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Tom's 10: My Favorite Findings About Dwyane Wade
The Miami Heat star enters the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame on Saturday.
With the Hall of Fame induction ceremony on tap this weekend, I thought I’d bust out a new staple here on The Finder.
I’m going to call it Tom’s 10. Or is it Tom’s Ten. Or is it Tom’s X … you know what, scratch that one.
Here’s how Tom’s 10 is going to work.
In the spirit of this newsletter’s namesake, I’m going to look around and find the 10 best things about a player/team/trend and present to you the natural wonders that cut to the heart of why this particular thing was great or memorable. This isn’t meant to be a statistical leaderboard or a Wikipedia article. I’m going to dig and find the very best stuff.
First up: Dwyane Tyrone Wade Jr.
On Saturday, Dwyane Wade will be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame and deservedly so. A member of the NBA75 team, Wade was one of the best shooting guards ever to play the game. I had a front row seat to Wade’s brilliance from 2010 to 2014 as I covered the Miami Heat and the NBA from my outpost at 601 Biscayne Boulevard in downtown Miami. I’ve got some stories.
Alright, let’s get to it.
The time Wade broke analytics.
In 2014, I got my hands on a treasure trove of NBA tracking data. It came from STATS LLC’s fancy SportVU cameras that were installed in NBA arenas, which at the time felt like the advent of the internet. We’re talking millions of data points that tracked the ball and every player’s every movement on the court, plotted on an X-Y coordinate plane.
And the sea of dots revealed an amazing story about D-Wade:
Defenders glued themselves to him when he was off the ball near the 3-point line like he was Stephen Curry or Kyle Korver.
You don’t need me to tell you this, but Wade was not a great 3-point shooter. When I got the data in the fall of 2014, Wade was coming off an All-Star season in which he made nine three-pointers. Nine.
But this advanced system had spotted something that was magical about Wade: The league treated him like an elite 3-point shooter.
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The SportVU data contained a spiffy metric called Respect Rating that tracked how closely defenders played their man when they were off the ball. Predictably, the players that were afforded the least breathing room were long-distance flamethrowers like the Stephen Currys, Kyle Korvers and JJ Redicks of the world. And then, in the middle of all these elite shooters, there was Dwyane Wade’s name. It didn’t make any sense.
So I went and talked to him about it at practice one day. It was one of my favorite memories covering those teams because I totally fumbled the intro. In my polo and jeans, I stumbled up to him on the practice court while he was getting shots up and said, “Hey I just got this analytics data that I wanted to talk to you about.”
Bad idea. Wade was not into it. I might as well have said I wanted to talk about the 2003 NCAA Final Four.
But he humored me and went along. When I brought up the Respect Rating stuff, he lit up like a light bulb. From my dispatch in 2014:
But in this moment, Wade is laughing. He's giggling because for so long he thought he was going crazy, seeing something on the court that had to be a figment of his imagination. Opposing defenses just won't leave him alone off the ball. To him, this didn't make any sense. He's not a 3-point shooter.
"Lately, I've been seeing everybody start doing this more," Wade said as he turned his back pretending to be a defender gluing himself to a perimeter shooter. "And I'm just like, 'Damn, did I just start shooting 3s and I didn't know about it?'"
To Wade's elation, the data from SportVU cameras corroborated his story. He wasn't seeing things; defenses were really playing him that way.
"I don't think anybody has ever called me that term -- a floor-spacer -- before," Wade says. "But honestly I've always known that I'm a floor-spacer, just in a different way."
So what makes Wade different? Why do defenses treat Wade like he's an elite 3-point shooter even though he's not?
"They're always up on me," Wade says. "I always wonder why."
So we got to talking. We looked at the data some more. And we talked to the coaching staff. And what we uncovered was that Wade had terrified defenses on the perimeter not because of his 3-point shooting, but because of his cutting.
You had to feel him. There was no other way to guard him. His ghost cuts – the nickname given to him by HEAT.com’s Couper Moorhead – were more efficient than a Ray Allen 3-point attempt.
"I think once I became a dynamic cutter, then it became a part of the scouting report," Wade says. "If you turn your head and go help ... boom, I'm cutting backdoor."
Watch this critical late-game possession from the 2014 playoffs. Wade parks himself in the right corner with Indiana’s Lance Stephenson closely on him. Notice how Stephenson tries so hard not to leave Wade. And then, a brief moment of attention toward LeBron and …
It’s too late. Wade’s already gone.
