Yeah, I said it, big whoop wanna fight about it?
Over the past three seasons, there has been quite the debate surrounding who exactly is the best player in the game today. Most circles have been debating between Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, since they had the best teams in each conference and were the best player on each team with the stats and success to back it up.
They received the most national attention, and the NBA world was able to get a better look at those two rather than another deserving figure who should have been in those conversations.
That deserving figure would be Dwyane Wade who worked his way into the conversation after coming back from possible career-ending surgeries in 2008 only to help the United States win gold at the Beijing Olympics and then going to on to average a career-high 30 points per a few months later.
Wade would barely receive any attention that season, and despite averaging 30 points, seven rebounds and seven assists per game on a team that won 43 games, he'd finish third in MVP voting behind James and Bryant.
Since then, Wade has begun getting some more national attention. He is finally getting credit for his ability to lead two dismal supporting casts to the postseason and for his overall individual talent, receiving the recognition that he has deserved for so long. It was no easy task for Wade to come back from those injuries, but he managed to come back stronger than ever.
With James showing off a display of basketball that Heat fans would rather not talk about and Bryant now on the down side of his career, it may be about that time to anoint Wade as the league's best player. He's got the hardware and the stats to back it up as well as the 10 reasons I'm about to bestow on you.
Keep in mind that this is not a comparison of these players careers, but rather where they stand now. The five championships argument will not win here, and it shouldn't ever because it's a defense that holds no water when comparing the career of a 14-year veteran who had a prime Shaquille O'Neal on his team to that of an eight-year veteran who had an aging Shaquille O'Neal on his side.
Let's start this argument shall we?
There are plenty of players you can argue in favor of that are more athletic than Dwyane Wade.
The Atlanta Hawks Josh Smith, Philadelphia 76ers Andre Iguodala and even teammate LeBron James are all recognized today as the games top athletes, thanks to their unparalleled speed and strength for players of their stature. They utilize their athleticism as their greatest advantage because there aren't many defenders that can limit it.
However, if you do compare those athletes to Dwyane Wade, you will notice some striking similarities and might even be convinced that the Miami Heat shooting guard is truly the best athlete the game has to offer.
Standing at only 6'4", 212 pounds, Wade contains the athleticism necessary to match all the aspects that players like Iguodala and James possess and then some.
Wade has a tremendous vertical leap that allows him to jump over the tallest defenders manning the paint, the strength to move these big bodies out of the way in order to get a more clear shot at the rim and the ferocity to throw it down against numerous defenders that are sometimes twice his size.
On offense, Wade is smart enough of a player to know when to utilize his athleticism, on every play it seems, and he's also wise enough to know when to use it on defense as well.
Take a look at the dunk leaders for the past few NBA seasons, and you'll see Wade's name amongst nothing but centers and the occasional forward.
There aren't many players that utilize their athleticism on defense as well as Wade. We already know that he's a lockdown individual defender and an even better team defender, but Wade is also notorious for his shot-blocking ability which goes unmatched by any guard in history aside from Michael Jordan.
It takes a lot of athleticism and the mindset to never be fearful against players that have that much of a size advantage over you. Wade doesn't care if he gets dunked or gets his dunk blocked because he's not worried about the embarrassment; he's worried about the final score at the end of the game.
When you play like Dwyane Wade, you need to have the body type and athleticism necessary to stay healthy and compete at that level.
Wade certainly has the athleticism, the vertical leap and the strength to outmuscle defenders, but his game still requires more if he wants to thrive. It takes more than just strength to get to the rim, and Wade has recognized that by using his quickness and agility on both sides of the ball to fly past defenders on offense and intercept passes in the passing lane on defense.
On the offensive side of the ball, agility is key to Wade's game. Since he drives to the rim at such a prolific rate on nearly every possession he has the ball, Wade needs to have more to his game than just outmuscling his defenders since there are players out there that can match it and then some.
It's at that point that Wade utilizes his speed to drive by the bigger and slower guards before using his speed to get up a quick shot against the slower centers and forwards in the frontcourt.
