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How Dwyane Wade fits in the Cavs’ offense

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Examining Wade’s strengths and weaknesses on offense and how the Cavs can maximize his talents.

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Charlotte Hornets Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Dwyane Wade and LeBron James are together again. But a lot has changed for both since they last shared the floor in 2014.

Wade comes to the Cavs off of an up-and-down season in his hometown of Chicago. He joins James’ team set to take on a reduced role, regardless of whether he starts or comes off the bench.

What can Wade bring to the Cavaliers as they attempt to dethrone the Golden State Warriors and bring another trophy back to Northeast Ohio?

Secondary Playmaking

When the Cavs traded Kyrie Irving to the Boston Celtics, they lost a primary ballhandler that accounted for nearly 40 percent of their pick and roll possessions run last season.

While Wade will not be asked to fill Irving’s shoes, he can serve as a lead guard that provides a wealth of experience navigating the pick and roll.

Typically, the difference between playmakers and scorers can be identified in how they handle the pick and roll.

Here, Wade makes the right decision when the defense collapses, dishing the ball to the corner and creating an open three-pointer.

His passing vision allows him to make intermediate level plays that some players miss when tasked with handling the ball:

But he is also limited in what he can create off the bounce. Too often, he gets caught in no-mans land after being unable to beat his defender. This can lead to ugly shots or live ball turnovers the other way:

At heart, Wade is a scorer and he tends to revert to that mentality when the big does not step out to guard him as he dribbles off the pick. This can lead to some good decisions. Wade commonly likes to “snake” the pick and roll to try to get his defender on his back and force the big man to make a choice.

But Wade’s mentality as a scorer can sometimes feel pre-determined, as he often comes off screens looking to score regardless of the coverage. He certainly has the ability to make some difficult jumpers off the bounce. At the same time, this can be harmful in an offense like Cleveland’s where he will be surrounded by shooting threats:

Post Game

With Isaiah Thomas out for at least the first few months of the season, some (including myself) have advocated for Wade to start alongside J.R. Smith in the backcourt.

Utilizing Wade as the de facto point guard in starting groups would allow him to unleash his post game against smaller guards. Wade scored 0.92 ppp on post-ups last season, ranking 26th of 54 players with at least 100 post-ups.

He operates more successfully from the left block (81st percentile) and prefers to end possessions with a turnaround over his right shoulder, like he does here against Gary Harris:

Wade’s footwork in the post allows him to create space to launch his shot, making it a weapon against smaller guards. An example:

And another:

In Chicago, Wade frequently faced an extra defender on post-ups due to a lack of spacing. He showed his willingness as a passer, making both simple drop off passes to cutters as well as more advanced cross-court passes to shooters.

Finishing at the Rim

Despite showing some flashes of his old self, last year was hardly all sunshine and rainbows for Dwyane Wade’s return home. He posted a career-low 50.8 TS% and was one of just 12 players who had a >20 USG% and a TS% <51%. Part of the reason for this was that Wade only attempted 25 percent of his shots at the rim, the second lowest percentage of his career, per nba.com/stats.

And when he got there, he demonstrated a lack of explosiveness that limited his ability to finish through contact.

For whatever reason, there were too many times where Wade just came up short on layups. It seemed as if he thought he was going to jump further than he did and did not put enough muscle into the shot to get it over the rim.

The result was a a 53.5 percent shooting clip in the restricted area, which — yet again— was the worst of his career.

In addition, he only attempted 5.7 free throws per 36 minutes — the second lowest average of his career. This number will likely be further reduced by the new NBA rule changes, which will limit Wade’s ability to use his pump-fake to get defenders in the air and draw contact by jumping into them.

Wade was only of 88 players to average at least four drives per game last season (6.2/game). He ranked 51st of these players, shooting 47.1 percent on driving attempts.

Moving Further from the Rim

As a result of his limited athleticism, Wade ended up taking more shots away from the basket than ever before:

His average shot distance was 12.3 feet away from the basket (the longest of his career) as he seemed content settling for tough mid-range jumpers instead of attacking the basket.

Specifically, when faced with a switch on the pick and roll, he seemed to seek out certain spots on the floor for jumpers rather than trying to beat the big man to the bucket.

This possession against Houston was typical of these situations. Wade looks determined to shoot from the elbow as soon as he comes off the screen instead of challenging Clint Capela defend in space or trying to draw Sam Dekker or Lou Williams further into help.

Lack of “Wade Cuts”

A hallmark of Wade’s time playing alongside LeBron in Miami was his unmatched cutting ability. Despite being a non-threat from behind the arc, Wade would frequently catch his defender sleeping and burst behind him to the basket for an easy layup.

This was one of only 4 alley-oops finished by Wade last season and one of just 34 dunks. He has now finished with 40 or fewer dunks in every season since 2012-13 (when he had 102). The sense of timing is still there, but Wade cut less frequently last season than ever before. He ended the year scoring 42 points on only 38 cuts (0.7 ppg).

