The question is becoming as trite and overbearing as humanly possibly, plagued with endless media scrutiny and growing ambiguity. Should LeBron James or Dwyane Wade have the ball in their hands for the Miami Heat when the game is on the line?
The sudden absence of Chris Bosh has further exasperated the situation and perhaps shined an even bigger light over the Heat's late game uncertainties. Is this really a fair question? Now while it's seemingly understood that LeBron receives a plethora of undeserved blame and criticism for the Heat's late game troubles, it's impossible not to question any strategy or decision that subsequently fails. A more acute analytical question would be what kind of offensive set, lineup and player puts the Heat in the best possible opportunity to score in late game situations?
In layman's terms, if Dwyane Wade shoots the last shot and misses it's easy to say LeBron should have had the ball. Similarly if Lebron missed the last shot, it's easy to argue Wade should have closed the game out.
We have all grown to be completely enamored with statistics and seem to live and die by the numbers that populate in the box score. We research statistics from sports websites and analysts that pull data from the regular season, playoffs and NBA finals, desperately looking to attribute some sort of reason and mathematical logic behind who should do what on the court.
It doesn't matter that Lebron James is shooting 10-17 from the foul line in late games this year and Dwyane Wade is 4-13 in late game field goals. The Heat have 2 of the top 5 basketball players in the world and the questions should start and end with what offensive strategy puts them in the best position to close out a game. The answer:
Before jumping at the question barbarically, we have to analyze the type of defenses teams play against the Heat in late game situations and the individual skill sets for both Wade and LeBron. LeBron is a better shooter than Wade from mid range and from 3-point land and while that might seem like an obvious indication that he should have the ball in his hands, it also alludes to the point that he is a bigger threat off the ball. If LeBron has the ball in his hands, before he even begins to attack the basket or make his move, defenders will be shading and closing in to protect the interior and force him to pass it up. We saw this against the Utah Jazz when Udonis Haslem missed an open foul line jump shot for the win. In addition, Wade is a better driver, quicker off the dribble and more physically flexible in sidestepping and dicing through defenses in the lane.
Multiple times this season LeBron has nailed big 3-pointers down the stretch by simply catching a pass from either Wade or another player. Ask yourself this, would you rather Wade catch and shoot a 3 for the win or Lebron? In addition, who would you rather have at the free throw line at the end of the game, Wade or Lebron? Most people would rather have Wade at the foul line and Lebron taking that 3-pointer/open shot and the scenario that makes that possible, is when the ball is in Wade's hands.
Should Wade always take the last shot? Absolutely not. It just means that this is the scenario for Miami down the stretch that best equips them to utilize their assets. Wade should have the ball but Erik Spoelstra needs to absolutely make sure that LeBron is a huge part of the offense either in a high pick and roll, a wing option or some back screen play that gets him open for a shot. If LeBron or Wade stand on 1 end on the court while the other goes isolation, they might as well be off the court and replaced with a 3-point specialist.