Much to the dismay of Dwyane Wade and Miami Heat fans, Kevin Durant recently stated that James Harden should replace Wade on Sports Illustrated's list of the top 10 players in the league during an interview with Cine Sports (per The Palm Beach Post).
Wade bristled. Heat fans bristled.
However, Wade and those fans are overlooking one simple fact about what Durant said.
He had a point.
At this stage of Wade's career, he is not an elite superstar anymore. He is still a star; there's no doubt about that. He is one of the top three shooting guards in the NBA and belongs in the discussion for top 10 overall.
But he isn't better than Harden.
Now if this were 2010 or even the beginning of 2011, I would agree with those who oppose Durant's statement. Wade was younger then. He was sprier. He was more explosive.
This is 2013, though, and Wade has lost more than just a step thanks to his balky knees. He does not possess the same athleticism he once did, and his overall performance has suffered as a result.
That's not to say that he hasn't been darn good, because he has. He just isn't as good as he once was, and he is not better than Harden. Not in Oct. 2013.
You want proof? Let's examine what the two of them did last season.
Wade held a significant advantage over Harden in field-goal percentage, but that's it, and that's even negligible when you consider Harden was far superior from three-point range and the free-throw line. Not only was Harden nearly a full 13 percent better from the stripe, but he averaged 10.2 free throws per game to Wade's 6.2.
Harden is even beginning to catch up to Wade defensively. While he will likely never be as good of a defender as Wade was in his prime, he is not nearly as far off at this stage as you would believe, and the statistics support that.
Another thing to take notice of is the usage percentage of both players.
Even though Wade had a higher usage percentage than Harden (not by much, but it was still higher, nonetheless), Harden still put up better numbers. That's telling.
As a matter of fact, a legitimate argument can be made that Harden was better across the board than Wade in 2011-12 too, but we won't go there. We have to consider how poor of a showing Harden had in the NBA Finals against Wade and the Heat that year.
But right now, 2011-12 isn't relevant. This is about the current point in time, and Wade is losing his superstar clout.
Notice that I didn't say that Wade isn't a top-10 player. As a matter of fact, one can argue that Russell Westbrook, not Wade, should be replaced by Harden on the list. Westbrook is a very good player, but Sports Illustrated ranking him in the top five ahead of Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant seems a bit ludicrous.
All I am saying is that Wade is beginning to fade, and Durant's statement is indicative of that.
Do you really think Durant would have said what he did if this were the Wade of two or three years ago? Doubtful. Highly doubtful, but Durant sees what many of us see.
He sees an outstanding talent and a consistent big-game performer who is regularly dealing with knee problems and watching his production diminish as a consequence.
It's not a knock on Wade. It's just the laws of nature. The older you get, the less apt you are to dominate games. The future Hall of Famer is falling victim to a predator that every athlete succumbs to at some point.
Father Time is undefeated.
Wade has made a living out of snaking through defenses and drawing contact at the rim. However, the more contact a player draws, the more of a toll his body absorbs, and you can see that all of the beatings he has taken over the years have had their effect.
His performance during the 2013 postseason was symptomatic of this. He was strangely passive, averaging career lows in field-goal attempts and free-throw attempts.
You can try to spin it any way you want, but the fact of the matter is that while Wade is still very good, he is not the same anymore. He is no longer a consistently dominant force. He can be dominant for stretches, but he has to pick his spots.
In the past, he never had to pick and choose like that. He could just go out and do it because he was fully capable.
He was younger. He was healthy.
In 2013, that isn't the case anymore.
Yes, we have been fortunate enough to witness the brilliant career of a surefire Hall of Famer, but we are also sadly observing his steady decline.
Durant knows it. I know it. You know it.
Wade can take names and write motivational notes to himself all he wants, but deep down, he knows it, too.
Maybe Wade will turn back the clock this season and demonstrate that he can make it through an 82-game campaign and the playoffs with no ailments while maintaining an elite level of performance all the way through. Maybe we will see the Wade we saw in 2010-11 when he was the top dog on the Heat even with LeBron James and Chris Bosh in tow.
But I just don't see it happening.
We'll see a very good player. We'll see a guy who will occasionally put his team on his back and who may drop 40 once or twice.
But we won't see the Wade we once did.
That Wade is gone, and Father Time, not Wade himself, is the culprit.
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