I’m officially out of superlatives for Dwyane Wade.
What can you say? He’s one of the best players to ever lace ‘em up, and his approach to the sport is the most enjoyable form of basketball I’ve ever watched. Sorry, Reggie, but much like my alcoholism, the fact that Flash is my favorite player of all time has been something I’ve been cognizant of for some time — just never admitted publicly.
But it’s true. I’ve never enjoyed watching a human play basketball more. Reggie’s “moments” are timestamps of my adolescence and early adulthood, and because he was not only my favorite player but played for my favorite team, his career will always be more special to me than any other player ever. And it’s not like I want to like Dwyane more than Reggie. I just do. How does Martin Landau term it in Rounders? “What choice? … Our destiny chooses us.”
So, yeah, Dwyane is my favorite player of all time.
I say all this not out of any need to psychoanalyze a public admission that would have seemed blasphemous to me as recently as 2005, but more so just as journalistic disclosure. At this point, it’s entirely possible that my affinity for Dwyane Wade the player has begun to cloud my objectivity about him. It’s possible that I watch him play in a mental state of confirmation bias, wherein I ignore the negative stuff he does on the court and over-inflate the importance and greatness of the, well, great stuff he does on the court.
Players are regularly viewed by different analysts under the spell of confirmation bias, with Allen Iverson being, as he all so often is, the best example. His supporters, a group that would include me, excuse his insanely low shooting-percentage years in Philadelphia while his critics rarely acknowledge his higher percentages during his time in Denver when he was for the first time playing with other capable scorers. As you may have noticed, it’s quite possible that, just in the way I wrote those previous two sentences, I probably cannot be completely objective about Allen Iverson the basketball player — let alone Allen Iverson the person.
But I digress. The point here was to discuss the Heat and how they beat the Wizards last night,* giving them their second win over their division rivals from DC this weak and giving Flash his second 40-point outing of the young season. (His first came perhaps not-so-coincidentally against Washington as well.)
* (Ed Note: I wrote this last week and forgot to post it. They lost three times since then and won once, but I feel the same way about the team. Carry on.)
With a 6-1 record thus far, Miami is definitely overachieving in the eyes of most. It’s early, of course, and numbers can still swing wildly in just one game so take this all with a grain of salt, but the Heat, as a team, are on or around the top of the leaderboard in several defensive categories, and Dwyane and Mario Chalmers are both again among the league leaders in steals. (Both are in the top fifteen currently and they finished second and fourth overall last year in steals per game, respectively.)
Again, it’s very early and plenty of 6-1 teams have turned into pumpkins well before the New Year even arrived. Regardless, I think this Miami team is going to be better than expected and I don’t even think it’s going to take Flash doing his Flash stuff every single game like it did last year for them to get the the 5th seed. A lot of this hinges upon JO and Q staying relatively healthy — and I’m a Pacers fan, so I know just how preposterous that sounds. But I think Michael Beasley is rather good, Chalmers is better than people think and Udonis Haslem is perhaps the most underrated player in the NBA.
More importantly, however, I think this is just a well-constructed squad where everyone has their roles. It’s puzzling how many teams allow their rosters to just glide through month after month, or even the whole season, without all the players knowing their roles. A lot of this is on some pretty bad coaches that for some reason have jobs in this Association. But a lot of it also falls on the players. Rebounders wanna be scorers. Slashers wanna be shooters. Shooters wanna be ball-handlers. And no one wants to be a defender.
In Miami, however, everyone not only has a role, but they all seem to both know and accept what these roles are. There is no confusion and, seemingly, everyone is one the same page. They revolve around an all-world player and do whatever else is needed to fill in. Willingly.
Let”s try to define the roles of the key contributors:
Dwyane Wade – Captain. Beast. Leader. Superhero. The guy who you all know just what he’s capable of. And so do all his teammates — and they love him for it.
Michael Beasley – Sidekick. Robin to Batman. Scorer. Mr. Go Get Some Buckets. The guy the team wants doing things with the ball. The guy the team depends on to do things with the ball. And the guy the whole team is rooting for to succeed.
