Is Dwyane Wade the Lakers’ penultimate step?
You can’t always go for the juggernaut right away. To make the critical strike in a game of chess, you have to be thinking ahead and make some set up moves before unleashing that power punch. When high jumping, the approach is essential, but it’s that penultimate step, the last step before the one you jump from, that’s more important than any of the others. A similar approach is needed when teambuilding in the NBA.
When the Lakers are recruiting big name players, like LeBron James, they now have some of these set up moves ready to leverage. Not only is there the allure of a storied franchise and the big market of Los Angeles ever a component of their pitch. Now the Lakers will be able to point to some young studs in Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram, both of which have legitimate shots of being great players. Lonzo in particular looks to be a transcendent playmaker who very well may be THE most fun player to play alongside when it’s all said and done after the 2017-18 season.
LA will be able to bring in two max players next offseason through clearing some cap space, which they’re confident they can do. If they can add two all stars alongside Lonzo and Ingram, as well as some of the other cheap tertiary young pieces on the roster, the Lakers are in good shape moving forward and having a realistic chance to compete for a title.
So what will it take to get LeBron James on this team? The Lakers have the rising stars. They have the perfect location as far as marketing and lifestyle. They can pay the money. So what’s left? It might just be the chance for LeBron to play with his old teammate, Dwyane Wade.
Dwyane Wade, future Laker?
I won’t speculate on how much of an impact Wade will or won’t have on obtaining LeBron. I also can’t say how much of a pay cut Wade would be willing to take to play in LA with these young studs and (hopefully) a couple superstars. What we can do is look at how Wade has played to try to gauge what version of Flash the Lakers could potentially be bringing in.
At His Best, What Did Wade Bring?
Even if we assume a revival of Wade, what does that mean? When projecting how he’ll play in the future, it’s important to understand the benchmarks of his previous play in the past. From analyzing Wade’s data, his strongest six seasons were from the 2008-09 season through the 2013-14 season. The first two years in that window were without LeBron. His fairly steady downward trajectory began during the fifth of those six years, his third season with LeBron.
Wade was an absolute monster when he was on his game.
When Wade was in his prime years, he was a great driver, post player, and pull up shooter. Those combination of skills led him to be a great scorer in the pick and roll, in the post, and in isolation.
Wade’s pull up ability and handles kept defenses on their toes, making it easier for him to drive as well.
Even at his best, Wade was not good at jump shots, catching & shooting, or shooting 3-pointers.
Let’s take a look at how Wade has performed to try to see which of these skills he can potentially bring to the Lakers, and which of those former skills are just a memory in the wind.
To analyze how Wade has performed, we’ll break down his career into three eras: the pre-LeBron era (5 season), the LeBron era (4 seasons), and the post-LeBron era (3 season). We aren’t including the 2004-2005 season due to unavailability of data.
The reason we’re breaking down his years into these three segments is due to his surroundings. Or rather, I’d like to show how despite going from pre-Bron offenses ranking 4th, 11th, 27th, 15th, and 17th in the league in Points Per Possession (PPP) to offenses ranked 2nd, 4th, 1st and 1st with LeBron, Wade was essentially the same player and his data reflected that. When it comes to his play type and granular efficiency data, there was no huge bump for Wade from playing with LeBron or being in much better offenses. Post-LeBron, Wade has been in the 15th, 12th, and 26th best offenses in the NBA.
What are Points Per Possession? Abbreviated as “PPP,” this is an efficiency metric that shows the points a player scores from made shots and free throws per possession, which also includes turnovers.
What is a PPP percentile? This is a measure of how good a player’s PPP is compared to the rest of the league. Being in the 80th percentile by PPP for isolation means that a player was more efficient on their isolation possessions than 80% of the NBA.
Areas Where Wade Used to Thrive
Driving: Before and with LeBron, Wade was an excellent driving player. His 79th and 82nd percentile points per possession in those eras is a huge asset to have. However, the past three years he’s had a huge dropoff. He’s still above average (58th percentile), but he’s no longer that great finisher he once was.
This is the driving Wade we remember, but it won’t be the one we see if he joins LA.
This version of Wade is must more likely to be what we’re seeing if Flash is a Laker this season or next season.
Posting Up: Wade was a good post player before his James years (64th percentile) and was fantastic at it during his four years with James (84th percentile), but recently he’s been just a little above average (54th percentile). That’s still good to have, but an average post possession isn’t a great possession relative to what you can get from other actions.
What exactly do I mean by this? A Wade post possession in the post-LeBron era scores 0.892 points. That’s equivalent to:
Spot Up: 32nd percentile. That means that you can be far below average as a spot up shooter and your PPP will be just as good as Wade’s 54th percentile post possession.
Off Screen: 39th percentile
Handoff: 45th percentile
Isolation: 59th percentile
Pick & Roll Ball Handler: 73rd percentile
Wade’s craftiness and post touch made him a tough cover down low, one of his signature areas he cooked defenders.
