Houston Rockets Free Agency: The Inconclusive Case for Chris Bosh


Post by Space City Scoop’s Mike Mitchell

Reach Mike for comments and questions at:  MikeMitchnh@gmail.com

Jun 15, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; Miami Heat forward Chris Bosh (1) arrives at the stadium prior to the game against the San Antonio Spurs in game five of the 2014 NBA Finals at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

As Carmelo Anthony continues to take meetings around the league, Daryl Morey is doing what smart executives do: assuming all outcomes at once and working on contingencies.

ESPN’s Mark Stein reports the Rockets are prepared to pursue Miami Heat center Chris Bosh in the event Anthony declines their near-max offer.

Having just turned 30, Bosh should have three or four more seasons of prime basketball. That’s a large enough window of peak performance to justify bringing him into the fold for a Rockets team that can absolutely compete for a championship in the near future.

Bosh is a fascinating player, more now than ever. On the offensive end, he has completely re-invented his game since leaving Toronto. His FG% is identical to four years ago (.518 vs. .516), but the shot selection behind it has evolved more than any All-Star in the league.

During the 2009-2010 campaign, his final season carrying the Raptors to the mid-lottery, Bosh took 98.1% of his shots from inside the arc, and just 49% of his made field goals were assisted. Now, Bosh takes 77.1% of his shots from inside the arc, and a whopping 77.3% of those are assisted.

Bosh 1.0 was an elite post player who had a refined face-up game to match. Everything started with a post-touch, hi or lo. He could blow by slower defenders, baseline or through the lane. His first step was lethal, much more than his current reputation suggests. He also attacked the offensive glass with abandon. His 9.9% offensive rebound rate in 09-10 was a career high, but not abnormal.

Bosh 2.0 has new responsibilities. The post touches are down dramatically, as Miami has gradually gone to a spread, open-post offense in the “Heatles” era. The increase in Bosh’s assisted baskets has been gradual (from 60% in his first season in Miami to 77% now). This is a result of Bosh’s work as a pick-and-roll big who screens to create mismatches for LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.

Bosh’ three-point attempts spiked more dramatically this season, from a career high of 74 attempts in ’12-‘13 to a whopping 218. Bosh connected at a league-average 34% clip.

These new shots were not of the corner-3 variety, where Bosh launched less than 24% of his treys last season, but instead the result of a pick-and-pop game from the wing and top of the key that was almost brand new for Bosh.

How does Bosh 2.0 fit the Rockets? Well, better than 1.0. The Rockets the league’s most consistently spread attack, with simple pick-and-roll action, weak-side ball rotations and three-pointers raining from every location. Dwight Howard prefers post touches to pick-and-roll basketball, evidenced by his decline from a .697 assisted FG rate to a .510 last season, back in line with his Orlando numbers after a disgruntled season under Mike D’Antoni.

Bosh would essentially give the Rockets a true “floater”. He can set screens for James Harden, Chandler Parsons and other ball-handlers that Howard is reluctant to deliver, then pop for his treys or slip and dive for layups, depending on how the defense is playing him.

Those are the benefits.

Basketball is relative, though, and Bosh would be taking his minutes from other players. Unlike LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, Bosh would not be able to play as a small forward or even a jumbo 2-guard.

This means there can be no lineups with Terrence Jones, Howard and Bosh. Such lineups would be badly exposed defensively, especially assuming James Harden’s defensive apathy is also present with those units.

Apr 23, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets forward Terrence Jones (6) dunks the ball during the third quarter against the Portland Trail Blazers in game two during the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Toyota Center. The Trail Blazers defeated the Rockets 112-105. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Jones played 27.3 minutes per game last season. He is eight years younger than Bosh, on a rookie contract; and he still actually put up a slightly higher Player Efficiency Rating (19.1 to 19.0). Basketball is team-dependent and PER is not gospel. I would absolutely take Bosh if money and long-term commitment were not factors. Bosh had a specialized role on the most recent Heat team, and Jones had a lower usage rate that limited his risk of being exposed.

But the value of these two players is not that different. Bosh cannot defend stretch-4s, which means in small lineups in which Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard are at the 4, Bosh will be hiding on the weakside on lots of twos and threes while Parsons picks up those assignments – assuming he’s retained.

Either way, Kevin McHale absolutely cannot play Bosh and Jones big minutes together as Houston’s roster is currently structured. (Unless you want to explore trades involving Howard for guys like Russell Westbrook and Goran Dragic, but let’s stick to reality.)

The bottom line is the Rockets have room for one more max-level player in pursuit of their own super team. Using that money on Chris Bosh, who is perhaps 10% better on balance than a reasonably-established 22-year old whose role he would almost entirely absorb, is a dubious and likely inefficient use of those resources.

Having Bosh is better than not having him—and Jones would still be around.  But there is opportunity cost attached to giving that contract out. The Rockets can only do it once, and they have better ways to spend it in pursuit of a championship.