Is Dwyane Wade Really on the Decline?

Ethan Sherwood StraussNBA Lead WriterDecember 12, 2012

MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 10: Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat greets the crowd during a game against the Atlanta Hawks at American Airlines Arena on December 10, 2012 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The responses to worries over Dwyane Wade's decline were loud after Wade went 20-of-25 over the last two games. Fans and media alike trumpeted Wade's recent run of efficiency, with even LeBron James getting into the act and rebuking Charles Barkley on the matter. 

The problem is, Chuck has a point. Even though Wade produced splendidly in these past two games, he's done so via a typically inefficient strategy; D-Wade's been hitting jumpers. This is a "process versus results" issue. Though the 80-percent shooting over these two games is a fine result, it comes via a process that will make Wade inefficient over the long haul. 

First, take a look at Wade's shot chart in his 80-percent run: 

Notice anything? If you're like me, you notice that many of these shots are coming from outside the paint. You may also observe that Wade hit 10-of-13 long jumpers, a completely unsustainable strategy for a shaky long-range shooter. Contrast the above chart with two D-Wade games from the middle of the 2011 NBA Finals: 

There's a whole lot more green in the paint here—and a whole lot more shot attempts in general. That's in keeping with the change in Wade's game this season. In the past (and especially in the 2011 NBA Finals), D-Wade was an inexorable force, constantly vaulting toward the rim. Here's a slow-mo example I culled from the 2011 NBA Finals:

Tyson Chandler jumps out to contain him, and Wade blows by like Tyson's not even there. Now look at a slow-mo example from one of the Knicks-Heat battles this season: 

Chandler jumps out, and Wade stalls, conceding the jumper. The pattern of Wade getting the ball in the half court and finding himself unable to probe a defense has been a troubling pattern throughout this season. 

Wade's on pace for his fewest free-throw-attempt total since his rookie year and his fewest free-throw attempts per 36 minutes ever. He's also shooting frequently from outside the paint.

So far, only 38 percent of Wade's attempts are coming within five feet of the basket area. Last season, he averaged 41 percent. The season before, it was 43 percent of such shots. 

The decline in at-rim attempts would not be concerning, but the aforementioned lack of free throws combines to make the decline concerns real. LeBron James can tell Barkley to "shut up," but Chuck is merely reacting to what's happening on the court. 

It's possible that an excuse exists for why Wade looks to be in decline. Maybe he's hurt. Maybe it's just some small-sample-size noise. Maybe he's conserving his energy for the playoffs.

All of that could be be true, but we can only analyze his tangible on-court play. That play would seem to suggest that Dwyane Wade, at age 30, is on the downslope of his career. This is less a criticism than an admission of reality.