Back in 2010, among the many criticisms of the Miami Heat’s new “Big 3” was the notion that Dwyane Wade and LeBron James wouldn’t share the ball. Both players, arguably in their prime, were ball-dominant superstars that routinely initiated the offense for their respective teams, Miami and Cleveland.
As new teammates with the Heat, the idea was that they couldn’t coexist on the floor because they’d duplicate a particular skillset.
Four straight trips to the Finals later and you can dismiss that suggestion rather easily.
An adjustment was necessary though and the case could be made that two other players of lesser ability might not have made the correction.
Enter Luol Deng, the newly signed free agent who joined Wade in Miami.
At first glance, their scoring is very similar. Looking at just last year’s numbers, both players shoot best and most often around the rim and from mid-range, as these shot charts demonstrate (courtesy of Nylon Calculus):
However, Deng shot considerably more from long-range, launching 189 to just 32 for Wade, as well as slightly better, hitting on 30 percent to Wade’s 28 percent.
And here’s where the adjustment takes place – Deng’s numbers next season will more closely mirror Wade’s.
Last season, Deng was a part of a Bulls team that was last in the league in scoring (93.7 points per game) for 23 games. He was traded midway through the season to a Cavaliers team that was horrific at spacing the floor (shooting just .437) and moving the ball (they ranked 26th in Assisted Field Goal percentage).
To put it simply, while Deng is a below-average shooter from distance for his career (just less than 33 percent), his less-than-dependable shot was necessary to bail out teams that couldn’t score easily or took poor shots rather than making the extra pass that might lead to a better one.
Conversely, Miami led the NBA in team field-goal percentage and AFG percentage. Much have that had to do with James’ impact, of course. But there’s cause for optimism that while no one player can duplicate what he did, a handful might be able to share the load.
Miami’s starting lineup is expected to include Wade and Deng, as well as Chris Bosh, Mario Chalmers and Josh McRoberts. The latter three are considerably better from long range, shooting between 34-38 percent. They’ll space the floor effectively allowing Wade/Deng to do what they best; score at the rim or, if needed, pull up for the mid-range shot.
And while James’ passing was elite, McRoberts was no slouch in Charlotte last season, often setting up in the high post and finding cutting teammates with pinpoint passes.
It stands to reason that while Wade and Deng share some attributes in their offensive games, they’ll eventually blend nicely on the floor. Just look at how Wade evolved since 2010, when he took 206 3-pointers – more than in the next three seasons combined.
It might not be immediately seamless, but with quality shooters, solid passing and with Miami’s commitment to taking high-percentage shots, you can expect the combo of Wade and Deng to not just coexist but eventually thrive.