Jermaine O’Neal – Intimidator. Paint patroller. Jumpshooter. Occasionally reliable post presence. The guy who just wants to stay healthy and is willing to bang, board and block shots — presuming you also let him get some looks in the post and take his beloved fadeaway jumpers.
Quentin Richardson – Elder statesmen. Spot-up shooter. Willing defender. Post-up specialist. Lead-by-example rebounder. The guy who has been passed around the league so much it’s a joke at this point — but his jumpshot isn’t, nor is his defense.
Mario Chalmers – Floor general. Place-Setter. Ball pressurer. Mr. Do What Coach Says. The guy tasked with reining things in when Wade starts going one-on-one too much and making sure the post guys get their touches and Beasley stays engaged.
Udonis Haslem – The Rock. In a Hard Hat. Mr. Dependable. Mr. Lunch Pail. The guy who does the in-the-paint stuff that no one else, not even Jermaine, wants to do and gets no credit for it nationally — but certainly does inside that locker room.
Carlos Arroyo – The Empowered Bench Team Leader. The Feisty Point. The Little Guy With A Chip on His Shoulder. Mr. Run the Second Unit. The guy who for the first time in years is being told by his coach and teammates to “Do you. Get points. Dribble around. Create. We need you to be productive off the bench.”
Dequan Cook – Shooter. Three-point shooter. Spot-up Shooter. Mr. Seriously Don’t Do Anything Else But Shoot. The guy who comes in for a few minutes and makes a three or two. And then sits down. Quickly.
Joel Anthony – Big off The Bench. Shot-blocker. No More. No Less. Mr. Eat Some Minutes While The Starters Rest. The guy who needs to help out JO and Haslem against the bigger bodies in the League and provide dependable, if mediocre, bench help.
Is this cast enough to scare the Easter Conference powers even if they all somehow stay healthy? Probably not.
It’s hard to believe in this lineup, no matter how well they know their roles. They are good defensively, but not great. They are fairly weak offensively, even if Flash is utterly unstoppable.
Still, watching a team constructed like this is nice. Personally, I just watch the Heat to marvel at Flash. Seeing all these other guys embrace their minor roles next to one another is just gravy.
It’s pretty rare to see these days, too.
Even on a team like Boston where KG, Pierce, Rondo and Ray should be the unassailable leaders, I can’t help but feel that, at least in the past, guys like Big Baby and Eddie House wish they had a larger role. They come into the game and play well, so it doesn’t affect the team, but there has been an air of begrudging-ality (it’s a word) to their whole time there. I would watch Big Baby play against the Bulls and the Magic last year and he seemed like he was half-fueled by a “See…Told yall KG shouldn’t get so many minutes” vibe. That’s not a bad thing. But it isn’t exactly knowing your role either. And I think some of that obviously exists in Rondo, too, given his general demeanor and foolish willingness to compare himself to Chris Paul.
Similarly, it’s hard to not get the feeling when you’re watching the Lakers that Andrew Bynum he deserves a larger role and more attention for his talent. Amar’e and Shawn Marion gave that vibe throughout Seven Seconds or Less, which was only the most Marxist distribution of statistical wealth I’ve watched first hand in the NBA and a team that barely even used its bench. At times, Nate Robinson rolls like this. A young Ben Gordon in Chicago could be the poster child for this concept. Brendon Haywood. Stephen Jackson. Jason Terry. Jamal Crawford. I enjoy all of those guys, actually, but they have in the past seemed disappointed with how they are being used.
Like I said, I’m not judging any of these guys who, to an outsider, seem to want a bigger role. I like these types of guys, by and large. I became a Reggie Miller fan mostly because he was so obviously an asshole, even through my TV set when I was 12, and because he so obviously walked around like “MJ aint shit.” So, I’m not saying any players who carry this attitude should fall back or that their teams are hurt in any way by their approach — many of them probably help fuel their teams.
I’m just saying that that type of dynamic doesn’t seem to exist in Miami — at least not right now.
And I really enjoy watching that.
Just like Flash.
Sorry, Reggie. Had to end some day. Still luv ya.