Surviving Wade

Posted on March 16, 2007 by

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Dwyane Wade went down with an injury about three weeks ago. At this time, the Miami Heat had a record of 26-27 and I had just analyzed the Heat’s chances to repeat. This analysis indicated that Wade was the team’s most productive player. Unfortunately several aging veterans were not producing like they had in the past. Hence the team did not look capable of repeating as champions.

Table One: The Miami Heat 52 Games

Typically when you lose your most productive player, especially someone who has produced 11.6 wins and posted a Wins Produced per 48 minutes [wp48] of 0.318, you can expect the team to suffer. The Heat, though, have not suffered. Since the injury the Heat have played eleven games and won nine. In sum, without their best player, the Heat have improved dramatically. How is this possible?

Let’s start with what the Heat look like after 63 games.

Table Two: The Miami Heat 63 Games

After 63 game s this team has still failed to outscore their opponents. So it should not be surprising that Wins Produced only sums to 30.2 when the team had actually won 34 contests (the Heat also won their 64th game, but NBA.com did not update their data, so we are looking at the team after 63 games).

The leading wins producer on this team after 63 games is still Wade. The team, though, has thrived in his absence, so who can we credit for this outcome?

Miami’s Fountain of Youth

The obvious choice is Shaquille O’Neal. Shaq’s WP48 stands at 0.143 after 63 games. Given that his mark was only -0.40 after 52 games (when he had only played 13 games), we can see that O’Neal has improved dramatically. From game 52 to game 63, Shaq posted a WP48 of 0.328. This mark is quite close to his career average of 0.338. In other words, since the injury the Shaq of old has replaced the old Shaq we saw earlier in the season.

Table Three: The Career Performance of Shaq O’Neal

It would be a mistake to think Shaq has been the only one responsible for the Heat’s new found winning ways. Alonzo Mourning has raised his WP48 from 0.033 after 52 games to 0.057 after 63 contests. So over the eleven intervening games his WP48 has been 0.221. Given a career mark of 0.211, we see that like Shaq, Mourning has also returned to what he was of old.

Table Four: The Career Performance of Alonzo Mourning

Of course Mourning is only playing 15.5 minutes a night, so he could not be a big part of the story. To see where else the Heat found wins you need to move away from the front court and notice Eddie Jones, the shooting guard who took Wade’s place in the line-up.

Table Five: The Career Performance of Eddie Jones

Eddie Jones is in his 13th NBA season. Entering this season he has produced 105.4 wins (the same mark as Alonzo Mourning) and posted a WP48 of 0.167 (he has played more minutes than Mourning). E. Jones has never been below average, which is what you can also say about Shaq (Mourning was only below average once, in 2003-04 when he played 215 minutes right after his recovery from the illness that kept him out of 2002-03 season).

Earlier this year with Memphis E. Jones was both injured and posting below average numbers. Since joining the Heat, though, the E. Jones has posted a WP48 of 0.239. Although this is not quite what the Heat were getting from Wade, when you couple the performance of Eddie Jones with the resurgence of Shaq (and a little help from Mourning), you can see how the Heat survived the lost of Flash.

Is Wade Overrated?

The inevitable question that arises when a team thrives in a star’s absence is whether or not the star is over-rated. What we see in the numbers is that the Heat have done well because Shaq, Mourning, and E. Jones have returned to what they have been much of their career. Because these players were available to the Heat, the loss of Wade was overcome.

The Wade story does illustrate how evaluating a player by looking at how the team does with and without his services is problematic. Wade is definitely one of the best players in the game. But the Heat also have other players who have been among the best in the game in the past. With these players able to regain their past form it has given us the illusion that Wade is overrated. Nothing could be further from the truth.

We do see, though, that if Wade can return to the court this season and produce like he was in the first half of this year, the Heat have a very good chance to win the East and return to the NBA Finals. Of course, Wade returning and being productive is a big “if”. But if it happens, it is possible that the NBA could see another team repeat as NBA Champions.

– DJ