Prior to the start of the year, much was made of the 30-year-old's ability to continue to play at an All-Star pace. Last season, he had the numbers (22.1 points, 4.6 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game) to support his star status, but he missed 17 of the season's 66 games, further bringing his durability into question.
Wade has not done anything to stifle such ambiguity either, as he is currently toeing the line of a full-fledged decline one night while toiling with the prospect of utter dominance on others.
Though the Heat currently have the second-best record in the Eastern Conference—a feat that is actually viewed as a disappointment by some—many of their victories have come in spite of Wade's performance, not because of it.
Which has left us to wonder how far exactly Wade has fallen and whether or not he'll be able to recover from his tumultuous first quarter of the season.
We all know Wade can score; the only problem is, he hasn't done as much of it lately.
As it stands, the shooting guard is posting 19.8 points per game, his lowest average since his rookie season. He's still shooting the ball at an efficient 48.7 percent from the floor, but he's taking just 15.5 shots per game, the lowest, again, since his rookie season.
What also troubles me is that the Heat are posting just a plus-1.7 per 48 minutes with Wade on the floor right now compared to the plus-10.1 they were at last season. The plus-1.7 is also his lowest mark since Miami had a minus-6.3 with him in 2007-08.
For those wondering, the Heat finished 15-67 that year, so yes, his having a lesser effect on the team's overall offensive production is of some concern.
Wade is also settling for more jump shots, a tactic most would consider a necessity at this point since his body cannot withstand the rigors of a perpetual rim-attack as well as it used to.
But while taking 47.7 percent of his shots outside of nine feet (compared to 43.9 last year) seems like a logical solution to preserve his physical well-being, he is connecting on just 35.7 percent of those attempts.
And that's a problem.
Amid his struggles with offensive continuity, however, Wade has never been better at protecting ball. He's averaging just 2.3 turnovers per contest, though that comes on a career-low 4.4 assists.
No, Wade hasn't been terrible, but the fact that he's 20 or more points in just seven of his 15 appearances this season is anything but Wade-like of him.
Much is made of Wade's defensive tactics, but it's not nearly enough to do him justice.
Not only is Wade extremely deft at forcing turnovers, but he's easily one of the best shot-blocking guards in the league.
Sure, his 1.2 steals and 0.6 blocks per contest are either a career-low or tie a career-low, but his footwork on that end of the ball is generally superior. And it's this footwork that allows him to do a lot of things that don't necessarily show up in the box score, like forcing the ball out of his man's hands.
That said, what shows up on the stat sheet is still important. And right now, some of what we find is staggering.
Last season, opponents scored just 99.6 points per 100 possessions when Wade was on the court compared to 101.4 with him off it. This season, however, has been a different story.
Currently, opponents are scoring 110.7 points per 100 possessions while Wade is on the court, and just 102.9 points with him off it.
Now, I will be one of the first to admit that doesn't say everything, but it says a whole lot.
Miami is a weaker defensive team overall, and while we can blame that on additions and the use of lineups that play poor defense, the fact that opponents are scoring less with Wade off the floor is slightly disconcerting. That holds true even if we're going to use the second unit versus first unit argument.
By no means is this to say that Wade is a terrible defender, because he's not. But just like he has on offense, he has failed to make as sizable an impact as he once did.
Wade has never appeared in all 82 regular season games for his career. It's actually become the norm for him to miss extensive time.
And that trend doesn't appear poised to change just yet.
Through the first 18 games of the season, Wade has already missed three contests. That puts him on pace to miss about a sixth of the season, which would be about 13 or 14 games.
Somewhat sadly, that's not even considered that many. He missed 17 during the lockout-truncated season last year.
At this point, it's actually a bit optimistic to believe he will miss just a sixth of the season.
Why, exactly? Because Wade has played in more than 70 games just five times his entire career. He's also averaging 33.5 minutes per game, the second-lowest mark for his career. Obviously, Miami is aware of what's at stake here.
They tell us not to judge a book by its cover, but when I look at Wade's injury history, I can't help but make snap judgments.
That aside, he has managed to play through most of his injuries thus far while still tallying more than 30 minutes per game at 30 years old. It's hard to knock that too much.
Let me by saying that Wade is a great leader. He always has been and always will be.
However, we cannot pretend that deferring to LeBron James on the court has affected the emotional impact he has on Miami.
It seems like just yesterday that Wade was the one leading this team, not necessarily in the box score, but through accountability and vocalization.
Now, though, it's LeBron who is taking the blame for losses in which he performed admirably. Wade, meanwhile, has remained relatively silent—silent for him, that is.
Again, this is not to say Wade is selfish or ignorant or anything like that, but the Heat have a luxury they're not currently reaping the benefits of.
Wade and LeBron are two of the most potent leaders in the game both on and off the court. Currently, however, Wade is struggling to continue his cause on the court, which is all the more reason for him to become an even more vocal leader off it.
But he hasn't. This is now James' team, free and clear.
While that makes plenty of sense from a tactical standpoint, there's no reason why he should seemingly be doing it alone. Though I'll never accuse anyone—especially Wade—of slacking off, LeBron was, most recently, fighting a losing battle against the Carmelo Anthony-less New York Knicks alone.
Sadly enough, that's not even the first time that's happened this season.
And that's something I'll never understand.
I respect Wade. A lot.
The Heat would not have won the NBA championship without him last season, and even in the midst of one of the worst seasons of his career, he's still putting up respectable numbers.
But he's done so in a foreign fashion.
Understandably, he was never going to remain as explosive as he has been known to be, but there's just a certain ferocity missing about him. He's not as jacked up after highlight-worthy plays, and his energy has been downright troubling on more than one occasion.
Clearly, an athlete of Wade's caliber can turn things around. He's still talented enough to score and defend like he always has; he's still powerful enough to lead the way he once did.
Yet even though Wade is capable of turning things around, it doesn't mean he will. Again, he is older, and this roller-coaster of a ride he has presented us with so far could be incredibly telling.
Or it could mean nothing; it could be but a fluke.
Regardless, to call Wade's start to the season disappointing is an understatement. Age and all, new faces and all, we've come to expect much more out of Wade.
Because he's always giving us and the Heat much more than he currently is.
Overall First-Quarter Grade: B-
All stats in this article are accurate as of December 9, 2012.
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