In the open court, Wade is at his deadliest as he uses his speed to keep defenders on their heels and baffled as to what move he could possibly do next. It's why he and LeBron James have formed one of the league's most volatile duos when it comes to running a fast break since they utilize that speed and agility by not allowing defenders any time to slow down the break.
When it comes to defense, Wade is one of the league's best when it comes to defending guards and the occasional small forward. As I stated before, his strength allows him to keep guards out of the paint because he's wide enough and strong enough as to now allow his assignment to get around him. If he's facing a guard that could outmuscle him, however, he could then use his quick hands to get the steal.
He's at his best in the passing lane though since he's fast enough to intercept a pass while also being wise enough to know when to anticipate these errant passes.
As I stated before in the athleticism department, there's only one guard in the history of the game that could block shots better than Dwyane Wade, and he's currently recognized as the best to ever step onto a basketball court.
While Michael Jordan possessed the athleticism and the overall drive to go out and block the shots of anyone he felt like, Wade uses precise timing and the awareness necessary to know when a player is going up a shot and then promptly blocking the shot without fouling of course.
Over his eight-year career, Wade has averaged at least a block per game in five of those years with 1.3 being his career high.
It's entertaining to see a guard like Wade become the predator against opposing centers, but it's even more entertaining to witness just how smart of a player he is when it comes to playing defense. Before any game, Wade does the studying of his matchup and their tendencies on offense and defense. He knows their strong suits and their weaknesses, and when he realizes these weaknesses, he exploits them to the fullest.
Take for example his steal on John Salmons that led to one of the finest game winners in NBA history. In the postgame interview, Wade announced that he knew exactly what Salmons was going to do once he got the ball. Wade knew which way Salmons was going to spin, he knew that his left hand wasn't his dominant side and he knew how to get the ball without fouling Salmons and possibly becoming the goat as opposed to the hero.
It's that sound defense that makes Wade one of the games must underrated defensive guards. However, he only has three All-Defensive Second team nominations.
It's that same defense that has allowed Wade to become recognized as one of the best defenders to play the position which is why it was recognized as a complete and utter travesty that Wade somehow lost out on the All-Defensive First team to Kobe Bryant this season.
Aside from the defense that shows up in the stat columns, Wade is a terrific individual and team defender. He can lock down his one-on-one matchup. Take a look at his work on Bryant in their Christmas matchup and their March 10th matchup from last season.
He can also play team defense, thanks to his awareness and quickness when it comes to intercepting passes in the passing lane and playing the help defense necessary when one of his teammates has to sag off their original assignment.
When you play with the reckless style of abandon that Dwyane Wade plays with, you need to possess a few key aspects.
You need to possess the quickness and agility to work your way through the first line of defense along the perimeter, the athleticism to jump over and outmuscle the forwards and centers in the frontcourt, and most importantly, the overall fearlessness of the situation that you are about to encounter.
At 6'4", these players that stand at 6'10" or better could make a guard of that size shy away from entering the paint and attempting to test these trees.
This is what separates Dwyane Wade from every other guard or forward that plays in the league today. For the past eight years, Wade has been playing the exact same style of offense with the only difference being that he possessed a consistent jumper then as opposed to the broken jumper that he possesses today. The injuries that Wade endured through 2004 until 2007 added up and led to Wade's jumper becoming a weakness of his.
All this means is that Wade has to drive and slash at a more prolific rate than ever before.
There are only so many players in the game today that solely rely on driving for the majority of their points, and it takes the right mindset to be able to do this upwards of 10 times a game for over 80 games a season. Wade's able to thrive with this style because he isn't fearful of the injuries that he might endure or the possibility of getting embarrassed by being blocked.
Wade puts his body at risk time and time again not because he wants to, but rather because he has to. The chances are unlikely that Wade enjoys throwing his body against these players that push 300 pounds and are nearly twice his size, since I highly doubt that anyone would want to jump into a player that has six inches and nearly 100 pounds on them.
