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Let's have the Dwyane Wade talk

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The Miami Heat offense is stumbling, and several factors contribute to that. Could the main factor be the role of Miami's declining superstar?

Wade is having the worst season of his career
Wade is having the worst season of his career
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Somewhere deep inside me my memories of cheering for Dwyane Wade as a teenager make this uncomfortable.

But I'm not going to make this into a dramatic manifesto of biased emotions that cloud the present moment.

Dwyane Wade's not dead. He's not going to retire tomorrow and he still has a useful NBA skill set. There is still awhile before the time for putting his entire career in perspective and honoring his prime and the notable seasons around it. 

Right now, it's OK to analyze why this current Heat team is struggling so much offensively and prognosticate potential role changes and off-season moves that could upgrade the team. 

One of those things we have to discuss, uncomfortable as it may be, is the role of Dwyane Wade in this, a role which I think is the primary one, in 2015-16, of Miami's struggles to be efficient on offense because of how he is being used. 

The former superstar's decline is entering a stage where a change in role is suitable. Wade went from emerging into a superstar from 2005-2012 to gracefully becoming as efficient as ever as an All-Star sidekick for his last few seasons with LeBron James. But since 2014, we've seen a sharp drop in some areas that made Wade as good as he used to be, and it warrants examination. 

VISUALIZE THE DECLINE

As 23 games is enough to begin to put this season's numbers into context, Wade is in the midst of a second consecutive season of a shocking dwindling of his normally reliable efficiency. 

Wade, who sports a career 56.4 True Shooting percentage, one which remarkably never hovered under 55 percent from 2004-05 to 2013-14 with the exception of an injury riddled 2007-08 season, is at a career low 49.6 as of mid-December. It's been in that rage for a few weeks now and is beginning to stabilize. Last season, Wade had the worst TS% since his rookie season at 53.4, which was a predictable dip considering the departure of LeBron James and the thin cast around him. But it was still notable. 

There are two primary reasons for this stark drop in efficiency.

1) The first is that Wade simply does not get to the free throw stripe with the same regularity that he did for most of his career. I charted how this has affected his impact in this graph. 

Wade 1


True to form, Wade's Win Shares per 48 minutes stabilize at an elite level from 2006 to 2012. But it is no coincidence that Wade's Free Throw Rate (FTr) has been on a steady road downward and it has impacted his production. 

2) The second reason Wade is not as efficient as he once was is he simply does not attempt as many shots at the rim as he once did. I charted the percentage of Wade's attempts that came at the rim over the course of his career according to Basketball Reference's data. I combined it with the percentage of his 2-point attempts that were assisted to display how he evolved during the "Heatles" era with James but maintained a high percentage of his tries at the hole. 
wade 2

It is pretty cool the way that Wade went from super high usage ball handler to mixing it with off-the-ball game from 2011-14. All those baseline cuts and transition opportunities were happening at the time as he adapted to the most talented roster he played on with the first time he ever had a teammate better than him. 

But nothing ever changed with the core of Wade's game. Scoring at the rim. Always. A lot. 

For his career, Wade gets just above 36 percent of his attempts up within three feet of the basket. He got 23 percent of them there last season and is getting 26.5 percent of them this year. 

It's empirically clear that Dwyane Wade is not the efficient primary scoring option he once was, so the question then becomes, what is he? 

ROLE ADJUSTMENT?

Wade was willing to adjust from superstar to merely mortal All-Star for LeBron James, but he's not doing it for this team.

Wade's usage has been back comfortably over 30 for the last two seasons after dipping under it for two years. This season, 31.6 of Miami's possessions are used by Wade when he is on the floor. That is seventh in the league (Kobe Bryant is 11th LOL). 

But for reference, Stephen Curry (33.4) and Paul George (31.8) are only slightly ahead. 

For further context, Wade is the only player in the league with a usage percentage of over 30 who sports a True Shooting percentage of under 50. He's one of two guards in the league with that much usage and a True Shooting percentage of under 55, and the other is Damian Lillard, who still shoots about four percentage points higher surrounded by a young cast in Portland. 

With the exception of Jahlil Okafor, who is burning in the fires of 76er hell, it's safe to say Wade is the least efficient player in the league considering his huge role. 

