Before describing the phenomena that I have deemed “The Dwyane Wade Anomaly,” I’d like to point out that D-Wade is still one of the top players in the NBA. His 2012-2013 regular season averages of 21 points, five rebounds and five assists are top notch, and it’s borderline absurd that he shot 52% from the field AS A SHOOTING GUARD. But, at 31 years old it seems as though the bruising nature of Wade’s style of play is catching up to him and that he’s constantly playing injured. But why at such an early age? After all, many players have peaked in their early thirties. The answer, and the anomaly, is this: Dwyane Wade’s game has developed much differently than that of comparable guards such as Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. While Jordan and Bryant added new moves to their repertoires as they aged, Wade has largely played the same game that he did when he entered the league as a 22 year old: attack the basket, hard. To put “The Dwyane Wade Anomaly” in context, lets look at 1) how Jordan and Bryant altered their style of play to make up for aging and 2) how Wade has limited, not expanded, his game since entering the league.
1) How Jordan and Bryant Altered Their Style of Play to Make Up For Aging
Michael Jordan knew that he wouldn’t be dunking over people for the entirety of his career, so he expanded his game as he got older. One of the moves he added was the post up fadeaway jump shot, shown below (not the best resolution, but you’ll get the idea):
This move was effective because it didn’t require too much athleticism and was hard to block. Thus, Jordan relied on it toward the end of his career when he wasn’t as fast and couldn’t elevate as well. Also, by taking short range jump shots instead of shots at the rim he saved his body from hundreds of hard interior fouls.
Jordan also added a consistent three-point shot to his arsenal. In his first nine years in the league he averaged only 0.4 three-pointers made per game while in his last four years with the Bulls he hit over one per game.
Kobe Bryant has also diversified the shots he takes. Take a look at this jumper, which Kobe has increasingly used in the last couple seasons:
The shot shown above is easily practiced and doesn’t require much lift. Now that Kobe is older and can’t get to the rack as easily, he can use this maneuver at any time to get a decent look. And of course, its not hard on his body.
Unsurprisingly, The Black Mamba has also shot more three-pointers in recent years. In his first five years playing 30 minutes or more Kobe hit 291 threes; in his last five years he’s hit 551.
Jordan and Bryant polished their post up moves and three pointers so that they could stay healthy and keep opponents guessing. Without these new, less physically demanding offensive weapons, Jordan and Bryant might not have been able to dominate into their mid thirties.
2) How Wade has limited, not expanded, his game since entering the league
In 2007, the first year that shot attempts were tracked by distance (feet from the basket), Dwyane Wade took 6.8 shots at the rim on average every game, per Hoopdata. Six seasons later, in 2012-2013, he took 6.1 per game. In 2008, Wade launched 278 threes, good for 3.5 per game: last season he shot only 66 threes in total. So, Wade is taking less threes and is attacking the paint almost as much he did six years ago (when he was only 25). As guards age they should be taking more three pointers and significantly less shots at the rim, much like Bryant and Jordan have and did. The statistics suggest that Wade hasn’t added much to his game since he entered the league. Sure, he’s a more savvy player and probably a better passer, but his offensive skills are basically the same as the ones he had when he was a rookie. If anything, he’s become a worse three-point shooter. I would have expected Wade, an elite player and hard worker, to add to his game and promote his longevity. Instead, he has stuck to his former strengths instead of creating new ones, and has thus paid the physical price.
As Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant aged they added new facets to their games so as to save their bodies and stay competitive in a league that gets more athletic and stronger every year. In contrast, (and here is the anomaly) Dwyane Wade, a guard of almost the same caliber as Jordan and Bryant, has added almost nothing to his game since 2003. This has manifested itself in numerous injuries in the last few seasons, and perpetual whisperings from the media that Dwyane Wade isn’t the D-Wade that he used to be. If Wade doesn’t change his style of play, he might not able to stay in the league long enough to win the eight championships that he, LeBron and Bosh promised to Miami three years ago.