Wade, however, has to do this because it's the key aspect of his game, and it's the main reason as to why he has been on only one losing team over his eight-year career.
Whether he's attempting to dunk on or block a 7' center, Wade's fearlessness is possibly the greatest aspect of his game because of how it transfers and affects every move he makes on the floor.
To be considered as one of the best, you have to be more than an individual talent. Obviously, it takes more than just scoring a lot of points to succeed in this game because there hasn't been a championship won by a one-man effort.
LeBron James couldn't do it, Kobe Bryant couldn't and not even Wilt Chamberlain could win a title until he was accompanied by Hal Greer for his first and Jerry West for his second.
Individuals don't win championships. That's why stars like Danny Granger and Monta Ellis are busy winning between 30 and 40 wins per season despite averaging as much as 25 points per game and being recognized as the league's most prolific scorers.
Take a look at Kobe Bryant, who averaged over 35 points per game in the 2005-06 season yet couldn't even get past the first round. Given that his supporting cast was abysmal, but it just provides reassurance to the fact that you need to be a good teammate to win championships.
Dwyane Wade won championships because of how good of a teammate he is. He showed a great deal of maturity at the age of 23 when he was paired up with the likes of veterans in Shaquille O'Neal, Gary Payton, Antoine Walker and Jason Williams.
O'Neal took the spotlight away from Wade in his first season due to the publicity that he was receiving, and Dwyane responded by taking it right back after averaging 24 points per and helping to lead the team to their first Eastern Conference finals since 1996.
In fact, the only reason they didn't get further was because of a rib injury that Wade suffered during the ECF.
For four years, Wade played with these veterans, or should I say divas, and thrived for two seasons with a championship to show for it. At only 24 years old, Wade willed a team that consisted of two future Hall of Famers to the franchises first championships. Yet, he still knew when to give the ball up as he showed when he dished an assist to Gary Payton's game winner in Game 3 of the finals.
Wade proved that he could thrive with these veterans. He proved that he could thrive with the likes of an inexperienced and immature Michael Beasley as well as an aging Jermaine O'Neal, and he has proven once again that he could play alongside superstars with his most recent success coming with LeBron James and Chris Bosh as his main running mates.
Being a great teammate is a huge aspect of the game that many of us miss out on. It takes more than being an individual talent to win championships, and Wade has proven that before, and hopefully for Heat fans, he'll prove it again multiple times in the future.
The main objective on every offensive possession is to score obviously, right? The greater objective on offense, however, is to find the easiest way to score because of the tone it sets for the rest of the game.
If you thrive on nothing but jump shots for the majority of the game, it won't last because players will either get too trigger happy, or they'll just happen to lose their shooting stroke. There are only a certain number of players that can consistently shoot at a prolific rate, and those players are seldom seen.
Without going too off topic here, let me bring up an example.
When the Miami Heat played the Golden State Warriors on January 1st, the team from the Bay Area couldn't seem to miss a shot. They led 72-58 at the half but saw that lead come by way of the hot streak they were having from the perimeter. By the time the second half started, however, the Warriors had lost their shooting touch and went on to score 35 points for the rest of the game en route to a 114-107 loss.
The point I'm trying to bring up from this is to show how Wade has gotten to be such a prolific scorer. In his first few years in the league, Wade would drive, but he was also notorious for his deadly bank shot and mid-range game. Unfortunately, he would suffer a series of injuries that would affect his shot, and he's been shooting blanks since. If you look at his free-throw shooting, you'll notice how there's little to no arc involved.
Despite having an inconsistent jumper and a dismal three-point shot, Wade has emerged as one of the league's most prolific scorers and has even won a scoring championship after averaging 30 points per in the 2008-09 season.
Wade utilizes his athleticism and quickness to get to the rim and finish better than any guard or forward playing today. His fearlessness allows him to get to the rim at will and without the thought that he could get injured if he puts his body on the line.
It's a risky job, but someone has to do it.
Wade scores at such a high rate because he scores from the high-percentage areas near the rim. When he enters the paint and encounters opponents that are much larger than him, he utilizes that to his advantage.