The Lakers can throw Wade into the post, but his scoring there likely won’t something we want often and the big men on the floor with Wade probably won’t provide the best of spacing, making Wade’s job harder and it harder to score on spot ups and cuts that Wade may be kicking out to from the post.
Pull Ups: Pulling up is another area where Wade was consistently good no matter if James was on his team or not. He was in the 64th percentile during both eras, which is likely lower than the general thinking. Those aren’t elite numbers, but those were those tough and memorable shots he was known for making.
He’s no longer above average in this area, and his PPP over the past few years is worse than last year’s efficiency from Lou Williams, Tyler Ennis, Nick Young, Marcelo Huertas, Jordan Clarkson, D’Angelo Russell, and Jose Calderon. Adding him may add more of those shots, but not a satisfactory number of makes.
If we’re looking for a player to “create his own offense,” Wade likely isn’t that guy.
Based off of the regression in these granular areas, Wade’s ability to score in isolation, the post, and in the pick and roll have predictably diminished. His ability in all three areas has dropped an average of 16% points from his pre-LeBron days and an average of 17% points from his time with James. The high level play type data and the more granular data shows Wade to be a shell of his former self.
Wade’s former self would be a great addition to the Laker squad, but we shouldn’t expect him to be *successfully *going to work on defenders like this anymore.
What about those areas where Wade wasn’t strong before? How has his game matured over the years in those categories?
Jump Shooting: Wade’s efficiency was steady in his shooting before (37th percentile) and during (36th percentile) the LeBron years, but has been worse during the past three seasons. His 26th percentile efficiency post-LeBron is what Roy Hibbert did last season, and that’s not ideal.
Chicago fans are familiar with this version of Wade, and gunners missing long pull up 2-pointers aren’t what will make the Lakers more successful.
Catch & Shoot: We know Wade was a good pull up shooter, but how about catching and shooting? Those two areas combined make up the jump shooting numbers covered above.
What’s most striking about Wade’s catching and shooting numbers are the dearth of them. Wade averaged 5 pull up jumpers per game the past three seasons, but just 1 catch and shoot jumper per game. That’s a ratio that needs to change for him to be an efficient player.
Another ratio that’s important in shooting efficiency is the percentage of open catch and shoot jumpers. Wade’s has been 5:2 throughout his career with far more contested shots than open ones.
Like essentially every NBA player, Wade is a better shooter without a hand in his face. But even when open, Wade isn’t an effective shooter.
Wade has scored 0.926 points per possession on open catch and shoot jumpers over his career. If he could have every catch and shoot jumper be an open one, that’d still only put him in the 35th percentile for catch and shoot jump shooters in the NBA.
If we add in pull ups, and say Wade takes 0 of his inefficient pull up shots, 0 contested catch and shoot jumpers, and that 100% of his jump shots this year were wide open catch and shoot jumpers, at that 0.926 PPP he’d still only be in the 53rd percentile of all NBA players as a jump shooter.
Whether the Lakers will provide the type of situational improvement to generate more open looks for Wade is questionable, but possible. Regardless, it doesn’t look as though it’ll make a huge difference for Wade based on his shooting data when open.
3-Point Shooting: Wade was just as good with LeBron as he was before him at shooting 3-pointers, but since the James era Wade has gotten even worse. His 18th percentile 3-point shooting is Terry Rozier territory.
Isolation, posting up, and the pick and roll were also consistently the three areas he was most used. In fact, his playing style has been pretty consistent over time. The similarity of post-LBJ Wade to pre-LBJ Wade (93.35%) and with LBJ Wade (94.29%) are both high. He’s been pretty much the same player his whole career, regardless of team personnel and scheme. With that in mind, it’d be a stretch to expect him to suddenly alter his playing style drastically with the Lakers.
To show how consistent Wade has been, here is the data on Wade’s play type frequency over his career, with that season’s version of Wade’s similarity score with the 2016-17 version of Dwyane.
Based on this, we should expect Wade to be a player for the Lakers who is isolating, posting up, and running the pick and roll frequently. The big issue is that his abilities in those areas has greatly deteriorated, and those three actions are the three least efficient actions in general. A bump in the frequency of inefficient actions by a player not efficient at them isn’t the formula for success.
Wade’s ability in the post may be a fraction of what it once was, but we shouldn’t expect him to be any less willing to try to score down low.
Even if Wade were to adjust his playing style, what would that realistically look like and would it make him an efficient offensive player?
If we want him to be a spot up, off screen, cutting shooting guard, we’re asking Wade to change about as drastically as a guard can and still look like a guard. If he did somehow make that change, we’re still looking at a player who hasn’t been an above average cutter in years and won’t be an above average jump shooter.