Wade didn’t have a dependable 3-point shot, but he invented ways to make himself deadly on the perimeter. It was the first time I had ever considered the possibility that an elite cutter could be an elite floor-spacer. Of course, he didn’t break analytics. If anything, analytics revealed his superpower. Dwyane Wade changed the way you see basketball.
Wade ate fish for the first time at 32 years old.
Wade’s picky diet was a constant punchline in the Heat locker room. Richard Ingraham, Wade’s personal chef since 2004, remembers that when he met Wade, his meals largely consisted of Little Debbie snack cakes and oatmeal cream pies. If there was green on his plate, Wade wouldn’t eat it. His favorite dish was fettuccine alfredo with fried chicken on top.
He didn’t eat veggies. He didn’t eat fish. This was a guy who lived in South Florida for over a decade, with all the money in the world. Marine life is basically everything in Miami. The football team is called the Dolphins. The baseball team is called the Marlins. And he didn’t eat fish? It wasn’t an animal rights thing either. He just didn’t like the idea of it.
That is, until he went to Nobu Dallas for a meal in 2014.
I just love this. Look at the date. February 17, 2014. Wade had just turned 32 years old. Wade was a Top-5 pick, an NBA scoring champ, an All-Star MVP, three-time Olympic gold medalist, a three-time NBA champion and a Finals MVP before he ever tasted seafood. Some of my sleuthing reveals that Wade’s first fish foray pictured above was Nobu’s pan-roasted seabass covered with a soy mirin truffle reduction. To be honest, if this was my first bite, I’d never eat anything else for the rest of my life.
Now, before you come to the conclusion that every NBA player should be eating Nutty Bars and Whoopie pies to propel themselves into the Hall of Fame like Wade, imagine if he started eating veggies and fish from Day One. It’d be the Wade Basketball Hall of Fame.
Dwyane Wade had a higher block rate than Bill Cartwright and Karl Malone.
As a Chicago kid, Wade admired the Bulls teams with the 7-foot-1 Cartwright manning the middle for the first three-peat. Defensively, Cartwright was hardly Bill Russell, but he started at center for the Bulls for just about every game on some pretty dominant defenses.
And the 6-foot-4 Wade was a better rim protector than he was. Wade was a better rim protector than most players who stepped foot in the NBA.
Wade was the best shot-blocking guard in NBA history. That might seem like being known as the skinniest sumo wrestler but Wade’s defensive chops, especially his blocks, are probably the most underrated part of his Hall of Fame game.
According to Stathead.com, Wade had a better career block rate – 1.3 per 100 possessions – than Cartwright (1.2), Dirk Nowitzki (1.2), Scottie Pippen (1.2), Nikola Jokic (1.1), Michael Jordan (1.1) and Malone (1.1). Oh, and LeBron (1.0), too.
Wade played so much bigger than his height. The Heat’s “positionless” chaotic defense depended on Wade often playing as the “low-man” in the paint. When opposing offenses would swing the ball and have a big gaining steam down the middle, Wade would have no problem meeting them at the top of the mountain. He unlocked everything in the Heat’s blitz defense.
I once saw Wade block four shots in a 55-second span. Do you know how exhausting it is for a guard to block one shot in the NBA? The year he won the scoring title in 2008-09, Wade averaged 1.3 blocks per game, which was more than Kevin Garnett or Tyson Chandler that season. The only players to average 30.2 points and 1.3 blocks in a season since Wade did it in 2008-09?
OK, it’s one player: Joel Embiid.
Jrue Holiday, who has a similar build as Wade, may be the best defensive guard in today’s game. Holiday would have to block 2.9 shots per game over the next 148 games just to match Wade’s career 885 blocks in 1,054 games.
Picking a favorite Wade block is so hard. It might be the two-handed one against Brook Lopez who is as big as a redwood. He blocked Lopez seven different times in his career – three times in the same game. Here’s a highlight reel of Wade’s best blocks on YouTube. It lasts nearly 10 minutes.
I once asked LeBron about Wade’s shot-blocking abilities. Here’s what he told me:
“A lot of people don’t expect a 6-foot-3 guard to contest at the rim. If you’re a big man and you turn and you see D-Wade, you just look at his size and you don’t realize that he actually plays bigger than his size. A lot of people contest shots, but not many win that matchup.”
Wait, is Wade really 6-foot-3?
“He’s 6-foot-1 in my mind. My basketball card at home says he’s 6-foot-3 so we’ll leave it at that.”
Now just imagine if he ate some spinach.
Dwyane Wade’s signature ‘freeze fake’
What’s Dwyane Wade’s signature move? You might say it’s his blazing first-step. Shaq called him “Flash” after all. But for me, there’s only one right answer.
