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Bench role could foreshadow a Wade-Heat reunion

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The days of Wade starting are over, and that's good news for the Heat.

NBA: Miami Heat at Cleveland Cavaliers
Wade dropped 17 points in 28 minutes on a hapless heat defense.
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Dwyane Wade suited up against the Miami Heat for the fourth time last week, helping the Cleveland Cavaliers coast to a 108-97 win over a sluggish Heat team. Wade pitched in 17 points off the bench, on an efficient 6-12 shooting from the field.

As painful as it was to watch the specter of Wade's greatness making plays all over the floor, it could be a positive omen for a Heat front office warming up to a Wade return.

The Heat and Wade both seemed to flirt with the idea of a reunion over the summer after his buyout from the Chicago Bulls. The only problem was the freshly minted $42 million-dollar Dion Waiters sitting in Wade’s old starting spot. A key cog in the Heat’s late season drive-and-kick revival, it seemed silly to minimize Waiters just for a feel-good reunion with a now 36-year-old guard.

Wade ultimately chose to re-enlist with Team LeBron, and that was that. Until now.

Wade began the season as the Cavaliers starting shooting guard, much to the chagrin of J.R. Smith. But after three games, Wade was shooting a miserable 28% from the field, and looked out of place in a starting unit hungry for shooters. Cue benching.

After the “demotion” Wade’s minutes have held steady at around 23 a game, but his production and efficiency increased dramatically.

Wade Starter/Bench splits

Role G MP PTS TRB AST FG% 3P% FT% TS% USG% ORtg DRtg +/-
Role G MP PTS TRB AST FG% 3P% FT% TS% USG% ORtg DRtg +/-
Starter 3 23.6 5.7 2 3.3 0.28 0.333 1.000 0.328 20.9 69 109 -7.4
Reserve 20 23.6 12.9 4.2 3.9 0.481 0.360 0.746 0.546 25.8 109 108 11

No longer relegated to standing and watching LeBron control the game, Wade is flourishing as a lead ball-handler for the Cavaliers second unit.

Overall, those numbers are near what we can expect from old-man-Wade nowadays. The beneficiary of a healthy increase in usage percentage, the future Hall-of-Famer has looked himself again. A refreshing sight after the scarecrow act he had been doing while he drifted aimlessly around the three-point line.

During the Cavs win over the Heat, Wade showed off that resurgent shot-making and an advanced post game that should age well. Early in the fourth quarter, he flexed his old man strength and bullied Waiters from near the three-point line all the way to the hoop for an easy baby hook. Not a minute later, he drilled a pretty post fadeaway over a clearly frustrated Waiters.

Wade's performance is showing he can thrive in a bench role. His talents are best suited on-ball, and that just wasn't possible with prime LeBron around. Leading the second unit has allowed him to leverage those skills better than attempting to mesh with a crowded starting unit. He seems to be easing into a Ginobili-type role as an off-guard playmaker getting about 20 minutes of run a game. This is best for his effectiveness as well as his durability.

Looking down the Heat's bench reveals a noticeable hole at point guard. Without a true PG, Tyler Johnson and JJ have served as the lead playmakers off the bench, but Wade would add some much needed poise and craftiness to the group.

After this year, should Wade decide he’s done ring hunting, Miami looks like the most obvious destination. He would probably have to accept the veteran’s minimum (a big “if”) but his reinvention as a bench stud creates a more concrete path to a reunion. It's starting to look like we could see Wade back in a Heat uniform before long.