Resume: 21.2 points (8th in league), 5.0 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1.9 steals (6th in league), 52% FG (career best), and 73% FT… Team record in games played: 55-14 (11-2 record)… Playoffs: 15.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.7 steals, 35.5 minutes, 46% FG, 75% FT, 15-7 record (1-0 without)… All-Star, 10th in MVP Voting, 3rd Team All-NBA
Well this is a bag of smashed apples I don’t really want to open. When I was finalizing my list I couldn’t help but wonder if there would be such a drastic reaction to my ranking of Dwyane Wade as there was last year, when I ranked Wade as the 9th best player in the NBA (keep in mind, this was only one spot lower than ESPN has him) and my credibility and objectivity as a writer was immediately challenged. I suppose I’m about to find out.
Where do I even begin? I’ll admit, I’m a little more cautious than I’d normally be concocting one of these write ups, because for whatever reason, people absolutely love to come to the defense Dwyane Wade. I get it; he’s cool, he’s Flash, he’s stylish, he was a Top 10 player from 2005 until 2011. I understand all of that. I understand that what he did in the 2006 Finals against Dallas was arguably the most Jordan-esque Finals performance since MJ’s second retirement. And oddly enough, I even understand why LeBron haters like to mitigate his accomplishments by pointing out the help he gets from his teammates, namely Dwyane Wade. But here is what Wade fans, LeBron haters, and “real” Heat fans won’t like to hear; Dwyane Wade is past his prime.
I know hearing that might sting a little and I’m sure there are a lot of angry people out there getting ready to challenge my credibility and objectivity in the comments again. I hope you can understand that this doesn’t have anything to do with my personal feelings towards Dwyane Wade. This is business, not personal. When it was personal, I had Wade five spots lower on my list before my cousin Gianni looked at my list and told me I wasn’t thinking clearly. I went back and re-evaluated Wade’s spot, and Gi was right. Wade put together an incredibly efficient regular season, got a well-deserved nod for 3rd Team All-NBA, and came up with three big games in the Finals that helped Miami win their second straight NBA title. He’s still the most beloved player on the Miami Heat roster and I don’t know if that will ever change, no matter what LeBron does in South Beach. That’s why Wade remains in the Top 15.
Wade falls from last year for a variety of reasons. First, for the second straight season Wade dealt with knee issues that kept him out of thirteen regular season games, a playoff game, and left him ineffective in more playoff games than he was effective. Quickly, before you scream at me for placing injury prone youngsters Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving ahead of Dwyane Wade, remember that when you’re in your early 20’s and dealing with injury problems, you’re a lot more prone to be able to shake that off. When you’re 31 years old and going into you’re eleventh NBA season, that just becomes your reality. You can’t simplify it and say that Wade was just nicked up last year. This is Dwyane Wade now. This is who he is. He’s going to miss extended periods of time during the season, not be able to attack the basket consistently like he did when he was 26 years old, and at times he will compromise the efficiency of the Heat offense just by being on the court.
I’m sure I’m in dangerous waters now after suggesting that the Heat are better with Wade off the court, but the plus/minus stats back me up. Throughout the postseason, Miami was only 1.7 points better per game than there opponent with Dwyane Wade on the court, an astonishingly low number for someone who is a “star” player on a team that won the NBA Title. In the Finals it got worse; with Wade on the court Miami was -54 throughout the seven game Finals series, and no game was it more apparent than in Game 6 of the Finals, a game Miami actually won. Wade was -15 for the game (Miami won by 3), murdered Miami’s spacing on offense so badly that there is still a chalk outline of a body on the court, and prompted not just one, but two points of discussion in my Rapid Reaction to the game. Here’s what I wrote:
I broke my self-appointed no swearing on social media rule because the only way I could accurately express how pissed off I was by Spoelstra’s decision to bring Wade in was by dropping a couple of F-bombs. How the f*** could Spoelstra bring Wade back in? It was uncanny. It was like watching a scary movie when the idiot protagonist decides to go back in to the house that the serial killer is in. Miami was rolling with their Cavaliers-esque small ball lineup which going back to the movie comparison would be like the family driving away from the house. Spo putting Wade back in with Miami up by three with 3:48 left was like the protagonist making an aggressive U-Turn and driving back towards the house to confront the killer. Don’t be stupid Spo! LeBron had room to go to work in the paint because the Spurs defenders had to honor shooters on the perimeter. As soon as Wade came back in the game the paint was clogged and suddenly LeBron had multiple defenders surrounding him.
Once again, let’s recap. The Heat are leading 87-84 with 3:48 left when Wade came in. The only person whose spirit looked more broken by this than myself was LeBron, who seemingly knew that Wade coming into the game meant that because Wade is Wade, he had to get a few shots so he’d play hard defensively (the most egregious example of this came with under a minute left in overtime when the Heat were clinging to a one point lead and Wade decided to isolate and take a twenty foot jump shot based solely on the fact that he’s Dwyane Wade and he can seemingly do no wrong). It also meant, as I mentioned before, the Spurs ability to guard LeBron down the stretch would be infinitely easer now that they could send a help defender and not worry about a wide open player on the perimeter. To nobody’s surprise by Spo’s, the Spurs went on a run and eventually took the lead with under one minute remaining.
That seems like a lot of venom directed towards Wade, and it would’ve been worse if Miami lost the game. Miami’s offense was a cluster with Wade in the game. He hasn’t developed a deadly jumper like Jordan and Kobe did before him. He still relies on isolating and getting to the basket. But when you’re 31 years old and have a lot of miles on questionable knees, you can’t do that on a consistent basis. Sure, Wade had his big games in the Finals, including a must-win Game 4 and Game 7, but it was a surprise that he played that well. If you’re an elite, Top 10 player in your prime, it shouldn’t be a surprise that you play well in big games. That’s why when Kevin Durant made headlines for claiming that Wade wasn’t a Top 10 player in the league, I couldn’t disagree. I respect Dwyane Wade’s place in history; he’s arguably the 3rd best shooting guard ever and while in his prime he was among the very best in the league. But the past is the past. I hope he makes me respect his place in the NBA now.