HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The big question surrounding the Miami Heat in the next few weeks is if their secondary stars — Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh — will accept less-than-max contracts, so that Pat Riley can build a better supporting cast around them and LeBron James.
At this point in their careers, it seems impossible that either Wade or Bosh could get better themselves. But there is clear room for improvement with one of the two.
Wade is one of the worst high-volume 3-point shooters in NBA history. Of the 315 players who have attempted at least 1,000 threes, only three — Charles Barkley, Josh Smith and Ron Harper — have shot them at a worse rate than Wade (28.9 percent).
Lowest 3-point percentage, minimum 1,000 3PA, NBA history
In the four seasons since James came to Miami, Wade’s 3-point shooting hasn’t gotten any better. He shot 28.9 percent before James arrived and he’s shot 28.9 percent since. And you make think that it’s too late for Wade to turn into a reliable shooter from long distance.
But Wade is just 32 years old, a year younger than Jason Kidd was when he started working with a shooting coach. Kidd wasn’t as bad as Wade from 3-point range at that point in his career, but he went from shooting 33.2 percent from beyond the arc through his 12 seasons to shooting 37.3 percent over his last seven.
That’s not a huge increase, but it’s a difference of more than 12 points per 100 attempts and, more importantly, it’s the difference between defenses leaving you alone on the perimeter and defenses having to respect you.
With his improved 3-point shot, Kidd was better able to complement Dirk Nowitzki when he was traded to Dallas. He spaced the floor for Nowitzki, Nowitzki created open shots for him, and he hit some big ones to help them win a championship.
Over the last four years, Wade has changed his game to better complement James. He can be effective without the ball in his hands, because he’s one of the best in the league at off-the-ball cuts, always able to take advantage of a defender who has turned his head toward the ball. And though he’s lost some of his explosion, he still has enough talent and old-man game to usually keep the Miami offense afloat when James is resting.
But the best complement for the league’s best player is a guy who keeps the defense honest no matter where he’s standing on the floor. When Wade is on the perimeter, defenses need not guard him. He barely shot threes at all (32 attempts in 58 games) this season. His attempts per game have gone down in each of James’ four seasons in Miami.
Here’s one of the Heat’s first few possessions of Game 5 of The Finals. With James driving to the basket and Wade in the strong-side corner, Danny Green isn’t too concerned about his man…
At 28.9 percent, a Wade 3-pointer is worth just 0.9 points per shot. A shot by James near the basket, meanwhile, is worth 1.5 points per shot. So that decision by Green to help is pretty easy.
If Wade shot the league average from 3-point range (36.0 percent), that decision still wouldn’t be too difficult, but the Heat would be able to better punish the defense for making it. Wade is an above-average mid-range shooter (43 percent this season), but even elite mid-range shooters (50 percent) don’t punish the D all that much. Step behind the arc, however, and the shot is worth 1.5 times as much.
When Wade doesn’t have strong legs under him, as was the case in the last two games of The Finals, he can look like an average player. You need legs to shoot threes, but not as much as you need them to drive through traffic and score in the paint.
Heat president Pat Riley was asked about Wade when he met with the media on Thursday.
“You have to reinvent yourself,” Riley said of Wade. “What does he have to do mentally and physically and spiritually to get him to another level at that age of 32?”
Riley was specifically asked about Wade adding a 3-point shot. But he doesn’t necessarily see that as the best way Wade can reinvent himself.
“Sometimes, it is [the way an older player can remain effective],” Riley said. “But some players who are drivers, slashers, dunkers, medium-range jump shooters, the mechanism on how you shoot the ball has to change. Will he be a high-percentage, James Jones, Mike Miller type of 3-point shooter? No. But I can guarantee he’ll make one when it counts.
“He’s not going to be spotted up, standing in the corner somewhere. He’s going to be slashing to the basket, posting guys up, getting out on the break, that kind of stuff. That’s been his game for 11 years now.”
The Heat can’t live only on James’ drives and post-ups. They do need that stuff from Wade as well. And this season, defense was obviously a bigger issue than offense.
But if Wade can be more of a threat from the outside, it can only help his team. He only has to look at Kidd to know that he can still get better at this stage in his career. For the Heat, a shooting coach could be as valuable as a roster upgrade.