Why Dwyane Wade Is the Miami Heat's Biggest X-Factor

Sam RichmondCorrespondent IFebruary 25, 2014

Miami Heat shooting guard Dwyane Wade (3) walks on the court during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Phoenix Suns , Monday, Nov. 25, 2013, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

There's no getting around it: The Miami Heat need Dwyane Wade at his best if they are going to win their third straight NBA championship in June. 

While Miami was able to overcome an injury-prone Wade last postseason (knee issues led to him averaging a career playoff-low 15.9 points per game), they almost certainly wouldn't be so fortunate in 2014. 

The Heat's likely Eastern Conference Finals opponent, the Indiana Pacers, have improved greatly since last season. Paul George, Roy Hibbert and Lance Stephenson have all taken sizable leaps, while the Pacers' defense is the best unit in basketball. 

And the favorite to reach the Finals from the Western Conference, the Oklahoma City Thunder, are looking quite dangerous with Russell Westbrook healthy and Kevin Durant playing out of his mind. 

If the Heat make the NBA Finals, there's a good chance Dwyane Wade will face his nemesis, Kevin Durant.
If the Heat make the NBA Finals, there's a good chance Dwyane Wade will face his nemesis, Kevin Durant.Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

As great as LeBron James is, he's going to need plenty of Wade's help to get past those two teams. Right now, there's reason to believe he will get it.

For all the scrutiny Wade has faced this year, he's actually having a terrific season. Yes, he's missed 15 games (as the Heat try to prevent another knee injury); however, when he's been on the court few in the league have been better. 

Contrary to popular belief, Wade's game is aging nicely, and he remains an elite NBA player. 

While Wade may not be attacking the rim as often as he used to (via NBA.com), he's still finding ways to get there (off-ball cuts to the hoop, for example) and is absurdly efficient from up close. Wade has converted 68.0 percent of his attempts within five feet of the basket (155-208), according to NBA.com. To put that in perspective, 6'11" center Dwight Howard has shot 64.2 percent from that range.

But Wade is more than just a strong finisher at the rim. He's complemented that aspect of his game with a highly effective midrange jumper, as recently pointed out by B/R's Ethan J. Skolnick.

Simply put, D. Wade has been an efficiency monster this season. On his way to an 18.7 point-per-game average, he's shot 54.7 percent from the floor and has a 21.97 PER.

The 30-point scoring outbursts have been rare, but that has more to do with circumstance than it does a decline in ability. Wade is on pace for his lowest shot-per-game average (currently 14.1) since his rookie year. He understands that this is LeBron's team, and is therefore deferring more often.

But Wade can still score in high doses when the team needs him to. According to ESPN's Tom Haberstroh on the The Dan Le Batard Show, Wade is averaging 17 points per 36 minutes when LeBron is on the court and 26 points when James is on the bench. 

Also, in typical Wade fashion, he's been a tremendous asset in the game's other areas. He's grabbing 4.9 rebounds and dishing out 4.9 assists per game, while also averaging the second-most combined steals (1.6) and blocks (.6) per game among shooting guards (Victor Oladipo ranks No. 1).

In the Heat's past two games, he's posted 47 points, 17 rebounds, 17 assists, one block and five steals. Wade sure is having quite the "down season."

It really shouldn't come as any surprise the Heat are just 9-6 in the 15 games Wade has missed this season and 31-8 in the 39  games he's played. Wade may be closer to the end of his career than the start of it, but he's still an extremely valuable piece to this team.

Miami desperately needs the three-time champion to avoid any setbacks with his knees down the stretch. His health is the large, gloomy cloud hanging over the season's final few months for Miami. It's why the maintenance plan that has Wade sitting out back-to-back contests must continue, even if it costs the Heat a chance at catching the Pacers for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.

Home-court advantage is helpful for a Heat title run; Wade's health is a pressing necessity.