When Chicago Bulls veteran guard Dwyane Wade sustained a regular season ending right elbow injury in the fourth quarter of the Bulls loss to the Memphis Grizzlies last Wednesday, the reaction from Bulls fans was decidedly less concerned than when a certain Bulls point guard hurt his knee all those times.
Wade's injury was big news, but it didn't stop the presses or shove an entire city into the hellish depths of basketball despair. When Derrick Rose injured himself the first time, that is all Chicago talked about for months. The media documented every facet of his long recovery process as fans anxiously awaited the return that was anything but timely. In contrast, does anybody really care when or if Dwyane Wade returns this season?
Is there a reason for this discrepancy in fan reaction, or was Derrick Rose just exponentially more popular than Dwyane Wade is now?
A popularity disparity between the two players is probably part of the issue, but it doesn't tell the whole story. Rather, our reaction to the injuries were so different because Derrick Rose at one time held the keys to the Chicago Bulls championship quest, while the current Chicago Bulls may actually be better off when Wade isn't on the floor.
Are the Bulls Better Without Dwyane Wade?
Dwyane Wade's presence on this team has done little to lift the Chicago Bulls out of basketball purgatory, as the team sits at 33-37 and occupies the tenth seed in the Eastern Conference.
In fact, advanced statistics suggest that Wade may actually be hurting the Bulls on both ends of the floor. According to Basketball-Reference.com, the Chicago Bulls have a better offensive rating and a better defensive rating when Wade sits.
It's difficult to grasp how this is possible given that Wade is the Bulls second-leading scorer and also has the second-best player efficiency rating (PER) on the team. However, dissecting some of his offensive statistics and applying a simple eye test to locate his deficiencies on defense will help shine some light on the problem.
Wade shot an extremely inefficient 43.4 percent from the field this season, which is a career low percentage and just the seventh-highest shooting percentage on the team (Anthony Morrow's shooting percentage not taken into account due to a small sample size). To dissect his shooting statistics a step further, his effective field goal percentage was also a career low at 45.8 percent which is significantly lower than the NBA average of 51.3 percent.
Despite these ugly shooting numbers, Wade led the team in field goal attempts at 16.3 per game which further exacerbates the Bulls already inefficient offense. Wade also leads the Bulls with a 29.7 usage percentage (an estimate of the percentage of team plays used by a player while he was on the floor). Wade, an inefficient scorer who relied heavily on low percentage shots and isolation for his scoring, was a huge part of the Bulls offense. When he sat, the offense was less stagnant (the percentage of assisted field goals increased by over four percentage points when Wade sat as opposed to when he played) and this more ball movement oriented offense was more efficient, thus creating a higher offensive rating.
Defensively, Wade's issues largely stemmed from his lack of effort.
Dwyane Wade playing defense early in the game. pic.twitter.com/FglqEPaCQW— ⓂarcusD2.0 (@_MarcusD2_) March 13, 2017
His poor effort on this side of the ball has been a perpetual problem this season.
I call him gamb-lor pic.twitter.com/mP2Q5iAwLR— BullsBlogger (@BullsBlogger) March 16, 2017
These highlights don't even begin to scratch the surface of his transition defense, if you can even call it that.
Wade needs to give better effort in transition defense. He's been very bad on that end. pic.twitter.com/1SL2K07m6G— Stephen Noh (@StephNoh) January 18, 2017
Add poor effort and a lack of awareness (video 1) to his inclination to unnecessarily gamble (video 2), and sprinkle in some egregious transition defense and you get a player who hurts rather than helps the Bulls on the defensive side of the ball.
According to NBA.com, Wade's -1.7 box plus-minus number is 148th out of 218 qualified NBA guards. When put into context, this statistic is unsurprising given his inefficient offense and lazy defense. These stats further illustrate the slow demise of a player who used to be an NBA superstar.
Younger Guys Get a Chance
One of the stated purposes of the outrageously lopsided pre-deadline trade that sent Taj Gibson, Doug McDermott, and a second round pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for Cameron Payne, Joffrey Lauvergne, and Anthony Morrow was to free up minutes for some of the younger players on the Bulls roster.
Since Wade went down with injury, 23 year old Denzel Valentine has averaged 29.9 minutes of playing time in two games and has scored 11.0 points on 36.4 percent from the field (35.7 percent from the 3-point line) and has grabbed 8.0 rebounds. With Wade out, recently shunned two guard Jerian Grant should enjoy the same treatment as Valentine.
Even if Wade decides to pick up his player option and stay with the Bulls this summer, this team is more than a year away from seriously contending for a championship. The Bulls need to prioritize youth development of the next wave of players who will eventually become important components of a championship-contending team in the future. Wade is merely a passerby; his current performance and his career trajectory don't meaningfully impact the future direction of this franchise because the Bulls have little hope of seriously contending while he is in a Bulls uniform.
Wade's injury gets the Bulls making decisions based on what is best for the future. This is important because the Bulls present is bleak, and this franchise can't continue to prioritize meaningless wins now at the expense of future success.
Mentoring Role Magnified
Wade has mentored Jimmy Butler this season, easing his once choppy transition from role player to budding star to full-blown superstar. Perhaps this mentoring role has been Wade's most meaningful contribution to this Chicago Bulls team this season. It's certainly a role that Wade has fully embraced, especially given his on-court limitations due to his rapidly advancing age.
I feel it's our duty as veteran players to give that knowledge back to the next generation so this game can continue to be as amazing and great as it is. So I do that. I do that with not only my teammates, I do that with other guys around the league. I work out with guys if they want to work out with me. I talk to guys throughout the year via text message.
These young guys on the team, I'm going to give them the knowledge that I've learned. They can take it for what it's worth, but I'm going to give it to them no matter what. I'm a leader and that's all I know how to do.
Wade's advice hasn't fallen upon deaf ears, as Butler has expressed on multiple occasions the value of having a player like Wade around to show him how to handle being the face of a franchise.
He's been in my corner since Day 1, since we started this thing. I'm fortunate, man. I'm extremely blessed to have a guy like that on this team that's pointing me, leading me in the right direction. -Jimmy Butler on Dwyane Wade-Per ESPN writer Nick Friedell
In essence, the injury means the Bulls get the best of Wade (ideally he stays around the team and continues in his mentor role as he rehabs) even though he can't actually help the team on the court (which, as I argued earlier, might be a blessing in disguise).
Wade hasn't helped the Bulls win this season, but his current injury might help the Bulls win the future which is the most important win the Bulls can record this season.
All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted