Dwyane Wade is 30 in human years and about twice that in basketball years.
The miles he has logged on the court, and the ungentle way in which he has logged them, have taken their toll.
So part of Wade’s goal in chasing a second consecutive NBA title, and perhaps that Miami Heat dynasty LeBron James envisioned, is to do it while aging gracefully.
Wade has demonstrated his ability to adapt. He ceded his No. 1 role to James in 2012 and despite a bum knee still scored an average of 22.8 points in the playoffs en route to winning the second championship of his career.
In fact, Wade overcame doubts about his ability and rampant suggestions that he traded early effectiveness in the playoffs to become electrically essential in the Finals against Oklahoma City.
The big questions confronting Wade as he enters his 10th pro season are how he will adjust to the Heat’s maintenance plan for him, the presence of new teammate Ray Allen and refinements to his own game.
How much does Wade have left? Can he compensate for the inevitable reduction in spring with an increase in guile?
Following July arthroscopic surgery on his troublesome left knee, Wade is treading sensibly but feeling confident about the Tuesday opener against Boston. It was the second operation on the knee since 2007. He has also undergone shock therapy in the past and at least two fluid-draining procedures, including one before Game 3 against Indiana in May.
He looked heavy and rusty in China but rejuvenated in the preseason game against Detroit, scoring 21 points in 23 minutes.
“You feel yourself getting there,” he said. “I knew I was going to go out and attack the game and try to see where my game was, where my leg strength was. I wasn’t even thinking about the surgery. It didn’t cross my mind. Now I can just focus on getting stronger.”
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra is pleased with Wade’s progress and maintains Wade — who turns 31 on Jan. 17 — is still squarely in his prime.
“He should regain a lot of explosiveness and quickness he didn’t have last season,” Spoelstra said. “The game is changing. Players are able to find the fountain of youth and sustain careers because of the knowledge of the science of taking care of their bodies.”
There’s no better example than ex-Celtic Allen, who has tweaked his game to remain productive. Allen has cut out most of the frenetic bursts through and over defenders to the rim that he used to employ. He became the best three-point shooter in NBA history. At 37, he still has the sweetest stroke in the game. From the corner, he’s deadly. His body fat is a sleek 5.5 percent.
“Offseason work is one of the biggest contributors to long-term health,” said Allen, who underwent ankle surgery to remove painful bone spurs after the Heat eliminated the Celtics. “I don’t drink alcohol, I eat smarter. You’re traveling on airplanes into different climates so you get sick. You absorb a lot of hits during the course of a season. You have to know your body, and Dwyane knows his body.”
Allen should be an aid to Wade’s longevity. As a perimeter threat, he will create more space for Wade to maneuver in. He can spell Wade in guarding the opposing point guard. He can run his man ragged when he’s constantly cutting on offense. And he can give Wade advice on how to improve his shooting range.
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.