In 2006, Dwyane Wade took the league by storm. His 2006 Finals MVP performance was considered the best of all time by some. It was considered "Jordan-like" as he posted Finals averages of 34.7 points, 7.8 boards, and 2.6 steals. He was at the top of his game and analysts started to ask whether he should have been picked first, rather than LeBron James.
Then injury struck, and critics wrote him off altogether. But, with the start of this season, everyone has done a complete 180, and that is issue that annoys me most of all: Wade's supposed "return" to dominance.
No doubt, Wade has started the season at an inhuman pace, leading the NBA in scoring at 28.7 points per game, to go along with 7.1 assists, 5.2 rebounds, 2.3 steals, and 1.6 blocks per game. This ridiculous start has led to NBA and ESPN analysts discussing Wade's "return" to his 2006 MVP Championship form. I beg to differ.
While Wade is undoubtedly playing at a completely different level than the rest of the league, and is off to the best start of his career, he really never fell off. After missing 31 games in both the 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 seasons due to knee and shoulder injuries, "Flash" was written off, called injury prone, and almost forgotten. Analysts and fans were calling him the next Penny Hardaway. He was labeled as injury-prone, and his superstar status was called into question by almost everybody.
Penny Hardaway? I could not disagree more. In the '06-'07 campaign, Wade posted numbers of 27.4 PPG, 7.5 APG, 4.7 boards per game, 2.1 steals per game, and 1.2 blocks in 51 games. In the '07-'08 season, he dropped a little to 24.6, 6.9, 4.2, 1.7, and 0.7 in 51 games as well.
If you average those two seasons, it comes to 26 PPG, 7.2 APG, 4.4 RPG, 1.9 SPG, and 0.9 blocks per game. Since when are those type of numbers considered a drop-off? Since when are those the types of numbers for a player that's a "shell of their former self?" Since when are those the type of numbers for an injury prone, Hardaway-like player?
If you ask me, those numbers are outstanding and All-Star worthy. Now, some people are going to say that you can't just purely look at numbers alone—a valid argument. They will say you have to look at what happened to Wade's team, his skill, his explosiveness, and his "Flashiness."
During those two "injury-plagued" seasons, Wade still possessed most of those attributes. The most notable thing that was discussed was the Heat's fall from the top. They went from the 2006 NBA Champions to the worst team in the league at 15-67. Before you blame that on Wade, remember what happened. The team's second-best player, Shaquille O'Neal, went down early with a hip injury. Wade was playing hurt. Core players such as Jason Williams, Dorell Wright, and Alonzo Mourning were all injured. Then, O'Neal was traded midseason for Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks.
By the end of the season, Marion, Haslem, and Wade were all shutdown with season-ending injuries. The team was being led by Ricky Davis and Chris Quinn. To say that in any way, shape, or form, that season represents Wade's skills or that it is Wade's fault, is completely uncalled for.
Wade still played in more than half of the games and still posted All-Star numbers. He never fell off; he just played injured.
Wade was then criticized for his lack of explosiveness and "Flash-like" moves. Last year, he still had three 40-point games, including a career-high 48 against Orlando. In addition, he still had 15 games where he scored 30 or more points. To call that a fall-off from championship form is simply ignorant and stupid. He still dunked, still had highlight-reel worthy moves, and still possessed a lot of his "flash."
If you want to look further into his stats, you will see that his average statistics of those two injury-riddled seasons are actually above his career averages in almost every category except for rebounds and blocks. So, in reality, the only drop-off was his team's drop-off. And that can be attributed to the trades, the injuries to other key players, and an aging roster.
While this year, it is true that Wade looks better than ever and looks like he has something to prove, can't that be attributed to the fact that he just got better and matured? Does it have to be that he has returned to his "old self?"
The simple fact is that Wade never fell of, never got worse. He just got injured and missed some time as his team got worse. Now, he is healed and not playing how he used to, but rather is playing better. He is playing how he would have played had he never been injured. To say that his 24 points a game and 6.9 steals a game ('07-'08 numbers) are because he is a shell of his former self is just plain ridiculous.
If you are going to look at the team's failures as a drop in Dwyane Wade's basketball ability, then you are wrong.
But, I am glad that everyone doubted him and called him the next Penny Hardaway. Because now, Wade is better than ever, playing with a chip on his shoulder, and making everyone else in the league pay for it.
Dwyane Wade never left. He just grew into the player that he was supposed to be.