Wade has incorporated more cross-training into his routine. He pays more attention to what his body tells him.
“Be smart, and when it’s enough, enough, and when I can push it, push it,” he said. “Ray is amazing. I don’t even know if I want to do this at his age.”
Shane Battier, 34, has also educated himself on how to prolong an NBA career. He’s more particular about what he eats. He takes fish oil pills. He utilizes hot and cold whirlpool therapy. He doesn’t do the five-mile runs he used to do after practice.
“Every player has only so many trips down the court, and you better make the most of them,” Battier said. “[Assistant Heat coach] Bob McAdoo says when he played it was ice and that was about the extent of it. As a younger player I never iced my knees because I thought it was for old guys. Then a veteran told me ice would add three years to my legs, so I’m religious about that.”
Battier said he tries to inflict less pounding on his body without sacrificing aggressiveness on the court.
“Dwyane used to be a lot more reckless going to the hoop, crashing and falling and drawing fouls,” Battier said. “Now he’s trying to be more selective, which comes with experience.”
For Wade, who had more missed slams last year than any other shooting guard, it’s time to think fewer dunks, more dinks. Two points is two points.
Wade has studied how his idol, Michael Jordan, altered his game in his 30s. Jordan perfected a fadeaway jumper when some of the air went out of those legs. He developed his post game. He was able to win three titles at ages 33, 34 and 35 — to go with the three he won at ages 28, 29 and 30.
But Jordan’s Player Efficiency Rating began a steep slide at age 34, according to Basketball Reference. He was at his best in his first 10 seasons, with his PER peak in his fourth through seventh seasons. Jordan added elements to his repertoire as his athleticism declined.
Statistically, Wade’s 22.1-point scoring average last year was the lowest since his rookie year and down from the 27.2 he averaged in the 2005-06 championship season. His average of 33.2 minutes was the lowest of his career. But his PER (per minute production) remains a strong 26.3 compared to the league average of 15. His Win Shares (an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player) has decreased to 7.7 from 12.8 in 2010-11, 13 in 2011-12 and 14.7 the year before that, according to Basketball Reference. Still, his Win Shares through nine seasons compare favorably to those of Kobe Bryant.
“Dwyane has developed more dynamic post moves, he’s got floaters and touch shots and he’s proven to be one of the more versatile defenders in the league,” Spoelstra said.
Wade had more blocked shots than any other guard last season. His signature shot fakes, which he said he modeled after Sam Cassell, cause defenders to leave their feet and generate fouls.
He has adapted to the additions of James and Chris Bosh, accepting and acknowledging his movement from undisputed go-to scorer to No. 1a to No. 2. And he expects his role to evolve further as he ages and the Heat’s composition changes.
Spoelstra’s strategy of “positionless basketball” should play to Wade’s strengths, as will the coach’s attention to spacing and his re-emphasis on the track meet mind-set he gleaned from Oregon football coach Chip Kelley two summers ago. The Heat adhered to it early last season before slowing to a more typical pace.
When Wade drives the lane, he drives at full throttle and he will never stop defying gravity, but he will be mindful of the wear and tear on his left knee, which he calls his “explosion knee,” — the one that provides his spectacular lift.
Father Time will be watching over Wade this season and so will Heat coaches carrying stopwatches. They have a plan to monitor Wade’s minutes, allot him days off and excuse him from certain drills during the regular season grind of 82 games. Wade was once the Heat leader in minutes played; he was the leader in just about every category. Now that he’s a 30-something, the idea is not so much to conserve energy but to marshal it intelligently.