He realizes that even if he doesn't score, there's always the possibility of getting to the foul line. He takes advantage of the high possibility of getting fouled and the likelihood of superstar calls that any elite player gets.
Don't blame the player, blame the system.
To be considered an elite player, you have to be recognized as an excellent team leader at some time or another.
The current league's best have all done so with Kobe Bryant leading the Los Angeles Lakers to two consecutive titles, LeBron James leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to a few deep postseason runs, Chris Paul leading the New Orleans Hornets to a couple of postseason runs and a division championship and Dwight Howard consistently leading the Orlando Magic to the postseason.
When we include Dwyane Wade in that mix, we then realize that only two of those players have been the leaders of a team that went on to win a championship with Bryant being the other. While Kobe had Pau Gasol to thank, Wade had Shaquille O'Neal to thank for accompanying him on their road to the championship. Either way, they were both leaders of those teams, and they have the hardware to prove it.
Those two are arguably the best players in the league today because of their ability to lead teams to postseason after postseason and even a championship once in awhile. What separates Wade from Bryant, however, is just how much more of an impact Dwyane had in his championships as opposed to Kobe and the Lakers most two recent titles.
Bryant had plenty of help from Gasol. He attracted attention in the post, scored at a high rate and rebounded at an impressive rate as well, and it's even arguable that Gasol even deserved the Finals MVP for the 2010 title.
Compare that to O'Neal who averaged 13 points and 10 boards per when the Heat won the title in 2006. The lack of production from O'Neal caused Wade to take over and eventually score the 35 points per that he averaged in the series.
Given that O'Neal attracted a lot of attention in the post from the Mavericks defense, it still doesn't exactly translate to the second-highest scoring average from an individual since Michael Jordan averaged 41 against the Phoenix Suns in 1993.
Wade's leadership skills are on par with the best in the league. He stole the reins from O'Neal right when he joined the team and assumed control of the team on both sides of the ball despite only being in the league for two seasons. Even after the Shaq era, Wade was leading some abysmal rosters to 43 and 47 win seasons with postseason berths to boot.
Even now on a team with LeBron James and Chris Bosh, Wade has assumed the role of leader. No matter how many times the coaching staff decides to give James the chance to take over and win the team some games, there is no better player on the team that can consistently lead the team to victory like Wade.
If you want to be recognized as the best player, you have to know when to be the best.
This doesn't exactly apply to that one shot that an individual hits at the buzzer but rather a series of shots that can range from erasing a deficit midway through the second or third quarter or even ending a game after single-handedly bringing the team back from what seemed like a sure loss. There are moments in a game when a player will recognize that this is the time to assume control and lead his team back.
Whether he was on a team with Shaquille O'Neal, Michael Beasley or LeBron James, Dwyane Wade has seemingly done this every time his team needs to stage a comeback. We've seen him do in regular season games and we've seen him do it at the highest level, whichever stage Wade is playing at, he always seems to realize when he needs to be called upon to lead his team to victory.
This is of course a feat that any pure scorer could possibly do. Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant have all assumed offensive control of their team at least once in their career and have all been successful when leading their team back. What separates Wade from the five players previously listed is just how exactly he leads his team and at what stages he has it done upon.
In case you've been living under a rock since 2006, you should know that the sole reason as to why the Miami Heat have a championship is because of Dwyane Wade. After dropping the first two games of the series in Dallas and then facing a 13-point deficit in Game 3, Wade automatically came to the rescue by scoring every single point over the next six minutes until Gary Payton eventually hit the game winner in the waning seconds.
The scariest part about Wade when he gets into this mode is that he suddenly develops aspects of his game that he didn't have before. Take into account how he develops a consistent jumper and three-point shot during the Heat's Game 4 victory against the Boston Celtics in the 2010 post season.
It's that ability to come alive and develop these aspects that he didn't possess before that separates Wade from every player in the game today. Whether he's making every shot on one end or limiting the opposing teams best scorer on the other, Wade knows how to turn it on just as good as the league's top pure scorer.
