Watching Dwyane Wade is a thing of beauty, and more than sometimes, we forget that.
Following a turbulent start to the 2012-13 campaign, Wade faced an onslaught of criticism.
Then 30 going on 31, he was past his prime. LeBron James was his crutch, and he was leaning on him more than ever. His days as a top-10 (top-five?) superstar were over.
But then we blinked, and the Dwyane Wade we had all come to know and underrate was back.
There was a time, before James took his talents to South Beach, when Wade wasn't picked apart as much as he is now, when he wasn't doubted as much as he is now. And I'm not toeing the lines of maybe when I say "now."
On some levels, plenty of them in fact, we are still selling Wade short. He's scored at least 20 points in 10 out of his past 12 games and is posting the sixth-highest PER (24.2) in the NBA, and still we expect him to fall off the face of the Association (kidding). Still, we almost half-expect him to fail.
Am I exaggerating?
We roll our eyes when people are criticizing him.
He's having a career year efficiency-wise, and yet people criticize that because he wanted to sacrifice and be part of a team like this that has a chance to do something special. His game has evolved; it's changed. He's scoring in different ways than he did for seven years.
Nearly a decade into his NBA tenure, Wade is indeed having a "career year efficiency-wise." His 51.6 field-goal percentage is the highest of his career, and he's just one of four players averaging at least 20 points, five rebounds, four assists and 1.5 steals per game.
The other three?
Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and LeBron himself.
But wait, it gets better.
Should Wade maintain his current pace, he will be just the 17th player in NBA history to have averaged such totals while shooting at least 50 percent from the field over an entire season. To further clarify, said feat has been accomplished 43 times already, but only by 16 different players.
We shouldn't just be impressed by this, but rather, we should recognize we're in the presence of continued greatness. Not past, but continued.
And yet, our perception of him—and his perception of himself—seems to have ebbed:
Nobody has personified this more than Dwyane Wade. Taking it slowly in the first few months while recovering from offseason knee surgery, Wade was a popular target for the question of whether age and knee injuries had diminished his skill level.
Wade isn't the same player he was in 2006, which he will admit. But he's proving he still possesses superstar talent. Overshadowed a bit by the hot streak James has been on, Wade has had a tremendous month, and it's not a coincidence the Heat have started racking up easy wins in the same time span. (Windhorst)
All this business about him not being the "same player" borders on inane. Of course he's not the same player. He doesn't play for the same type of team. He's been forced to evolve and adjust because the personnel around him has morphed into a whole other being.
By "personnel," I'm referring to the only player Wade defers status to: James.
Take Wade's recent 39-point outburst against the Sacramento Kings. Save for two missed free throws, he was beyond sensational. In the same game, however, LeBron dropped 40 points and 16 assists.
Take a look at Wade's historical numbers that we discussed earlier. While he's set to become just the 17th player in NBA history to average at least 20 points, five rebounds, four assists and 1.5 steals on 50-plus percent shooting, James is on pace to become the first ever to average at least 25 points, eight rebounds and seven assists on 55-plus percent shooting.
See what I mean?
At 31, some seem to assert that Wade isn't the "same player" or is now an inferior one just because he's, well, 31. The natural regression of age has to factor in. He can't be as good as he was five years ago, because again, he's 31.
Not all talents are created equal, though. Just look at the 34-year-old Kobe Bryant or the 36-year-old Tim Duncan. Their performances (for the most part) are built up on account of their age. But for Wade, his accomplishments are ignored because of his—to an extent.
The rest has to do with the role he has assumed. He's agreed to take a step back and hand LeBron the reins. And while we haven't necessarily berated him for making such a sacrifice, he's been considered (by some) to be a shell of his former self because of that sacrifice, when really, he's not.
Wade is still a superstar. He's still a top-10 player. He's still Dwyane Wade.
"We've gotten to the point where the stats don't matter," Wade said.
Has playing alongside LeBron James helped create an illusion of Dwyane Wade being on the decline?
That Wade is at a point in his career when rings take precedence over numbers is admirable. But he's also at a point when he still needs those numbers, the ones he's putting up and apparently paying no attention to.
Those are the numbers that remind us why the Heat, LeBron included, are where they are. And why Wade is the player he is.
Those are the numbers that show, that prove Wade is the same player who is every bit as effective and talented as he's been for the past 10 years.
Whether some of us want to admit it or not.
*All stats used in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference, Synergy Sports and 82Games.com, unless otherwise noted.