A Little Extra From Dwyane Wade

by Couper Moorhead

On a Thursday night in November, Dwyane Wade played like the best player on the court. With Chris Paul being funneled through Miami’s defensive traps and LeBron James dealing with back spasms, Wade offered a little bit of the old, a little bit of the new and much of what the HEAT need from him going forward.

Since the HEAT won their second-consecutive championship, it’s been difficult finding the right context in which to discuss Wade. Or, at the very least, it’s been difficult getting everyone to agree on the same context. Wade had an incredibly efficient regular season followed by a tumultuous playoff run after aggravating a bone bruise on his knee again and again. He always played; he just didn’t always play the same. And that inconsistency was our last memory of him as the season faded into the sticky summer air.

“He’s coming off his most efficient year ever and he played injured through the playoffs and everybody said that he was done,” Erik Spoelstra said. “Go figure.”

What Wade did to the Los Angeles Clippers – 29 points on 13-of-22 shooting to go with seven assists, seven turnovers and three steals – doesn’t allow for a ‘Gotcha’ moment. One game is just a grain of sand in the sandbox of the regular season, and one performance or even a string of 20-point performances as Wade has put together is hardly enough to submit as bonafide evidence. Whatever you thought of Wade before the last week, the last week shouldn’t change that. Of course much of the doubt surrounding Wade that Spoelstra mentioned had to do with his health and as he’s healthy now it shouldn’t be surprising that he’s playing well.

“[These] four games have been alright but I’m not concerned about these games,” Wade said. “I know I can play basketball. I know, when I’m healthy, what I can do and right now I’m just trying to get better and better and try to help this team get back to where we were when we were winning.

“It varies in this locker-room. You know some games you won’t have as big of a night offensively or you won’t have as big of a role and that’s the difference between us and other organizations and other individuals. People don’t really see that I’m not necessarily concerned about the outside point of view of myself, I just want to be healthy and give myself a chance to go out there and play the game that I love to play.”

But Thursday night wasn’t just about playing and playing well. It was about Wade doing the things that the HEAT needed him to do in order to win. And with James slowed, the HEAT needed more.

It might not seem like that big of a deal that Wade took 22 shots and had seven assists. There were over 100 instances of a player hitting those marks last regular season. It’s nothing special. But those numbers do indicate a certain degree of balance – even with assists being as incomplete as they are. For Wade, balance hasn’t always been easy to find. Some nights Wade would be called upon to score, on others he would take on more of a playmaking role. But doing much of both is a difficult task when next to a player that is the best in the league at doing just about everything at once.

So while Wade attempted 22 shots and had seven assists last night, it was just the 9th time he had done so since the Summer of 2010 and just the third time since the start of the 2012-13 season (playoffs included). There was balance, there were imperfections and there was simply more.

Early on we got a bit of the new Wade – the one that thrives on timing, guile, positioning and skill. Wade’s ever-improving post-up skills allow him to grind when he needs to grind, but they’re best put to use when he barely has to post-up at all once he gets the ball.

And later he mixed in some the obligatory ghost cuts – those cuts where he’s only in one place as long as the defender is looking at him.

But this was largely a night for vintage Wade, with dribbling, pace control and plenty of pull-up jumpers.

Those jumpers have been a point of critique for Wade over the past couple of years, and mathematically the critique is not without value. Mid-range jumpers off the dribble simply don’t have the same expected value as the open catch-and-shoot jumpers or assisted shots at the rim the HEAT work so hard to earn. But the jumpers are also undoubtedly part of Wade’s DNA. Those are the shots he hit in all of his big playoff games over the past three seasons. They don’t make Wade perfect, but they make him him.

When the HEAT need Wade to do more, they don’t pick-and-choose. They needed it with James slowed against the Clippers, but they also need it when James isn’t on the court at all.

The most troublesome times for the HEAT over the past three seasons were often the first few minutes of the second and fourth quarters. Starting lineups have changed and rotations have changed behind them, but the team had never found a stable combination. Once the HEAT signed Chris Andersen last season, the eventual bench unit became Wade and Andersen with Ray Allen, Norris Cole and Shane Battier. It made sense stylistically, but the lineup’s numbers never compared to the team’s other units as it outscored opponents by just 2.2 points per 100 possessions in 119 minutes.

That group has moved a decimal over this year, outscoring opponents by just over 22 points per 100 possessions in 36 minutes. Allen looks quicker than ever and is scoring off the pass and dribble while Cole appears to have taken another step forward in his development, but Wade has been the enabler just by playing like himself.

Over the course of about 90 fourth-quarter seconds – during a run that saw Wade’s bench unit extend the lead by five points – Wade playing like himself meant a lot of good with a couple blemishes.

First, there was facilitation via isolation.

“With that second unit we were running our offense through him and he was showing his dimensions of his game,” Spoelstra said. “His pie chart – he does in a lot of different ways. He was aggressive and some of that was in the post tonight where it kind of settled us and we were allowed to able to control tempo a little bit.”

Then – again out of the post – a tough jumper.

“Like I told you in training camp, it’s the best he’s been in years,” James said.

Which led to a rare three-point pull-up.

“It was a good heat check,” Bosh said. “I’d probably shoot the same shot, too, if I hit a bunch of mid-range jumpers in a row.”

But with the HEAT needing more offense from Wade, he went back to the tough-jumper well in the land of two.

“I was feeling it a little bit in that moment,” Wade said. “I think I shot a three right before that so you know I was feeling good.”

Whether or not he’s feeling good, is Wade always going to make those mid-range jumpers? He’s currently making over half his shots from that range and that percentage is sure to fall based on years of historical precedence. But in the context of a bench unit that needs some punch, a 42 percent chance at two points isn’t necessarily a bad thing when it’s a shot you know you can get.

It’s just a matter of balancing percentages that will rise and fall with playmaking and potential assists.

“It’s a very difficult thing to play very aggressive and be unselfish at the same time,” Bosh said. “It’s a very fine line you have to walk and he did a great job of doing that tonight.”

As Wade showed a minute after the above sequence.

“I knew at that time everybody was looking at me,” Wade said. “Either they were going to bring a double, because I was scoring or everyone just wanted to see what I was doing and Shane got in perfect position where I can see him and we were just unselfish. Even though I was going, I see a man wide open and you know I have to pass it to him.”

“It’s a very difficult thing to play very aggressive and be unselfish at the same time,” Bosh said. “It’s a very fine line you have to walk and he did a great job of doing that tonight.”

The proof, of course, is in the season. Some percentages will fall, but Wade’s turnover should as well. As with the rest of the team, he’s been active on defense during the past few games but Spoelstra demands a consistent commitment.

Wade isn’t proving anything right now, but games like the victory over Los Angeles serve as a nice reminder that Wade being confident, comfortable and himself is something that works in Miami. He’s made those jumpers in the playoffs, and he’s made those passes. Months from now we can take a look at how Wade is changing, but in the meantime if he can help put together one of Miami’s best bench lineups in years then the HEAT’s regular season should be all the smoother for it.

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