How Dwyane Wade Would Fit into Miami Heat SchemeAugust 6, 2018
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At least he has been for the majority of the time since the organization—then a no-time champion, now a three-time champ—made him the fifth player selected in the famed 2003 draft.
But he isn’t a member of Miami’s 2018-19 iteration yet, and it’s unclear if he plans to become one. Retirement could be in the cards for the 36-year-old, who kept coy about his impending decision during a conference call with reporters Monday.
“In due time,” Wade said, per Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press. “Time will tell.”
The Heat are willing to wait for his decision, with team president Pat Riley telling reporters, “I want him back as a player” and adding they’ll “give him some more time.”
With Miami left treading water until then, it’s worth exploring how Wade could fit its roster for what would be his 16th NBA season. His return to South Florida at the February trade deadline provided hints, but a deeper dive is required.
The Gridlock at Guard
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Miami already has $127 million in salary committed to next season’s team.
And $38.6 million will go to four players who spent the majority of their floor time at the 2: Tyler Johnson, Dion Waiters, Wayne Ellington and Rodney McGruder. There’s another $10.9 million going to players who spent at least 10 percent of their minutes there (Josh Richardson and Derrick Jones Jr.).
“I’m going to tell you one thing about our team that we do have a problem with: We have a logjam,” Riley said, per Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald. “We have too many good to great players.”
Granted, that’s an oversold description, but that doesn’t change the fact that the wing rotation—which also includes Justise Winslow—resembles a Miami thoroughfare at rush hour.
Wade would still get his minutes, but perhaps not more than the 22.2 he logged over his 21 regular-season appearances for the Heat last season. Those wouldn’t be trimmed from a specific player, but small slices could be taken from several of them. Johnson, for instance, lost 2.3 minutes per night after Wade’s Feb. 9 return, and that was without Waiters (ankle surgery) in the mix.
Miami will (rightfully) be hesitant to tinker much with Ellington, whose perimeter threat is critical to the offense (3.9 points better per 100 possessions with him last season). Benching either Johnson or Waiters would mean sitting a player owed at least $11.6 million. Maybe McGruder would get squeezed out of the rotation (he logged just 16 minutes in the playoffs), but the Heat like having his energy and defensive versatility.
There are only 144 minutes to be split among the perimeter spots—minus whatever Winslow gets at the 3—and the sextet of Richardson, Johnson, Ellington, Waiters, Wade and Goran Dragic logged 177.7 last season. That number is slightly misleading because of Waiters’ injury and Wade’s late arrival, but it might be tricky to play any guard or wing much more than 30 minutes per game.
The Wade Effect
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Wade’s shocking 2016 exit meant Miami had a season-and-a-half to form an identity without him.
The pace picked up (95.8 in 2015-16, 97.6 in 2016-17), and the scoring followed suit (100.0 points per game to 103.2). Miami added 3.8 triples per night (6.1 to 9.9) on nine extra attempts (18.0 to 27.0). Dragic and Hassan Whiteside took to the spotlight, adding a combined 8.8 points per game, while Johnson and Richardson shifted into more permanent, prominent roles.
Wade was gone long enough for the changes to take root and blossom. By the time he returned, the challenge was less about adjusting to him than it was finding how he fit the new system.
Miami didn’t slow down for Father Prime; it played even faster (96.9 pace last season before he returned, 99.6 after). The perimeter plan mostly held steady (from 30.9 long-range attempts per game to 29.9), but the scoring erupted (100.5 points per game to 109.4).
“I think as soon as he steps on the court, everybody’s eyes kind of go to him,” Richardson said of Wade, per Manny Navarro of the Miami Herald. “He kind of takes some pressure off everybody else because he’s got eyes on him all the time.”
Wade’s leadership and coolness in the clutch (more on that later) held obvious value to the Heat. His overall impact, though, was less clear.
From his Miami debut through the end of the season, the Heat fared 14.7 points better per 100 possessions without him. He took the second-most shots (11.8) even though he had the rotation’s second-worst field-goal percentage (40.9). He also had the highest usage percentage (29.6) despite leading the regulars in turnover percentage (12.5) and trailing them in true shooting percentage (46.5).
Age had robbed him of superstar skills, but Miami still plugged him in to an abbreviated version of a superstar role.
“He might not be able to play the role that he did for us in 2008 and ’09—playing 40 minutes, and then I would ask him to play the best player and defend on the other end as well—but for 20 to 25 minutes, I think he can be every bit of who he used to be, just in compact minutes,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said, per Anthony Chiang of the Palm Beach Post.
That’s an exaggeration of Wade’s ability—his 15.0 player efficiency rating was right at league average—but it’s possible for him to make a significant impact if utilized properly.
The Ideal Role
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As the Heat have acknowledged, Wade should spend at least half the game on the sideline. His odometer shows one of the highest readings in basketball, and he’s already been to the body shop more times than he’d like.
That doesn’t mean they should put him in bubble wrap, but he shouldn’t have a heavy burden every night.
If he returns to Miami, it’d make sense for the Heat to task him with being the primary backup point guard. The depth chart shows only Johnson behind Dragic, and Johnson’s career average of 3.3 assists per 36 minutes is evidence enough he’s not built for the job.
Because they play more methodically than most (26th in pace), the Heat are already equipped to follow someone who beats defenders with skills and smarts instead of blazing speed. His ability to probe deep into defenses would also open up everyone around him, with Whiteside—a 95th-percentile pick-and-roll screener in 2015-16—among the players likely perked up by Wade’s presence.
“[Wade is] the best pick-and-roll player on the team, and his slithers into the paint often end in a good look—either a shot for Wade in the top half of the paint or a lob to the roll man,” Rohan Nadkarni wrote for SI.com.
Bringing Wade off the bench would make it easier to stagger him with Dragic, who prefers a faster tempo. It should also limit his time with Waiters, who might have too many overlapping skills to complement him. Wade needs shooters, and he’d have them with Ellington, Johnson and perhaps Kelly Olynyk serving on the bench brigade.
There’s one more critical aspect to Wade as a backup: keeping him as fresh as possible for closing time. His cold-blooded, late-game heroics echo off the walls of AmericanAirlines Arena, and he’s still snatching souls in the closing minutes.
“It’s not just about Dwyane shooting the shots at the end—although that is a big part of it,” Spoelstra said, per Navarro. “But it’s his playmaking ability, his experience in those moments.”
The Heat would have to ride Wade down the stretch—just not to the extent they did last season. His usage rate in the clutch was a comical 37.3 percent. For context, if that figure were stretched over the entire campaign, it’d be the sixth-highest ever recorded.
Miami can ill afford a repeat.
There might not be another future Hall of Famer on the roster, but there are other capable closers. Waiters delivered some of the club’s biggest clutch buckets in 2016-17 and then compiled a 51.4 clutch field-goal percentage in his abbreviated 2017-18 run. Dragic paced last season’s club with 92 clutch points. Olynyk led it with a clutch plus-minus of plus-53 and hit half of his 34 attempts in those situations.
The Heat’s youngsters might also get a developmental boost if the team entrusts them with some critical possessions.
Wade can still carry the late-game torch, but his teammates can’t fall into the trap of wide-eyed watching.
If Wade returns—and that remains a major if—there’s potential for him to have a substantial say in Miami’s 2018-19 fate, provided he’s treated as a puzzle piece and not the entire picture.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @ZachBuckleyNBA.