Sports writers, present company included, have a penchant for hyperbole. In the Internet age, with all its accompanying pressures and incentives—perverse and otherwise—the temptation is to make a mountain out of every molehill: Each simple victory becomes an utter triumph, each loss a shattering setback, each micro slump the beginning of the end.
It was in this way that the hoops punditry buried Dwyane Wade this winter. Wade was hobbling through a season in which he would ultimately miss 28 games and post career-low numbers in a handful of consequential categories, and on this basis, the most devastating conclusions were jumped to. He was done, we thundered. Finished. Well past the useful portion of his career.
But the truth about Wade, it’s becoming clear, is a bit more nuanced. To borrow an oft-borrowed line, rumors of the guard’s demise were greatly exaggerated—or at least very premature.
“He couldn't look any righter,” James told ESPN.com’s Michael Wallace. “He’s getting to the rim, working in transition. He’s had his step-back [jumper] on. He is feeling good.”
LeBron couldn’t have been any “righter” in his analysis. After playing in each of the Heat’s final three regular-season contests as a playoff warm-up, Wade logged over 30 minutes of floor time in every game of the Charlotte series, finishing with a line of 17.5 points, 3.8 assists and 3.3 rebounds with a 49.1 percent mark from the floor.
The numbers don’t jump off the page, but there was a steadiness to Wade’s play—and to the response of his creaky knees—that was encouraging. Wade never scored below 15 points or shot below 40 percent from the floor in any of the four games. The guard himself expressed a cautious optimism.
“I’m not going to look too far ahead,” Wade said, via Wallace. “I’m just going to continue to take it day to day and game by game in these playoffs, knowing that things could change from each game. The playoff games are very hard on the body, so we’ll see. I’m feeling good right now, and I just want it to continue.”
There’s some indication that, health permitting, it will continue for Wade. The guard quietly had a fine season, finishing with averages of 19 points, 4.7 assists and 4.5 rebounds average on a career-high 54.5 percent shooting.
Wade also led all Eastern Conference guards with a player efficiency rating of 22, per Basketball-Reference.com, and finished fourth among all shooting guards in wins produced per 48 minutes, according to BoxScore Geeks.
And Wade, even while sitting out a handful of games to rest his ailing knees, became even more efficient as the season wore on. Since Feb. 1, according to NBA.com, he averaged 20 points a game on 55.8 percent shooting with a true shooting percentage of 60.3 percent.
This is an elite combination of volume and efficiency. Over the course of the 2013-14 season, the only guards who scored 20 points or more while maintaining a true shooting percentage of 60 percent or higher were James Harden, Goran Dragic and Stephen Curry. In the entirety of the NBA, LeBron, Kevin Durant, Brook Lopez and Dirk Nowitzki join the (very) short list.
Now, Wade isn’t the player he once was. Physically, injuries and wear and tear have sapped him of the explosiveness that was his sine qua non, and this decline is reflected in his numbers.
According to Basketball-Reference.com, in 2013-14, Wade posted per-36-minute marks below his gaudy career averages in scoring, assists, steals, blocks and free-throw attempts. His win shares per 48 minutes and PER—even with a late surge—dipped to .149 and 22, the second-lowest figures since his rookie season.
But Wade doesn’t have to be the player he once was. He’s a lot like the team itself in this way. Sure, Miami isn’t quite as dominant as it was last season—the slumps have been longer and deeper, the highs shorter and more shallow—but it still brings to bear a talent and experience that makes it a favorite to take home the Larry O’Brien Trophy in June.
In other words, sure, the Heat don’t have 2006 Dwyane Wade anymore—no one else does, either—but the one they have is plenty good enough.