We always hear this talk about possessing the "killer instinct" when it comes to the NBA. The definition of this is varied, but it basically comes down to just how well that player responds to late-game, pressure situations.
If a player possesses this "killer instinct," they jump at the opportunity to be the hero at the end of the game. If their team is down by one with a few seconds left on the clock, that player wants the ball and wants to take the shot to win the game because they contain that strong mindset that allows them to respond well to situations like such.
You find players possessing this instinct among the league's elite. The likes of Kobe Bryant, Ray Allen and Chauncey Billups—all live for those brief moments at the end of games because they truly believe that every shot they take in those final seconds is going in.
The consequences of missing—and the media attention they'll receive if they do miss—never crosses their mind because they're solely focused on making the shot, winning and receiving the glory and moniker of being known as one of the last players you want to face in those types of situations.
Now that I got that out of the way, I'll show you how this applies to Dwyane Wade.
One of the biggest mistakes of last season was the Heat's coaching staff deferring the ball to LeBron James in those late-game situations rather than Dwyane Wade. They truly believed that James could possibly become the leader that Wade is today, and they attempted to reinforce that by allowing him to take the pressure shots and attempting to give him the glory of winning games for his team and looking like a hero in the public eye.
James did perform well in the Eastern Conference playoffs, but you could very well write that off as a hot streak. His streaky jump shot is either hit or miss and in those particular moments, he was hot and was hitting every single jumper that he attempted. Prior to this year's postseason, James was notorious for being shying away from these types of moments.
He only has two game-winning buzzer-beaters for his career and has had a few playoff series where he displayed this seldom seen aspect of his game.
The special thing about hitting these pressure shots is consistency. You become recognized as a clutch player when you consistently respond to these pressure situations by hitting the big shots and playing smart defense.
Wade is one of these players that responds to clutch situations with a consistent effort on both ends of the floor. He can hit the big shot when called upon and can also play the defense necessary for maintaining that lead.
When it comes to performing in the clutch and taking into account that you need a player who can perform well on both sides of the ball, you should look no further than Wade. He and Bryant are the league's two best players when it comes to making these types of plays and that's what separates those two from everyone else in the game today.
However, there is one thing that separates Wade from Bryant which should make him recognized as the league's top player...
If you ever want to win an argument where you're defending Dwyane Wade as the best player in the game as opposed to Kobe Bryant, make sure to use this one every single time and you'll win.
There is no doubt that Bryant is one of the most gifted and talented player to ever step onto an NBA court. You can't dispute it when he has the hardware, five championships and statistics—35 points per game and an 81-point game—to back it up. This particular piece wasn't made to diminish Bryant's career in anyway shape or form because it's nearly impossible to do so.
If you want to compare careers, obviously Bryant has had the better one since he's had nearly 15 years to prove his point. However, if you want to compare these two players at this point with the way they play today then the stronger argument is in favor of Wade.
It's easy to compare these two since they've gone through similar struggles, they play the same position and they play with the same style except that Bryant has a jump shot, and Wade has a better inside game.
What separates Wade from Bryant is that he is in his prime unlike Bryant who is on the downside and twilight of his career. Wade will be 30 years old in January and will be entering his eighth season compared to Bryant who just turned 33 years old and will be entering his 15th NBA season. Also add in that Bryant has played in at least 65 games each season, not including the postseason and has averaged over 40 minutes per for five seasons.
Unlike Bryant, Wade has dealt with his fair share of injuries and sat out a great deal of time for two consecutive seasons between 2006 and 2008. Since then though, Wade has played in at least 76 games over the past three seasons and has averaged between 36 and 38 minutes per. We can only expect Wade's minutes to diminish since he now has help with Bosh and James playing alongside of him.
Dwyane could only have a few more good years in him since this reckless abandon style of play can only last so long before his age and injuries begin to catch up. For now though and for those few seasons, Wade can continue playing at this level; he is going to be in his athletic prime as he shares time with Bosh and James.
You can follow John Friel on Twitter @JohnFtheheatgod