Thursday, Dwyane Wade commented that, when LeBron James came to Miami, he (Wade) was the one who had to adjust his game more. I wanted to go back and look at the numbers to try to figure out if what Wade said was true or not. To do this, I feel that the most accurate methodology would be to compare Wade and LeBron’s numbers before and after they joined forces. All stats come courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com, unless otherwise noted.
Let’s start with Wade. Dwyane Wade’s first season in Miami was the 2003-04 season, and he played seven seasons there without LeBron. In those seven seasons, Wade had a usage rate of 32.7. He also had a true shooting percentage of 56.5 and a PER of 25.7. Overall, he averaged .189 win shares per 48 minutes played. Wade was taking 18.4 shots per game, and averaging 25.4 points per night. He was also playing 37.6 minutes per game.
Once LeBron showed up, things did change for Dwyane Wade. He averaged 22.2 points (-3.2 difference) on 16.4 shots (-2.0) per game. His usage rate declined slightly, going down to 30.2 (-2.5). His true shooting percentage increased slightly, rising to 57.5. He became slightly less efficient, with his PER falling to 24.5 (-1.2). He also played about three fewer minutes per night (37.6 vs 34.7). His win shares per 48 remained unchanged, staying at .189.
We all know that LeBron was the man in Cleveland before he moved to Miami. In Cleveland, his usage rate was 31.9. His PER was 26.9. James had a true shooting percentage of 56.2. He was also notching .224 win shares per 48 minutes played. In terms of traditional stats, he was averaging 27.8 points on 20.8 shots per game. He was also averaging 40.3 minutes per game in those Cleveland years. So, what happened once he took his talents to South Beach?
Fitting in on a team with two other superstars is difficult, and comes with some growing pains. LeBron’s usage rate fell to 31.1 (-0.8). His PER increased to 29.6 (+2.7). His true shooting percentage rose to 62.2 (+6.0). His win shares per 48 minutes also rose to .281 (+.057). Miami lessened his burden slightly, cutting his minutes to 38 per game (-2.3). He was asked to take fewer shots, 18.2 per night to be exact (-2.6). He also averaged slightly fewer points per game, tallying 26.9 per night (-0.9). Was Dwyane Wade right that he had to adjust his game more than LeBron did?
I say yes. For one, his usage rate declined three times more than LeBron’s did when he moved to Miami. There is also the anecdotal evidence that James was the best player on the planet, and was brought in to Miami to be the centerpiece of the offense. Wade was also 29 when LeBron, who was 26, came in. LeBron was just entering his physical prime, whereas Wade was headed towards the end of his. LeBron was being asked to expand his role to allow Wade to age gracefully and take a reduced role to save his body for title runs. The PER backs that up: LeBron’s increased more than twice as much as Wade’s fell. Wade and LeBron were both “alpha dog” NBA players in their primes; it’s a lot easier to sell an alpha dog on an increased role as a team’s superstar than a more complementary role as their second banana. To Wade’s credit, he did so willingly. It takes a special kind of superstar to be able to admit that their time as a number one option is over and that taking a backseat to another star is better for the team and will ultimately lead to more success. Chris Bosh was another such superstar, and the person whose game had to change the most when the Miami Superteam came together, but that’s a topic for another column. I believe that Wade’s experience as the second option behind Shaq at the beginning of his career helped him achieve this mindset more easily. Regardless of the reasoning, Dwyane Wade is absolutely correct in saying that he had to change his game more than LeBron did when the Big Three teamed up in Miami.
Tristan Thompson is Dennis Rodman—he just doesn’t know it yet. Currently he is maturing into a 10 rebound a game player with an ability to crash the boards after being forgotten by the other team. He cleans up, in other words. His first five season statistics have not been spectacular so far:
Per Basketball Reference:
…oh, but wait…those aren’t TT’s stats! The stats you see above are actually Rodman’s first five seasons. Not exactly Hall of Fame-worthy yet. And his two ‘Bad Boy’ titles with the Detroit Pistons account for his third and fourth seasons. That ‘12.5’ rebounding stat did not occur until the year after they won back-to-back.
Here are Tristan’s actual first five years. No lies this time, again per Basketball Reference:
Pretty similar. Currently TT is averaging double-digit rebounds (10.3), and it’s very likely that he’ll stay that way, and, just like Rodman, begin to move into double-digit rebounds with increased playing time.
Obviously, their personalities are not the same, but I’m not looking to compare TT to the hair-color, multiple-piercings Rodman we now remember so clearly. In truth, Rodman’s ostentatiousness was so memorable that most NBA fans have forgotten how modest and humble (relatively speaking) he was with the Pistons.
