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Insider

Dwyane Wade's quiet ascension

3/11/2013
Chris Trotman/Getty Images

MIAMI -- Every once in a while, Dwyane Wade misses it.

Being “The Man” for the Heat, or whatever that means. Shooting 20-25 times a game. Being the unquestioned go-to scorer.

In candid moments, you’ll hear Wade’s nostalgia gnawing at him. Back in early January, after a win over Dallas in which he took 21 field goal attempts, Wade was asked if he longed for the days that he had the freedom to shoot virtually any time he pleased.

“Yes, every day,” Wade said. “I know what I could do [if given 20-plus shots per game], but it’s alright. In 2010, I decided to give it up, and I wanted to. I do miss it. I gave it up for the good of winning, for this organization.”

The Heat are doing a whole lot of winning now. Eighteen wins in a row, in fact. And even though Wade feels that pang of nostalgia every so often, it’s safe to say he doesn't regret his decision to step aside and let LeBron James and Chris Bosh join the only franchise he’s ever known.

And after Miami’s recent steamroll through the league, you’re seeing why.

Sure enough, Wade’s beginning to receive the spotlight again. In Sunday’s win, Wade scored 23 points on 16 shots and tallied six steals on a night James scored a season-low 13 points. And during Saturday’s victory against the Philadelphia 76ers, it was Wade who closed out the nine-point win as James sat on the sidelines for the final eight minutes. Wade’s satisfied to play a supporting role for James’ MVP campaign, but he’s far from a role player.

“You can't win an Oscar unless everyone does their job on a movie,” Wade said after Sunday’s win. “[James] doesn't have to score 30 every night. We're a total team. We're not going to have one guy iso and take 20 or 30 shots a night.”

Wade used to be that one guy. Remember, Wade won the scoring title in 2008-09, scoring 30.2 points per game while firing up 22 field goal attempts a night. How’d the Heat do that season? They finished one game over .500. But Wade now owns a 2012 championship ring and his team has won a franchise-record 18 games in a row, the longest streak in the NBA this season. All the while, Wade’s usage rate is its lowest since his rookie season.

As brilliant as James has been recently, you can make the argument that Wade’s elite play has as much to do with the Heat’s win streak as anything. By any measure, Wade is back. After a slow start following offseason knee surgery, Wade has reclaimed his spot among the game’s elite. He’s averaging 21.8 points, 5.0 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 1.8 steals per game on a career-high 52.3 percent shooting.

Take a look at the player efficiency rating (PER) leaderboard and you’ll find Wade’s name slotted fourth with a 24.7 rating, just behind LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Chris Paul. That’s Wade’s game now, brutal efficiency. He’s shot 55.2 percent from the floor since the beginning of Miami's streak on Feb. 3, which seems preposterous for a guy who stands 6-foot-4. According to NBA.com’s stats tool, only two players have averaged 20 points per game on at least 55 percent shooting since that date: LeBron James and the 6-10 Al Horford.

It wasn’t long ago when Wade received a wave of doubt and criticism from the media after an uneven start to the season, but he insisted then he wasn’t healthy and wouldn’t be until the All-Star break. And now he is. After last Thursday’s practice, Wade reiterated that he feels he’s still an elite player, just in a different context.

“I just got to understand that, when healthy, I’m one of the best in this game,” Wade said. “My role is just different, you know? Do I want people to say great things about me if I was on a bad team, averaging 27 a game, or do I want people to say nothing about me averaging 22 points per game?”

That’s Wade's decision in a nutshell. The implication is clear: he’d rather fight for the No. 1 seed than battle for the scoring title. That’s not a shot at fellow 2-guards Kobe Bryant or James Harden, but Wade has made the most of his current reality even if it has been in LeBron James’ shadow.

To illustrate the James eclipse this season, consider this: Wade is currently riding a ridiculous streak in which he has shot at least 50 percent in each of his past 10 games while shooting at least 15 field goal attempts. A remarkable feat if you think about it, and James did it earlier this season.

Such is life for Wade these days. Every notable accomplishment seems to be outdone by his teammate, who seems to be tying a bow on his fourth MVP. But like Wade said in January, he chose these surroundings. And with 18 wins in a row and another championship chase on the horizon, Wade’s in a pretty good spot right now.

“You just have to figure out what you’re comfortable with and what you want more out of life,” Wade said. “For me, I just want to be successful. When I’m not healthy, yeah, people can say things about me. But when I’m healthy, there’s not much you can say.”