Chris Bosh was a good defender who was elite at defending in space and defending the pick and roll. Bosh struggled when asked to play a more traditional role on defense for a big man. Bosh was at his best defensively for Miami who played to his strengths.
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What do stats say about Chris Bosh on defense?
Advanced statistics offer us a way to look at a player’s career without having to rely on people’s memories or their sometimes-biased opinions. Advanced stats are in no way perfect. They are much better at judging a player’s offense than they are at judging defense.
Even still, stats offer one good way to judge a player’s career.
Basketball Reference lists five defensive statistics in its advanced statistics section. They also list defensive rating in their per 100 stats, which attempts to measure a player’s defensive effectiveness per 100 possessions. I will look at each of these statistics for Chris Bosh below.
As a whole, Chris Bosh’s career advanced defensive stats are not very strong. In fact, they are very similar to Dirk Nowitski, who was known as a weak defender who worked to become just about average. In nearly every category they are worse than Charles Barkley’s who was not noted as a strong defender either.
Single skill advanced defensive statisticsEmbed from Getty Images
Chris Bosh was not known as a banger but he still got his share of rebounds. He finished his career with a defensive rebound percentage of 20.7%. He finished ranked 115th all time in the NBA.
A common belief in scouting is that good defenders will get their fair share of blocks and/or steals. Bosh did some of each but neither at an outlier level.
His career steal percentage of 1.2% is nearly identical to Nowitzki (1.2%) but well behind Barkley at 2.09%. Bosh did not get as many steals as one would expect from a player who was great defending in space.
Bosh was a 6’11” inch big, so you would expect some blocks, but he also did not have a strong reputation as a rim defender. Barkley may not be a great comparison here as he was quite limited for the position at a reported 6’4”.
But Nowitzki was also 6’11” so that comparison is a fair one for Bosh. Looking a little deeper, another great athlete of the same general time period was Tracy MacGrady who, at 6’8” was shorter than Bosh, but also more dynamic athletically. T-Mac finished with a career block percentage of 1.9%, so well behind Bosh.
Bosh was not known for being an intimidating force at the rim, but he did get his share of blocks. He finished his career ranked 121st in career block percentage.
Overall advanced defensive statisticsEmbed from Getty Images
Defensive rating essentially measures how many baskets a player gives up per 100 possessions. Chris Bosh finished his career with a defensive rating of 105.
The good news: he finished tied with Kobe Bryant! The bad news: It is likely that Kobe Bryant was wildly overrated as a defender and he had very pedestrian career defensive statistics that show him to be quite similar, and even slightly behind in most categories, to Tracy McGrady.
McGrady had a 104 career defensive rating. The same number as Dirk Nowitzki. Both of them ended ahead of Barkley and Magic Johnson who finished with career 105 ratings.
One conclusion from this number is that widely known averag-ish defenders like Barkley, Nowitzki, Magic and T-Mac were actually really good on defense. Another conclusion is that Kobe is overrated.
The second, more likely, conclusion does not help Chris Bosh much. He has a pretty weak career defensive rating that likely means he was not some outlier great defender.
Another overall advanced defensive statistic is defensive box plus/minus. Defensive box plus/minus is an estimate of how many points a player gave up per possession when compared to a league average player & team.
Bosh finished his career with -.3, meaning he was a slightly below average defender. Dirk had a .39, Barkley a .78, Vince Carter finished at 0.0 and Kobe finished at -.1.
Defensive box plus/minus is another stat that shows Kobe was not the defender the writers who voted him to 12 All-NBA Defensive teams thought. But, like Bosh, I don’t think it means he was a terrible defender.
The last overall defensive statistic is defensive win shares. Defensive win shares is a complicated stat that attempts to measure how much a player contributes to his team while on the floor.
It is also a difficult one because, while the top twenty in defensive win shares all time would nearly all be viewed as outstanding defenders, many weaker defenders appear on the all time top 250 list likely because they had long careers and were on the floor a lot due to their offense.
Bosh finished with 37.2 DWS, good for 125th all time. Bosh finished well behind Barkley(54) and Nowitzki (62.6), who had longer careers but also behind Vince Carter (44.6) who was clearly a worse defender than Bosh but seemingly played forever.
