There is always the fear, when a legendary player extends a career past his mid-30s, that age will betray him, that the decision might draw some level of regret.
The fact that hasn’t been the case with Dwyane Wade has made his farewell season all the more enjoyable, as he now enters the final 30 regular-season games of a remarkable career beginning Friday night in Sacramento.
“I wanted to walk away with my head up high,” he said last week. “Different games, I’ve had to play a little different depending on what is needed from me. But I feel I’ve answered the call more times than not with what the team needs from me in my 25-plus minutes so far.”
Despite the Heat’s disappointing 25-27 record, Wade’s final season has been a feel-good story for everyone — Wade, his teammates, the coaching staff, the fans and the players who have engaged in his postgame jersey swaps.
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And he has been at his best in the past week, with 43 points, 15 rebounds and 17 assists against Indiana and Portland.
Wade, who turned 37 in January, said he “definitely” didn’t want anyone to think that he waited a year too long to retire.
“Hopefully, I can walk away with people saying, ‘Oh, he had a little bit more left.’ I did my job,” he said.
So how does Wade’s final season compare with other all-time great shooting guards in their final seasons?
He’s scoring more per 48 minutes than some of them, including Michael Jordan, but is playing less than most of them.
Some perspective on how his final season compares with other great two-guards:
▪ Wade, at 14.0 points per game, is averaging fewer points in his final season than Michael Jordan (who averaged 20 in his final season, at age 39), Kobe Bryant (17.6 at age 37), Jerry West (20.3, at age 35), Clyde Drexler (18.4, at age 35), George Gervin (16.2, at age 33) and Reggie Miller (14.8, at age 39).
But Wade is averaging more points in his final season than Ray Allen (9.6 for the Heat, at age 38), Earl Monroe (7.4, at age 35) and Tracy McGrady (5.3 at age 32).
▪ Of all of those, he’s playing more than only than Gervin (narrowly), Monroe and McGrady. Even Allen, in his final season with the Heat, played a bit more (26.5 minutes per game).
Wade is averaged 25.5 minutes per game, compared with 37 for Jordan in his final season, 28.2 for Bryant, 31.2 for West, 35.3 for Drexler and 31.9 for Miller.
▪ Taking that into account, Wade’s points-per-48 minute average in his final season is 26.3, slightly better than Jordan’s (25.9) and Drexler’s (25.0), much better than Iverson’s 20.9, and less than Bryant’s (29.9) and West’s (31.2).
▪ Even though Wade is shooting a career-low 42.9 percent from the field, his final season shooting percentage is far better than Bryant’s (35.8).
And here’s the surprise: Wade’s 32.9 percent three-point shooting would be a career high and — shockingly — better than Miller’s 32.2 three point shooting his final season. Miller ranks second all time in three-point field goals.
“He’s playing amazingly well,” NBA TV analyst and former Heat forward Caron Butler said.
Wade, with 50 three pointers in 152 attempts, is on pace to challenge his personal best for threes in a season (88 in 2008-09).
▪ Wade’s 4.3 assists are more than Jordan (3.8) and Bryant (2.8) averaged in their final seasons, and his playmaking — especially lobs to Heat bigs — remains a big asset.
“You always want to do better,” Wade said of his play overall this season. “You always want more of yourself. But overall, adjusting to the game, to my role, I think I’ve done good. I am happy with it so far. I just want to finish it off healthy and keep it going.”
Also worth mentioning
NBA Hall of Famer point guard Isaiah Thomas said that Wade belongs in a group with Bryant and West as the second- through fourth-best shooting guards of all time, behind Jordan.
“You look at his approach to this season, still continuing to come and play but not being disruptive in his last season,” Pacers coach Nate McMillan said Saturday. “He’s just a class act, a Hall of Famer. Professional. I thought the commissioner did a good job of getting him into that All-Star Game.”
And TNT analyst Grant Hill cites something else that should be appreciated:
“What’s so unusual,” Hill said, “is here he is as a superstar or guy who has been the franchise face for so long and his willingness to play a more supporting role, be a mentor.”
For Wade, his final season will be filled with joyful memories: the birth of a baby girl (which towers above all else), the jersey exchanges, several vintage Wade games (seven games of 20 points or more and a 35-point eruption against Toronto), the evolution of his three-point shot, and the warm embrace not only from Heat fans but everywhere the Heat has traveled, even Boston.
“The fan love I’ve gotten, support I’ve gotten, has been great,” he said. “You really don’t know or understand the impact you’re making on the world, on people, on their lives. I’ve had the opportunity this year to really feel that impact I’ve made my 16 years and even before to my Marquette days. It’s special because it’s the last one.”
As far as where he ranks all time on the NBA leader board, he’s likely to finish 30th in all-time scoring. With 22,670 points, he trails No. 29 Elgin Baylor by a margin that’s likely too large to overcome over the final 30 games.
But he has a chance to move up the all-time steals list. He’s 33rd now with 1588 — just 15 behind No. 32 Jason Terry and 20 behind No. 31 Mark Jackson.
He’s 46th on the NBA’s all-time assist list with 5,580, with a chance to move past Iverson (5,624) and Jordan (5,633), among others.
And he needs 27 blocks in his final 30 games to surpass Michael Jordan for most blocks every by a guard, 893. That seems likely a long shot at this point, though Wade said that achievement would be particularly meaningful.
“The career that he ended up having, I don’t think anybody saw it coming when he was drafted,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said last week. “But he evolved into one of the best two guards in the history of the league.”