Wednesday, June 12, 2013
LeBron James-Dwyane Wade not working
By Tom Haberstroh
If you were to design a co-pilot for LeBron James on the court, would it look anything like this version of Dwyane Wade?
That’s the question that keeps popping in my head as I watch a tentative James shy away from a packed paint in the Finals. Much of that unassertiveness could be attributed to James and whatever mental obstacles stand in his way from being the unmovable force that destroyed the league in the regular season.
But I’m not buying that the root of the problem is in James’ head.
Sure, the Spurs are playing off James when he has the ball, but if you watch the tape, something else becomes obvious:
The Spurs are completely ignoring Wade. And it’s killing the Heat’s spacing.
More often than not, when James controlled the ball on the perimeter, the man guarding Wade (usually Danny Green) would camp out in the paint and throw one more body in James’ way. Initially, the Heat were able to take advantage of the Spurs’ cheating by having Wade cut to the basket. But that synergy disappeared quickly.
What’s become painfully obvious the past few weeks is that the James-Wade partnership is not working. That doesn’t mean it can’t turn itself around in Game 4. But Wade’s compromised state has made him a liability on offense.
Wade is not a threat whatsoever from downtown, which was always the case, but he used to make his defender pay by blowing by him with a devastating first step. With a bruised right knee, that explosiveness has been defused, and it’s signaling to the Spurs that they can play off Wade without consequence.
In Game 3, the Heat were minus-30 with James and Wade on the court together and a not-so-abysmal minus-6 when they were apart. This is a growing trend. The Heat can’t seem to get anything going with James and Wade together.
For the postseason, the Heat have outscored opponents by a mere 3.3 points per 100 possessions with James and Wade on the court together, according to NBA.com. But when James is playing without Wade? That number skyrockets to 21.8 points per 100 possessions. Remember that 33-5 run in Game 2? James was leading a unit without Wade. That’s not a random blip.
It’s all about spacing. Beneath all the armchair psychology that will inevitably arise after Game 3, what’s really plaguing the Heat is that they have absolutely no spacing. Erik Spoelstra built an offense predicated on “pace-and-space” during the lockout, and it’s worked brilliantly when Wade has been healthy. But that’s not the case anymore. The Heat aren’t running, and they’re not able to afford each other the requisite real estate to operate.
Much of that has to do with Wade’s limited state. You can see it on film and in the numbers. According to NBA.com’s stats, just 37.8 percent of James’ field goal attempts occur in the restricted area when he’s playing next to Wade. But when Wade leaves the court, that portion soars to 44.9 percent. Want more evidence? James’ free throw attempts almost double from 5.5 per 36 minutes when Wade’s on the floor to 8.9 per 36 minutes when Wade’s on the bench. Prefer to use player efficiency rating? James has a 31.2 PER with Wade on the bench this postseason, but it plummets to 25.1 when he’s alongside Wade. James regular-season PER? 31.6, or just about the same as when Wade’s out of the picture.
James better without Wade
Here are James’ numbers with and without Wade on the court this postseason.
%FGA at rim
In other words, James shifts into attack mode when Wade is gone.
That’s likely a product of two things: 1) the Spurs can’t clog the paint as well when Wade is replaced by an all-time shooter like Ray Allen; and 2) James doesn’t have to worry about locking Wade out of the offense if he’s not on the court. That second factor is especially important after Wade complained about touches after Game 6 of the Indiana series.
Because of this dysfunctional relationship, it makes sense to consider whether Wade is better suited to come off the bench. Such a move would allow James to put pressure on a Spurs defense that is hell-bent on keeping the reigning MVP isolated out on the perimeter. The Spurs haven’t had nearly the same success when James works without Wade. It’s an extremely tiny sample size, but in the Finals, the Heat are scoring 139.1 points per 100 possessions in the 31 minutes when James runs the offense without Wade. That’s the juggernaut Heat we’re used to seeing.
James deserves much of the blame for not aggressively attacking the rim, but it’s not simply a matter of mental fragility. He has shown he can penetrate into the paint and lead the Heat offense. Just not when a hurt Wade gets in his way.