For Dwyane Wade, this was bound to happen at some point.
The All-Star shooting guard has always been the embodiment of athleticism. His drives to the basket, finishes at the rim and ever so smooth fadeaways have been an NBA staple for nearly a decade.
But these athletic stylings of his are exactly the problem.
How many fadeaways wind up with Wade on the ground? How many of those drives to the basket dictate that he get tossed around in the paint on his way to the rim?
Looking back, far too many.
Wade is just 30, but he operates on a body that is as fragile as a vase that's already been broken and pieced back together. His latest bout with a left foot injury only furthers such a notion.
Though I'll be one of the last people to ever criticize the way Wade plays—he's absolutely magnificent both on and off the ball—even I must admit his refusal, not failure, to adapt his game to an aging body has left him at the bottom of the Miami Heat's Big Three totem pole.
Truth be told, that's not a terrible place to be by any means. In LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Wade, you have three of the NBA's top 15 talents, so to say you're the least important of such a trio is anything but a reputation killer.
At the same time, however, it is a place few would have ever predicted Wade to be.
This is the man who restored order to an organization in flux—more than once. He is the player that has been the face of the franchise since 2003. And he's the one who led the Heat to a championship before James, Bosh and himself had even planned to join forces (we think).
So, how is it that we've gotten here exactly? How has Wade become the third most important star on a team with three?
Well, for starters, there's LeBron.
Wade has played in South Beach longer, but James is the reigning league MVP and the most indispensable player not just on the Heat, but in the league.
The Chosen One is a perpetual triple-double threat and is currently posting a ridiculous PER of 29.15. He recently willed a Wade-less Miami to victory over the Phoenix Suns despite being ill and the Heat have watched sizable leads evaporate with him on the bench.
Throw his unmatchable durability into the mix and you have the most importantly player currently residing in Miami.
But that's arguably always been the case. Wade has been deferring to LeBron since the end of 2010; he's the one that made most of the sacrifices to make this pairing what it is.
That means we really want to know how Wade became less important than Bosh, how he has taken a backseat to a big man who has been deemed soft on plenty of occasions.
To put it bluntly, Wade has the concept of small-ball to thank for that.
Bosh plays out of position on a daily basis. Though he stands at 6'11", his frame is skinnier than James', a dangerous notion for an athlete being asked to man the center position.
And yet, Bosh has done it. He helped lead Miami to a championship while taking a beating down low, and he continues to perform at a high level despite the rigors of playing outside his comfort zone.
Simply put, Bosh's willingness to play wherever the team needs him has made him irreplaceable, to the point where Heat coach Erik Spoelstra (via Brett Pollakoff of NBC Sports' ProBasketballTalk) considers him the team's most important player:
He is our most important player, and he’s as steady and consistent as he always has been for the last two and a half years, Spoelstra said. He makes it look easy and he makes it look quiet, and yet he’s so impactful in the game. He was big under the rim and not just his scoring, but the big plays defensively at the end.
Bosh has established himself as more than a finesse scorer while in South Beach. He took hold off a position the Heat didn't have the means to fill, and he has owned it.
Thus far he's averaging 19.6 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game on a career best 55.2 percent shooting. Not only are those impressive numbers, but they're astounding for someone being asked to shoulder a burden only one other person on his team is capable of carrying.
You see, without Bosh, Miami doesn't have a capable center. Spoelstra could throw Joel Anthony back into the mix, but that forces the team to play a man down on offense. Udonis Haslem presents a viable option, but he's even more undersized, and you lose something on both ends of the floor with him as well.
And don't even get me started on Dexter Pittman.
That leaves Bosh, who continues to distinguish himself on both ends of the floor.
Can Wade say the same, though?
No one's asking him to play out of position, but can he honestly say he's becoming more valuable to the team by the game?
Nope, not at all.
Not only is he averaging just 16.9 points on 47 percent shooting—his lowest output since his rookie season—but with equally savvy offensive weapons like Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis and a constantly evolving Mario Chalmers, Wade has never been less important.
Don't think for a minute I'm suggesting Wade is expendable or even replaceable, however. His defensive awareness and offensive potential are extremely vital to Miami's cause.
But with his delicate health bill continuing to rear its ugly head, along with a decline in production, a deeper backcourt and the rise of a fellow superstar, Wade has subsequently become a victim of age and circumstance.
Nonetheless, Wade is still a superstar.
Just not as important a one as he used to be.
All stats in this article accurate as of November 20th, 2012.
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