“Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated” -Mark Twain
It has been the running theme of Dwyane Wade‘s career to be underrated, undervalued and disrespected. From the moment he was drafted and overshadowed by LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony to recently being considered the third-best shooting guard in the NBA, Wade’s name has become synonymous with doubt, decline and regression.
The trend continued last week when Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant said Wade was not be one of the league’s 10 best players, as well as being a step behind former teammate and current Houston Rockets All-Star shooting guard James Harden.
Harden is coming off his first season being looked at as a primary scoring option following three seasons as Oklahoma City’s sixth man. His averages of 25.9 points, 5.8 assists and 4.9 rebounds pushed the Rockets to their first playoff appearance since 2009, which eventually resulted in a six-game series loss to his former team.
He received a nod to his first (of what will be many) All-Star Game and earned an appearance on the All-NBA Third Team, joined in the backcourt with Wade.
Even though Durant would backtrack on his original quote, he still threw a verbal jab at Wade by claiming, “Basically what I was saying was that D-Wade passed the torch onto guys like James Harden, just to name one.”
At the age of 31 and coming off a second consecutive title run, Dwyane Wade has already passed the torch? The only torch Wade passed was to LeBron James, and there is no criticism you can offer about becoming a sidekick when Batman is a four-time MVP and inarguably the world’s greatest basketball player.
Harden will improve as he gains more experience because he is a great player, but this argument is focusing on these two players today, as well as whether or not Wade is still one of the 10 best players in the NBA.
The Harden-Wade debate is skewed when one player is looked at as the primary scorer while the other is secondary. Their per-36 numbers from last year are nearly identical, with Harden holding a slight advantage in points per game and Wade holding a significant advantage in shooting percentage.
Of course Wade’s averages are going to drop when his usage rate drop from as high as 36.2 in the 2008-09 season to the 29.5, the lowest since his rookie season, he had this past year.
For those who want to claim Harden’s shooting percentage is lower than Wade’s solely because he takes more shots, there was a time — the mythical 2008-09 season — where Dwyane averaged 22 field goal attempts and shot 49 percent. Harden shot 44 percent last year on 17 attempts per.
Wade has never shot below 46 percent in a season.
For those who want to diminish Wade’s role on the Heat because of the influence of LeBron, Dwyane’s PER of 24 from last year beats Harden’s PER of 23. Although Harden does best Wade in win shares, defined by Basketball-reference.com as “an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player,” Dwyane still holds an advantage in defensive win shares.
Don’t tack it up to Harden playing a larger role in Houston. Wade’s usage rate, the percentage of team plays used by a player, exceeds that of Harden, 29.5 percent to 29, per Basketball-reference.com.
For those who don’t remember Miami’s 27-game winning streak, Wade was nearly on the same plane as LeBron, posting averages of 23 points on 54 percent shooting. And for those who want to claim Wade has lost his jump-shooting touch, he was a 39 percent shooter on jumpers last year. He converted 40 percent of 342 shots in the 16-to-25 foot range and 71 percent on attempts at the rim, according to Basketball-reference.com. He’s taking fewer jumpers and shots overall, but he’s still converting them at a respectable rate.
For those who want to say Wade has regressed, we can look at his career-high 52 percent shooting, while still averaging 21.2 points. Regression is simply not in Wade’s wheelhouse.
For those who want to say Wade has regressed on defense, they’ll be disappointed to know that he held opponents to 37 percent shooting overall last year, per Synergy Sports, and was one of the league’s top players defending the pick-and-roll. He’s also still arguably the greatest shotblocker at his position in NBA history. The 1.9 steals he averaged last year were the most he’s had since 2009, including this impressive robbery on a Harden pump fake:
How often we forget that there’s a defensive side of the game. How often we forget that Dwyane Wade is one of the best two-way players in basketball.
Both players have an uncanny ability to get to the rim (fluidly splitting through double-teams and unleashing ankle-breaking crossovers) where they have the choice of finishing with authority or finessing a shot from an impossible angle. Wade is still getting to the rim as much as ever, attempting 36 percent of his field goal attempts on the season near the rim, and the 71 percent he shot near the rim was a career-high. Despite never obtaining a consistent three-point shot or threatening defenders with a lethal deep perimeter jumper, Wade is still constantly getting to the rim and forcing opponents into fouling on pump fakes.
Every defender reads Wade’s scouting report. They still fall for the pump fake, and will continue to fall for it until the day he retires.