NBA All-Star Game 2014: Chris Bosh, the underappreciated 3rd wheel

Christian Petersen

Chris Bosh is still rather underappreciated outside of Miami, but his presence in the middle is critical to the Heat's success. SB Nation 2014 NBA Slam Dunk Contest Coverage

When Chris Bosh agreed to team up with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in Miami, he knew he'd be taking a back seat behind two of the NBA's biggest stars. Bosh was a 20-and-10 machine with the Toronto Raptors; there wouldn't be enough shots for him to match that. But although those days are long gone, that doesn't mean the big man isn't as good as ever.

Despite Bosh's continued excellence and Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra's perpetual insistence that Bosh is the team's most important player, the 29-year-old seems to be under-appreciated by fans. People see a goose egg in the score column in a Game 7 of the NBA Finals, and they ask how that player can still be considered an elite player.

But make no mistake, Chris Bosh is still a great player and would almost certainly garner a max contract if he hit the market this summer. While some people care to focus on that zero-point effort in Game 7, the real focus should have been on his dynamite defensive performance. And although Bosh's rebounding numbers have dipped in recent years, it was his offensive rebound that led to Ray Allen's season-saving three in Game 6.

Bosh's numbers this season look very similar to last, although his per-36 scoring and rebounding totals are currently a shade above what they were last year. His overall shooting percentage is down a tad, but that's only because he's taking a career-high 2.1 shots per game from behind the three-point line. The big man is making a respectable percent from deep, adding another dimension to a Heat offense that's dynamic enough already.

Bosh has also shown the ability to still be that alpha dog when the Heat need him to be. In a 108-107 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers in late December, Bosh put up 37 points and 10 rebounds with LeBron James out due to injury. Bosh capped off his dynamite performance with a game-winning three-pointer with 0.5 seconds left:

When Dwyane Wade was limited with his knee issues in January, Bosh stepped into the role of second fiddle to James, sometimes even acting as the go-to guy. Wade missed five games and was ineffective in three others from Jan. 10 to the end of the month, and Bosh averaged 21.8 points and 7.0 rebounds while shooting 58.8 percent from the field and 40.6 percent from three during that stretch. The Heat did go just 5-4 in those nine games, but it certainly wasn't due to what Bosh did or didn't do.

Some may point to the Heat's mediocre defense this season as evidence that Bosh may be slipping a bit. After all, it would seem reasonable to pin some of the blame for the defensive woes on the team's primary rim protector. However, Bosh isn't the reason for some of the defensive struggles. When he hits the bench, Miami's defensive rating gets 4.6 points per 100 possessions worse, per's stats page. It should also be noted that Bosh has one of the highest net ratings on the team.

Bosh's latest All-Star selection is the ninth of his career and fourth straight with Miami. Since forming "The Big Three" in that fateful summer of 2010, Bosh, James and Wade have never not been selected as All-Stars. There have been some rough patches along the way, but the sustained excellence of those three players is why the Heat are looking to become the first team since the 1980s Boston Celtics to reach the NBA Finals four straight years.

If the Heat plan on making that fourth straight run to the Finals, they're going to need Bosh to be at the top of his game. That doesn't necessarily just mean scoring and rebounding at a high level. While those things are certainly important, Bosh's rim protection and ability to guard pick-and-roll is just as important. It's those not-as-easily quantifiable skills that make Bosh such an underappreciated star.

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