Dwyane Wade will go down as one of the best wing players to ever grace a basketball court.
This is not as much opinion but fact after a 12-year sample size featuring unrelenting and efficient attacks at the rim, crafty facilitating for others, and game-altering impact plays on the defensive end. No matter how Wade wraps up his historic career, his prime years with the Miami Heat have cemented his legacy.
Today, in 2016, the 34-year-old shell of the Flash is strangling his team’s growth, clipping at the wings of a potential contender before it has a chance to fly. It’s past time for Wade to shed his title of alpha and settle into a supporting role.
First off, Wade’s defense has been appalling (as has been the case for some time), any way you slice it. If you don’t trust my eyes, take a look at the numbers regarding arguably the best shot-blocking guard of all time.
- He ranks 374th among 430 NBA players in ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus Minus.
- The Heat’s defense is 7.8 points worse per 100 possessions with Wade on the court, per Basketball Reference.
- Opponents shoot 1.6 percent better when defended by Wade, per NBA.com
- He has the highest defensive rating (higher is worse) on the team for players averaging 10 or more minutes, per NBA.com.
Fortunately for the Heat, despite Wade’s defensive shortcomings, his team is still among the elite on this end, ranking fifth in defensive efficiency (99.6 Def Rating) as of Wednesday afternoon. It’s on the opposite end where the Heat has struggled as a group, posting an offensive efficiency of 19th. The true contenders are Top 10 in both — that’s the sweet spot.
At first glance, Wade has been a plus here. He averages 18.1 points on 46-percent shooting and ranks 34th in the league in PER. Not bad for an old man with bad knees. The deeper you dig and Wade’s offensive impact becomes hollow:
- The Heat is 0.5 points per 100 possessions better offensively with Wade on the court, per Basketball Reference. Essentially his presence has been moot looking through a team-wide lens.
- Wade ranks 63rd among guards in Effective Field-Goal Percentage, which effectively lumps 2s and 3s together. The only two Heat regulars worse are Josh McRoberts (he’s still on the team, I think) and rookie Justise Winslow.
- Wade has a usage rate of 31.7 percent, which ranks sixth in the NBA, just behind buddy LeBron James (32.2%), per Basketball Reference. More on this in a minute.
Watch Wade offensively and you’ll notice he still can carve through a defense and unleash some magic — the consistency just isn’t there anymore. He can still finish at the rim efficiently (67% within three feet). He can still look like the imposing presence he once was.
The difference now? He’s still dominating the ball like he’s in his prime and his jump shot is completely broken, making playing the role of passive scorer (think catch-and-shoot) near impossible. Just over 50 percent of Wade’s shots come from beyond 16 feet. His three ball (23%) hasn’t been this bad in a decade and his jumper from 10 to 16 feet (31%) is about eight points below his career average.
Wade can still be an effective player on a contender but his days of dominating the ball should be long over if the Heat has any desire of getting out of the first round of the playoffs. Watch most games this season and you’ll see the ball sticking when it gets to No. 3, ramming a fork in Miami’s offensive flow as he pounds the hardwood with dribble after dribble.
With the way the roster is currently constructed, Miami’s offense should improve with Goran Dragic (currently banged up) taking over as the primary attacker, with Wade making his offensive impact felt primarily as a cutter, screener, and post-up option. Sending a weapon like Dragic to the corner late in games while Wade dribbles to ad nauseam is a horrific strategy and one that makes it easy on the defense. Lowering the burden on Wade offensively should help allow him to improve his defense at least from an energy standpoint.
At full strength, the team might be better off with Wade coming off the bench, allowing Dragic to establish momentum early on, while inserting a much-needed floor-spacer like Gerald Green or Tyler Johnson into the starting lineup. The Heat’s pace would rise and Miami’s offense should benefit. Wade would also face more reserves, often younger players who would be susceptible to classic Wade weapons, like his famous pump fake or lethal backdoor cuts.
If the bench isn’t a plausible option for the most iconic player in franchise history, Wade must evolve his game — he must take a back seat — to optimize the offense on team comprised of a funky collection of talent. The Heat’s offensive struggle is absolutely in large part on Erik Spoelstra, who once said, “the league forces you to adapt or die” — an epic Spoism. It’s the coach’s job to persuade his players to do what’s best for the team, just as it’s the son’s job to take away his elderly father’s car keys when the time is right. The offensive woes are also on Pat Riley, who for all his magic in the past, might’ve been better off prioritizing adding an additional shooter rather than adding another big like Amar’e Stoudemire.
I can’t imagine it’s easy for an aging superstar to give up the reigns, especially when there are still glimpses of greatness weaved in, but with 40 games remaining, Wade has choice: be Kobe and get his or be Duncan and win at all costs.
For Dwyane Wade, it’s time to adapt or die.