In the past week, I have started to write a series about the criteria that players have to meet to be recognized as franchise players. If you want the list of requirements that I came up with, click here. Now that you know the rules, let’s go check out our featured player of the day.
Back in 2003, teams were all lining up hoping to get the #1 NBA draft pick in what was known as the LeBron James, Carmelo and Darko draft. As crazy as it sounds today, scouts had made NBA general managers as well as the general public believe that Darko Milicic was the next coming of Dirk Nowitzki; except with shot blocking skills and a better post game. He was going to revolutionize NBA basketball (I know this post is not about Darko, but please indulge me for a few lines, we should be obliged to revisit the 2003 NBA Draft every year); or so we were told. Joe Dumars had a team that featured Chauncy Billups, Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and Ben Wallace (in his prime no less). Looking at the roster he had, Dumars passed on Carmelo Anothony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh for Darko. Just so we’re clear, up to that point, only Dirk Nowitzki , Manu Ginobili and Peja Stojakovic had been able to transition their game from Europe to the NBA and become stars. Wade and Anthony in the meantime had shined on the biggest collegiate stage possible as they dominated the NCAA tournament and both made Final Four appearances. And here we are seven years later, Darko has played for Detroit, Orlando, Memphis, New York and Minnesota while Wade and Melo are still where they started. Milicic has said himself that once this season ends, he’s packing his bags and heading back to Europe (I really hope for him his career pans out there, because that would just give me more stuff to write about for my own entertainment). On the other hand, the Miami Heat selected a 6’4 guard out of Marquette with the number five pick in the draft. Miami knew they were getting a solid combo guard, but did they truly know what they were getting?
The Heat drafted a guard with a wide array of skills in Dwyane Wade. Although he was not a good shooter when drafted, he compensated that by being a decent rebounder from the guard position and a good playmaker. However, what surprised people the most was his freakish athleticism and body control. From the moment he stepped into the league, Wade flew to the basket with reckless abandon but always positioned himself well enough to avoid contact before getting to the rim. Think about it, when’s the last time you saw Flash whistled for a charge? The former Marquette player was so good that when it came time for Shaquille O’Neal to be traded from the Lakers, he chose Miami as a destination because he saw in Wade the ability to help him win another title. Indeed, by his third season, Wade was an NBA champion. He tortured the Dallas Mavericks in the 2006 NBA Finals with his prolific scoring and knack for getting fouled. People were quick to anoint him as the equal to Kobe Bryant (understandable, but a bit of an overreaction) and then whispers grew that he was Rated Next. I bet you’re wondering what Rated Next means. It’s a term I came up with for players that are mentioned as the possible successor to his Airness Michael Jordan. Quick note: Isn’t it funny how every time an athletic and high scoring two guard emerges in the NBA, he immediately becomes Rated Next? Look at the list: Harold Minor, Grant Hill (a small forward but still), Jerry Stackhouse, Vince Carter, Dwyane Wade, DeShawn Stevenson (yes, Stevenson was actually once compared to MJ, sad isn’t it?) and finally Darko Milicic. In the words of Triumph the Dog, I kid I kid. Darko was obviously never compared to Mike, but I couldn’t resist the urge of writing his name again. Considering that Wade was once mentioned in the same breath as the GOAT (Greatest Off All Time), does he make it in as a franchise player? Let’s break it down.
The Kobe Bryant Exception
So far in his NBA career, Dwyane Wade has missed the playoffs only once, and it happened in his third season. That year, Wade missed 31 games as the Heat limped their way to 15 wins. Considering that Wade still played in 51 games, it doesn’t look good on his track record that his team only won 15 games. Nonetheless, he gets a pass accordingly to the Kobe Bryant Exception. Quick note: How do Lakers fans rationalize the fact that the Lakers missed the playoffs that year? I bet you it was a conspiracy spearheaded by the almighty David Stern.
The Kareem Standard
Dwyane Wade has accumulated a bit of hardware so far in his young career. Flash has been selected to participate in six All-Star games. In addition, Wade was named the 2006 NBA Finals MVP and was just recently crowed as “The Star of Stars” (David Stern’s favorite line on Al-Star Sunday) as he captured the 2010 NBA All-Star MVP award.
Magic Johnson Provision
Nobody in the NBA is more reckless than Dwyane Wade. He sacrifices his body night in and night out with incredible drives to the hoop as he seeks to posterize defenders all the while drawing the foul. In addition, I can’t recall ever seeing a guard with the same fearlessness on defense; Wade refuses to allow easy baskets to his opponents, consequently he has been dunked on a few times. Nonetheless, that never stops him from attempting to swat the shot of a guard, forward or even center trying to get his dunk on. As a result, you never forget that Wade is on the floor; it's like Doug Collins likes to say, his fingerprints are always all over the game; be it scoring, rebounding, passing or defense.
Rarely do you get the chance to witness one single play that displays a player’s personality as well as his career. Let me take you down through memory lane. It’s game 5 of the 2006 NBA Finals with the series tied 2-2. The Heat are down 100-99 with 9.1 seconds left in overtime and they are inbounding the ball at midcourt. Dwyane Wade breaks free from his defender and catches the ball in the backcourt, he starts dribbling and sees Jason Terry and Devin Harris coming to double team him.
