Is Wade the Next Jordan?

Posted on June 21, 2006 by

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After Wade averaged nearly 35 points and 8 boards in the NBA Finals the media has now crowned him the “next Jordan.”  Unlike the previous “next Jordans” – Grant Hill, Jerry Stackhouse, Vince Carter, etc. – this “next Jordan” has now clearly led his team to an NBA Championship.  So is Flash really the next MJ? 

Let me begin by noting that in the first two games in Dallas Wade was a below average player.  Not below average for Wade.  Below average for an NBA shooting guard (average Win Score for a shooting guard is 0.128).  In Miami’s four victories, though, Wade was amazing.  It was not just his 39.3 points per game.  Or his 1.04 points scored per field goal attempt.  Wade also created 2.5 steals per contest and perhaps most importantly, grabbed more than eight rebounds per game.  In sum, Wade was indeed Jordan-like in his performance.  In these four games Wade posted a per-minute Win Score of 0.323.  Jordan himself only bested this performance twice in his playoff career.  In 1989-90 Jordan had a per-minute Win Score of 0.326 in the playoffs.  The next season he was a bit better with a per-minute Win Score of 0.348. 

A Brief Interruption: For those who do not know what Win Score is, please go here.  And please remember, this is just a simple model we created to look at performance in a game quickly. Win Score is not the same as Wins Produced, the more complex algorithm we explain in the book.  Now back to our story.

Of course, I am comparing four games of Dwyane Wade to what Jordan did across an entire playoff season. If we consider all the games Wade played in the playoffs, we see that Flash is not quite MJ yet.  Wade played in 23 playoff games.  In these games his per-minute Win Score was 0.237.  Well above average for an NBA guard, but is it Jordan-like?  In Jordan’s first three seasons his team didn’t make it out of the first round.  Over his next ten years, though, the Bulls often went quite far in the playoffs.  In these ten years Jordan had a per-minute Win Score of 0.257, besting Wade’s 2006 performance six different times.

In the regular season Jordan also was the better player.  In Wade’s first three regular seasons he has produced 36.3 wins.  Very few players produce ten wins in a season, and Wade is averaging twelve.  Jordan, though, was much, much better early in his career. Ignoring Jordan’s second season, when he didn’t play much due to an injury, we see that in MJ’s first three full seasons he produced an amazing 71.3 wins.  In other words, Wade in the regular season – although clearly above average at his position — has only been about half an MJ so far.  That is not to take anything away from Wade.  He was a key reason why the Heat took the title.  And for four games, he was very much like Jordan. Still, when we look at who MJ was on the court – game after game and season after season – we see that Flash, like everyone else, still has a way to go. So Wade is not quite Jordan.  Still, if he were, one might ask…

Who Were the Wade-anaires? (In other words, who helped Wade win Miami’s first title?)

The obvious answer is Shaq, although the numbers say he was not as much help as we have come to expect.  Okay, Shaq is still an above average center.  And if we look at the entire playoff season that is the story we would tell.  In the Finals, though, Shaq only posted an above average per-minute Win Score in Games Three and Four.  Although he rebounded well in Game Six, his below average performance from the field and the line contributed to an overall productivity level that was again below average.  For the entire post-season Shaq did post an above average Win Score – for a center average is 0.225 – of 0.247. So he did help the Heat win the title.  His performance just wasn't what it once was.  To put his 0.247 Win Score in perspective, Shaq posted a higher per-minute Win Score every year he was with the Magic and the Lakers in the playoffs.  Again, Shaq was not quite Shaq in the 2006 playoff season.

Beyond Shaq, who else played well?  In the deciding game, there was a surprise. Just a few days ago I said the following:

Now that does not mean Walker has never had an above average game in his career.  But if we look at the typical performance Walker offers, it is typically below average and thus, that is what we should expect to happen going forward. 

So we should not expect Walker to be above average, but there he was in Game Six, playing above average.  Although he missed all six three-pointers he took, his eleven rebounds were definitely helpful.  In addition to Walker, the Heat received above average performances in the deciding game from Udonis Haslem and Alonzo Mourning.  Mourning is especially notable.  In fourteen minutes he grabbed six rebounds, blocked five shots, and made three out of four field goal attempts.  On a per-minute basis he was actually the most productive player on Miami.  If Mourning could have played 45 minutes like Wade – which he probably couldn’t – and if he could have maintained the productivity we observed in 14 minutes – which he definitely couldn’t – then Mourning would have scored 26 points, grabbed 19 rebounds, blocked 16 shots, and committed 13 personal fouls.  Okay, we would need a rule change for that to work.  Still, Mourning played well in winning his first NBA title.

Enough of the Heat.  What about the Mavericks? 

Specifically, what happened to Nowitzki?

Previously I noted that Nowitzki was MIA in Miami.  That was not the case in Game Six.  Although he again had problems shooting, his fifteen rebounds definitely helped the Dallas cause.  For the game he posted a per-minute Win Score of 0.351, which is above the average NBA power forward (0.215).  No, unlike Games Three, Four, and Five, Nowitzki played well in Game Six.And he did get some help.  Josh Howard, Erick Dampier, and Marquis Daniels were all above average performers in Game Six. 

Jason Terry and Jerry Stackhouse, though, were not as helpful.  The two took 41% of the Maverick’s field goal attempts.  Despite taking so many shots, per field goal attempt these two did not perform well, only scoring 0.74 points per shot from the field.  Again, average is 0.98.  Not surprisingly, Terry and Stackhouse posted below average Win Scores. For the series, Stackhouse had one above average Game (#2), while Terry played incredibly well twice (Games One and Five).

Unfortunately, in the other games these two players were less than helpful. So the 2006 NBA Finals is in the books and what have we learned? 

1. Dwyane Wade can play really well, although he is not yet “Like Mike.”  He might be someday, though. 

2. Shaquille O’Neal looks like he is coming closer to the end of an amazing career.  That does not mean he should retire tomorrow.  But his performance in the regular season –  which was below what we normally see from Shaq – does not seem like such an anomaly any more. 

3. Dirk Nowitzki is a really good player – at least in Dallas.  Okay, that’s not fair.  Three games does not a sample make.  Still, Nowitzki did not play well in Miami.  Had he played a bit better, then we might of at least had one more NBA game to look forward to this year.

4. Final lesson: Role players matter.  In each game players other than the stars made a difference – for better or worse. And that is a point I think needs to be made again and again. The term “the Wade-anaires” is perhaps cute, but not actually fair to Flash’s teammates.  For the playoffs Shaq, Posey,and Mourning were above average performers.  And without these players, Wade’s amazing efforts might not have translated into Miami’s first championship. 

— DJ