What 4th NBA Title Would Mean for Dwyane Wade's Legacy

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What 4th NBA Title Would Mean for Dwyane Wade's Legacy
Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

There's perhaps nothing more impactful to a historically great NBA player's legacy than winning another NBA championship.

So, it should come as no surprise that much of the conversation this past week has focused on what winning the 2014 NBA Finals would mean for LeBron James and Tim Duncan.

But there's also someone else participating in the upcoming series who can add to what is already a heck of a legacy with another ring. Of course, I'm referring to the Miami Heat's Dwyane Wade.

Steve Mitchell/Associated Press/Associated Press
LeBron's and Duncan's legacies seem to be more of the focus than Wade's is right now.

To be fair, it makes sense why LeBron and Timmy are receiving a bit more attention these days. Duncan's the greatest power forward of all time, and with his career nearing an end, it's a perfect time to try to put his career in perspective.

As for James, his legacy will always be of the utmost importance to us.

Plus, another title likely pushes him in front of Larry Bird as the best small forward ever.

Wade isn't capable of doing something similar. A fourth championship wouldn't give him a better resume than Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan, the consensus top two shooting guards of all time.

However, it remains unfair to push Wade's legacy to the side when he can still make another monumental leap on the unofficial list of greatest players overall.

To determine where Wade's legacy can go with another ring, we first must look at where it is right now.

Likely because LeBron has emerged as the clear No. 1 option in Miami the past couple of years, we tend to forget just how much D-Wade has done throughout his storied 11-year career.

While Shaquille O'Neal recently said that Wade has been the "other guy" on all of his championship-winning teams, The Big Aristotle must be misremembering how exactly the 2006 playoffs went down.

Wade carried Miami, especially in the last round when he put forth arguably the greatest Finals performance in league history, averaging 34.7 points and 7.8 rebounds in the six-game set. He obviously took home Finals MVP honors.

In his prime, D-Wade was nearly unstoppable. His athleticism jumped off the screen like Russell Westbrook's does today. His ability to explode to the hoop and finish with contact was unparalleled. He could do it all, emerging as an excellent rebounder, distributor and even top-notch shot-blocker to a degree we've never seen from a shooting guard.

  PPG APG RPG BPG SPG
2005-06 27.2 6.7 5.7 .8 1.9
2006-07 27.4 7.5 4.7 1.2 2.1
2007-08 24.6 6.9 4.2 .7 1.7
2008-09 30.2 7.5 5.0 1.1 2.2
2009-10 26.6 6.5 4.8 1.1 1.8
2010-11 25.5 4.6 6.4 1.3 1.5

Wade never won an MVP during that time frame, but one has to ponder what would have been if he had better teammates and, in turn, won more regular-season games in 2008-09 (Miami was 43-39).

Even without an MVP, Wade's individual accomplishments are awfully impressive. He's been an All-Star 10 times, been named to an All-NBA team eight times and the All-Defensive second team three times. He ranks 16th all time in points per game, 58th in assists per game, 24th in steals per game and 65th in win shares.

The issue that always comes up when discussing Wade's legacy is how we evaluate rings No. 2 and No. 3, because unlike in 2006, Wade wasn't "the man" when those titles were earned.

However, while Wade is no longer in his prime, it's not as if he was riding LeBron's coattails the previous two title-winning seasons. Wade still had a PER north of 24 and averaged more than 21 points per game in each of the seasons.

And while Wade was hurt throughout the 2013 playoffs, he still played an enormous role during a crucial Game 4 in the NBA Finals, scoring 32 points and coming up with six steals.

Wade might have been a No. 2 option, but he was still an elite player in both seasons.

The same remains true today, and it's why a fourth ring would mean so much for his overall standing in league history. If the Heat win, LeBron deserves the lion's share of the credit. But right behind him in line is D-Wade, whose game, contrary to popular belief, has aged quite well.

Wade has developed a great mid-range jumper and is still able to finish at the rim with absurd accuracy. He averaged 19.8 points on 54.5 percent shooting from the field in the 2014 Eastern Conference Finals.

Also, it should be noted that the allure of playing with Wade is in part why LeBron left Cleveland for Miami in 2010. More than anybody, Wade is the reason this superteam that has appeared in four straight Finals was created. LBJ was ringless before he joined Wade in South Beach; he now has two and is on the verge of three. With every accomplishment of the Big Three-era Heat, D-Wade's legacy grows.

J Pat Carter/Associated Press
LeBron would not have come to Miami in 2010 had Wade not been there.

Wade might be a borderline top-25 player as it stands right now, but he can make the leap to the 15-20 range with another ring.

Wade's been just as much of a fixture in the Finals as the players whose legacies we prefer to discuss more than his.

Discredit Wade all you want for being a sidekick these past few years, but the fact remains he's made five NBA Finals appearances and could become one of 36 players in league history to have four rings.

There's no getting around it: A fourth championship would give Wade an incredible and complete legacy.

He'd have the accolades and the honors.

He'd have the obscene statistics.

He'd have the monster performances in must-win games.

And, while three championships is already plenty, he'd have a ring count that very few could match.

After Kevin Durant slighted Wade's ability to CineSport (h/t Sports Illustrated) prior to this season, the Marquette product posted on social media he would "make (Durant) respect your place in history...again..."

Durant and everyone else won't have a choice but to if Wade hoists the Larry O'Brien Trophy again in a few weeks.

 

Follow me on Twitter @srichmond93

Advanced stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.

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