It’s been said for years that Dwyane Wade is an absymal three point shooter. Some folks in the basketball universe have even gone as far as to declare him the worst beyond-the-arc player in NBA history.
If you’re strictly going off of numbers, it’s a simple case to make. Steph Curry made more threes last season alone than Wade has made in his entire NBA regular-season career. Wade ranks next-to-last in front of only Charles Barkley for 3-PT percentage among players with at least a thousand attempts in their careers at a ghastly 28.4%. That’s a number that would even make Derrick Rose cringe.
Now prepare yourself for a take so hot it could melt Zaza Pachulia’s titanium elbows: Dwyane Wade can hit threes, and if he does so this season at even an average rate, it’s going to make the Chicago Bulls exponentially better than they would be otherwise.
Let’s begin by examining Wade’s postseason history with shooting the long ball. Although much was made of the unfathomably-wet playoff run he had last year, Wade historically has had several postseasons in which he’s knocked in threes at scalding rates. Before shooting an obscene 52.2% from beyond the arc in the 2016 NBA playoffs, Wade’s best perimeter shooting performance came in 2010 when he shot 40.5% on a ridiculous 7.4 attempts per game against a Boston Celtics team that still had Tom Thibodeau orchestrating the defense. The year prior to that one, Wade shot 7.1 threes per game over the course of a seven game series versus the Atlanta Hawks and managed to knock them in at an above-average rate of 36%. In fact, Dwyane Wade has shot above league-average from downtown in six of the eleven postseasons he has played in over the span of his career.
So if Wade has proven he can knock in triples at the aforementioned great rates, then why are his regular season numbers so ugly? The answer comes in two parts.
For one, Wade doesn’t look to shoot threes often during the regular season, preferring to save his three point shooting as a counter-measure in the playoffs for when teams attempt to take away his play closer to the basket. Three point shooting is not something Wade has worked on in practice for extended stretches during the regular season, either. Wade harped briefly on this when he spoke to Sam Smith of Bulls.com last week:
“In the playoffs they take things away, right? In the regular season, you play so many games teams sometimes don’t get a long time to prepare for you. So they may try and take one thing away. In the playoffs, they get a long time to prepare for you so you may be doing something and they’re going to take the next thing away. So you have to have counters.”
However, this only explains the lack of volume, not the lack of efficiency. While it’s smart and commendable of Wade to ensure he has some sort of “secret weapon” heading into postseasons, it still leaves one to wonder why Wade has never shot higher than 31.7% from three during a regular season.
This can be partially explained by the alarmingly high number of “bailout” attempts Wade takes that skewers his perimeter shooting numbers. Of the 44 threes Wade attempted last season for the Miami Heat, 29 of them came with seven seconds or less remaining on the shot clock or when the clock was off altogether. He hit only two of those attempts. On the rest, he was 5/15 (33.3%), nearly five full percentage points better than his career regular season average.
When he picks and chooses his spots from the perimeter, the results can be deadly for opponents that choose to sag off:
Wade’s ability to create shots for himself has always been tremendous because of his knowledge of his own strengths and remarkable footwork. He has always been a terror for opponents in terms of setting himself up for drives to the basket or stepback midrange jumpers, but he’s proven in the playoffs he has the skill to implement the same strategies towards giving himself open looks from long range:
Of course, these examples illustrate attempts that come out of isolation, and while Bulls fans are sure to see Wade set himself up for shots all season, Fred Hoiberg’s brand of basketball (in theory) calls for unselfish play. This means that Wade will have to also be ready to knock down shots off of catch-and-shoot opportunities, and that’s not something he’s used to doing with great frequency or efficiency from anywhere on the court. Last season, only one of Wade’s sixteen shot attempts per game would come off of a catch-and-shoot opportunity, and he shot a mere 43% on those chances according to NBA.com’s player-tracking data. That’s not to say he can’t shoot off of passes, just that he’ll need to become more comfortable with it if he and this Bulls team are to find consistent offensive success.
Hoiberg believes in Wade’s potential ability to shoot from distance, as Wade communicated in that Bulls.com article that his coach has given him the green light. If Wade can consistently shoot with the capability he’s showcased in his past playoff performances, the spacing of this Bulls team suddenly doesn’t look too bad. Though Rajon Rondo’s own track record from beyond the arc doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, he did manage to shoot above league average for the first time in his career last season (36.5%) and will look to continue that success this year. Jimmy Butler himself struggled from long range last season, but he’s also historically bounced back from poor perimeter shooting stints to knock in threes at well-above average rates. When factoring in the potential for a breakout season from Nikola Mirotic as well as the prolific three point shooting of various bench pieces, the Bulls may surpirse many in terms of effectively spacing the floor as the season progresses.
In his preseason debut Monday night, Wade was quick to announce to the world he’s not afraid to shoot from downtown, knocking in both of his attempts. Only time will tell if Wade can sustain success from the perimeter, but don’t be surprised if Dwyane Wade has his best year ever in 2016/17 when it comes to shooting threes. Father Prime’s favorite playoff counter-measure could well become one of the association’s most flabbergasting not-so-secret weapons by season’s end, and the Bulls will be all the better for it.