Chris Bosh’s poor defensive statistics put him in a pretty clear comparison with Kobe Bryant for me. Kobe’s stats tell me he was likely not the all-world defender his 12 All-NBA defensive teams point to. That does not mean he was a poor defender or incapable of great D. It just means he was not likely to be one of the all-time best defenders many seem to think he was.
Bosh too was still likely a good defender but these poor defensive statistics mean he was probably not an all-time great either.
Did people think Chris Bosh was good on defense when he was playing?Embed from Getty Images
Chris Bosh had somewhat of a unique career that changed in a major way.
In his first 7 years in Toronto, Bosh carried the offense for his teams.
He was a great mid-range shooter who filled it up averaging 20 per game (including his first NBA season where he only scored 11ppg). Bosh, like many other offensive stars of that era, and really any recent era, coasted a bit on defense.
It is hard to be the offensive centerpiece of a modern NBA offense and to play consistently amazing D as well. There are not too many Tim Duncans, Michael Jordans and Kevin Garnetts in the history of the NBA.
Bosh was also playing a lot more often in a traditional big role in Toronto. He struggled banging down low with traditional bigs. Bosh was not known for his strength or power game.
And, despite getting some blocks as discussed above, Bosh was not an intimidating force defending the rim. That likely went hand-in-hand with his lack of power.
While he could get up a bit and did block shots, he was not an intimidator and was miscast in this role. At 6’11” it was a role Bosh was asked to play throughout his career, but it did not give him his best chance to shine as a defender.
When Bosh left the Raptors to join up with LeBron and D-Wade in Miami, everything changed for him.
In Miami, Bosh became a supporting player on offense who did not have to carry the load. This role seemed to actually suit him quite well.
It freed him up to dedicate more energy to defense. And in Miami, it was not just his energy level that allowed Bosh to defend at what many saw as an elite level.
Miami coach Eric Spoelstra used Bosh in space much more than he had been before. Miami attacked pick and rolls with Bosh leading the way.
Bosh was great in space. Watch the video below where Bosh is seemingly everywhere on D.
Now watch the short clip below where Bosh is challenging the ball handler in pick and roll and then getting back to defending the big.
This is where Bosh exelled. He was not a great traditional big defender banging down low and protecting the rim. But he was elite for a big in space moving quickly, blowing up pick and rolls and recovering back to his man.
People noticed Bosh’s defense in Miami. Drew Garrison wrote glowingly about how Bosh was the key to Miami’s defense.
Ian Levy noted on stats guy Nate Silver’s 538 site that Bosh was a strong rim defender even though he didn’t block many shots because of his great ability to shut down pick and rolls and still recover.
Bosh was never All-NBA Defense even in his Miami years but people noticed how Miami was using him and how strong he was at that role.
Chris Bosh was at his best in those Miami championship years. He was freed from some offensive weight and allowed to expend more energy on defense. Even more importantly, he was put in a role at which he excelled.
That combination made Bosh an excellent defender for Miami. There were times in Miami he was asked to play a more traditional role and did not excel at it.
And most of Chris Bosh’s early years in the NBA were similar with the added issue of being the offensive centerpiece for those teams.
Can a player who only excels on defense when put in the perfect role be called a great defender?
Does a player who plays great defense for 4-5 years of his career get to be called a great defender?
I’d say no. Chris Bosh was a good defender. The combination of his stats and weaker early years make Bosh a good but not great NBA defender.
Summary: Chris Bosh on DefenseEmbed from Getty Images
Chris Bosh played great defense for the Miami Heat who put him in the perfect position to succeed. Bosh was a secondary scorer for those Miami teams who had the energy to excel on defense. He was also put out into space where his movement skills allowed him to blow up pick and rolls and still recover to his man. When asked to play a more traditional big man role, like he was in Toronto, Bosh struggled more on defense. This helps explain his very average career defensive statistics. Ultimately, Bosh was a good defender who excelled when put in the perfect position to do so.
I have been a Boston sports fan for more than forty years. I write about games, players and seasons from the past.