MIAMI -- Ever since LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade joined up in the summer of 2010, coach Erik Spoelstra has often communicated with them like an investment adviser. Spoelstra’s recommendation? Diversify your portfolio if you want to maximize long-term growth.
That recommendation became more of a necessity for Wade this offseason. After battling bone bruises in the playoffs that sapped almost all of his explosiveness, Wade found himself in uncharted territory as a basketball player. He was often ignored. The Spurs dared him to shoot from the perimeter, dared him to be a weapon off the ball. And often times, Wade struggled to adjust.
But after the first week of the season, we’re seeing a different Wade as he approaches his 32nd birthday in January. You’ll find more elements in his repertoire, including off days in back-to-backs. But in particular, Wade already has taken five 3-pointers in three games this regular season.
Who cares about five measly 3-pointers? Well, it’s more than he attempted during his entire 22-game playoff run last season. In fact, he didn't shoot a single 3-pointer during the Finals.
It’s all part of the long-term plan to mix it up and keep Wade effective as he ages. In Sunday’s win over the Washington Wizards, Wade’s evolution as a scorer was on full display. Four of his buckets came on searing basket cuts away from the ball, something he only did in the Olympics before James and Bosh came to town. Elsewhere, he took a page out of Ray Allen’s book, spotting up twice from 3-point land on catch-and-shoots (he missed both attempts Sunday).
“His pie chart now is so diverse,” Spoelstra said. “It’s come such a long way from where it used to be, his reinvention now that he dabbles in so many different areas.”
The Heat coaching staff regularly shows each of their players pie charts that illustrate how they get their points: in the post, catch-and-shoots, basket attacks, transition, cuts, etc. The perimeter game is meant to open up his primary scoring route, at the free throw line and basket attacks. And it worked Sunday. When the Wizards respected his jumper and closed out hard on his shot, Wade either blew past his defender to the basket or delivered his signature pump-fake for a pair of free throws.
And if the Wizards didn't guard Wade off the ball, he cut backdoor for an easy look. More often than not, James will find him.
“I understood that I had to add something different to my game,” Wade said. “I didn't want to have to stand behind the 3-point line all day.”
The Dwyane Wade who we watched terrorize opponents in the high pick-and-roll is a distant memory. You won’t find that Wade on this star-studded team. Nor at this age. Wade’s training camp and preseason functioned as a laboratory for him to experiment adding new tools to his game. He worked on his post-up moves, timing on cuts and developing his 3-point shot. All in an effort to maximize his value on the team and off the ball.
“D-Wade doesn't handle the ball as much as he used to,” James said. “Now he’s finding other ways to score and that’s cutting, getting to the low post and making things happen.”
It’s early, but Wade’s diet of spot-up this season is over three times as much as it was last season. The question is whether Wade’s 3-point shot is good enough to make it worthwhile. The latest influx of 3s isn't significant just because of how many he’s taking. What's more important is how he’s taking them. In the past, Wade’s 3-point shots typically came hastily off the dribble, but all five of his 3-pointers this season have come off the pass. The Heat hope that Wade’s new weapons keeps the defense guessing while also extending his prime years.
“He’s going to make himself involved regardless of whether the play is his call or his action,” Spoelstra said. “That off-the-ball development the last two years has added a whole new dimension. And it makes us better.”
Want to know how serious Wade is about his new catch-and-shoot ways? If you’ve noticed, Wade no longer dribbles as part of his free-throw routine. He catches the ball from the referee, steps into his shot and releases. For years, Wade had taken three dribbles at the line before shooting. Not anymore.
It’s too early to make any grand proclamations about Wade’s new groove. The sample size isn’t large enough to draw any real conclusions about its efficacy. When healthy, Wade is still an unstoppable force even without a 3-point shot. Just look at last season’s PER leaderboard, where he placed seventh in the league -- ahead of Kobe Bryant and James Harden.
But Wade won’t be this explosive forever. Shooting guards who rely on quickness typically deteriorate as they enter their mid-30s. Evolving off the ball next to James should not only help Wade and the Heat keep the opposing defense honest, but perhaps more important, it’s an indication that Wade is honest with himself about where he is in his career.