Dwyane Wade’s dropoff throughout the 2013 playoffs has been steep and sudden.
Just a month and a half ago he was registering his seventh top-10 regular season PER in the last eight years. Now he’s being outplayed by Lance Stephensons and Danny Greens of the world, and can’t get to the rim or play consistent defense because of a right knee injury that’s sapped his athleticism and explosion, spawning the once-inconceivable notion that Wade would be better suited coming off the bench.
While most of the discussion about Wade has centered on what he can’t or isn’t doing offensively, his struggles on the defensive end of the floor have been just as jarring.
Wade’s decision to play through his grueling injury is admirable in and of itself, and a decline in his defensive effectiveness is understandable and expected. But a significant portion of his defensive miscues have stemmed from lackadaisical effort and questionable technique, not physical aptitude.
His incessant tendency to gamble in the passing lanes has always been offset by his superhuman athleticism, but with his speed and quickness diminished, those same gambles have become either ineffective or nonexistent. Danny Green has killed the Heat, and often Wade, by simply finding the right place to stand.
Though Green certainly deserves big time credit for his stellar performance thus far, there’s a reason why he’s been wide-open on a handful of three-pointers: Dwyane Wade’s defense, or lack thereof. By my count, six of Green’s 16 three-pointers have been a direct result of Wade’s defensive miscues, and the blame for another two of Green’s threes should be split between Wade and a teammate.
The Spurs’ offense has capitalized on the Heat’s defensive chaos, effectively providing the requisite spacing, ball movement and timing to maximize their advantages whenever the Heat trap or over-aggressively rotate. This has often resulted in wide-open or near-open three-point attempts for Green, Gary Neal, Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard.
According to NBA.com/Stats, since May 22nd (the first game of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Pacers), the Heat have posted a 98.0 defensive rating with Wade on the bench (net rating of +20.0), and a 107.0 defensive rating with him on the floor (net rating of -4.5).
That shouldn’t come as a surprise anymore. Far too many possessions have ended with Wade losing Green in a basic half-court set or off a screen, mistiming a help rotation, lethargically boxing out and/or seeming disengaged altogether.
Here is a video breakdown of Wade’s defensive slippage:
Losing Danny Green
Wade’s defense in the first half of this possession is solid, as he’s in good help position without overcommitting and allowing Tony Parker to skip a cross-court bullet to Green in the right corner. But once the action starts, Wade gets caught either watching the ball or expecting to help on Gary Neal.
By the time Wade realizes where Green is, it’s too late — Parker is already in mid-air kicking out a pass to him — and the result is another wide-open three-pointer. The Heat ball watch as a part of their aggressive defensive scheme, but they’ll need to be more cognizant of the Spurs constant movement going forward.
On this possession, Wade’s failure to track Ginobili is either the result of his pain, or a simple lack of urgency — or both. It’s hard to know the exact cause of his lethargy on similar plays, but it’s a common trend for Wade against the Spurs’ shooters (it’s a gamble that hasn’t worked out in his favor).
This is an aggressive mistake from Wade and a moment when his decreased athleticism really shows. In the past, Wade was able to move on the flight of the ball and give a hard closeout without surrendering a blowby. Hear, Wade offers help on Kawhi Leonard but gets absolutely toasted by Ginobili on the recovery.
Wade does what he can here, though there could be an argument he’s a step late. Obviously this one’s on James — but the dunk is on Wade. Shotblockers, especially ones who are 6’3’’, get dunked on occasionally, but this is a haunting reminder of how far Wade’s ability to wipe up his teammates mistakes has slipped with his injury and age.
One of the most important rules of NBA defense is never leave a strongside shooter under (almost) any circumstances. This by far was Wade’s most egregious defensive error of the series — leaving Danny Green, on the strongside, to hedge at a penetrating Neal, only to have Neal quickly dump the ball to Green for the first of his seven three-pointers.
NBA defense is an ongoing triage of threats. Here, Battier basically has Neal bottled up and Miami would live with him shooting over a taller player off the dribble. Essentially, Wade chooses to address the wrong threat, and the patient/possession dies a gruesome death (from Miami’s perspective, anyways).
Leonard has dominated the offensive glass the entire series, and has actually been surprisingly effective against LeBron. Here, however, Wade is his victim, as he barely makes contact with Leonard, who simply steps around him for an easy putback. This isn’t a one-time occurrence either — Wade (and LeBron) has consistently missed boxed outs on Leonard and Green, and each guy has made the Heat pay on a few occasions.
Through three games, Wade has the same amount of rebounds as Tracy McGrady (4), who’s played 85 minutes less than him. Something’s wrong with this picture.
Wade seems to be letting his decreased offensive role and physical limitations affect the cerebral aspects of play, and his confidence and energy are seemingly vanishing through the course of each game. While most of his mistakes are correctable, they’re also the same type of miscues that plagued him against the Pacers and have become the norm with his body in a weakened condition.
As long as Wade — and the Heat, to a larger extent — continues to play lackluster defense and make egregious mental errors, it may not matter what type of offensive performance LeBron James cobbles together the rest of the series. The result will be another Spurs win, and eventually, a fifth championship banner.