He played decently in the Finals, but averaged just 15.9 points, 4.6 boards and 4.8 assists on 45.7 percent shooting in the whole 2013 postseason, all below his career playoff averages.
Many worried that Wade was washed up, a shell of his former self; but thanks to the Heat’s careful managing of his minutes and body, the 2013-14 returns have so far shown a far more dynamic, explosive Wade than we saw in the postseason.
Still relatively early but Heat's management plan for Wade really working. Shooting 55%, leads all guards in paint scoring. Explosion back.— Brian Windhorst (@WindhorstESPN) December 26, 2013
In addition to Windhorst's notes, the eye test proves that Wade is back to his dominant self.
In order to rest his knees, Wade has sat out some back-to-back stretches and averages 33.8 minutes per game, one of the lowest marks of his career.
The 31-year-old guard has played huge minutes the past three years including three championship runs, and his slashing style of offense leads to plenty of hits and hard contact.
On the year, Wade is averaging 20 points, 4.8 rebounds, five assists and 2.1 steals while shooting a career-best 54.7 percent from the floor and 35.7 percent from three-point range.
Miami began watching Wade’s minutes, similar to what the San Antonio Spurs do with Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, but the Heat have really made it a priority this season.
With their hearts set on a three-peat, the Miami coaching staff has been playing it incredibly smart with Wade by not taking any chances, and it looks like a move that should pay dividends going forward.
Now that we have a firm grasp on what the Heat are doing to keep Wade fresh, let’s examine how Flash has played so far in 2013 and the factors that are allowing Miami to take a forward-thinking approach with their superstar.
Wade is averaging the fewest points per game since his rookie season, but simply looking at the box score does a disservice to his play thus far.
After relying heavily on mid-range jumpers through the playoffs, Wade is back to attacking the basket and finishing in the paint with regularity.
Wade’s blow-by ability has returned and he has been a far more consistent one-on-one option. He is shooting a stellar 48.4 percent on isolation plays, according to Synergy Sports.
Post-ups have also been a favorite of Wade this season—he has always had a lethal pump fake and the ability to get defenders in the air and off-balance. He's shooting 50 percent on post-ups, per Synergy.
He loves to catch the ball and operate out of the mid-post where he can quickly execute a spin move to get to the rim or turn into the lane over his shoulder and throw up a little hook shot or leaner.
Defensively, Wade has looked much stronger through the 2013-14 season, too. He's doing a great job of forcing turnovers and reading passing lanes, and he thrives in Miami’s frenetic, heavy-trapping scheme.
He is holding opponents to just 38.3 percent shooting overall, according to Synergy, and has been great at staying in front of his man.
Even with the minute restrictions and the frequent DNPs, Wade has still shown the ability to turn it on for big games.
He dropped 32 points in a home win over the Indiana Pacers, poured in 29 and seven assists in an early season victory against the Los Angeles Clippers and tossed up 23 points, six rebounds and seven assists on Christmas against the Los Angeles Lakers, while shooting 11-for-17 from the floor.
The Heat don’t need Wade scoring 30 points per game like they did when he was in his prime, particularly with James once again playing at an MVP level; but Wade’s ability to turn it on in key games while knowing when to conserve himself is huge for the franchise.
If he can keep getting better as the year goes on and not suffer from any nagging injuries, it’s hard not to again pick Miami as the title favorite.
Miami’s Added Depth
The Heat’s weakness has always been their bench, but the additional help the team is getting from their second unit has been a major reason they have been able to be so conservative with Wade.
Ray Allen is still averaging 10.6 points and shooting 39.4 percent from three, giving the Heat plenty of floor spacing. He can even handle the ball in spurts if need be.
Allen has often started when Wade has sat out, and having another savvy veteran who can step into the starting lineup at a moments notice has allowed the Heat to keep reeling off W’s.
Michael Beasley, in his first year back with Miami since the 2009-10 campaign, has been a revelation as a scorer off the pine.
Though he and Wade don’t have much positional overlap, Beasley’s ability to carry the Heat’s offense for spurts has allowed them to rely less on Wade’s scoring.
Beasley has missed significant time with a hamstring injury but before was averaging 11.3 points, 4.2 rebounds and 0.7 assists on 53.5 percent shooting overall and 52.6 percent from beyond the arc.
If he can get healthy and continue to play 18-20 minutes a night while not murdering Miami defensively, that will only serve to lessen the burden on Wade heading into the playoffs.
Shane Battier has logged some minutes at the 2 in place of Wade as well, and the Heat have somewhat surprisingly been giving Rashard Lewis consistent time off the bench.
The Heat might not have a single super-sub, but they have a far better bench than they have had in years past. The idea of shelving Wade for stretches would have been unthinkable in 2010-11 or even 2011-12 when the bench was among the worst in the league.
When looking at the Heat’s management of Wade, we have to compare it to the two clearest cases of a franchise mishandling their banged-up star: the Los Angeles Lakers with Kobe Bryant and the Chicago Bulls with Derrick Rose.
Bryant pushed himself to come back quickly to a mediocre team and wound up with a new injury that will sideline him for more than a month.
Once he returned the Lakers offense became immediately Bryant-centric and while some of that is obviously Kobe’s doing, it still proves the value of giving your stars the time they need to heal and rest.
Bryant started immediately, and averaged 29.5 minutes per game in his six appearances this season. During that time he was forced to play heavy minutes at point guard and averaged 5.7 turnovers per game while shooting just 42.5 percent from the floor.
Rose returned and was immediately asked to be the Bulls’ main option offensively, despite having not played professional basketball for nearly 18 months.
He averaged 15.9 points, 3.2 rebounds and 4.3 assists on 35.4 percent shooting before going down with a torn medial meniscus in his knee that ended his regular season at the very least.
Obviously these two injuries may not be connected physically and could have been a fluke, but it was clear from his struggles that Rose was not ready to be logging 30-plus minutes per game.
His PER during the 10 games he played was just 10.37.
Sure resting Wade may cost the Heat a win or two, but in the dismal Eastern Conference that does not mean much, and trying to get 78 games and 34-plus minutes out of him would likely end in a more serious injury like the ones to Bryant and Rose.
Chicago and L.A. obviously do not have a player of LeBron’s caliber to step in and fill the void, but James’ numbers and role have not been dramatically different whether Wade has suited up or not.
The Heat are playing the long-term game with Wade, and the fact that it has so far worked very well makes them even scarier as June approaches.