Through most of last season, Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade saw his reputation trail those of more ballyhooed rookies LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. His play in last season's playoffs and early this season has sparked debate as to whether Wade will prove to be the trio's best player.
Wade's performance against the Washington Wizards last night -- a career-high 37 points in a 118-106 victory -- was a masterpiece of efficiency and floor leadership. The 6-foot-4, 212-pound Wade hit 11 of 16 shots from the field and finished with 12 assists.
"I told people last year that this kid was the real deal," Miami guard Eddie Jones said. "I feel like he's the best. He took us to the playoffs last year. He was incredible last year. Look at how he's starting this year."
James and Anthony -- picked first and third, respectively, in the 2003 draft -- were supposed to be more exciting players, but Wade, the fifth pick, has established a reputation for physics-defying dunks and attacks on the basket that continues to grow.
Wade wowed MCI Center by gliding in for a dunk after taking off near the free throw line.
He scored 19 points in the first half by beating Washington guards Gilbert Arenas, Larry Hughes and Juan Dixon off the dribble and then squeezing, bending and twisting around the Wizards' big men.
"Wade attacked the basket and that is his game," Arenas said. "I was passive. I didn't want to go one on one with him. I didn't want to make the match-up a personal go back and forth."
A four-year NBA veteran, Arenas acknowledging the temptation to match skills with a second-year player, is a tribute to Wade, who also had eight rebounds.
Arenas questioned Wade's range during the offseason, doubting that he could hit the three-pointers the Heat would need when opponents swarmed Miami center Shaquille O'Neal.
"I've been getting doubted all my life," Wade said. "If I worried about doubters I wouldn't be in the NBA right now. It helps motivate me to keep going."
Last season, he averaged 16.2 points and led the Heat to a surprising victory over the New Orleans Hornets in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Pushing Wade to refine his game, Miami Coach Stan Van Gundy cited Wade's seven turnovers against the Wizards.
"He had three turnovers in the first three minutes of the second half," Van Gundy said. "He wasn't as solid as he should have been. But when you play a guy for 43 minutes and put the ball in his hands on every single possession and ask him to attack, that might have something to do with the seven turnovers."