So again, it's not that Wade is terrible, it's that he's terrible in this role. 

But it doesn't really seem clear that Wade is aware of this. On one hand he says "It all depends on what individual has it going," and on the other he demands the ball

I'm hesitant to pin this on Heat coach Erik Spoelstra because it must be difficult to manage a former star's ego with the team's most efficient intentions, and I'm not sure how much control he has there. 

Wade's attempts from the long mid range area are up from 2012-14, and his attempts from 10-16 feet are at career peak levels. As for most players, that is not a good shot, and as opposed to a complementary shot, for Wade, it is a main course, served at around 40 percent shooting. 

According to NBA.com, Wade is shooting 35 percent on pull-ups, a huge drain on the Heat's efficiency considering it is not an uncommon occurrence. 

This happens frequently.



So does this, which is unfortunate considering Chris Bosh, a very good 3-point shooter in the middle of a pick-and-pop everyone is clamoring for with Dragic, passed up a good look to make the unselfish extra pass, for Wade to step into a long 2-pointer because he hasn't developed his 3-point range. 



SOLUTIONS

Wade is still a useful NBA player. It's just becoming clear he should not be a featured piece of an offense at this stage, but rather a role player. The Heat have cut his minutes, but otherwise employ him as if it's 2009 again. The offense this season is close to its ceiling if that remains the case. 

I've thought through a few reasonable alterations that can help the team in the short and long term. 

Short Term

Bench Wade or Hassan Whiteside: It's been challenging for Miami to space the floor all season, but it's especially tough when Whiteside is in the game with Wade. It's hard to play in the modern NBA with two non-shooters on the floor. It paralyzes Goran Dragic in the half court, and promotes a lot of those Wade pull-ups when the paint is clogged.

Playing with more space won't make Wade a superstar again, but would hopefully open a few lanes up for him to get some drive-and-kicks and floaters up instead of pull ups and post ups that end in back shoulder fadeaways. 

Bringing Wade off the bench also accomplishes this. Some have compared this situation to Manu Ginobili, but it remains to be seen how gracious Wade is willing to be about the possibility. Without getting into X's and O's, the Heat's offense would have breathing room for Bosh and Dragic, the Heat's younger stars and still close to their primes, to operate more functionally. You can still end games without Whiteside depending on the situation. 

This isn't a terrible indictment of Wade. Most 34-year-olds just aren't efficient primary options. Few shooting guards in their mid-30's have his remaining tools, because he still shows the ability to create and shot make in spurts. It just has to be managed. He can be a solid rotation player if he's willing. 

If you rebuild the team in the off-season and choose to keep Wade, salary considerations have to be made if his role is going to be different, and that's a tough place to be for both parties. If you give him a legacy contract, it hurts your chances for a splash in 2016 free agency and cements the team's ceiling unless you move on from Whiteside altogether. 

Long Term

Let Wade walk in free agency: Some consider this a nuclear option, but hear out the rationale. As a Heat fan, your instinct to reject this notion is defensive. It can be a positive thing to part ways too. 

For one, you get to remember Wade in a Heat jersey for something close to what he was, and the tension of watching him decline in a featured role while the team struggles to score would be eased. As much as you love Dwyane Wade, you won't love watching him struggle in the coming years unless his role is altered significantly. 

From a team standpoint, you can move forward without the tension of walking the line between respecting Wade's amazing career and doing what's best for the team in the moment. You also keep salary cap space from what we assume would not be good value given Wade's age. 

This also could be refreshing for Wade as a person. It can't be easy, from a pride standpoint, to go from All-Star and franchise icon to role player overnight and just hand the reigns away. Maybe going to his home town of Chicago for a few years on a veteran team that can win or a voyage with Carmelo Anthony on the Knicks will be a nice away to avoid the pressure of having to be the man he always was for Miami. 

He can always come back for a farewell tour like Alonzo Mourning did, and be a veteran presence for a team that could very well be a contender. 

Spoelstra's hands are a little tied here. Not only from a personnel standpoint, but from a management standpoint. Not everyone is an immortal alien like Tim Duncan, but finding a balance with Wade, or moving on altogether, seem to be unavoidable for this team to be a great offense again.