Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport
For the second season in a row, the Miami Heat won an NBA title last year. And for the second season in a row, they did it with a frightfully inconsistent and painfully hobbled Dwyane Wade.
This year, the Heat are going to have to find a way to limit D-Wade's minutes during the regular season so he can perform at his best when it matters. Wade's best, by the way, is still pretty darn impressive.
During the 2012-13 season, Wade averaged 21.2 points, 5.1 assists and five rebounds on a career-high 52 percent shooting. His PER of 24.04 was nowhere near his career high, but it was still good enough to rank seventh in the NBA.
But when the playoffs rolled around, Wade's accumulated bumps and bruises conspired to turn him into a shell of himself. He couldn't get to the rim consistently, all but abandoned his jumper and saw his free-throw rate plummet.
In fact, after posting a net rating of plus-13 points per 100 possessions during the regular season, Wade's net value dipped to just plus-3.6 during the playoffs. And in the Finals, Wade became a massive negative for Miami, posting a net rating of minus-7.8 points per 100 possessions in seven games against the San Antonio Spurs (per NBA.com).
The evidence proves it: Wade simply can't hold up over a full season.
Perhaps if the Heat trim the shooting guard's minutes from the 34.7 per game he averaged last year, there's a chance he won't undergo the same injury-related decline he has endured the past two years. The Spurs have extended Tim Duncan's career by doing roughly the same thing, so there's a precedent for this approach.
But there's a problem.
Ray Allen will be 38 when the 2013-14 season starts and can't be counted on for more than the 25.8 minutes per game he logged last year. Summer league standout James Ennis is an option, but championship-caliber teams don't typically hand major roles over to second-round rookies.
Plus, Mike Miller is gone via the amnesty provision and Shane Battier wore down even more than Wade did last year. Short of slotting Norris Cole into some kind of hybrid guard position, the Heat don't have any real options to take the stress off Wade.
Miami must find a way to give Wade a break. If it can't, his inevitable late-season collapse could cost his team a title.