Heat Check

Heat’s offense has improved since Wade’s return. How much credit does he deserve?

Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade talks to teammates Hassan Whiteside, left, and Justise Winslow during the fourth quarter in a game against the Milwaukee Bucks at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Friday, February 9, 2018.
Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade talks to teammates Hassan Whiteside, left, and Justise Winslow during the fourth quarter in a game against the Milwaukee Bucks at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Friday, February 9, 2018. dsantiago@miamiherald.com

The Miami Heat has averaged 11 more points per game and played more efficiently on offense in the 12 games since Dwyane Wade was acquired at the trade deadline than it did over its 29-26 start to the season.

So how much credit does the 12-time All-Star and three-time NBA champion deserve for that? Heading into Monday night’s game against the streaking Trail Blazers — the first game Wade will miss since his return to the Heat — we posed that question to coach Erik Spoelstra and several teammates.

Here is some feedback and analysis:

▪ For starters, the Heat has played at a faster pace since the trade deadline (100.33, tied for 12th), averaging six more shots per game (89.2) and an offensive rating of 109.7 (10th) compared to pre-Wade (103.1, 24th). Coach Erik Spoelstra said that has to do with the Heat not only adding Wade and Luke Babbitt to the roster, but the return of Wayne Ellington, Tyler Johnson and Kelly Olynyk from injury.

Because the Heat’s rotation can go deeper, Spoelstra said, players can play harder when they are on the court and then head to the bench to catch their breath. No one, he says, has to save energy or pace themselves anymore.

“Our depth has created that,” Spoelstra said Monday of the Heat’s faster pace. “We wanted to play fast out of training camp, but some of the injuries forced us to slow things down particularly during December and January when our rotation was smaller and guys were out. But this is the way we envisioned playing in training camp.”

▪ Proving Spoelstra’s point, Wade, 36, is actually averaging about a half minute less per game with the Heat (22.7) than he did with the Cavaliers (23.2). But Wade is scoring more (13.7 points per game in 12 games with the Heat) than he did in Cleveland (11.2 points per game) despite shooting at a lower clip (43.6 percent) in Miami than with the Cavaliers (45.5 percent).

▪ Where Wade’s impact has been felt the most is in the fourth quarter, where he’s averaging a team-best 5.8 points per game while shooting 48.1 percent from the field.

He’s played more minutes in the fourth quarter (91) than anyone else on the team since the deadline and has attempted twice as many field goals (54) as anyone else on the roster over that stretch. Josh Richardson is next on the list in terms of fourth quarter shot attempts (12 of 27) and minutes (85) since Wade’s return.

“We’ve been in a lot of close games,” Spoelstra responded when asked if Wade was ultimately acquired to help the Heat in the fourth quarter because he can create his own shot. “It’s not just about Dwyane shooting the shots at the end — although that is a big part of it. But it’s his playmaking ability, his experience in those moments. Most importantly, it’s the confidence that he gives everybody. The history of this league has always shown that true star players make other players better, make role players better. But what does that mean? It also means guys feel more confident and feel they can step up and take on the challenge in a different way without having a guy like that.”

▪ The Heat is 3-4 in clutch games since Wade’s arrival. Miami was 11-7 with a healthy Dion Waiters in clutch games before he went down on Dec. 22 and then 11-9 without Waiters in clutch games before acquiring Wade. The Heat’s field goal percentage (44.1 percent) and three-point shooting percentage (25 percent) is considerably down from the time when Waiters was healthy (52.2 percent from the field, 43.3 percent from three-point range).

▪ In terms of minutes, nobody has played alongside Wade more thus far than Richardson (156) and yet their net rating together is minus-4.4. Wade’s best pairings in terms of net rating have come alongside Justise Winslow (+14.4 in 119 minutes together), Tyler Johnson (+14.0 in 81 minutes), Olynyk (+9.8 in 103 minutes) and Ellington (+2.8 in 13 minutes).

Wade has played only 80 minutes alongside All-Star point guard Goran Dragic (-3.7 net rating) and 67 minutes alongside Hassan Whiteside (-10.7 net rating). James Johnson has played 133 minutes alongside Wade (third-most), but their net rating is minus 9.8.

▪ In terms of touches, James Johnson is averaging 10 fewer touches per game (44.4) and 1.2 fewer turnovers per game since Wade’s return. Wade is averaging 51.7 touches per game (tied for second on the team with Richardson behind Dragic’s 77.1 touches per game). Whiteside has benefited the most from Wade’s return with 12 more touches per game (37.7 per game) than he did before the trade deadline.

Miami’s net rating entering Monday’s game was sixth-best in the league (+6.9) since the trade deadline. The team has averaged two more assists (24.1) and 1.6 fewer turnovers (13.3) over that stretch.

▪ Richardson said Wade’s biggest impact has been drawing eyeballs from opponents.

“I think as soon as he steps on the court everybody’s eyes kind of go to him,” Richardson said. “He kind of takes some pressure off everybody else because he’s got eyes on him all the time. We’ve got some young guys who are still learning how to play and how to lead a team and he’s experienced in that. Every time it gets late in the game I just watch how he walks on the court, how he gets to his shots.”

Richardson, who has played in more clutch games (43) than anybody else in the NBA this season, is 18 of 41 (43.9 percent) from the field and 5 of 15 from three-point range in the clutch this season. Since Wade’s return, he’s 1 of 8 from the field and 0 for 4 from three-point range in the clutch.

▪ Dragic, who was leading the team in clutch field goal attempts (20 of 43, 46.5 percent) before Wade was acquired, is 6 of 11 in the clutch (second-most clutch shots attempted on the team) since Wade’s return. Wade is 10 of 20 in the clutch including a perfect 11 of 11 from the free throw line over the same stretch.

“I think the experience of just having him in the locker room and present on the court,” Dragic said of what Wade’s biggest impact has been. “If you don’t do your job he’ll tell you to your face what you need to do. I think that’s a great leader to have. And of course, at the end of the games, you can give him the ball and he’s going to make something happen.”

▪ How much credit does Winslow give Wade for helping him play through arguably his best stretch of basketball since his shoulder surgery last year? Some, Winslow says, and mostly from a spiritual standpoint.

“I think it was more of an energy, good vibes type of deal,” Winslow said of what he thinks Wade’s return has brought him as a player individually. “The whole city, the first game he was back, the building was electric. I think I scored like two points that game. But I think for me it was just about going home, seeing all my friends and family back home over the [All-Star] break and just feeling the love and helping put life in perspective. There was just a lot of good energy there. And then coming back [after the All-Star break], everywhere around the city people have been excited to have him back. So, it was just a lot of positivity. I don’t think it’s necessarily Dwyane teaching me something here or there or showing me stuff. I think it’s more of the positive energy with him coming back.”

Spoelstra said Winslow had already started to begin playing better before Wade’s return.

“[Wade’s return has] just taken it to a different level,” Spoelstra said.

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