Dwyane Wade is, without a doubt, one of the three greatest shooting guards ever to play in the NBA. But he didn’t start off that way.
The Miami Heat got lucky when Wade slipped all the way to number five in the 2003 NBA Draft. Not only did they have a future superstar, but someone who would entirely shape the future of their franchise. Coming out of Marquette, scouts revered Wade for his two-way dominance, but his ability to close when it mattered has put him alongside Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.
His first two seasons were good — by rookie and sophomore standards. Wade was emerging as a fantastic playmaker, defensive game changer and efficient scorer. Over the first 138 games of his career, Flash averaged 20.6 points on 47.3 percent shooting, 5.8 assists and 1.8 steals a night. His sophomore year was when he started gaining recognition as a star. Wade landed on his first All-NBA team (second) and All-Defensive team (also second) that season, along with making his first All-Star appearance and finishing eighth in the MVP voting.
Wade was driving the Heat bus as fast as he could down Biscayne Boulevard, leading Miami to a 59-23 record. Two brooms were brought out against the New Jersey Nets and Washington Wizards, and the Heat walked away with eight consecutive victories.
As the bus pulled into Detroit, it began to break down. The Pistons, who were fresh off beating the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2004 Finals, beat Miami in seven games. Led by Richard Hamilton and Chauncey Billups, Detroit came back from a 3-2 deficit and absolutely pummeled the Heat, who were without Wade, in Game 6, 91-66, before clinching the series two days later.
The following year, the then-24-year-old would have his best season to date. Wade had reached the pinnacle of two-way superstardom by the end of 2005-06, putting up more than 27 points a night on nearly 50 percent shooting, 6.7 assists, 5.7 boards and almost two steals. Pat Riley had also taken the reigns of the team after an 11-10 start from Stan Van Gundy, and one of the greatest coaches ever couldn’t have asked for a better pupil.
Miami’s run wasn’t as easy as the year before, but it was close. They beat the Chicago Bulls in six games, dismantled the Nets in five and got revenge on the Pistons in six.
Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks were lucky enough to face a red-hot Heat team, but the Mavs were no slouches. Nowitzki was in his prime, and Avery Johnson coached them to a 60-22 record. Going into that series, Dallas had the slight edge.
At that time, it was the greatest performance ever in the Finals. Wade, a third-year player, dominated over the last four games, leading Miami to a championship after going down 2-0 in the series. He scored 157 points over that stretch, joining Rick Barry and Michael Jordan as the only players to have more than 150 points in games three through six of the Finals.
Unfortunately, Wade’s career-defining moment does battle with one of the worst officiated playoff series ever. Thusly, some use that as an argument against Wade’s greatness. Dallas shot 155 free throws over the six games, with Nowitzki attempting a team-high 55. Wade attempted 46 over the last two games, and 97 for the series. The Heat totaled 207 foul shots, but the egregious officiating does not take away from Wade’s incredible performance.
It’s important to remember that the officials made the calls. Not the players.
By series end, Flash averaged 34.7 points and made 65 of his 139 field goals. That production translated to the glass (7.8 boards) and defensively (2.7 steals), and, up until the 2016 Finals, this was the greatest playoff showing in history.
The rest is, well, history. Despite injuries zapping Wade’s explosiveness for a full 48 minutes, Flash has continued to produce and was humble enough to check his ego when he relinquished control of the Heat to LeBron James at the start of the decade.
Hopefully, he stays a couple more years, but Wade’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer whenever he calls it quits.
Happy birthday, Dwyane.
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