There was more bad news for the rest of the NBA on Monday. Dwyane Wade was named the league’s Eastern Conference Player of the Week.
The Heat has won 18 consecutive games, owns the best winning percentage (.770) in the NBA and is in near-perfect health. And now this: the best basketball player on Planet Earth wasn’t even the best player on his own team last week.
LeBron James — humanity’s best hope should the fate of the world ever ride on a single game of one-on-one — has been named Eastern Conference Player of the Week five times this season, but on Monday he was upstaged by Wade, who is suddenly playing some of the best basketball of his career.
That’s a bold statement, considering Wade has had a Hall of Fame career, but consider the facts: He has scored at least 20 points in nine consecutive games while having to defer to James. Defensively, Wade has recorded at least one steal in 22 consecutive games for the first time in his career.
“I know you can’t win an Oscar unless everybody does their job,” Wade jokingly said of James after Miami’s 105-91 victory over the Pacers. “We are a total team here. We don’t have one guy that is just [playing isolation] and takes 20 something shots or 30 shots a night.”
Wade is averaging fewer shots per game this season (16.2) than anytime since his rookie season, but his shooting percentage (52.3) has never been higher. In his past nine games, Wade is averaging 26.5 points while shooting 60.8 percent from the field.
During the four games last week that earned Wade his first Player of the Week award this season, he averaged 25.3 points, 5.0 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 3.5 steals while shooting 60.6 percent from the field and 88.2 percent from the foul line.
Wade’s week began with a 32-point, 10-assist effort against Minnesota. He had 23 points and a season-high six steals Sunday to cap off his brilliant four-game run that left no doubt he is still the best shooting guard in the Eastern Conference.
At the beginning of the season, there was plenty of talk around the league that Wade was a player on the backside of his prime years. With less than two months remaining in the regular season, the numbers refute that narrative. Wade’s efficient offensive game has been highlighted by the same aggressive, attacking style that made him one of the most exciting players in the NBA for the past decade.
Of the 12 players in the NBA averaging at least 6.1 attempts at the rim — defined by Hoopdata.com as shots made directly at the basket, including dunks, layups and tip-ins — only one is shooting a higher percentage than Wade. Who might that be? You guessed it: James.
This season, Wade is shooting 75 percent on an average of 6.1 shot attempts per game at the rim, according to Hoopdata.com. James is shooting 79.2 percent on 6.7 attempts.
Only nine players in the NBA are averaging more shots at the rim than Wade and only two of those players are guards (Russell Westbrook and James Harden). Of the 32 players in the NBA who are averaging at least five shots at the rim per game, Wade is fifth in efficiency behind James, Al Horford (79 percent), Josh Smith (77.4 percent) and Blake Griffin (75.9 percent).
Put simply, Wade is still one of the league’s best guards — if not the best — at driving to the basket and finishing the play when he gets there.
But although Wade’s offensive numbers are strong, it’s his defensive edge that is perhaps most encouraging to Heat coach Erik Spoelstra.
Wade’s six steals against Indiana was one off his career high. Overall, the Heat scored 27 points off of 18 turnovers against the Pacers.
“Whenever he has a high number of steals it means he is covering some ground and using his instincts,” Spoelstra said. “He was really doing a good job of being a free safety behind our defense.”