Top 50 NBA players from last 50 years: Dwyane Wade ranks No. 19

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Editor’s Note: As part of a new series for his podcast, “What’s Wright with Nick Wright,” FOX Sports commentator Nick Wright is ranking the 50 best NBA players of the last 50 years. The countdown continues today with player No. 19, Dwyane Wade.

Dwyane Wade’s career highlights:

  • 2006 Finals MVP
  • 13-time All-Star
  • Two-time first-team All-NBA, three-time second team, three-time third team
  • Three-time All-Defensive second team
  • 2009 scoring champion
  • 2004 All-Rookie team

For one week in June 2006, Dwyane Wade was the best basketball player on the planet. Few have ever been better in the Finals. 

His championship masterpiece marked a level of play that Wade himself wouldn’t sustain in any of his 16 regular seasons. It was also a mere slice of the postseason brilliance bestowed by the Heat legend throughout his prime. 

“[Wade] is a guy everyone respects, everyone loves, and I think everyone has [ranked] right about in this range,” Wright said. “His regular-season résumé is a guy who probably should be in the 35 to 45 range. His postseason résumé is a guy who should be in probably the eight to 14 range.”

Dwyane Wade is No. 19 on Nick Wright’s Top 50 NBA Players of the Last 50 Years

Dwyane Wade is a three-time champion and former Finals MVP. The face of the Heat leads the franchise in eight different offensive categories, including points (21,556) and assists (4,310). D-Wade was known for his hard-charging style of play on both ends of the court and as an elite finisher around the rim, often through contact.

The weight of the playoffs, and Wade’s continued excellence in them, amplify his importance in NBA history. After all, not many can say they outplayed the likes of LeBron James, Shaquille O’Neal, Dirk Nowitzki and a handful of other future Hall of Famers in the title round.

Wade, in fact, got the best of several stars for more than a decade by throwing around his 6-foot-4, 220-pound body with reckless abandon on both ends of the court. Signs that he would be special in the postseason were on display from Day 1. 

D-Wade’s stellar rookie campaign helped the Heat go from lottery regulars to the thick of the Eastern Conference race. In his first playoff game, he crossed over Baron Davis before sinking a running 10-footer over two defenders with a second remaining to give Miami a two-point win. The Heat would go on to win the series over New Orleans in seven and push the top-seeded Pacers to six games in the next round, as Wade led Miami in scoring, assists and field goal percentage for the postseason.

His star turn went into overdrive upon the Heat’s acquisition of Shaq. The aging center quickly christened Wade as “Flash” and, despite Wade’s denial, the nickname stuck after the slashing combo guard led the team in scoring and continued his superhero act in the 2005 playoffs. 

In the second round, Wade averaged 35-8-8 over the final three games. He then posted 40-8-6 and 36 and seven in consecutive games of the conference finals. The Heat were one win away from dethroning the defending-champion Pistons, only to lose the final two games of the series as Wade suffered a rib injury. He’d averaged 27-6-7 in the playoff run.

D-Wade was dynamic throughout the 2006 postseason, but his work in the Finals cemented his place among the all-time greats. With Miami headed to Dallas and trailing 2-0 in the series, Wade ripped off four of the best games of his career. 

The barrage effectually began midway through the fourth quarter of Game 3, with the Mavericks leading by 13. Wade scored 12 points to lead a 22-7 spurt and finished with 42 points and 13 rebounds in the comeback victory. He posted 36 and 6 in a Game 4 blowout win. In Game 5, he scored 43 points, including two free throws with two seconds remaining in overtime to lead a one-point win. He registered 36 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, four steals and three blocks in a three-point win in Game 6. 

The MVP’s averages for the series: 34.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 2.7 steals and 1.0 blocks.

“One of the greatest Finals performances by anyone ever,” Wright said. “I would argue that the only Finals performances better than what D-Wade did in ’06 were authored by Michael Jordan, LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo.”

Wade would improve, but it coincided with Shaq’s swift decline and Miami falling out of contention. Despite leading the league in player efficiency rating, winning a scoring title, and dropping 40 in a couple more elimination games, Wade’s next notable playoff run came five years later, alongside his best friend James and Chris Bosh. 

There were still moments in which Wade was the super-team Heat’s top performer, particularly in the 2011 Finals against the underdog Mavs. He went for 36-5-6 in Game 2, only to see James begin to unravel. Miami blew a double-digit lead, and the chance to take a 2-0 series lead, and then dropped three of the next four games. James finished third in scoring (17.8) in the Finals and committed 23 turnovers over the last five games. Wade averaged 27-7-5 with three blocks plus steals and shot 55%.

As James quickly rebounded from the flop, Wade conceded control of the team and operated as an elite sidekick. The Heat trailed the Pacers 2-1 in the 2012 conference semis when Wade caught fire and poured in 99 points over the next three games. He won a second ring after averaging 23-6-5 in a Finals win over the Thunder.

In the 2013 Finals versus the Spurs, Wade put up 32-6-4 with six steals in Game 4 to even the series. His 23 and 10 helped lift Miami to a narrow victory in Game 7. 

The Heat reached a fourth consecutive Finals, but the original member of its “Big 3” was fading fast. All the hard falls, drives to the basket, and wear and tear on the knees had finally caught up to Wade in his early thirties. Following a decisive loss to the Spurs, James subsequently returned to the Cavaliers and Wade’s Heat won just one more playoff series.

He retired at age 37 with career averages of 22-5-5 with three steals plus blocks in the regular season and postseason and seven top-10 finishes in MVP voting.

“D-Wade’s playoff flame didn’t burn as long as you would like, but it burned so incandescently hot,” Wright said. “If we’re ranking two-guards of the last 50 years, it goes Michael [Jordan], Kobe [Bryant], Wade.” 


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