Dwyane Wade remains the beating heart of the Miami Heat. He remains the focus, the center of the storm. The Heat are struggling in part because he is struggling — with his shot, with how to play along side LeBron, with the offense, and maybe with this coach.
And until he figures it out, the Heat as a team will not.
Quotes that have come out of Wade in the last 48 hours sound like a man who is frustrated — with losing and with his game. Those two struggles are interlinked.
Wade is struggling with his shot, and he is down across the board with it. Last season he shot 67 percent on shots at the rim, this season it is down to 55.7 percent (via hoopdata). He’s been good in the shorter midrange, but from beyond 16 feet things get worse, with him shooting 18 percent from 16 feet out to the arc and 25.5 percent beyond it. Both numbers are well down from last year. His percentage of shots assisted on has dropped as well.
Why is that? Well for one, Tom Haberstroh of ESPN got Wade to say some interesting things about his thought process on the court.
“We’re both kind of similar players,” Wade said of LeBron after practice last week. “On the court, we’re thinking too much. When we have the ball, we’re thinking about the other guy — we’re thinking about the other guys.”
And then he said something that no coach wants to hear from one of the most potent scorers in the league: “You don’t want to take two shots in a row.”
Yes you do. Do you think Kobe has qualms about taking two shots in a row? (Do you think Kobe has qualms about taking 15 in a row?) Do you think Dirk Nowitzki has that concern? Kevin Durant? Paul Pierce? And that’s just a handful of guys — the best couple scorers on 29 other teams (and a few who are not the best and should shoot less) don’t have those qualms.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has taken criticism for part of that hesitant Heat mentality, it is Spoelstra’s offense in which Wade is struggling. It is too reliant on pick-and-rolls. Wade even seemed to tell ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz he’d like to see more pure isolation over more P&R.
I think, at times, we get into a space where we let the whole team guard us because we run a lot of pick-and-roll. And we are letting guys off the hook. I want to see someone guard LeBron [James] one-on-one three or four times in a row down the court, because I know what they are thinking: “Somebody please help.”
I want to see them do that to Chris. I want to see them do that to me. So it’s about how we do it in spots in games, if all of us can be involved together. And it’s about how you do it where we are getting other guys involved as well.
Wade is right there — the constant 1/5 pick-and-rolls is allowing opposing big men to help put pressure on the ball. Opposing centers don’t fear getting beat by whomever is playing center for the Heat like they do Wade and LeBron, so you know where the focus goes. Add in the heavy ball-pressure defenses of teams like the Celtics and you have a problem for Miami. Pure isolation (four guys along the baseline, one guy out top) makes it harder to help and can open up passing lanes for a disciplined team. But are the Heat really that disciplined? Isolation is not really an efficient offense for anyone.
What’s interesting is Wade seems to — for the first time, really — have backed away from Spoelstra. Look at what he told Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel.
“Players and coaches, it’s always that kind of weird type of relationship. You don’t look at him and say, ‘That’s my guy right there,’ in the sense of me. Yeah, I came in when Spo was early in his coaching career. He wasn’t even on the bench when I first came in. He’s grown to know me; I’ve grown to know him.”
“He’s a different person and I’m a different player than when we came in,” Wade continued. “So, I’m not going to say he’s my guy, but he’s my coach, you know. We listen to him and try to execute a game plan and sometimes players and coaches get into disagreements. In general, that’s life with people. It’s the nature of sports…”
“Right now, in my opinion, no one is doing a good job, we’re 9-8,” Wade said. “We’re all in this together. Players not doing a good job; coaches not doing a good job. As a whole. When success comes, we win as a whole. We win four in a row, Coach is going to look great.”
These comments are notable because Wade used to be the guy with Spoelstra’s back no matter what. But now the losing comes and nobody seems to have anybody’s back in Miami. There are people close to the players — and most likely from either LeBron’s entourage or CAA, the agency that represents all of the Heat’s Big Three — saying that the players are unhappy and Spoelstra is the reason. Of course, those same people have to put the spotlight on the coach, so as to keep their players looking good. Shift the blame.
But there is enough blame for everyone. The Heat don’t look good and Wade is right in that everybody can step up and accept a helping of blame.
That includes Wade. Because more than anyone else he is right in the middle of everything with the Heat.