lot of sacrifice that goes on with the stars in Miami, outside of Wade learning to play without the ball more. Bosh is doing what he’s always done, just in different times and in a different flow. The sacrifice comes at the defensive end and in pursuit of the team concept, which is strong and well-executed.

This may not be a career year for Bosh, and in truth, joining Miami hurt his personal star power more than anything. He’s the Ned of the 3 Amigos, the George Harrison to James and Wade’s John and Paul. But it affords him continued success, a smaller role in a bigger position, and the ability to win consistently. He’ll be as big a part of the Heat’s success as he’s ever been, and will continue to fit better into the offense. You can call him center, but he’s not genuinely a center. He’s just Chris Bosh, just as no position fits James. That may be the most impressive thing about the Heat. They never fit their guys into new roles, they just created a different team around individual identities.

And they’re still winning, like a Bosh.

Presumptive No.1 pick Wembanyama set to make stateside debut

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Victor Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson have been linked constantly over the last couple years, with just about every prognosticator anointing them as the top two picks in the 2023 NBA draft.

Thing is, they don’t know each other.

That’s about to change. Wembanyama – officially listed at 7-foot-2 but scouts often say more like 7-foot-4 – and the Paris-based club Metropolitans 92 are in Las Vegas to take on Henderson and the G League Ignite in a pair of exhibitions, the first on Tuesday and the second on Thursday.

“We’re playing against an NBA team, with NBA rules, on an NBA court,” Wembanyama said Monday. “This is really going to be a first for me. I’m curious to know how it’s going to go. I know it’s going to go well, but I’m still curious.”

Victor vs. Scoot. Scoot vs. Victor. They’re not playing 1-on-1, but they are the clear headliners and the reasons why these first-of-their-kind games were put together.

Wembanyama is listed as a center but plays all over the floor with guard skills in a big-man frame; Henderson is a point guard who has been getting tons of attention for years.

“Out of all the prospects I’ve heard about in our class, I think he’s my favorite one,” Wembanyama said. “I think he’s the most reliable that I’ve seen. He’s really a great player. If I was never born, I think he would deserve the first spot.”

Henderson – a five-star recruit from Georgia who signed with the Ignite last year and played in 10 games – sees these two games as an opportunity, downplaying the 1-on-1 storyline.

“People always try to compare and contrast whoever. I don’t look at it like that,” Henderson said. “I look at it as two good ballplayers.”

The Ignite program exists to develop young prospects in preparation for the NBA Draft, mixing them with veteran talent to help guide them along the way. It has featured three eventual top-10 picks – Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga last year, Dyson Daniels this year – in its first two seasons.

Henderson is a huge draw for the Ignite this year. The Ignite also have Shareef O'Neal, the son of Shaquille O’Neal. But much of what the Ignite would ordinarily be doing right now would be barely noticed nationally; hence, the games against Wembanyama were put together.

The Los Angeles Lakers are playing in Las Vegas this week, a pair of preseason matchups against Phoenix and Minnesota. Wembanyama is going to those as a fan; he’ll have a slightly different view of NBA games next season.

“He’s one of those type of players, honestly, where you say like there’ll never be like another Shaq or there’ll never be another that,” Ignite coach Jason Hart said. “He’s that. You’ll never see another one of those. The scouting report on him is tough. … I’m honored that I’m getting to play him at 18, because at 24, he’s going to be something different.”

Wembanyama has been a pro for three seasons already, spending last season with ASVEL in France – a club owned by San Antonio Spurs legend Tony Parker. He made the decision this year to join Metropolitans in part to be coached by Vincent Collet, who also coaches the French national team.

Collet is welcoming the chance.

“I think he’s the best prospect we’ve ever had in our league,” Collet said. “He’s amazing, not only by his size, but incredible skills. Despite that, he still needs to learn the game. He’s very young. … We will try to give him this experience. That’s the deal we have together, him and me. We want to give him the experience before he gets to the league. It’s most important to get him ready for what will follow next year.”

Watch Jamal Murray, Kawhi Leonard score first buckets in returns

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It’s only preseason. But if you’ve sat out an entire season with an ACL injury,  just getting on the court feels like a milestone.

And getting your first bucket back feels memorable.

That happened for the Nuggets Jamal Murray and the Clippers Kawhi Leonard on Monday night.

For Murray, the bucket came on a corner 3 in transition.

Murray also showed flashes he’s getting his handle and wiggle back, something that made him a great fit with Nikola Jokic.

Leonard wasted no time, scoring the Clippers’ first bucket by lulling his defender to sleep and then shooting the pull-up 3.

I feel we’re going to see a lot more of that this season.

The NBA is just better with these two back on the court.

 

Cavaliers Evan Mobley out 1-2 weeks with sprained ankle

2022-23 Cleveland Cavaliers Media Day
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The Cleveland Cavaliers might have the best frontcourt in the East this season with All-Star Jarrett Allen and the emerging star Evan Mobley, but it may be a few weeks before we see them together.

Mobley is out 1-2 weeks with a sprained right ankle, the Cavaliers announced a couple of days before their preseason opener. Mobley stepped on a teammate’s foot and rolled his ankle during practice, according to Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com.

Mobley, who finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting, averaged 15 points and 8.3 rebounds a game in his first campaign, but his more significant impact was on the defensive end. Mobley earned All-Defensive Team consideration as a rookie — an incredibly rare feat — and with Allen formed an impressive backstop for teams trying to drive the paint.

Reports out of Cavaliers training camp rave about the improvements made in Mobley’s offensive game, but we’ll have to wait a few weeks to see that for ourselves now. Mobley, with a more consistent face-up game and jumper, has the potential to develop into a top 15, maybe even top-10 player in the league. The Cavaliers are banking on the young core of Mobley, Allen, Darius Garland and the just acquired Donovan Mitchell to be able to take the team far in the next few years, with Mobley’s improvement key to just how far they can go.

It sounds like Mobley will be good to go for the start of the season.

Karl-Anthony Towns just cleared to walk Saturday following non-COVID illness

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Karl-Anthony Towns has not been in camp with the Timberwolves, sidelined by a non-COVID illness. Beyond that, there were not a lot of details other than his girlfriend Jordyn Woods saying on social media that she had taken him to the hospital.

Towns spoke to the media for the first time this season on Monday and said he was just cleared to walk again on Saturday, but did not get into detail about whatever illness he is dealing with.

First, it is Towns’ right if and when to disclose what he went through. This is not an on-court injury leading to a loss of playing time, and it is his call to talk about.

Towns has been sidelined before by illness, including COVID. After losing his mother and other family members to the disease, he also had a long battle with it. Fortunately, this is not that virus, but whatever it was it sidelined him for a couple of weeks.

That missed training camp is a setback as the Timberwolves try to get used to a two-big lineup with KAT and Rudy Gobert, plus some other new faces. Still, Towns and Minnesota should be good to go by the start of the season, a team thinking playoffs and much more after spending big this offseason.