This year the NBA Finals will be full of superstars and exciting match ups. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook highlight the show, but there are two great players who have been labeled as “The Third Wheel” for their respective teams. Chris Bosh and James Harden might be playing different positions, but their efforts and contributions remain key to their team’s success. Let’s take a quick look as to what the two guys bring to the table.
Chris Bosh is a perennial all-star and, when healthy, a top 15 player in the league. It is silly that his importance still has to be stressed, regardless of his past accomplishments and his skill level. Chris Bosh sacrificed the most out of the big 3 when he signed with Miami. Not only was he no longer the first offensive option, he wasn’t even the second.
These past two years no one really realized the actual importance of a healthy Chris Bosh, until Miami faced the tough and gritty Boston Celtics in the last round. When Bosh was out and Wade and James couldn’t get it going offensively, Miami’s offense often became stagnant, relying mostly on jump shots. Bosh came back in game 5, but only played 14 minutes. His playing time increased in games 6 and 7, and game 7 was really an eye opener. In 31 minutes off the bench, Bosh went for 19 points and 8 boards, on 8-10 shooting.
However, Bosh brought a lot more to the table that night than efficient numbers. His ability to make timely baskets when the team needs it, and his ability to stretch out the floor was key in game 7. He knocked down 3 three pointers, and after the game admitted that he, while it might surprise people, had been working on the shot during the season. With that shooting ability he was able to stretch out the Boston defense, and force Kevin Garnett out of the paint. With no shot blocking presence in the paint for Boston, James and Wade were free to take over and get easy baskets. This season Bosh is averaging 49.5% from the field 10-15 feet away from the basket, but his offensive repertoire is greater than that. Despite his size, he is able to put the ball on the floor and drive to the basket, making him unpredictable and very dangerous.
Without Bosh, Miami has no reliable big man on the roster. Sure, Anthony is a hard worker and always hustles, but we all saw how KG got whatever he wanted on both ends of the floor in the Eastern Conference finals, in the absence of Bosh.
Bosh joked around when he was asked if he was 100% following the game 7 win. Coming off his abdominal strain injury, Bosh said that he is at 99.2% and is hopeful that he will feel even better come Tuesday night.
The question remains whether Erik Spoelstra will decide to start Chris Bosh, or let him come off the bench. There have been several star players who have successfully come off the bench this season following injuries. Avery Bradley was inserted into the starting lineup in place of Ray Allen for Boston, while Danny Green was starting in place of Manu Ginobili for the Spurs. Bosh coming off the bench provides an interesting dynamic for the Heat, and the ability to always keep at least 2 of their big 3 on the floor. It remains to be seen how Spoelstra utilizes Bosh, but his play will have major impact on the series regardless.
James Harden isn’t an all-star (yet) and is only 22-years-old. Even so, the 2009 NBA Draft 3rd overall pick, has been a key player for the franchise ever since he arrived in OKC. In his rookie season he averaged just under 10 points per game, and helped the Thunder make the playoffs, winning 27 more games than they had the season before. He has improved every year, and averaged 16.8 points per game this season, most by any reserve in the league, landing him the NBA Sixth Man of the Year award. He is currently averaging 17.6 points per game in this year’s playoffs.
Harden is a true professional who has embraced his role. He most certainly has the quality to start for most teams in the NBA, but gives the Thunder exactly what they need off the bench. He is a great shooter, but has the ability to mix it up and attack the basket. You can sometimes contain Kevin Durant, and Westbrook might struggle with his shot, which is when Harden steps in and keeps the team afloat. Having a guy on the bench who can score the basketball on demand takes a lot of pressure of Westbrook and Durant.
When Harden is on the floor at the same time as Durant and Westbrook, OKC is virtually unstoppable. While they shoot a lot of jumpers, they still form one of the scariest triple-threats in the league. The 3 guys are young and quick and love getting out in transition. Despite shooting a lot of jumpers, Harden is very consistent, averaging just under 50% in field goal percentage.
James Harden and Chris Bosh will not only be the x-factors for their respective teams, but also for the outcome of the series. While they won’t be directly matched up against one another on the floor, Bosh vs Harden is certainly a match up to look forward to.