The Cleveland Cavaliers may have dispatched Kyrie Irving and the Boston Celtics on opening night, but nearly a week into the season, it’s obvious they’re still working out the kinks in their backcourt without him.
Dwyane Wade and LeBron James have picked up right where they left off. The last time Wade and James played a meaningful game together, Wade looked washed during Game 5 of the 2014 NBA Finals and James was plotting his exit. James found more youthful running mates in Cleveland and won a championship in 2016. Of course, that all changed this summer when Irving was replaced by an injured Isaiah Thomas, Wade and Derrick Rose.
Since being bought out by the Chicago Bulls and latching onto Cleveland, Wade has never looked more out of sorts, and now he is moving to the bench. The consensus expectation was that Wade would be James’ right-hand man as they reignited the psychic bond they shared as Heatles. Instead, Wade has struggled fitting into his new team as he’s realized the passage of time has demoted him to mere run-of-the-mill henchman. Through three games, Wade is averaging 5.7 points and shooting 28 percent from the floor, and his chemistry with teammates has been non-existent.
Ty Lue slowly realizing the horror of what it was like to watch last year’s Bulls after seeing Wade dog it on a fast break last night pic.twitter.com/wm7YIw9nLZ
— Stephen Noh (@StephNoh) October 22, 2017
Wade is still a savvy passer, averaging more than three assists per game, but that shooting percentage is worrisome. Over the weekend, an incredibly self-aware Wade opened up to ESPN about his identity crisis.
“I’m trying to find it, man,” Wade said after scoring five points on 2-for-8 shooting against the Magic. “It’s very different, different than I’ve ever played. Just trying to find my way, as we go on, see how I can be best for this team. Everything’s happened so fast. This has been a long, long week.”
“My option,” Wade said. “I’ve always been a [No.] 1 or 2 option. It’s just a different game. You got to kind of figure out your way.”
“It’s just trying to find that rhythm, trying to find where it will come from, when it will come from. It comes with time,” Wade said. “I haven’t forced it. [Saturday] I had some opportunities where I had the ball, I passed it, got a few assists. The shots that I shot were shots that I [normally shoot], I just missed them. I didn’t feel like I forced them. I feel like they were good shots, just two out of eight of them went in. Like I said, everyone, we’re all just still trying to figure it out. Sometimes you press a little bit, you want every shot to be perfect. And that’s just not the game of basketball. There will be times when you hit 8 out of 10. And you don’t go 2-for-8.”
It was inevitable that Wade wouldn’t look the same in a tertiary role with Cleveland. His field-goal attempts have been slashed in half, his usage rate has dramatically declined and he’s incompatible alongside Rose.
He was obviously going to cede ball control on a majority of possessions to LeBron, but Rose has also pushed Wade into an even more unfamiliar role. Neither are threats behind the arc, which has negatively affected their spacing. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that in the wake of his jarringly sluggish start to the season, Wade went to coach Tyronn Lue and asked to be J.R. Smith’s backup.
“I just decided, earlier than later, just to get to the unit where I’d be more comfortable in and can probably be better with this team in that lineup,” Wade said. “Why wait? Three games in, why wait? Wanted to get in there with those guys.”
In the meantime, Cleveland hopes that Tuesday’s matchup against the Chicago Bulls will reinvigorate its newly minted backup guard. One star who won’t have an opportunity to partake in the Bulls reunion is Rose, the starting PG who has been ruled out since rolling his left ankle against Milwaukee on Friday. Rose’s injury has been defined as a mild ankle sprain.
Three games is a modest sample size, but something had to change with how the Cavs are deploying Wade. On the second unit, Wade can develop his rhythm as the primary playmaker alongside Kyle Korver, Tristan Thompson, Iman Shumpert, and even as LeBron’s sidekick from time to time.
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