Heat, LeBron better without Wade?

by Andrew Kennedy

nbcsports.msnbc.com

LeBron James led the Miami Heat last night to a 98-87 victory over Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers. He did this without Dwyane Wade. The Heat and LeBron are now 4-0 this season when Wade is on the sideline.

Is it possible that this Miami Heat team could be better when Dwyane Wade does not play? I think so and I’ve pretty much felt this way all along about LeBron.

My biggest issue with LeBron choosing to play with Wade was that we would now not see the true individual potential of LeBron reached. Had he gone to New York or stayed in Cleveland we would have gotten an entire career of LeBron playing at his peak.

When he plays with Wade, we will never see this totally. We get glimpses from time to time and they can team up for some pretty spectacular plays but for the entire course of a game or season, we don’t see it.

Far too often when you watch Wade and LeBron play together, there are instances when LeBron is just standing in the corner or on the wing, out of the play completely as Wade is doing his thing. You never saw that in Cleveland (except when he started doing that in Game 6 vs. Boston and let Mo Williams go to work while he made sure to grab every rebound off missed free throws at the other end).

The numbers side of it

In the four games this season without Wade, LeBron is averaging 32.3 points per game, 10.0 assists per game, 7.0 rebounds per game, shooting 54.7 percent from the floor, 60 percent from three and averaging nearly 10 free throw attempts per game. Decent.

This is the LeBron we saw in Cleveland. The Heat become the Miami Cavaliers when Wade isn’t in. The Cavaliers that won 66 games in 2009 and 61 in 2010, except with a better supporting cast and a better Antawn Jamison in Chris Bosh.

In LeBron’s last four seasons with Cleveland he averaged basically 29-7-7 and shot 48.8 percent from the floor. Last year in Miami, he averaged 27-7-7 and shot 51 percent from the field. He scored less but was a little more efficient which was expected playing with Wade.

Here’s LeBron’s breakdown of how he attempted to score by percentage in his last season with Cleveland (the year he basically did whatever he wanted and was the obvious MVP):

31.6% isolation, 19.2% pick-and-roll ball handler, 17.1% transition, 6.8% spot-up, 6.3% post-up

And with Miami last year:

21.8% isolation, 22.5% pick-and-roll ball handler, 17.9% transition, 9.8% spot-up, 8.1% post-up

The noticeable changes are less isolation in Miami, more pick-and-roll and more spot-up shooting. It makes sense when you see that.

Where did LeBron seem to struggle last year in the Finals? In my eyes, I saw him run a ton of pick-and-roll and see a lot of clogging the paint to stop him. He took a lot of spot-up threes that he missed. The isolation looks he got many times were after Wade would try to do something on the other side of the court.

He didn’t have free reign like he did in Cleveland. Naturally this would happen playing with Wade.

The conclusion from this is that now that he is playing with Wade, the best player in the world is forced to play worse than he normally would. I’m thinking this is a bad thing, even once the playoffs come around.

Why Wade and LeBron are a bad fit

LeBron and Wade are friends and they wanted to play together. That’s cute but they aren’t a good fit together. They literally play the same position and are good at the same things. The things they are best at do not involve another player, especially one so similar.

When the Heat run a pick-and-roll for Wade on the wing while LeBron is on the floor, it makes no sense. The Heat become worse because LeBron is better as a pick-and-roll ball handler.

When the Heat isolate Wade when LeBron is on the floor, it makes no sense. LeBron is a better isolation player.

LeBron is better than Wade in every way when it comes down to it. Wade has more offensive skill and moves and can do amazing things, but at the end of the day LeBron will always be more efficient than Wade.

When Wade has the ball, LeBron becomes a spot-up shooter. The Heat might as well take LeBron out and put in James Jones or Mike Miller when this happens.

One of the things that made LeBron coming to Miami so interesting was that we’ve never seen anything like it before. Two All-Stars like them playing together at this point in their careers. It was far from a perfect fit but could be overpowering enough to win.

They’re different from Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen because they joined each other at this point in their careers and are unsure of who is the alpha dog. Plus, Jordan and Pippen could go into the post which made them more compatible together.

LeBron and Wade are trying that now but it just doesn’t seem to work as well. Their games reflect more of the attitude of today: doing you without regard of anyone else and getting yours. It’s just a natural style to them today when they look to score, especially Wade, it’s all about them.

If you think I’m wrong here because LeBron gets so many assists, just think about the play where LeBron receives a pick at the top of the key, doesn’t have anything then backs up to halfcourt and tries the same thing again.

That gets no one else involved. It makes LeBron predictable. Often he’ll end up kicking out to a teammate in the corner for a three with a second left on the shot clock. Somehow it works a lot like when he was in Cleveland. But it was also his downfall in Cleveland when Boston figured out how to cover him perfectly.

With Jordan and Pippen, it was a different era. Players had more shame and didn’t want to look as selfish because they were just coming off the era of the 80’s where it was cool to make “basketball plays” (thank Magic Johnson and Larry Bird). Jordan had less of this and represents the transition toward the play and attitude we see today (he destroyed the game, this is how).

What should Miami do?

LeBron is obviously the best he has ever been this year. He is totally in his prime. And I say that Wade is not anymore and that this season in particular we will not see the best of Wade.

It’s time to put Wade to the side a little bit if I’m Miami. They should run drastically less stuff for him and focus almost everything on LeBron, like when he was in Cleveland.

There will be growing pains when Wade is missing spot-up jumpers but I think this would force him to go into 2004 Olympics mode eventually where he was a mutant cutting to the rim and an incredible force defensively in the passing lanes.

Last year, it was LeBron who was going to make the sacrifice and become the defender and facilitator. That was wrong. It needs to be Wade who changes.

LeBron can handle the load too I believe. He has the best endurance of any athlete ever. The only time he ever appeared tired was in the Finals last year. I credit this to the defensive load he had to burden.

How is it not obvious that you’re supposed to not have your best player be your defensive stopper? He’s supposed to rest on defense. Every team that ever won a title with a player like LeBron did this.

Think about that team in Cleveland though. They won 127 games in two seasons. What would have been perfect for them to morph into the greatest team of all-time? Upgrade Jamison to Bosh and then add a super-duper slasher on offense and defense.

So trade Wade for Gerald Wallace is what I’m getting at (throw in Wes Matthews and the trade works).

Imagine how much better it would have been if somehow the script was altered and Bosh and Wade went to Cleveland to join LeBron. I say it works out perfectly because LeBron is alpha dog and they immediately become a dynasty without growing pains.

I’m forgetting something right?

LeBron isn’t good in the clutch. He’s not a closer and he chokes. He needs Wade because he doesn’t have these problems and excels in the clutch.

I think this is kind of true but I don’t think it’s the most important issue with this Heat team. LeBron has some big issues like he’s not the killer most great athletes are and he is the most self-aware star athlete of all-time, but just give him time and he’ll eventually win.

He’s closer to Peyton Manning or Alex Rodriguez than Kobe Bryant or Tom Brady.

I want LeBron to take every shot at the end of games even if he has no real offensive moves (somehow this is true). He doesn’t even have to try to get to the rim every time. Just a few size-up dribbles at the top of the key, then that thing he does where he dribbles hard once or twice going to his left then rises for a jumper. I like that shot and he makes it a lot.

The Heat are once again going to go far into the playoffs this year and probably are the favorite to make it to the Finals. They have flaws and are beatable. I just think we might be pointing the finger or blame toward Wade this year if they don’t win it all.

You’re welcome LeBron.

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