Reports coming out of the Olympic trials for Team USA Men's Basketball team read, in effect, "Wade's World."
Dwyane Wade, the hero of the 2006 NBA Finals and oft-injured superstar, was back.
The man known as "Flash" lead the American team off the bench in scoring, played active and ball-hawking defense, and displayed the kind of explosiveness NBA fans were accustomed to seeing.
Now, with the new NBA season still very much in its infancy, LeBron James' mission, Chris Paul's historic play, and the Celtics' title defense have grabbed headlines. Ask most people to rank MVP candidates after a little over a week, and you'll probably hear LBJ or CP3's name at the top of every list.
And why not? LeBron James leads the league in scoring, averaging 28 points, not to mention nearly nine boards a game and seven assists. The Cavs lead the Central at 5-2, and have won four straight games heading into play Monday. Despite talk about free agency in two years, Prince James seems focused on winning right now—and with the way he is playing, the Cavs probably won't lose too many games.
Likewise, Chris Paul has been brilliant in the Crescent City. He broke Oscar Robertson's streak of consecutive games with at least 20 points and 10 assists. CP3 also leads the league in steals, a full half-steal ahead of Nate Robinson for the top spot. New Orleans also holds the top spot in the Southwest division, and has Finals aspirations of their own.
I want to go back now to last spring. Dwyane Wade met privately with Jerry Colangelo, the architect of Team USA, to convince him his knee and shoulder were healthy. Wade had started just 100 games over two seasons dogged by injuries. His Heat team was coming off an embarrassing 15-67 season, in which his teammates seemed more likely to start for a D-League team than a team just two seasons removed from an NBA championship.
Wade was able to convince Colangelo he was medically sound—and in Beijing, Flash proved it. He was virtually everywhere on the court, taking over games for stretches that would have made Michael Jordan proud. He would beat three, four guys to the rim and slam it on their heads. It was a harbinger of things to come.
Teamed with a rookie head coach, two rookie starters, and two other starters playing out of position, the Heat are 3-3—and if the season ended today, would be in the playoffs. It is a long season, but early signs point to the Heat being the most improved team in basketball, and by the end of the season perhaps one of the most improved ever.
The credit must go to Dwyane Wade. Wade is averaging 26.2 points per game, good enough for fifth-best in the league, and has actually shot a better percentage from the floor than LeBron. Even with his jumper off the first few games, Wade was getting to the tin and finishing with contact, making the kind of plays that made him a Finals MVP.
Now with Flash finding the rhythm of his jumpshot, he has been unguardable, hitting turn-arounds, pull-ups, fade-aways, and every other kind of hyphenated shot you can dream up.
Wade is tied for fourth in the league in steals, and his team has fed off his energy defensively. His rookie running-mate Mario Chalmers set a Heat record with nine steals in their blow-out victory over Philadelphia. Wade has hustled, switched, and communicated with his team on defense, leading them to play much better fundamental defensive basketball.
The best part of Wade's game, though, has always been his passing. Number three is the only player in the league in the top five in both scoring and assists (and also the only player in the top five of both scoring and steals) with eight dimes per game. His ability to get to the hoop and draw a crowd has highlighted his playmaking ability as a facilitator as well. Wade is constantly moving on offense, reading the defense, and attempting to find ways to score—whether he does it or he helps someone else do it.
Anyone who has followed the NBA since Wade, James, Anthony, and that outstanding class came into the league knows what Wade can do. It follows they also know what guys like LeBron and Chris Paul can do.
Watching these players have been a delight this season. However, when you look at how far Wade has come as a player and a leader, and take into account how well he has this young team playing, he has to be considered an MVP candidate.
The presidential race may be over, but count me as one of a many people who believes the MVP race ought to similarly go through a Chicago superstar.