This is the fourth and final part in a series of articles focusing on important storylines heading into the 2016-17 season for the Chicago Bulls. Today’s piece focuses on how Dwyane Wade should become more of a role player next season.
Dwyane Wade said all the right things during his introductory press conference with the Chicago Bulls in late June. He was extremely laid back wearing his dark, slick, tight-fitting suit. He looked so comfortable holding the mic in his hand in front of the Chicago media instead of letting it stand on the table. He was in his element and ready to answer any questions that came his way.
He didn’t let questions about his reasons for leaving Miami phase him. Wade quickly let it be known that leaving for Chicago wasn’t a financial decision. When a reporter asked Wade whose team it is, a question that clearly tried to elicit a newsworthy answer, after first joking that the Bulls are owned by Jerry Reinsdorf, Wade’s response must have left Gar Forman and John Paxson near tears:
This is Jimmy Butler’s team. We’re not going to go through this all year. This is Jimmy Butler’s team. Myself and (Rajon) Rondo are here to bring what we bring as athletes to this team and to this city. (Butler’s) a young bull on this team. He’s a 26-year-old that can play 40 minutes a game if coach wants him to and maybe more. I ain’t trying to do all that. And we’re going to depend on him a lot.
Wade proclaiming the Bulls as Jimmy’s team was the right move, both from a PR and basketball standpoint, but was he telling the truth? Will Dwyane Wade, one of the greatest shooting guards in NBA history, try to become more of a role player as he approaches 35 years old? History says he probably won’t.
There have been eight players and just 18 total seasons in NBA history where a player aged 33 or older has finished with a usage percentage (which is defined as the percentage of a team’s plays that ends in the player taking a shot, turning it over or shooting free throws) higher than 30 percent. The last five instances have all come from Kobe Bryant, and as you might’ve guessed, Wade:
Bryant and Wade are the only players in the last 15 seasons to chuck up shots at such a high rate as elder statesmen. The two are also responsible for two of the three worst true-shooting percentage seasons of anyone on the list (both coming from last season).
Every player on this list is or will be in the Hall of Fame. This makes sense because a player needs to have an established reputation to take over an offense at such an old age without drawing the ire of teammates. No one is going to tell Kobe or Michael Jordan to stop taking shots, even when the former had one of the most inefficient seasons in NBA history. The fear is that Wade will continue on this ominous trajectory.
One could argue Wade already accepted a lesser role before when LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined him in Miami in 2010. Wade’s usage did drop from 34.9 percent to 31.6 percent during the 2010-11 season, but that’s still a superstar-level usage rate. If Wade is actually serious about the Bulls being Butler’s team, he needs to do what Ray Allen did in 2008 and commit to being a role player.
Allen’s usage rate dropped from 29.5 during his last season in Seattle all the way down to 21.6 percent during his first season in Boston. However, his true shooting percentage went up by two percent and more importantly, the Celtics went on to win the title. The Bulls will be nowhere near as good as that Celtics team next season, and Wade doesn’t have the shooting skills Allen possessed, but Wade still has complementary skills that can make him an exemplary role player.
For one, he makes up for his lack of a threat as a shooter by being one of the most dangerous cutters in the league:
Players don’t need to be athletic or fast to be dangerous cutters. Wade didn’t even run at full speed in either of these clips. Instead, he circled around his defender and weaved his way into the paint. Wade will need to be a cutting threat next season as Butler draws the attention of defenses. Wade rated poorly on cuts last season, but that doesn’t stop defenses from having to account for him at all times off the ball.
He is also still a phenomenal passer for a shooting guard:
This chart, courtesy of NBA.com’s John Schuhmann, displays the players that set up the most desirable buckets: shots right at the rim and corner three-pointers. Wade ranked second in the league in the percentage of his assists to the restricted area and corner three-pointers, and as Schuhmann noted, Khris Middleton was helped by the fact that his teammates can’t shoot. Wade assisted on almost triple the amount of three-pointers than Middelton. Overall, Wade ranked fifth in the league in assists per game among shooting guards with 4.6 dimes a game, two spots behind Butler’s 4.8. With Rondo, Wade and Butler, the Bulls should at least have three above-average playmakers for their positions.
Wade has fallen off considerably on the defensive end in recent years, but he still possesses an enormous 6-foot-10.75 wingspan that helps generate a healthy amount of blocks and steals even at his age. The 34-year-old has the skill set to be a terrific role player, but that of course doesn’t mean he’ll accept it.
The odds of Wade dropping his usage rate considerably are about as likely as it was for Kobe last season. The future Hall of Famer didn’t sign a near-max deal to become the highest-paid player on a team for the first time to only be a veteran presence. But if Wade is a man of his word and actually leaves the team to Butler, he has the ability to be a positive influence on the Bulls for the next two seasons. Maybe, just maybe, Wade was telling the truth after all:
It's all about learning how to adjust to your age, body now.. The skills don't fade just the bounce has https://t.co/dSTJvZDziR
— DWade (@DwyaneWade) September 20, 2016
It’s time for Wade to prove those skills haven’t faded and that he’s ready to use them in the proper fashion.