Dwyane Wade is approaching a pivotal point in his career. The eight-time NBA All-Star will turn 31 this coming January, an age when performance typically begins to decline for athletic superstars such as himself.
Since Vince Carter turned 32, his PER has dropped every season.
Tracy McGrady’s demise came even sooner as a 28-year-old, when his PER fell from 23.2 to 18.4 and has slowly declined ever since.
Players that rely heavily on their athleticism are pretty much lost in the world of basketball after they lose that first step.
Wade is hoping to avoid that same kind of drop-off in production not just this year, but in the years to follow. He is more than capable of doing so.
Unlike McGrady and Carter, Wade uses more than just pure athleticism to make a living in the NBA.
He’s smart with the basketball. Through his nine NBA seasons, Wade has led NBA shooting guards in assists per game for a season three times and finished in the top three six times, according to espn.com.
Although he’s primarily a scorer, Wade is unselfish and knows when to save himself and set up his teammates.
His teammates will also help him stay in his best possible form.
Although most opposing defenses already focused a majority of their defensive attention on LeBron James the past two seasons, that will only increase the next couple years. James finally reached his maximum potential, and opposing coaches will be losing tremendous amounts of sleep over how to slow down the reigning MVP.
This will help give Wade more freedom from the double team and more opportunities to create his own shots.
The addition of sharpshooters Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis will help too. Defense must respect the deadly three-point shooting of Allen and Lewis, which will provide even more space for Wade to do work.
The biggest concern Wade and Heat fans should have is the status of his left knee. While he never had to miss a game, Wade put up an awful performance in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals this past year against the Indiana Pacers, scoring only five points on 2-of-13 shooting.
He subsequently drained the knee before going off in Game 4, and we all know how the rest of the playoffs went.
Wade underwent surgery on July 9 to fully fix the problem. It sounds like he will be OK for training camp, but being restricted to rest and rehab for the entire offseason will likely give Wade a slow start.
How many more years will Dwyane Wade play at a superstar level?
The last time he had surgery on his left knee was in May 2007. The next year, his production dropped. His averages in the 2007-2008 season of 24.6 points, 4.2 rebounds, 1.7 steals, 0.7 blocks and 46.9 percent shooting were all below his career averages, while his 4.4 turnovers per game are still a career-high.
At his age, a healthy knee and an offseason of rest will do him good. He’ll go through some growing pains early on, but find his form by the end of the season, which will carry him into next year even stronger.
Wade also is too smart to rely on athletics alone at this point of his career.
He knows an aging body requires a more mature game. So, he dedicated the majority of his offseason work to working on the basic fundamentals of his jump shot.
Wade can already consistently knock down the mid-range jumper, and this will only make it more reliable. Instead of constantly crashing to the hole and beating up his body, he can post up away from the basket and get a decent look.
That strategy has allowed fellow superstar shooting guard Kobe Bryant to effectively extend his career into the early and mid-30s, and it should do the same for Wade.
In the end, Wade’s knack for injuries and the his nonstop hustle that punishes his body all too often will probably cut his career shorter than the average NBA superstar.
But for the next couple years, expect to see a fresh, rejuvenated Dwyane Wade.
He won’t disappoint.