For someone who plays shooting guard, Dwyane Wade has never been much of a jump shooter, per se. He's a career 29.1 percent from three-point range and has converted at least half of his field-goal attempts in a season just once—in 2010-11, when he shot exactly 50 percent (692-of-1384).
So when the superstar swingman for the Miami Heat told Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in early September that he'd hired a shooting coach this summer, there was understandably a bit of excitement (albeit relatively muted) amongst the Heat faithful, long-time and otherwise.
Does this mean D-Wade will be tossing up corner threes next to Ray Allen and Shane Battier? Is he settling into the next stage of his career, in which he'll be settling for jumpers to save his legs and compensate for his waning athleticism, a la Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant?
The answer to both, as it turns out, may well be "no." As Wade told Winderman:
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I have one of the best midrange shots in the league. But, obviously, when you have different injuries, it makes you change a little bit. So it's just about getting back to that comfort of it and finding out where you are now.
My midrange game is very important to me. The biggest thing is coming out of my pull-up without losing the ball and just making sure it comes through my hand the right way. When it comes to my shot exactly, I don't have a bad shot. There's other reasons why I come up short a lot. So it's just trying to work the kinks out.
Nothing too earth-shattering, folks. It appears as though Wade is simply getting back to basics, tuning up his shot now that it's fallen out of whack after compensating for lower-body injuries.
Not that this development isn't still reason enough for an additional anticipatory tingling in the camp of the defending champs. A slasher by trade, Wade is at his best when his midrange game is working. The mere threat of pulling up for a shot inside the three-point line makes him that much more lethal, since opposing defenders have to respect the possibility.
In turn, they leave themselves that much more susceptible to D-Wade's drives and dunks.
That wasn't quite the case last season. According to Hoopdata, Wade's percentage on short twos (between three and nine feet) cratered from 50.2 percent in 2010-11 to a career-low 43.7 percent in 2011-12. More disconcertingly, Wade shot just 40.2 percent on shots other than threes and those at the rim, registering his worst rate since the 2007-08 season.
Wade missed 31 games that year with pain in his left knee—the very same knee that gave him trouble this past season and on which he had arthroscopic knee surgery on July 9th. Good news for the Heat: Wade shot five percentage points better on two-point attempts away from the rim in 2008-09 than he did in 2007-08. He also led the NBA in scoring that year, guided the Heat back into the playoffs and finished third in MVP voting, behind LeBron James and Kobe Bryant.
To be sure, the 2012-13 season hardly portends such a prodigious turnaround. Four years ago, Wade was just entering his prime. Now, he stands significantly closer to his basketball twilight, with his 31st birthday upcoming in January. His body's racked up a ton of mileage in that time, thanks in no small part to back-to-back trips to the NBA Finals.
Nonetheless, Wade's return to form in the midrange should be yet another boon to Miami's prospects of pulling off a successful title defense. There figures to be plenty of space in Erik Spoelstra's "spread" offense for Wade to launch from his sweet spots, especially with Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis joining the likes of Shane Battier, Mike Miller, Mario Chalmers and James Jones in the Heat's corps of bombardiers.
Throw in LeBron down low at the "4" and Chris Bosh facing up at the "5," and Wade will have even more room to roam.
Keep in mind, too, that the Heat weren't particularly prolific in the two most prevalent midrange regions last season, even though their shooting percentages suggested they should've (or, at least, wouldn't have been unwise to have) attempted more shots from either spot. According to Hoopdata, the Heat ranked 18th in the NBA in shot frequency between 16 and 23 feet, but were the 12th-most accurate, and they placed 21st in shot attempts between three and nine feet, even though they were the ninth-most accurate in that regard.
Wade's reworked form—and the renewed sense of confidence that accompanies it—should benefit Miami tremendously in these spots, from where he took 41.5 percent of his looks in 2011-12. The Heat's prior "reluctance" to launch from those ranges also suggests that there may be wiggle room enough for Spoelstra to green-light Wade's midrange attempts, assuming they fall more frequently this time around.
In all honesty, it's not as though D-Wade has all that far to climb statistically. He shot a respectable 37 percent between 16 and 23 feet and a career-high 43.8 percent between 10 and 15 feet during the 2011-12 regular season.
And, as it happens, Wade's accuracy between three and nine feet tends to fluctuate significantly from year to year. In fact, Wade's short-two shooting has shifted between either side of the 50-percent threshold over the last six years, and the 6.5-point dip in Wade's shooting percentage from 2010-11 to 2011-12 still pales in comparison to the nine-point dip he endured between 2006-07 and 2007-08.
In other words, Dwyane's due for a bounce-back shooting performance in 2012-13.
Obviously, a return to form for D-Wade doesn't necessarily mean bigger and better things for the Heat, if only because a team can't go much bigger or do much better than lifting the Larry O'Brien Trophy. That being said, a remade Wade—along with a restocked flock of three-point marksmen—should make Miami's offense that much more difficult to contain.
And the Heat's chances of going back-to-back that much better, even with the rest of the league hot on their heels.