Breaking Down Dwyane Wade's Defensive Contributions

Stephen Babb@@StephenBabbFeatured ColumnistSeptember 3, 2012

MIAMI, FL - JUNE 19:  Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat looks on in the second half against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game Four of the 2012 NBA Finals on June 19, 2012 at American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

It's never easy to measure a player's success on the defensive end, and players like Dwyane Wade don't make it any easier.

Nevertheless, head coach Erik Spoelstra has learned to appreciate what he means to the defensive end, and we should too.

On the one hand, there's little question the 6'4" guard can make an impact that few in his position can duplicate. For his career, Wade's averaged a block and 1.8 steals per contest, proving he's more than capable of disrupting plays and facilitating the kind of fast-break opportunities on which the Miami Heat thrive.

Wade's timing and leaping ability allow him to close out on shooters or come from behind to block seemingly open layups. 

It's not often that a guy his size so consistently alters or altogether thwarts so many field-goal attempts, so it's no surprise he's earned a reputation as a first-rate defender.

His penchant for jumping into passing lanes and coming away with the steal has similarly led to that perception, and for good reason. Wade has been one of the league's premier ball hawks since day one, and his quick hands haven't slowed down yet.

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And yet, the visibility of Wade's defensive contributions trades off with the less-heralded fundamentals of sound on-ball defense.

When all is said and done, D-Wade's track record on the defensive end is in fact somewhat mixed.

He's a risk-taker, and that cuts both ways.

By any available measure (like his most recent defensive rating), Wade is actually a very good all-around defender. But, there's no question his decisions to play passing lanes and cheat off his man lead to some easy baskets for the opposition.

There's also no question his teammates make that defensive rating look a whole lot better (if you didn't already conclude as much based on the fact that his 2011-12 rating (99) was a full three points lower than his previous career-best).

Wade isn't a stopper by any means, so success depends largely on his ability to force his assignments to help defenders when they attempt to get around him.

When those help defenders are proven defensive commodities like LeBron James, Shane Battier or Udonis Haslem, you can see why he is so effective.

He understands team defense. 

In fairness to Wade, some of the things he does best don't show up in any kind of statistical category. His propensity for leaving his assignment to help double, track down passes or fly in for a weak-side block can serve as a deterrent as much as anything else.

Knowing Wade may be lurking around the corner can make the other team think twice about passing more liberally or availing itself of lanes to the basket.

There's also something uniquely valuable about his ability to check such a wide range of guards. 

Whether matching up with a point guard like Rajon Rondo or a shooting guard like James Harden, Wade has the physical tools to thrive as a versatile backcourt defender. In turn, he gives head coach Erik Spoelstra options, and that's another virtue that certainly won't show up in any kind of metric, advanced or otherwise.

Chances are Flash's reputation will continue to be defined by his offense, and that's perfectly understandable.

But, before we get too carried away with all things LeBron James, it's worth remembering he isn't the only one making contributions on both ends of the floor.