Instead of looking for the open man, Wade dribbles the ball up court on the right side of the court and keeps his dribble alive as he tries to shake free from (Avery Johnson is on that side of the court and is situated right next to Wade on the sidelines and is screaming and begging for a hard double team) from the double team. Wade has made it to the three point line and is staring at the basket from a 45 degree angle; he fakes as if he’s going to try and split the double team and then beats Devin Harris left, and drives towards the middle of the lane and gets fouled by Dirk Nowitzki. In the defining moment of his career;Wade ignored the defense as well as conventional wisdom and drew a foul. Knowing what was at stake, Wade took it upon himself to decide the game instead of leaving the team’s fate in the hands of a player that could not shoulder the pressure. After drawing the foul on Dirk Nowitzki, Wade turned into a cold blooded NBA version of Frank Lucas (portrayed by Denzel Washington in the movie American Gangster). He stepped up to the line and sank the Dallas Mavericks hopes of stealing game 5 with his two free throws. For better or worse, that will be (at least to me) the defining moment in Dwyane Wade’s career: he would not and could not shrink from the moment. There is a saying in sports: “good players take what the defense gives them; great players take what they want.” Which one do you think fits Wade?
The Karl Malone Rule
Dwyane Wade loses a huge amount of points in this category. As great as he is as a player, Wade’s attacks to the basket leave him vulnerable to vicious shots from big men. Consequently, Wade has been and will probably always be a player that faces multiple injuries. Since his rookie year in the league, Wade has played in 61, 77, 75, 51, 51, 79 and 55 games (this season). For those of you keeping score, that’s 449 games out of a possible 577 games. If we do the math, Flash has been active in 77.8% of the Miami Heat’s games during his career.
The Diesel Test
In case you’re wondering, I did change up the order in which I present the criteria in Wade’s case because one of the requirements had a direct impact on a second requirement. In this case, the requirement that we’re talking about is the answer to this question: would you blindly give Dwyane Wade a contract that averages out to $20 million annually? Several general managers would cough up the money in a heartbeat but I wouldn’t do it for two reasons:
Exhibit A: Injuries
The Marquette product misses on average 18 games per season and will continue to miss games as he gets older. As I mentioned earlier, Wade’s constant attacks to the basket (on offense and defense) will consistently lead to him getting injured and missing parts of a season at a time. In addition, unlike Shaquille O’Neal in his prime, Wade’s mere presence on the team does not make them a championship contender; but rather a team vying for a low playoff seed if he’s healthy to suit up for 82 games. Add the fact that he’s not available to play all the games, and his worth takes a dip.
Exhibit B: Tracy McGrady & Vince Carter
In no way am I saying that Dwyane Wade is the type of player that these guys are, but you have to look at the signs and wonder. Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady were once the marquee shooting guards of the NBA not named Kobe Bryant. T-Mac and V.C. were known for dunking on some of the biggest and meanest players ever (cue the Vince Carter clip when he dunks Alonzo Mourning at the end of the article……OK back to business). However, back then we saw the signs. Both players would occasionally battle a few nicks and bruises here and there and miss a few games but then be good to go and perform at a high level. However the injuries eventually caught up and it affected their psyches and their performances. McGrady was told to stay away from the Houston Rockets this season and was then shipped to New York where he performed well in his first game but then limped around the court in the following game. As it pertains to Vince Carter, well let’s just call him “Half Man, Half Missing” from now on. Vince Carter now lounges on the court and fires away ill advised shots from three point range. We now have such low expectations from Carter, that we were all amazed last Sunday when he flew in for a double pump dunk on Anderson Varejao (Vince Carter then did the “don’t mess with or else I’ll fake another injury” face). And by the way, has anyone seen Vince Carter try to play defense this year? Every time Vince Carter is asked to guard someone and that someone ends up with the ball, he looks like Sidney Prescott when she found out that her boyfriend Billy Loomis was the killer in the movie Scream. Carter seems shocked, scared and betrayed at the idea that he was asked to guard someone. Seriously, check him out the next time he’s out there on defense; and imagine the offensive player using a voice synthesizer and saying : “Hello Sidney…”
With that said, as you can see, McGrady and Carter were once in the exact same shoes as Wade is right now: they were their team’s franchise player, they carried a huge load of their respective team’s responsibilities , but as injuries mounted up it became harder to build a team around them; hence they were both traded….Twice. Does this mean that history holds the same fate for Wade? Not at all. But even with an owner willing to get his Drake on (Money To Blow), I would be real nervous about signing Dwyane Wade to a contract of $100 million over six years.
In conclusion, Dwyane Wade is a terrific player, but he is not however according to my criteria a franchise player. I could end up being entirely wrong on this one, but I believe that Flash is an extremely gifted player that needs top shelf talent in order to win consistently in the NBA. He’s not a franchise player, but man he is as close as it gets…
Photo by: Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images