Here’s a counterintuitive idea to contemplate as the playoffs draw closer. Maybe, just maybe, an older version of Dwyane Wade is the best fit for LeBron James and the Heat.
Yes, that’s a notion that flies in the face of so much that has been flying out of the mouths of television’s talking heads, but it’s something James is starting to recognize, according to those close to the back-to-back MVP, and something that has been overlooked throughout the constant analyzing of James’ future beyond this season.
To paraphrase the great Mark Twain, it should be well established at this point that rumors of Wade’s decline have been greatly exaggerated.
That much is true and undisputable. Just check the numbers for evidence. For example, over the past 10 games, Wade is averaging 20.7 points per game while shooting a blistering 61.7 percent from the field.
Wade has shown flashes of his younger self during that run — a testament to stronger legs — but mostly the Heat’s shooting guard has displayed a variety of moves around the basket that suggest a different trend.
The unstoppable Euro-step has returned, sure — just ask Tim Hardaway Jr. — but there also has been running hooks in the lane, the healthy mid-range jump shot, more emphasis on his reliable post-ups, and also better use of the backboard. The glass, of course, can add years to a career.
Wade called his use of the glass “situational” after Saturday’s blowout victory of the Orlando Magic. His game is transitioning, relying more on his wisdom and experience than his athleticism. It’s a positive sign for the long-term success of the Heat and his own longevity.
“It’s just reading the defense, you know, and trying to give guys different moves,” Wade said. “Sometimes it’s funny because you hear guys trying to call out your moves, or you hear the bench saying don’t let him do this or don’t let him do that, and you just counter it and that’s what I was able to do.”
Wade has made at least 10 field goals in each of his past four games. During that stretch, he’s shooting 62.1 percent for an average 23.5 points per game. Those are remarkably efficient numbers, especially considering Wade is only averaging 32 minutes a game during that span.
“The worst kept secret is the fact that he has worked on his game and developed his game for the last three years to not only reinvent himself, but more importantly add a skill set that is important for this group,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He couldn’t just be the same player that he was before the way this team has been put together.
“It has been a long steady process of developing his post-up game and mid-range game.”
And it’s all coming together for Wade just in time for the stretch run. It’s no coincidence that the Heat is 9-1 during Wade’s 10-game run of brilliance. Entering Monday’s game against the Charlotte Bobcats, the Heat stands one game behind the Indiana Pacers in the loss column of the Eastern Conference standings.
“As you get older, your game has to change and you have to think the game,” Wade said. “More than anything when you’re young, you just react. … Now you got to think the game, and so certain games when I’m frustrated with myself because I’m not thinking the game like I should, but for the majority of it, I do a good job of reading the game and thinking the game a little.”
Rest is still important for Wade despite his uptick in statistics. The team is monitoring his knee daily, and that will continue throughout the regular season. As James pointed out Saturday, health is still the most important factor for Wade and he still isn’t 100 percent.
“But he’s got his legs back up under him and a bounce to his step,” James said.
Added Spoelstra: “That’s really all I look at — more than the stats or the game. Is he able to do the strength training, the lifting, the corrective exercises, the stretching, the treatments and the conditioning, and when he’s able to do all those things, it has meant good basketball out on the court.
“So, he’s making steady, consistent progress. He’s happy with that and hopefully we just keep it going.”