Dwyane Wade made his bones in Miami and now he will have the chance to retire there after the Cleveland Cavaliers dealt him to the Heat hours before Thursday’s trade deadline for a heavily protected second-round pick.
The move couldn’t come at a better time for Coach Erik Spoelstra. Since leading scorer and walking meme Dion Waiters went down with a season-ending ankle injury near the end of December, Spoelstra has trotted out a bottom-five offense that ranks last in pace with Goran Dragic, an all-star who is averaging 17.4 points, 4.8 assists and 4.1 rebounds, tasked with running the show. Although Miami has indeed played at a slower pace since Wade left before the 2016-17 season, the bottom fell out when Waiters went down, going from 21st in 2016-17 to 25th before Waiters’s injury to 30th since he has been unavailable to play.
But this is precisely the slow-it-down, every-possession-is-critical system within which an aging Wade can be — and has been — an asset.
Wade is a top-35 all-time scorer, capable of creating his own shot and getting teammates involved. For the past few months in Cleveland, with Derrick Rose sidelined, Wade acted as the de facto point guard of the second unit, one of the team’s few bright spots. This is Waiters’ sixth season in the NBA; Wade has posted a higher assist rate than him in all but one. In fact, Wade’s career average assist rate is nearly double that of Waiters.
And while it’s true that Wade, at 36 years old, is in the midst of a down offensive season, he is particularly efficient in areas that Miami can optimize. He could even help them crack the playoffs for the first time since he last led them there.
For example, Miami is a top-12 offense in points per possession on cuts to the basket, yet chooses to only cut on 6.5 percent of possessions. Even with Waiters in the fold, too many sequences this season have consisted of Dragic holding the ball at the top of the key, waiting to no avail for a teammate to sprint toward the basket. Expect that role to be filled by Wade, one of the most prolific slashing shooting guards in league history, who ranks in the 68th percentile this season on cuts (1.36 points per possession), according to data provided by Synergy Sports.
Only the Detroit Pistons (11.9 percent of offensive possessions) run handoffs more frequently than the Heat (10.9 percent). Miami is tied for sixth in points per possession on those plays (0.97). This season, Waiters scored 0.95 points per possession on those plays, good enough for the 58th percentile. But Wade’s been even better, ranking in the 66th percentile. This will be an upgrade for Spoelstra’s backcourt two-man game, with Wade inserted for Waiters.
Additionally, Wade can alleviate some of the Heat’s offensive struggles.
For instance, Miami is one of the 10 least-efficient teams in the league in spot-up shooting, an aspect of Wade’s game that ranks in the 64th percentile this season. Waiters, for context, ranked in the 23rd percentile. Since his departure from Miami, Wade has worked on his off-the-ball skills, playing second fiddle to Jimmy Butler in Chicago and a tertiary-at-best role in Cleveland. Spot-up shooting has been a point of emphasis. With Dragic navigating the floor, he’ll have another weapon along the wing, capable of hitting an outside shot.
Perhaps the most overarching issue of Miami’s offense is that the players in Spoelstra’s scheme have difficulty creating shots for themselves, which is why Miami ranks 23rd in points per possession on isolation plays and 20th in points per possession on shots taken off the dribble. Despite playing with the bench unit, Wade still managed to rank in the 60th percentile in off-the-dribble points per possession this season. Practically his entire career highlight reel is brimming with isolation plays and sequences where he had to create something out of nothing. With the shot clock waning, Miami finally has a player outside of Dragic who can create.
Miami’s top-eight defense is capable of reaching the postseason, but the stagnant offense struggles. However, there’s a reason, before this season, the teams Wade played for ranked 12th, on average, in offensive rating; he’s simply too skilled to not leave an impact. His recent development in spot-up shooting and his proficiency on cuts and hand-offs will pay dividends for the Heat, which desperately needs an offensive threat to pair alongside Dragic. Adding the franchise’s all-time leader in points (20,221) and assists (3,933) seems like fantastic place to start.
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