We can say “Wade should be X,” or “why can’t Wade be Y,” but this simple fact remains: The areas where Wade is best at are the ones he currently does the most. It doesn’t appear as though a path exists for a remodeled style from Wade to be the difference maker in his effectiveness.
Will Playing in Luke Walton’s System Help?
Likely not. There are no indications from anything run by Walton last season or this Summer League that would indicate that the Lakers will be running an above average scheme this year. Of the 20 NBA teams I’ve extensively scouted, the Lakers would rank dead last as far as the scheme they ran last season.
If anything, Walton will likely allow Wade to continue his isolation and pick and roll ways. The Lakers isolated seventh most last season of any team and had the third most pick and roll possessions. However, the Laker isolation ran last season was accompanied by very rare off-ball movement, making it much harder for Wade to pass out to find good shots and perhaps encouraging him to force up bad shots since no other scoring opportunities will be created for him to pass to.
Will Playing With Lonzo Help?
While playing under Walton probably won’t help Wade’s efficiency, doing so alongside a player like Lonzo Ball may. My anticipated impact on Wade due to playing with Lonzo are as follows:
- More, and better, cutting opportunities: This should help Wade’s cutting, which has regressed greatly the past few years. Wade’s post-LeBron cutting (34th percentile) is a step off of a cliff from his 84th percentile pre-James and 77th percentile with James data. Wade’s finishing isn’t what it once was, and he’s not the quickest of players, but better looks should help him convert better.
- Better spot up opportunities: Wade may get more open shots, and will likely be a better jump shooter because of it, but as we discussed earlier, those shots still aren’t the greatest of opportunities for the team.
- More transition opportunities: Of the 102 guards who played 50+ games and 20+ minutes per game last season, Wade was the 15th slowest, according to NBA.com/stats. While Larry Nance Jr, Kyle Kuzma, and several other players may benefit greatly from Lonzo’s prodigious ability to find players leaking out into transition, Wade likely won’t. Wade is slow, and consistently generated a miniscule proportion of his transition offense from leaking out in the past. Where he’ll benefit is trailing and running up the wing looking to catch and attack closeouts.
Playing with Lonzo will help Wade, but I’m not of the belief that it’ll fuel a revival of the seasoned veteran. His efficiency in a few areas will increase, but his overall usage likely won’t change much and the “Lonzo bump” that Wade will get in those areas projects to be less than most other Laker players.
Passing and Defense
When looking at the points per game Wade created as a passer out of pick and rolls, isolations, and post ups compared to what an average player would, Wade was in the 79th percentile. That looks great, but once we control for volume, this efficiency drops to the 36th percentile. Wade is engaging in low efficiency play types, creating low efficiency offense, and is a below average passer in those situations.
Looking at Wade’s passing efficiency through the use of my Passer Rating stat, Wade grades out in the 55th percentile. That doesn’t track passes that Wade doesn’t make that he should have (which is why Jordan Clarkson grades out well), but does look at potential assists created from a player’s passes as well as bad pass turnovers to create a look at a player’s passing efficiency.
Wade’s passing data shows him to be an average to below average passer. He has a relatively high percentage of his passes be potential assists, but he’s also committing more bad pass turnovers than most and creating below average production from his pass outs from isolation, the pick and roll, and his post ups.
Last season Wade’s Defensive Real Plus Minus was in the 42nd percentile. His Defensive Points Over Expectation, my metric that measures the points conceded of a player as a primary defender compared to how an average defender would do facing the same shots, had him in the 49th percentile.
A quick look at Wade’s defensive data on Synergy shows that he was worse than the team average defending every play type other than defending shooters off of screens.
Defensive metrics still have room for improvement, but what we have unanimously shows him to be a below average defender.
After all of that, here are my key takeaways:
- Wade’s style likely isn’t changing
- His skillset is uniquely unfit for him to change styles like a normal aging player and be any more effective than he is now
- Wade’s style requires him to be at an almost elite level to be efficient
- His abilities have been diminishing for years, and he’s to the point now where he’s a shell of the shot creator we’ve seen in the past
- Wade didn’t receive a bump from playing with LeBron before, and it’s unlikely playing with Lonzo will transform his effectiveness
- Wade is a below average to average passer and a below average defender
- I don’t want to be thinking about what Wade’s efficiency will be in two seasons for the Lakers, which is what would be the case if LA is using him to lure LeBron to the City of Angels
So while Wade’s name has lots of recognition and adding him to the roster may increase LA’s chance at LeBron in LA, pump your banana boat breaks when it comes to expectations of his on-court impact. Wade might be one of the last steps to acquiring LeBron James, but by the time James would be on the Laker roster Wade’s true role should probably be toward the end of the bench.
Wade’s value in attracting LeBron James may entice, but will his on-court play leave us groaning?
How patient will we be with shots like these when players like Lonzo, Ingram, and Lopez are on the court?