We’re a long time removed from Dwyane Wade’s time as ‘Flash’, a nickname he earned by terrorizing other teams with a hyper-athletic floor game, and explosive rim-running style. In the 2005-06 Finals Wade took 97 trips to the free throw line over 6 games, taking home a ring, and a Finals MVP for good measure. Wade’s blistering first-step and tight handle spelled doom for the Dallas Mavericks as soon as Wade figured out there was no one capable of staying in front of him. The landscape of the league has changed significantly since then. The three-pointer reigns supreme – something Wade is historically mediocre at – and volume scorers have lost a bit of their utility amongst players like Kevin Durant, James Harden, Steph Curry etc. Although a cog in Wade’s game has always been his craftiness, a skill that tends to age well.
Oddly enough the defining play of Wade’s career will never be his full-court alley-oop to LeBron James, or a backdoor cut for a reverse jam. It will be a pump-fake that inevitably draws a foul. Wade changed the pump-fake forever. It’s of course a move you use to get your defender up in the air, or to shift his feet, opening up a lane for attack, or a freeing you for a jump-shot. To Wade – and the league shortly after – it was an opportunity to go to the free throw line. The player bites on the pump-fake, jumping in the air, and for lack of a better term, you flail yourself into that player while throwing up a jump-shot. Realizing that getting a player in foul trouble, getting closer to the bonus, and scoring more efficiently (points per possession) was the proper way to attack a wild close-out.
You could go back to the 2015-16 season, put on any Raptors game and see both DeMar DeRozan, and Kyle Lowry use the patented move 2-3 times. James, Lou Williams, Kobe Bryant (when he played), and Durant all employ this move in their respective arsenal’s. Those are just the superstars, any reputable scorer in the league who can reliably get a whistle, falls back on that move from time-to-time. Some of the ways players would create contact with defenders obliged the league to tweak the rules a bit.
Director of Officials Don Vaden in 2014:
“If an offensive player with the ball can draw his defender into the air towards him (for example, on a pump fake), and he creates contact with the defender during his shooting motion, it is a shooting foul. However, if the defender is vertical (jumping straight up and down) or going to completely miss the offensive player (e.g., jumping to his side), and the offensive player seeks out contact with the airborne defender, it is an offensive foul if the contact is more than marginal (that is, minimal contact will not be called).”
The rule change did it’s best to eliminate some of the most egregious fouls – we still see some, but it’s much less often – without taking the original advantage of the offensive player away. The move survived the rule change, and will most likely be a part of the game long after Wade’s jersey hangs in the rafters in Miami.
In current times Wade is a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers, re-uniting with friend and fellow future hall-of-famer LeBron James. We’re far removed from his athletic prime, and even though he had a fairly good run with the Chicago Bulls (his hometown) in the 2016-17 playoffs, it would seem that we’re past the point where he can be a player to turn a series around. However, we’re not removed from Wade being a valuable bench player
Obviously the three-pointer is what everyone wants from Wade, and he’s done his best to appease his critics and fans alike (32.2 percent, a career high). That’s not the way for Wade to maximize his overall impact though. For example, David West shot under 50 percent for most of his career (9 out of his 15 seasons) and in 2017-18 he’s shooting a robust 61 percent from the field. He’s able to do this for the same reason that Stephen Curry can shoot 67 percent at the rim, a spaced-out floor will always lead to high percentage shots at the rim. Depending on what the Cavs do at the trade-deadline, and if Isaiah Thomas & Jae Crowder can pick up their production from downtown there’s a lot of potential to put Wade in positions where can have more success.
Credit Wade for sticking to his strengths for the most part, scoring over 50 percent of his points in the paint, in addition to cutting down a healthy amount of his mid-range takes – third lowest of his career at 18.6 percent – and trying to find the open pockets of space around the rim. He’s been working off James well enough, and has been at his most efficient when he’s taking less dribbles.
Basketball is funny, and deeply nuanced; not everything can be explained so easily. There is a strong anecdotal note that can be made in opposition to the pace and space NBA. In 2015-16 when the Cavaliers beat the Warriors (likely at that point, the greatest team the NBA has seen) they won game 7 by a score of 93-89. The games often slow down to a screeching halt. The reason the Warriors are so deadly in late game situations is they often run a pick and roll with Kevin Durant and Steph Curry. The action causes the defender to either lose position on one of the league’s best players, or they switch defensive assignments, giving up a mismatch, to again, one of the league’s best players. Pick and rolls to create mismatches have long been the most popular late game play-call, and for the express purpose of getting the ball to your best players, in advantageous positions.
For as long as attacking mismatches has been the remedy for late game woes, players have been caught watching. Cutting has largely gone to the wayside in the NBA since the pick and roll started to dominate the league, and there’s few elite cutters left. Klay Thompson comes to mind in Golden State’s motion offense, often finding seams in the back of the defense. The point is that Wade has been one of the NBA’s best cutters since he came into the league, and is especially potent when playing off of the attention that James commands.
When the game slows down in the playoffs, and offenses stagnate completely (eg., Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics) players who are creative with the ball are rewarded. That’s often why you see teams like the Warriors picking up shooters to accommodate their already full stable of shot creators; and with Kyrie Irving leaving the Cavs this past summer, the Cavs have made runs at a few shot creators to make up for the chasm Irving left in that role. Derrick Rose, obviously isn’t the answer, JR Smith hasn’t been a shot creator since his time with the Knicks, and we’ve all seen teams put the clamps on Isaiah Thomas before.
If the Cavs can march out a lineup of something to the effect of Thomas-Wade-James-Crowder-Thompson that leaves a lot of space for James and Thomas to drive and manipulate the defense, demanding help-side and opening up the baseline for some savvy cuts from Wade. In addition to his baseline work, if Wade could bolster his corner three-point percentage it would do wonders for himself and the Cavs offense (shooting 21 percent on corner threes). There is an obvious blueprint for how Wade can fit in the pace and space NBA. Not only is he capable of it, but he’s showcased it many times before.
The Cavs defense is a dumpster fire, and Wade is not a panacea for that. There is a lot of questions that are facing the Cavs, and this might be the first time in 7 years that the Eastern Conference smells blood on a LeBron led team. As the Cavs stand currently, they are far from a lock in the Finals, but if they’re going to make their 4th consecutive trip there, be it through the Celtics, Wizards, or Raptors, Wade will play a large role for them. He’s got the skill, the IQ, and the savvy.
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