Dwyane Wade has been counted out before. And just like Thursday night, he got back up and proved that he could still get the job done.
Wade’s 32-6-4 with 6 steals is the kind of performance that could be expected before The Decision, when he was occupied carrying the Heat alone. In this postseason, however, it stands out as a major outlier in this postseason, where Wade has averaged only a 15-4.4-4.7 line while sporting a PER of just 18.8, which, while still good, is a far cry from his usual output.
With his future production in doubt, it’s important to remember a few of things about Wade:
First, while he came into the league in the same draft as LeBron James, Wade (31) is just as close to Kobe Bryant’s age (34). This is an important consideration for projecting Wade’s future productivity, and indeed in understanding what he may have left in the tank for the last two or three games of the Finals. An athletic 2-guard without a reliable jumper can’t be expected to have his game age particularly well. In fact, if you compare Bryant’s age 31 season (which ended with that rough 2nd round sweep at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks) to Wade’s 2012-13 regular season, the lines look very similar, probably even favoring Wade:
Wade: 22.0 pts per 36, 5.2 reb per 36, 5.3 ast per 36, .521 FG%, 24.0 PER
Bryant: 25.0 pts per 36, 5.0 reb per 36, 4.6 ast per 36, .456 FG%, 21.9 PER
Second, the injury problems and resultant drop in productivity Wade has experienced this postseason mirror the problems he had in the 2007-08 season, when he saw his production drop across the board as he battled injuries, playing only 51 games for the second straight season. Even at only 26, many wondered if Wade had already peaked and would be forever changed.
In the 2008 Olympics, Wade began quieting those murmurs as he was dominant off the bench for Team USA after spending the early part of the offseason getting healthy. The following season he slapped up a 30.4 PER and a spectacular 30.2-5-7.5 line while dragging a severely undermanned Heat team into the playoffs (Seriously, Wade’s best teammate that year may have been Michael Beasley).
Finally, acting as if LeBron has been forced to carry the Heat by himself all season as Wade (and Chris Bosh) have slipped is ridiculous. Wade’s stats this season show that he can still play, and operating next to LeBron offers him the chance to work a little less to get easy looks, as evidenced by his career high FG% in the regular season. He may not be quite as good as he was at his peak, but when healthy Wade is still one of the very best in the NBA.
The Finals thus far have featured a number of players stepping up or wilting from game to game, and no one has dominated throughout. Wade is just as likely as anyone at this point to be the difference maker.
His Game 4 performance offers a great blueprint for how that can happen: starting on the defensive end, his weakside help resulted in several steals and an impressive block to throw San Antonio off their game. This allowed the Heat to get out and run. It’s here, on the fastbreak, where Miami is almost completely unstoppable. If Wade can maintain this level of play, the Heat will likely have back to back championships, and Wade will get his third ring.