There’s death, taxes and Wade getting his defender to bite on his jumper pump fake. That’s Wade’s signature move. TrueHoop’s David Thorpe once coined it the ‘freeze fake.’ It drove opponents insane.
Holy hell, they wanted to block him so badly. They knew it was coming and they still couldn’t help themselves. Wade would back down his opponent in the post, turn and face up and just wait for them to leave their feet. Dead. Two free throws. Every time.
Wade got the idea in college at Marquette watching Milwaukee’s Sam Cassell duping opponents with it. He once told me that, after Cassell’s playing days, anytime he played Cassell’s teams, the long-time assistant coach would give him an earful about it and requested Wade to not prey on his guys. Yeah, right.
Another marvelous finding from Moorhead: Wade got 25 percent of his opponents with the pump fake. One out of every four players he faced. Amazing!
Wade has credited Erik Spoelstra, then an assistant coach, with perfecting the move with him at workouts. Before taking over for Pat Riley in 2008-09, Spoelstra worked with Wade on his jumper and routinely decked Wade as he rose up for a shot. It strengthened his core and forced him to triangulate midair off the bump. They added the pump fake element and the rest is history.
After a TNT game in 2013, Kerr took to Twitter and joked that players should be fined for falling for it.
Wonder if Kerr fined Draymond after this one:
Warriors broadcaster Fitz on the call: “Dwyane gets to the line as good as anyone ever has.” That’s one of the many reasons why he’s going to the Hall.
Wade led the 2008 Redeem Team in scoring … coming off the bench
How many players, two years after winning a Finals MVP, would be cool with coming off the bench for Team USA?
We know Wade was game. Kobe Bryant spearheaded the Redeem Team which made things a little easier for Wade to take a backseat and let seniority prevail. Wade had been battling shoulder and knee injuries that cut his 2007-08 season short. He needed a bounce back. He also needed to make the team.
Yes, Wade had to try out. Twice. Eventually, Wade solidified his spot on the team and in Wade fashion, stole the show.
Wade was undoubtedly the star of that Redeem Team, leading the team in scoring along with averages of four rebounds and 2.3 steals per game. In the gold-medal game, Wade soared to 27 points and snatched four steals away from the Spaniards. All coming off the bench.
If you’re looking for the moment that foreshadowed Wade’s willingness to share the spotlight with LeBron James and Chris Bosh, it all started there in Beijing.
Wade’s teams were 13-9 in the postseason against Paul Pierce’s teams
Paul Pierce and Dwyane Wade won’t be sending each other Christmas Cards anytime soon. They’ve traded barbs in the press over the past few weeks (years?), with the latest coming from Wade telling the LeBatard Show with Stugotz, “Listen, rent is expensive in America. And I’m living rent-free” in Pierce’s head. This was in response to Pierce suggesting that he’d have a more decorated career if he were gifted with Wade’s supporting cast.
There’s no doubt that Wade’s hardware stacks up much taller than Pierce. Wade has twice as many All-NBA nominations (8 to 4) and appeared on three All-Defensive teams to Pierce’s zero. But even looking at his statistical production, it’s clear that Wade’s highs were much higher than Pierce’s peak. Using Win Shares on Basketball-Reference, I sorted their best seasons from best to worst in effort to see the shape of their career arc.
Wade’s four best seasons were as good or better all of Pierce’s top four. Sometimes way better. In particular, Wade’s 2008-09 season – in which he posted 14.7 win shares thanks to a league-leading 30.2 points per game, 7.5 assists and 5.0 rebounds – outclassed Pierce’s peak by a pretty healthy margin. Simply put, Wade was better at the top, but Pierce had a longer span of quality play.
More fascinating, though, is a look at how Wade and Pierce’s win-loss record changed when it came to the postseason. For his career, Wade’s teams were 11-22 (.333) against Pierce’s teams in the regular season. Yikes. But in the postseason, that ledger flipped on its head. For his career, Wade was 13-9 in the postseason against Pierce – and waxed Pierce on the individual numbers.
Look, Wade was the better player. Now, did Wade have the better supporting cast for the four LeBron James years? Sure, I’ll give Pierce that. But there’s no question that Wade had higher highs than Pierce and earned every bit of those accolades. If only Wade could stay healthy, which brings us to …
Wade was the Black Knight from Monty Python
Before “load management” became a household term, there was Miami’s “maintenance program.” Wade’s knee issues had reached a tipping point in the 2013-14 season. Every day we’d walk into shootaround, us media members had an obligation to ask LeBron, Spoelstra and the rest of the team about Wade’s availability. We just didn’t know his status. They didn’t either. His knees were that bad. The Heat’s training staff put him on a “maintenance program” that had jeopardized his availability right up until tipoff.
