The news regarding Dwyane Wade’s recovery from bum right elbow is good for Wade and his elbow. What isn’t clear is whether that’s good for the Chicago Bulls.
Wade, 35, the longtime Miami Heat star wrapping up his first season with his hometown team, has missed the past 10 games. In his absence, the Bulls have gone 6-4, improving from 10th place in the Eastern Conference at 32-36 to a tie for seventh heading into Wednesday night’s games.
That’s why some scoffed when the diagnosis of Wade’s elbow injury – sprained, with a small fracture – deemed he would be out “for the rest of the regular season.” Chicago’s prospects for a postseason looked extremely slight when the veteran shooting guard got hurt in a tangle with Memphis’ Zach Randolph and Bulls big man Cristiano Felicio on March 15 at United Center.
That’s not the case now. And even the initial timeline was off, as Bulls beat writer Vincent Goodwill of CSNChicago.com reported Wednesday. Wade will likely miss Chicago’s game at Philadelphia but be back in time for its final three regular-season contests:
Sources: Dwyane Wade plans to return from right elbow injury Saturday vs Brooklyn Nets. Story to come on @CSNChicago— Vincent Goodwill (@vgoodwill) April 5, 2017
Originally ruled out for the rest of the regular season after he suffered a fractured elbow on March 15, Wade’s rehab is ahead of schedule. According to Nick Friedell, Wade went through an entire practice Wednesday, which included a full-contact scrimmage, and got rave reviews.
Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said it’s possible that Wade could play on Saturday against the Nets if there is no residual pain in the elbow.
"He went through part of the contact in practice today and he looked good," Hoiberg said. "Guys were out there -- a good, spirited workout. Dwyane was able to participate in a lot of the contact drills. The big thing for him right now is getting his conditioning and wind and timing back, but it was great to see him out there and part of our scrimmage.”
The Bulls enter Thursday's game against the Sixers in seventh place in the Eastern Conference, but they are just a half game ahead of the Miami Heat, who are ninth.
Wade declined comment after practice, but Bulls All-Star swingman Jimmy Butler liked what he saw.
"I see him out there playing basketball," Butler said. "It's good to see him out there, obviously. But I just want him to come back whenever he knows he can go 100 percent, not hold back."
Still, the Bulls’ recent play has some wondering if Wade’s return will help or potentially hurt the club’s chances of securing an East berth, with the bottom of the bracket still so in flux. Consider some of the changes in Chicago’s production since Wade went down:
- All-Star forward Jimmy Butler has averaged 28.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and 7.7 assists in the 10 games, while shooting 53.9 percent overall and 56.5 percent on 3-pointers. His numbers before Wade got hurt: 23.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 5.1 apg, while shooting 43.9 percent and 33.5 percent.
- Point guard Rajon Rondo, demoted to the second unit earlier in the season, has the ball back in his hands and has averaged 8.4 assists, compared to 6.4 before Wade’s exit. He is averaging 10.9 points on 47 percent shooting (up from 7.2 on 39.4 percent). And defensively he has been energized, giving hard times most recently to Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving and Atlanta’s Dennis Schroder.
- Enigmatic forward Nikola Mirotic averaged 9.4 points and 5.2 rebounds in 22.9 minutes while shooting 39 percent with Wade around. Historically the Bulls’ one-man version of March Madness is contributing 16.4 points and 6.3 rebounds in 29.6 minutes while hitting 50.8 percent overall.
- As a team, Chicago’s offensive and defensive ratings are up in Wade’s absence to 108.6 and 105.1, compared to 104.4 and 105.6 respectively. The Bulls have shot 39.4 percent from the arc, making 10.2 per game vs. 33.5 percent before to make 7.4.
What so many dreaded when the Bulls’ front office added Rondo and Wade to a roster led by Butler – a group of ball dominators lacking in 3-point proficiency – at least appears to be alleviated a bit with Wade sidelined. And the team’s play – prior to its mess at New York Tuesday night, anyway, when it got slapped by a Knicks team playing without Kristaps Prozingis, Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah – has folks wondering if Chicago might have a better chance of nailing down a first-round spot and pushing beyond with Wade in street clothes.
No one involved has said that publicly, though.
“I wouldn’t say [we’re better without him],” Butler was quoted in the Chicago Sun-Times Tuesday. “I would say that we get to space the floor a little bit more. It’s one half of the isolation piece because I do it. And whenever he and I both do it, the ball does stop. But he gets a lot of baskets doing that, so we’ll take that.”
But playoff basketball is played at a slower pace, and Wade’s experience against familiar opponents could prove invaluable. Butler would face an even heavier diet of defensive double-teams, too, since Chicago lacks a proven second scorer.
“I’ll get a lot of spot-up jump shots with him on the floor, running that action,” Butler said. He added: “Because late in the games, especially playoff games, everybody isn’t going to be able to key on me and double me. Not when there’s another guy that can go get a bucket.”
Said Hoiberg, who has used more of his preferred pace-and-space style in Wade’s absence: “Dwyane, especially when we get into fourth quarters, if we get a little bit stagnant, he’s the guy that we can give the ball to and good things happen.”