AP Photo/Lynne Sladky
Dwyane Wade was still among the game's most lethal slashers last season in Miami.
Before there was "The Decision," there was a championship parade in Miami, and Finals MVP Dwyane Wade was the one who made it possible. Wade didn't make it out of the first round in between 2006 and "The Decision," there was little doubt that it was Wade's brilliance that made the Heat's incredible off-season possible -- no matter how nice Miami might be in February, there's no doubt that the Heat wouldn't be the team they are today if they hadn't drafted Wade back in 2003.
So how did Wade fare in his first season with LeBron, Bosh, and the first truly competent band of teammates he's had since he won a championship? Pretty darn well. Wade had fewer points and assists per game than he did in 2009-10, but he made up for it by raising his field goal percentage from 47.6 to an even 50.
Wade, who is nearing 30 and has battled injuries throughout his career, appeared to be running out of steam in the Eastern Conference Finals, when the Bulls held him to 40.5 percent shooting from the floor and only 2.2 assists per game, but he still made big plays down the stretch in that series to help the Heat return to the Finals. Against Dallas, Wade looked like himself again, and averaged 26.5 points and 5.2 assists per game while shooting a blistering 54.6 percent from the field. Wade couldn't have gotten to the Finals without LeBron, but LeBron's Finals meltdown almost certainly cost Wade his second career Finals MVP award.
Wade is among the best slashers in the game, and is at his most effective near the rim -- Blake Griffin and Dwight Howard were the only players to average more made baskets at the rim per game than Wade, who gives up at least half a foot to both of those players.
Opinions on Wade's defense vary, but he's certainly a high-energy player on that end of the floor who is capable of making a big steal or block that leads to a fast break at any time.
What was interesting about James and Wade in the 2010-11 season was that while LeBron has quietly become a very good outside shooter, and is now dangerous from all areas of the floor, he didn't show much interest in working without the ball to get himself easy opportunities at the basket. Wade, on the other hand, worked harder off the ball than any of the Heat's other superstars, and never stopped trying to get to the rim, where he knows he's at his most effective. Whether Wade is cutting without the ball, trying to split a double-team, or working a smaller guard in the post, his pursuit of high-efficiency shots is relentless, and that's why he's one of the five best players in the league.
When Wade's mid-range jumper is on, the game is simply unfair. Unlike LeBron, who tends to decide whether he's going to shoot a long jumper or go to the rim when he's at the 3-point line, Wade is capable of starting a drive to the rim and seamlessly pulling up for a jumper. Wade's ability to change directions in a fashion that seems geometrically impossible makes him all but impossible to stop when his jumper is off -- when he's making his jumpers, the defense might as well just give up.
What didn't work
Unfortunately, while James has become an improved outside shooter, Wade is still a flat-out bricklayer on 3-pointers and long 2s, and there were plenty of times where he would simply throw possessions away by firing up a deep jumper early in the shot clock. Wade will occasionally make his outside shots, and does seem to have a knack for making them when it counts the most, but statistically speaking, he's a bad shooter who makes just enough of his long jumpers to convince himself it's okay for him to take long jumpers -- the ultimate nightmare for a coach.
What makes Wade's jumper a true enigma is that, like a lot of superstars (including his teammate LeBron James), Wade seems more comfortable taking difficult long jumpers than open catch-and-shoot opportunities. According to Synergy Sports, Wade only made 15 spot-up 3s all season long, and he seems far more comfortable shooting a 3-pointer when he can dribble into the shot than he does taking a three from a standstill position. Inside of the 3-point arc, Wade is all but unstoppable when he's hitting his step-back jumpers from the 15-18 foot range, but all too often he settles for a long step-back two early in the shot clock, and Wade only made 37 percent of his shots from the 16-23 foot area last season.
Wade has been a bad outside shooter throughout his career, but I believe he can improve with some work on his shot and a big change in his attitude.Wade's shooting mechanics aren't top-notch by any stretch of the imagination, but we're not talking about Andre Miller or Rajon Rondo here -- Wade has the ability to make 3s. Now that Wade is playing along his current supporting cast, there's no reason that the Heat should have to pay what I call the "possession tax" that is incurred when Wade (or LeBron, for that matter), decides to fire up an early-clock contested three instead of attempting to run the offense. Wade took to moving without the ball in order to get opportunities at the rim like a duck takes to water -- if he could master the art of the open catch-and-shoot 3, the Heat offense would be something to behold.
Another thing that could be mentioned here is Wade's passing. Despite playing with Bosh and James, Wade's assists per game, assist ratio, and assist-to-turnover ratio
all plummeted in 2009-10. A lot of that can be blamed on James and Bosh -- even though Wade was the smallest of the three, he seemed to be the most determined to work without the ball and make himself available for passes at the rim -- but it would be a shame if Wade's gift for playmaking was as absent next season as it was last season.
Possible lockout viewing material
Guys like Matt Barnes, Bruce Bowen, and DeShawn Stevenson aren't pure shooters, don't have the prettiest shots, and didn't really shoot 3s their first few years in the league, but all of them managed to become good enough at catch-and-shoot 3s to keep the floor spaced for their teammates, and no Heat fan can forget just how automatic Stevenson was whenever he got an open look at a 3 in The Finals.
Wade is obviously far more talented and effective than all three of those players, but if he can ditch his "hero" 3s for safe catch-and-shoot, space-the-floor 3s, the Heat will be a more efficient offensive team. Another player for Wade to watch is Jason Kidd -- not only has Kidd worked tirelessly on his unorthodox jumper to become a true 3-point threat, but he's obviously still one of the best playmakers in the league, and a good role model for Wade if he wants to work on making his outside shooting and playmaking anywhere near as effective as his slashing, defense and leadership already are.