Should Miami Heat Consider 'Maintenance' Plan for Dwyane Wade?

Alec NathanFeatured ColumnistNovember 17, 2012

November 14, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Miami Heat shooting guard Dwyane Wade (3) during a stoppage in play against the Los Angeles Clippers during the second half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE
Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE

Considering all of the attention LeBron James has received over the past year, Miami's other championship centerpiece can often be overlooked.

As James continues to capture media spotlight, magazine covers and MVP awards, Dwyane Wade has been playing off of Miami's leading man at a steady rate, averaging more than 17 points, four rebounds and five assists per game so far this season.

Should James continue to shoulder the offensive burden for the reigning NBA champs, Wade will likely see his numbers dip from where they have been historically. Thus far, Wade is averaging just 15 field-goal attempts per game, which would be the second lowest total of his career if those numbers hold up over the course of the regular season.

However, shrinking numbers don't necessarily mean diminished effectiveness for the 2006 NBA Finals MVP: Wade is converting on close to fifty percent of his field-goal attempts, and James taking over a considerably larger role on the offensive end could be positive for Wade's health in the long-term. 

As many are aware, Wade underwent knee surgery this summer, forcing him to miss the opportunity to capture another gold medal at the Olympic games. However, Wade's knee procedure in the summer was not his first.

Wade has undergone a bevy of examinations on his troublesome knees, and underwent an earlier surgery during the 2007 offseason.

More recently, Wade has been battling a foot sprain, and while it may not be of the most severe variety, it's making a long-term maintenance plan look more necessary with each passing day.

It's easy to say that the team would be wise to give Wade routine games off, but it's simply not reasonable to expect that he would agree to such a proposal. Wade is a fierce competitor, and unless his body refuses to let him step on the floor, he's going to.

However, occasional days off have proven to be effective for other stars in the past. The San Antonio Spurs rested Tim Duncan last season on several occasions (largely due to the condensed schedule), even going so far as to list him as a "DNP-Old" in the box score.

Duncan has continued to thrive even at the age of 36, and the Spurs' conservative approach may have something to do with it.

In fact, Ethan Skolnick of The Palm Beach Post points out that Wade's numbers spiked last season when he was well rested:

In the 13 regular-season games he played after two or more days of inactivity, he shot 51.5 percent from the field, and averaged 35.2 minutes, 24.9 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 2.2 steals.

In the 36 regular-season games he played after one or fewer days of inactivity, he shot 49.0 percent from the field, and averaged 32.5 minutes, 21.1 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.5 steals.

Another logical option for Erik Spoelstra and his coaching staff could be to limit Wade's minutes. As Skolnick mentions, Wade thrived when he played fewer than 30 minutes per game last season:

In the eight games he played just 20 to 29 minutes, he shot a ridiculous 55.9 percent, while averaging nearly as many points (20.9 to 23.4), and essentially the same number of total rebounds and assists even in the much shorter stints.

There's clearly a risk in letting Wade play close to 82 games, because as we saw last season, injuries piled up and nagged him for most of the postseason.

Sitting Wade for a certain number of games (say, 10) in hopes of keeping him fresh for a postseason run is a valid argument, but it may come at the price of team chemistry.

The Heat aren't the same team that they were last year, and they've had some early season struggles, particularly on the defensive end. Giving up an average of 100.2 points per game (good for 26th in the NBA), the Heat look a tad lethargic on the defensive end, an area of the court they dominated en route to the 2012 NBA title.

Wade is one of the Heat's better defenders, and without him, the Heat's defensive woes will undoubtedly continue. As polished as Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis are on the offensive end, Wade's one of the most dynamic perimeter defenders in the game, one who can ultimately help stabilize a defense.

Is it reasonable to think the Heat could implement a maintenance plan for Wade? Certainly. However, it's fair to expect that Wade would be none too thrilled with sitting out games or taking on fewer minutes.

Playing on the most talented team of his career, Wade figures to seize the moment and battle en route to continued postseason success. It may not be pretty, but if anyone has proven they can play through pain over the past five years, it's Dwyane Wade.