Dwyane Wade is the worst 3-point shooter in NBA history. That was the headline on the March 3rd edition of ESPN the Magazine in 2014 and it was justified, a stat reminiscent of the Russell Westbrook tweets that circulated last spring.
Of the 307 players in NBA history to attempt 1,000 three-point shots, eight have a career three-point percentage lower than 30 percent. Wade is one of them. But what distinguishes him from this ill-shooting pack is that he gets worse when the game is on the line: Over the course of his career, from 2003 to present (through Feb. 11), 45 players have attempted 200 three-point shots in clutch time — when the score is within five points in the fourth quarter or OT. Of those 45 players, Wade is dead last in three-point percentage at 25.1 percent.
Wade has already been able to connect on more 3’s in ’16-17 than he did in all of ’15-16. Though last season was by far his worst from deep, in terms of attempts and percentage (only 15.9%), something clicked in the postseason as he dragged the Heat into the second round and almost single-handedly able to push the Heat into the Conference Finals for an anticipated meeting with LeBron. Instead of the storybook match-up, #HeatIsland needed to be evacuated after Bismack Biyombo had a career series in a contract year and Kyle Lowry finally came back to life after a late-night shooting session. Now, of course, the Heatles are all gone, and the dream of a Bosh and Wade vs. LeBron playoff series is officially dead.
What is still in play, though, is a Wade vs. LeBron match-up in the first round of the playoffs this year. The Bulls Vegas over/under was set at 38.5 wins, but if they continue to keep up the threat of the three at least, they have smart enough, experienced players to overcome the potential spacing issues and earn a playoff berth. Wade’s now up to 10/19 (53%) from deep this year, already eclipsing his 7/44 (16%) total from ’15-16, after connecting on five in a loss to the Knicks.
He shot at a similar clip in the playoffs last year, connecting on 12/23 (52%). These numbers elicited speculation about the evolution of his game as he aged. At 34, he still shows flashes of the athleticism that allowed him to slice through defenses with ease. The euro-stepping, dream-shaking, posterizing phenom that was a perennial MVP candidate in the aughts may be the last of the Jordan-mold of high-usage shooting guards, but nobody is immune from the analytical revolution. NBA analysts have been wringing their hands about the lack of spacing on this Chicago Bulls roster. Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade, and the recently acquired Michael-Carter Williams are all barely above the Roberson-line (basketball’s version of the Mendoza Line).
The Bulls have come out looking to prove the critics wrong, Wade especially. Some of the increased efficiency can be explained by the fact that he’s been getting better looks in Chicago. 80% of his 3’s have been assisted in ’16-17, the highest rate since his rookie year. He’s reduced the number of pull-up jumpers he’s taking and has an astounding 83.5% eFG on catch-and-shoot jumpers. Vince Carter has provided the blueprint for Wade to follow. If Wade keeps hunting good shots on the perimeter, he can lessen the wear-and-tear on his knees that come from breaking down defenses with acrobatic finishes at the rim.
He can still be an effective player for a long time if he can shoot at an efficient rate and use his basketball IQ to take advantage of less-experienced competitors. He’s shown the ability to step up his outside shooting when he needs to (career 34% in the playoffs vs. 29% in the regular season), and he seems to understand that it’s going to need to be a part of his game going forward. Wade’s 3-point attempt rate is at a career high so far (23.5% this year, previous high was 16.1%) His torrid pace will fall off at some point, but don’t bet against Wade re-defining his game back home in Chicago.