There is a recent precedent for such a concerted effort to extend the career of a superstar, and it has worked better than expected for San Antonio. Tim Duncan has had knee problems throughout his career. After a knee procedure more than a decade ago, Duncan began scaling back his minutes and in the past two seasons, he has taken rest days throughout the regular season and played even fewer minutes.
At the age of 36, Duncan signed a three-year deal worth $34 million this offseason. If he doesn’t retire early, he still could be in the league at 39. Either way, he’ll walk away from the game with a Spurs jersey on his back.
Duncan has averaged 28 minutes per game for the past two seasons, yet his game has remained at a high level. He has averaged more than 14 points and nine rebounds over the past two seasons. In the 2011-12 playoffs, he averaged 17.4 points and 9.8 rebounds.
Like his games-played stat, Wade’s minutes receded in 2011-12. He averaged six fewer minutes per game during the regular season than the previous one. It allowed his body, despite carrying a few injuries, to still have enough in the tank to average more 39 minutes in the postseason.
“Last year, I did what I could with what I was dealing with and I didn’t do too bad,” Wade said. “This year, I’m looking to have an even better year. It’s all about just how efficient I can be.
“My opportunities are a lot different now than they’ve been, so I just want to be an efficient basketball player when I’m on the basketball court and that’s what I pride myself in.”
Wade’s buzzword Friday was “efficient.” The great ones have all made the transition from aggressive to artistic during their careers, and that is Wade’s eventual goal. His plan for this season and those beyond is to raise his shooting percentages, particularly from the free-throw line and midrange.
Of course, it’s not like Wade has been inefficient. Not even close. Last season, he ranked 13th in efficiency (22.1) in the league. Player efficiency is a measurement of a player’s overall production based on minutes played. The league average is around 15. LeBron James led the NBA last season with an efficiency rating of 29.9, according to NBA.com.
“We already made that adjustment last year,” Spoelstra said. “He went from about 39 minutes a game to 33. Even an older veteran player, older than him, can handle that.
“I don’t think there will be a need to take him down much further than that. He did make an incredible adjustment for a veteran player. His efficiency last year was about as high a year as he’s had in those 33 minutes he played.”
Less pressure on Wade
The addition of Ray Allen on the wing also will take some of the pressure off Wade. Wade and Allen play the same position and, as Wade can attest, Allen’s motor around the court will keep opposing defenders on their toes throughout the game. Wade still will work just as hard, but theoretically he won’t have to for so long every night.
“One thing is, we’ve put ourselves in a position,” Wade said. “I don’t have to play 40 minutes a night anymore. Signing a guy like Ray really helps and other guys can play multiple positions.
“Like I said, the minutes I play, I’ll be very efficient in and as the season goes on I’ll still continue to try to be stronger. Coming off surgery, you can’t just work out in the summer and think that’s it. Throughout the year, you still have to work. So, I have to work just as hard or even harder.”
Spoelstra is optimistic about Wade’s recovery. He said Friday that he expects Wade to return stronger this season than the last and that by the end of the season, if all goes as planned, “you’re going to see a great deal of that athleticism come back.”
“We’re encouraged by the summer that he had — that he was able to get the procedure,” Spoelstra said. “He was such a warrior in the playoffs and you saw bursts of it but what you saw was a veteran player — a winning player — doing whatever it took to win.
“But you’re going to see the cat quickness again.”