New Wade Process, Same Wade Results

Photo Credit: Noah Graham

Let’s paint a picture. It’s mid-January, 2009. The HEAT are at home against an opponent of your choice. It’s the middle of the third quarter and the score is close. What we’ve got is the basic definition of an average NBA game. It’s HEAT ball and Dwyane Wade has possession of the ball at the top of the floor. After a few dribbles, Wade crosses-over his defender, gaining a slight advantage. Wade drives to the hoop, performs some acrobatics and makes a layup. Two points for the HEAT off of an isolation.

Now it’s 2013. The HEAT are at home, playing against the Toronto Raptors. It’s a tie game, late in the third quarter. Shane Battier inbounds the ball to Mario Chalmers in the backcourt. Wade is set up in the right corner. The HEAT are running a basic “horns” action. LeBron James looks for the ball at the elbow, but the Raptors defender forces him to the three-point line, where James ultimately receives the pass. At the moment, there is no Raptor occupying the middle of the floor. Wade senses the opening and cuts to the rim. James finds him with a pass. Wade pump fakes to throw off the defender and lays it in. Two points for the HEAT off of a cut.

The result of both plays is a made basket in a tight contest. In the final box score, they look no different, but the process has changed. These scenarios are representative of changes made to the HEAT offense, but also to the offense of Dwyane Wade.

Different isn’t better or worse; it’s just different. If you’ve ever found yourself on a golf course, you’re probably familiar with the phrase, “it’s not how, it’s how many.” The same applies in basketball. How you score on a possession doesn’t necessarily matter, as long as you get the points.

Below is a graph that details some of the kinds of shots Wade takes. Plotted over time is the percentage of total field goal attempts that are jump shots, dunks and lay ups. Take a look:

As you can see, the end results of shots for Wade haven’t changed that much. There are minor fluctuations over the last five seasons, but, for the most part, the lines are pretty steady. The thickness of the lines represents Wade’s field goal percentage on the different types of shots. His field goal percentage on jumpers and dunks has remained fairly constant over time, but he’s improved greatly on layups.

What we can draw from this is that Wade is getting the same shots as he always has. Since 2009, between 32 and 38 percent of Wade’s field goal attempts have been layups or dunks. Over that same time period, jumpers have accounted for anywhere from 60 to 67 percent of his field goal attempts.

So while a dunk is a dunk and a layup is a layup, the process Wade uses to get these kinds of shots has changed. According to Synergy Sports, Wade has used six play types on at least five percent of his possessions this season. They are pick-and-roll situations, isolations, transition opportunities, post-ups, cuts and spot ups. Wade’s usage of these six play types is graphed from 2005-2013 below (Synergy Sports data starts in 2005).

It looks like a lot to handle, but it’s quite simple. What we’re looking at is play types as a percentage of total possessions. The thickness of the lines represents points per possession. The thicker the line, the more efficient Wade is.

Two major shifts have taken place over the last few years for Wade. First, he has decreased his usage of isolations and pick-and-rolls. Second, he has significantly increased his usage of cuts and post-ups. In general, this is a worthwhile trade for Wade and the HEAT. For Wade, both post-ups and cuts have been more efficient than isolations and pick-and-rolls, largely due to the fact that they are less turnover prone than pick-and-rolls and produce shots closer to the basket than isolations.

One way to judge the quality of the shots Wade is getting is by checking shot distances. We’ll limit this to two-point field goals since Wade’s number of three-point attempts has fluctuated greatly over his career.

As you can see, over the last three seasons, Wade has gotten shots as close to the rim as he did during his first two seasons in the NBA. Wade’s shift to more post-ups and cuts leads him closer to the basket than before. That’s a good thing.

All of the factors mentioned result in Wade being one of the most efficient high-usage players in the NBA at age 31. In fact, according to Synergy Sports, 2013 has been Wade’s third most efficient season in the halfcourt, trailing only 2009 and 2006.

Wade is getting the same kinds of shots, from closer to the basket by simply altering and refining his approach. I don’t want to get too scientific, but Dwyane Wade is older than he has ever been. That he can maintain this level of offensive output is a testament to the work he’s done to stay on top of his game.