Only LeBron knows how much Wade’s injury issues factored into his decision to leave Miami later that summer. But considering how badly Wade was limping in 2014, it’s astounding that he lasted until 2019, playing in his age-37 season. (And he averaged 15-4-4 that final season).
I pulled up his injury history recently on Pro Sports Transactions. Here’s a list of injuries he suffered in his NBA career: sprained left ankle, sprained right ankle, back spasms, bruised left foot, bruised right knee, bruised left knee, bruised right wrist, bruised right thigh, bruised shoulder, dislocated left index finger, dislocated shoulder, separated left shoulder, fractured right elbow, fractured right elbow, left hip pointer, right hip pointer, sore knees (plural), sprained left wrist, sprained right foot, strained left hamstring, strained right hamstring, strained left calf, strained left quadricep, sore neck, sprained MCL in left knee, strained rib muscle, surgery on dislocated left shoulder, surgery on left knee, surgery again on left knee and migraines, more migraines, and some more migraines. And that’s just what was reported.
Wade expressed some regret about the decision to remove the meniscus from his left knee while he was at Marquette. By taking out the meniscus entirely, it allowed him to return to the court sooner at the risk of long-term discomfort. The lack of cushioning created chronic knee issues throughout his prime years. Many bemoaned how often Wade fell down around the basket, but I think some of that was a strategic way to prevent pounding on his joints. It worked out.
Wade was not ranked nationally in the Top 100 in his high school class
It’s hard to fathom it now, but Wade was only lightly recruited out of high school. He barely made it onto Marquette’s squad because of his academic record in Chicago. He didn’t display the talent to play on the Chicago Public League circuit that made Derrick Rose, Anthony Davis and Kevin Garnett bonafide NBA names.
However, Wade did start on the Illinois Warriors AAU squad alongside Darius Miles, who was far-and-away the biggest recruit on the team. Miles went No. 3 in the 2000 NBA Draft out of high school. Wade was more like an afterthought.
Look at the RSCI Top 100 list from Wade’s 2000 class. You won’t find Wade’s name on it. Maybe that gave him the chip on the shoulder he needed. I’m sure it soothes him a bit to learn that none of the prospects ranked No. 70 to No. 100 on the list even made it to the NBA.
Three years later, the Miami Heat selected Wade No. 5 in the NBA Draft, just behind LeBron James, Darko Milicic, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh.
Wade took 97 free throws in the 2006 Finals
No one has taken more since. And that was just in six games. I don’t know if I even like this stat, but it feels wrong to not at least acknowledge Wade’s unbelievable 2006 run that saw him turn into Michael Jordan as a 24-year-old.
Wade’s procession to the charity stripe during the 2006 Finals is the stuff of legend. I think no fewer than 500 of Bill Simmons’ 715-page The Book Of Basketball was dedicated to Wade’s obscene free-throw totals. Simmons called the Heat the “Miami Salvatores” (in honor of Bennett Salvatore, the official on Game 5 in which Wade took 25 free throws). Just amazing.
In 2011, John Hollinger placed Wade’s 2006 at No. 1 on his all-time Finals performances, writing: “While it seems strange to have somebody besides Michael Jordan in the top spot, the truth is Jordan never dominated a Finals to this extent. At the time, many called Wade’s performance Jordanesque. It turns out they might have been selling him short.”
Not bad for a non-prospect out of high school, eh?
10. Wade averaged a career-high 1.2 3-pointers in his final season
The best players never stop evolving. Even though I wasn’t in Miami to witness the transformation, it generated plenty of smiles from afar to see Wade finally develop a reliable 3-point shot in his final season. He made 86 of his 261 3-point attempts in 2018-19, which was good for a, let’s say, palatable 33 percent from downtown. In his final two months of his career, Wade made 27 of 78 3-pointers (34.6 percent).
I can’t stress enough how remarkable this was to watch. Again, Wade made nine threes total in the 2013-14 season. In the 2015-16 season, he started the season 7 of 24. He missed his next 20 attempts to finish the regular season. Oh-for-twenty.
And then he made 86 in his final season. He made more than Gordon Hayward that season in the same number of games! Hey, who says Wade’s not a floor-spacer?
Now it’s your turn. What’s your favorite Dwyane Wade finding?