Welcome to "One Play!" Throughout the 2019-20 NBA season, our NBA.com Staff will break down certain possessions from certain games and peel back the curtains to reveal its bigger meaning.
Today, Miami Heat legend Dwyane Wade takes the spotlight.
Context: On Sunday, Wade will join Chris Bosh, Tim Hardaway, Shaquille O'Neal, Alonzo Mourning and Michael Jordan - yup, that Michael Jordan - as the only players in Heat history to have their jerseys retired. Wade spent almost all of his Hall of Fame worthy career in Miami, becoming a 13-time All-Star, three-time champion and one-time scoring champion, to name a few of his accolades.
The possession: There are better highlights and more memorable moments, but there might not be a better example of what made Wade an all-time great that this seemingly innocuous basket on Feb. 14, 2013 in Oklahoma City. Hidden behind the athletic exploits is a cunning nuance to Wade's game that made him quite simply a brilliant player.
It's so small, but there's a lot to unpack here:
- Wade's willingness to adapt to LeBron James
- Wade's ability to overcome his own shortcomings
- Wade's awareness to adjust on the fly
How could all of that manifest itself in just one play? Roll the tape...
Breakdown: With 15 seconds remaining on the shot clock, James receives the ball on the right block with Kevin Martin guarding him.
Sharing the court with him are Wade, Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis and Chris Bosh. Allen and Lewis are spotting-up on the perimeter, Wade is hanging out in the weak side corner and Bosh is making his way towards the dunker spot to give James the space he needs to attack the much smaller Martin.
The value of having Allen and Lewis spot-up on the 3-point line should be obvious - they're elite 3-point shooters who can punish teams for helping off of them.
You can see how difficult of a position it puts Kevin Durant in, for example, because he doesn't want to fully commit to doubling James even though he's only a couple of feet away from a clear mismatch.
Serge Ibaka is more aggressive in helping off of Lewis, partly because Lewis is two passes away from James as opposed to one like Allen is. In theory, that gives him more time to close out on Lewis if James makes a pass to him because the ball has a greater distance to travel. (Whether or not Ibaka could close out in time to prevent Lewis from getting a good look at a 3-pointer is another story, although this is All-Defensive First Team Ibaka we're talking about, not 30-year-old Ibaka. There's a good chance that he could).
Russell Westbrook is the person to pay attention to, though. He's basically ignoring Wade in the corner to help Ibaka cover for Kendrick Perkins, who is helping off of Bosh to cut off a driving lane to the basket for James.
Based on how packed the paint is, it's hard to believe this possession ends with Wade scoring a layup.
It's not a surprise that Westbrook turned his back to Wade. Not only was Wade a reluctant 3-point shooter, he wasn't a particularly good one. He made 29.3 percent of his 3-point attempts in his career, which puts him in a rare group of players in NBA history to attempt over 1,000 3-pointers and make less than a third of them.
His best 3-point shooting season came in 2018-19, when he made 33.0 percent of his perimeter attempts. He was 37 years old.
Again, not that it prevents Wade from scoring. With Westbrook fixated on the ball, he makes a perfectly timed cut to the basket and receives a pass from James. Perkins tries to block his shot, but Wade is able to sneak a layup around him to put the Heat up by double figures.
While it's a great pass by James, it's an even greater cut by Wade.
Why it matters: For a couple of reasons.
First and foremost, it was an example of Wade taking a backseat to James. In the six seasons Wade was named an All-Star before James joined the Heat, he had a combined usage rate of 33.7 percent. In the four years he played alongside James in Miami, Wade's usage fell to 30.2 percent.
That was still high compared to other players in the league - James had a usage rate of 31.1 percent in Miami, for what it's worth - but it was lower than was he had grown accustomed to in the years leading up to them teaming up together.
Wade probably doesn't get enough credit for how he handed the keys of the offence over to James, especially when you consider that he was still around the prime of his career at the time. Wade has since said that it was a difficult adjustment to make, but it obviously paid off in a huge way. It's no coincidence that the two seasons James won MVP trophies in Miami the Heat won back-to-back titles.
As for Wade, his numbers declined each season he played next to James in Miami, but he established himself as one of the scariest No. 2s in NBA history. He didn't just coexist with James. He thrived. They became a legitimate one-two punch due in large part to Wade's willingness to become the Robin to James' Batman.
MORE: Our favourite Wade memories
Secondly, it shows how Wade made up for being a non-threat from the perimeter. Nowadays, it's unfathomable to think that a team could win a championship with a shooting guard who is a below average 3-point shooter, mind alone one who doesn't even look to shoot them, but Wade was a genius off-ball player, one who knew how to take advantage of teams helping off of him.
It helps that the Heat put him in positions to succeed, not to mention having one of the greatest passers of all-time in James as a teammate. Had Wade been stationed where Allen was, it would have been easier for his defender to help off of him and harder for him to sneak his way to the basket. By parking him on the weakside, it was much harder for his defender to toe the line between helping off of him without completely abandoning him.
Still, it's Wade's basketball IQ that shines on this particular play. Something that's easy to miss in real time is Wade pauses mid-cut. The reason he does it? James picks up his dribble as though he's going to shoot a fadeaway over Martin. Once he realizes that James isn't actually going to shoot it, Wade continues his way towards the basket, sneaking his way behind Westbrook for a layup.
That's a part of Wade's game that everyone could learn from, not just the ones who struggle to space the floor. It might look easy, but it's rare for a player of Wade's calibre to embrace it in the way he did.
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