Here is a look back to those innocent yet halcyon days with the late-eighties Pistons:
The energy and sheer abandon that Rodman demonstrated was infectious. With every outward fist pump, he put the crowd on his back and didn’t allow them to sit passively. This ability to stoke excitement and distract the other team lasted throughout his career.
Rodman didn’t enter the league until he was 25. Drafted in the second round in 1986 after playing for Southeastern Oklahoma State University, not much was expected of him. In contrast, TT is now 25 years old, and has had to grow up quickly in order to match LeBron’s intensity.
Here is TT during the 2015 NBA Finals, cleaning up brick-after-brick with Love and Irving on the sideline. Pay particular attention at around 39 seconds, when he temporarily gets under Andrew Bogut’s skin. Rodman-esque, I must say:
Even if you only watched a minute of that clip, you’ll notice that TT doesn’t exactly set the crowd on fire with energy. In fact, he seems rather comfortable letting his work speak for itself. Currently, that is TT’s modus operandi, but as someone who has watched TT his entire career, I see glimmers of Rodman’s playfulness beginning to break through.
Here he is, giving a sideline reporter a quick and playful smooch, running away from the potential awkwardness:
(Ed.: Reporter Allie Clifton later tweeted that she was OK with the kiss, for those concerned about the apparent advance.)
Here, at the 1:54 mark, Tristan admits to studying Rodman’s techniques, such as boxing out the opposing player in order to snag an offensive rebound:
Only time will tell how far TT will go in emulating Rodman. It should be mentioned that TT is currently in a serious relationship with celebrity Khloe Kardashian, a sign that he does not fear the spotlight on or off the court. Rodman famously married Carmen Electra in 1998. My bet is that his Canadian sensibility will keep him from gravitating toward hair dye and lip piercing, but my hope is that, as he grows into a more mature and consistent rebounder, TT begins to play with more of a reckless abandon—demoralizing the opponent with a tenacity that borders on chaos. I’m sure Rodman would approve.
Remember Isaiah Austin? The Baylor Bears standout who was projected as a first-round pick in the 2014 NBA Draft before a diagnosis with Marfan Syndrome both explained how he grew to seven feet in the first place and also prevented him from being drafted, as his enlarged aorta could rupture at any time, making him the next Reggie Lewis on the court?
No? Maybe this will refresh your memory.
Well, a couple of days ago, doctors cleared Austin to play basketball once again, as Adam Zagoria reported on his blog.
Austin himself took to Instagram to say something about God and also basketball and #DreamAgain.
I just have one question, and it's one I ask every week on Thursday in another context...
“A player who is likely many years away from reaching his full potential as a prospect even now, Austin is showing consistent improvement, which is all you can ask for at this stage. It's easy to see why he's so highly regarded, and considering his excellent off-court demeanor and intelligent nature, it appears likely he'll find a good amount of success in basketball eventually. “
Towns' positional versatility on both ends of the floor makes him something of the prototype for your modern day NBA big man. He can protect the rim and score inside the paint like a center, but is also capable of stepping away from the rim guarding the pick and roll or as a floor-spacer on the perimeter. It's extremely difficult to find players who can do all these different things, which could easily convince a team to use the #1 pick on him should he decide to enter this year's draft.
Those three words, “many years away”, were damning enough in 2014, when Austin was considered a fringe first-round prospect, the kind of guy the Spurs might have drafted for big man minutes in garbage time, a guy whose ceiling is more Boban Marjanovic than Rudy Gobert as long, lanky centers go. Plus, he's blind in his right eye thanks to a detached retina. There is no comparison for that in the annals of NBA history, certainly not in the context of a guy who gets regular rotation minutes.
Will Isaiah Austin, who on account of going undrafted (aside from being a ceremonial pick) in 2014 while not withdrawing from the draft, becomes an unrestricted free agent upon his return to competitive play, actually sign with a team?
Someone might sign him as a feel-good story (Austin's Texas connections suggest the Mavericks, who are terrible this year and who could use all the warm bodies they can toss out onto the floor), but even then, he projects as a guy who gets signed, sent to the D-League to test him out and get him used to the pace of pro ball...and then promptly forgotten about or called up for a “Ma, I played in a game!” cup of coffee in a lost season come April.
Which is just fine. After all, even a one-game cup of coffee in garbage time is five more minutes of NBA basketball than all but a handful of men on this earth can say they have played.
That's where the real feel-good story comes in. Let's just hope the ghost of Reggie Lewis stays in the afterlife where he belongs.