There’s something different about Dwyane Wade this season. He’s always happy.
That’s not to say the Heat’s shooting guard was miserable before, but he’s just different now, and it’s obvious. He smiles all the time. He cracks jokes in the locker room. He engages in conversations. He’s no longer moody.
Wade’s buddy LeBron James is gone, and that was supposed to cast a shadow over everything for the Heat this season. But Wade has never seemed more at ease and content with himself. Isn’t he supposed to still be in mourning about losing James to Cleveland?
Wasn’t Wade supposed to be failing miserably right about now without that guy Pat Riley used to call the “greatest of all time?”
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Wade’s knees are feeling good, yes, but that’s not entirely it.
His new marriage is providing stability at home and that certainly helps, but Wade has never needed much of that to be successful on the court.
He has a new contract and job security, but club owner Micky Arison calling Wade a “Heat lifer” isn’t the thing that has Wade in a perpetually good mood either. After all, he took what amounted to a pay cut this summer with that new two-year deal.
No, it’s none of those things.
For a basketball player such as Wade, one of the game’s greatest playmakers of all time, happiness can be boiled down and distilled into a much simpler formula.
“I got the ball in my hands,” Wade said.
Wade enjoyed his time with James, and certainly didn’t want it to end, but playing alongside his friend was never the easiest of things individually.
Wade had to transform his entire game to make it work, but he will always be more comfortable running the wing than being a wingman.
Through Sunday, Wade was ranked 25th in the NBA in total touches (457). Last season, 127 players in the NBA touched the ball more times than Wade.
And it’s what Wade has done with the ball in his hands that has the Heat near the top of the Eastern Conference standings on Monday after the team’s most impressive win of the season, a 105-96 victory in Dallas on the second night of a back-to-back (and sixth game in nine nights).
With a 5-2 record, the Heat trails only the Toronto Raptors (6-1) for the top spot in the conference, and the Heat defeated the Raptors 107-102 on Nov.2.
The Heat’s quick start to the season can be linked to a few main factors, and one of them is Wade’s decision-making as the team’s primary playmaker.
He is sharing the ball while also finishing at a high rate. Wade leads the Heat in assists (48, seventh in the league), and is also averaging nearly 20 points per game. He’s shooting about 51 percent from the field, and doing it all while keeping his minutes low (32 per game).
In other words, he is leading by example. On Sunday, Wade had 20 points and 10 assists and the team had 31 assists on 42 field goals.
“It’s my job to put pressure on the defense and try to make plays for the other guys,” Wade said.
“It makes me feel good that the other guys are feeling good about themselves by me drawing two guys, kicking it to them and them hitting shots and getting into that rhythm and flow.”
Chris Bosh has scored at least 20 points in each of the first seven games of the season, and Luol Deng had 30 points Sunday.
Overall, the Heat is ranked third in the NBA in assists per game (23.9) and third in field-goal percentage (48.1). Turns out, there is life after LeBron in Miami.
“I’m just enjoying life right now,” Wade said in Dallas. “I’m enjoying this team and enjoying the opportunity to play in the NBA once again for another season, and sometimes you realize how blessed you are and don’t take things for granted.
“That’s kind of how this summer was for me with life, period — just taking things in, and not taking them for granted.”
It started with a new approach to his body.
Wade trimmed down, changed his diet and altered his training.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Wade is putting in more time behind the scenes, and the work is starting to show this season.
“If you want different results, you’ve got to do different things,” Wade said. “And that’s what I’m trying to do this year. It’s a fresh start to the season for myself, but I know I have a long, long way to go.”
Fewer minutes have helped, too, said Wade. He is pain free to start the season, which wasn’t the case last year. He completed his third back-to-back on Sunday, and hasn’t missed a game. Last season, Wade only played in three back-to-backs total, and he missed 28 of 82 regular-season games.
“Coach is doing a good job of managing my minutes,” Wade said. “This is the lowest number of minutes I have played in a long time. I’m just trying to be successful when I’m out there.
“When it comes to injuries, you can’t control that. You don’t know what’s going to happen. The only thing you can control is how you prepare yourself, and I prepared myself. Now I’m just trying to go out there and show the work.”