Part of the issue reverts back to his lack of explosion. Sometimes, he was able to receive the ball on a cut, but could not go right up with the ball and ended up forcing a difficult shot.

Here, he settles for a tough floater over Allen Crabbe, despite shooting only 45.2 percent from floater range last season.

Catch and Shoot

Perhaps the largest issue, especially for a Lebron James-led team, is Wade’s inability to shoot the basketball.

He attempted only 55 catch and shoot three-pointers last season, shooting 30.9 percent on these attempts.

When he catches the ball, he has to bring it down to nearly his knees before firing up his elongated shot motion. As the red arrows indicate, his feet are both facing far to his left when he jumps. This causes his upper body to fight his lower body and many of his attempts miss wide right or left because of it.

Because he has to step into his shot, he is forced to spot up further behind the three-point line. Combined with his long release, Wade’s mechanics often turn what should be open shots into contested attempts by allowing defenders time to recover and close out.

Over the past four seasons, Wade is shooting just 31.6 percent on wide open three-pointers. He’ll have to be better with the Cavs.

Dribble Jumpers

After an examination of Wade’s shot form, it should come as no surprise that he strongly prefers shooting jump shots off the dribble.

His mechanics lend themselves to pull-up jumpers because he can pick the ball up from the floor in one motion rather than having to dip to his knees on the catch.

Wade took the 23rd most dribble jumpers last season, attempting 5.1 per game. He scored only 0.845 ppp on these shots, worse than all but three players who attempted more than him (Andrew Wiggins: 0.736, Jimmy Butler: 0.744 and John Wall: 0.753).

Wade’s affinity for shooting off the bounce leads to some questionable decisions, like this fadeaway over Zach Randolph.

He can still hit some tough shots when he is in a groove, but as he gets to the basket less and less frequently, dribble jumpers have become his go-to move.

No Spacing

Wade’s reputation as a non-shooter directly influences how he is defended.

Jimmy Butler has a matchup advantage against Amir Johnson on the wing, but Jae Crowder is able to dig down off of Wade to cut off the driving lane. Note how Crowder’s hips are totally open to Butler, signaling a complete lack of concern for Wade.

In the past, Wade (or one of his teammates) may have taken advantage of every Celtics help defender ball watching with a back cut. But instead, Wade stays planted and ends up missing another three-pointer.

Another reason it makes the most sense to start Wade alongside Smith in the backcourt is the lack of spacing a Rose-Wade pairing would provide.

Above, we see the Cavs taking advantage of an equally flawed shooting duo in Rajon Rondo and Wade. Channing Frye is able to come all the way across the court to foil a Jimmy Butler drive and every Cavs defender essentially can keep a foot in the paint off their man.

Richard Jefferson is unconcerned with Wade’s ability to shoot and can help liberally just one pass away. Meanwhile, Kyle Korver has no problem abandoning Rondo in the backside corner.

Per Nick Sciria’s excellent “Spacing Rating” tool, the Bulls lineup above has an 8.3 percent “spacing rating” (better spacing than approximately 8.3 percent of lineups).

The Cavs potential starting five of Derrick Rose-Wade-James-Kevin Love-Tristan Thompson grades out as a 1.6 percent “spacing rating,” which would coincidentally tie the Bulls’ starting five of Rondo-Wade-Butler-Taj Gibson-Robin Lopez for second-worst in the NBA.

By contrast, a starting five of Wade-Smith-James-Love-Thompson would have a 46.6 percent “spacing rating.” While by no means perfect, the addition of another shooter would open the floor for James to do what he does best: Attack the basket surrounded by perimeter threats.

Conclusion

Despite averaging 18 points per game last season, Wade has largely become an inefficient scorer. His lack of explosion, a likely side-effect of his repeated knee injuries, has limited his ability to get to the basket. Instead, he has been settling for mid-range jumpers to varying degrees of success.

Ty Lue will have a challenge on his hands as he seeks to maximize Wade this season. His best option is to let Wade start alongside Smith until Thomas returns, giving him opportunities to post-up smaller guards. Additionally, his secondary playmaking in the pick and roll can be maximized surrounded by shooters like Smith and Love.

If Wade can regain some of his cutting prowess from years past, he can work well off of James post-ups and a hopefully increasing number of Love elbow touches.

There is nothing in his shot form that lends itself to a belief he can even become league average from three-point range. He is not going to provide spacing and his minutes alongside fellow non-shooters Rose, Thompson and Jeff Green must be limited.

Lue will be tasked with crafting rotations to ensure the Cavs retain spacing while also trying to maximize Wade’s strengths and limit his weaknesses. Wade can be effective on the offensive end, but it will take a specific strategy to ensure this happens for Cleveland.