Keeping Pace: Why Wade’s Absence Is Being Overplayed With Heat’s Faster Offense

Insight6 years ago7 min readGiancarlo Navas

Pace. Heat fans are fixated on this hallowed advanced stat and I can’t even blame them. Seeing Goran Dragic run up and down the floor at breakneck speeds makes for quite the spectacle.

It’s fun and it’s a style Miami is accustomed to seeing. It also appears to be hyper-effective and over the last two games the Miami Heat look and feel like a completely different team.

As Ethan Skolnick of The Miami Herald pointed out this week, they have a pace factor – number of possessions per 48 minutes – of 103 over their last two games and 95 for the season. So, the Heat are playing much faster. That’s good, right?

The system seems to be maximizing the players who’ve been available – all ten of them as of writing. Hassan Whiteside had a 20-20 game, Luol Deng has had back-to-back double-doubles with 27-plus points, Josh McRoberts is winning back your love with his dazzling moves and Dragic has looked like a reincarnated star. Oh, not to mention they are 2-0 and have a plus-24 scoring differential.

But as always, with sudden success comes fan overreaction. Before last Friday, a section of the Heat fan base wanted to tank just as they did last year. Dwyane Wade was questionable versus Atlanta with a sore left knee, Whiteside was already suspended because he elbowed that leviathan on the Spurs, Boban Marjanovic, to his repelling skull and Chris Bosh’s status remains in purgatory.

All hope seemed lost and the team was only a few games ahead of the tenth seed. To some, an appealing draft pick looked well within reach.

Then the Hawks game happened, and the conversation shifted into the most predictable place in the world: Are the Heat better #WithoutWade and #WithoutBosh? Particularly, Wade.

The hot take machine has once again consumed a sports town and ideas of sample size and nuance are thrown out the window in favor of the now.

It didn’t matter to the Miami sports community that the Heat was once a three seed. It also didn’t matter that injuries decimated them in the middle of January that calling their west coast trip “road heavy” was a serious understatement.

No. What matters is that Heat won two games in which they looked rather dominant and Wade is the easiest target to blame, and only because Whiteside had a standout game that didn’t make them infuriated.

 

Things need to be taken within context. Miami played an Atlanta team well without their stars, but they have also blown out Atlanta in that same building with their stars. Also of note, the Wizards, who aren’t a good team, were playing their third straight game in three nights. John Wall was a non-factor and Miami ran literal circles around them all game.

Something else to keep in mind is how teams weren’t prepared for this version of the Heat. The scouting was not there and it gave Miami a bit of an edge. They played completely outside of who they are and teams were shell-shocked. With more scouting and information, teams will learn how to limit Miami’s gimmicky offense, which depended on Luol Deng to get 27 and 30 points on back-to-back nights.

So while quite empathic, a two game sample size with the aforementioned qualifiers shouldn’t be enough to convince you that Miami needs to get rid of Dwyane Wade.

But, I do understand where the fan base is coming from. Although the offense wasn’t particularly good with Wade to begin with, his absence isn’t hurting the Heat’s defense either. In fact, it might be helping the team, actually.

So questions of Wade’s fit are natural and I am not picking a side, I just think it’s important to look at all the facts and to think a little.

In the last two seasons where Wade has been a heavy feature of the offense, he’s possessed a usage rate over 32 percent and Miami has a pace factor of 93 (ouch) and 95, respectively.

So, not very fast, and in both seasons, the offense finished with an offensive rating of 101, which isn’t very good. To put it in perspective, the “Big Three” era averaged an offensive rating of 110.4.

There have also been numbers floating around for some time now giving tangible credibility to Wade critics. As noted in a Zach Lowe article in mid-January, the Miami Heat are 12-13 when Wade has posted a usage rate over 30 and 11-5 when he doesn’t.

Miami’s probably a better team if Wade deferred to Dragic more and became the off the ball magician that he was during the LeBron years. I don’t think you could argue against it and it’s one of the more interesting power dynamics the Heat have ongoing.

So, what you have is a Wade who is a high usage, isolation-oriented, and pick-and-roll player. He waits for a screen and then makes decisions based on how the play is defended. Sometimes he has space and room to maneuver his way to the rim. Other times, he creates space and shoots a midrange shot or sets up a teammate to score.

It’s slow and it’s methodical and it doesn’t fire sparklers and jazz hands that a fan base might want or come to expect.

The team hasn’t been bad playing that kind of style. They were contending for a home playoff spot in an Eastern Conference that’s highly competitive and have been as high as the three seed in recent time.

Miami doesn’t have a single two-man lineup that’s posted a negative net rating with a criteria of at least 200 minutes together.

Miami also had a stretch where they went 6-1 and with a point differential of plus-24, featuring wins against the Hawks, the Dallas Mavericks, and the Chicago Bulls – all with Wade in the lineup.

There are many schools of thought and so much information to discern. It’s all confusing and it becomes even more difficult to untangle data while trying to deduce what is right between what is wrong. It’s fine and it’s natural, but it’s mostly important not to overreact.

Yes, changes should be made, and yes, as presently constructed, Miami isn’t contending for a title this season. But, with some tweaks – the addition of shooting and a bit more health – they will be a lot closer. There’s no need to blow it all up and there’s certainly no need to tank.