By Ben Golliver
Welcome to Round 3 in this month's war of words between TNT commentator Charles Barkley and the Heat.
Barkley threw the first punch, NBA.com noted, when he suggested that Dwyane Wade would need to adjust his game because of diminishing athleticism at age 30.
“The toughest thing for Dwyane Wade is understanding that he’s starting to lose his talent and now he has to learn how to play below the basket,” said Barkley, who worked as a color analyst on site in Miami during the broadcast [of a Heat-Spurs game last month]. “The toughest thing when you’re a great player or very athletic, when you can’t jump over a building anymore, you have to learn how to play.”
Wade, who missed the London Olympics after having knee surgery in July, is averaging 20.2 points, 3.8 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.1 steals this season. All of those numbers are down even though his playing time, slightly more than 33 minutes per game, is right at last year's mark.
After Barkley's initial comments, Wade scored 26 points on 9-for-12 shooting against the Hornets on Saturday and 26 points on 11-for-13 shooting against the Hawks on Monday. Wade's two best shooting outings of the season came on the heels of a 13-point, 3-for-13 performance in a loss to the Knicks last week. The Heat, who seem to lack a little urgency this season, won both games in which Wade starred to improve to 14-5, one game behind the East-leading Knicks.
''It means Charles Barkley needs to shut up,'' James said. ''I mean, the man's shooting 80 percent from the floor in the last couple games. Come on, man. That's like crazy, right? That's why [he is] who he is.''
It also gave James reason to chuckle about Barkley being injected into the debate.
"I love it," he said. "When someone's not saying stuff about me, I'm glad somebody finally got off me for a change."
Wade, meanwhile, blew off Barkley, according to Fox Sports Florida.
"I forgot all about that guy," Wade said with no apparent joking when asked if what Barkley says motivates him.
The verbal Ping-Pong match continued Tuesday, when Barkley was asked by Newsday about the Heat's response to his criticism.
"Oh my God," Barkley said. "These guys are so sensitive."
A simple glance at Wade's Player Efficiency Rating over the years bears out Barkley's general point: that Wade's most productive years are behind him and that adjustments will need to be made. Here's a visual. The dip in 2008, of course, was due to a knee injury that required surgery.
Aside from 2008, you see a fairly smooth and predictable growth/decline curve, with a peak in 2009, Wade's age-27 season. His decline since 2010 is easily explained by the addition of James and Chris Bosh. Wade had said many times that he's shifted into a secondary role to accommodate James, and decreased production is a natural result of that move. As for this season, it's interesting how close his PER is to the 2008 drop-off. While he's logging his normal minutes, he hasn't looked quite as explosive. It makes you wonder whether his productivity will pick up as the season progresses and he puts his most recent knee surgery farther in the rearview. Declining production or not, Wade, who turns 31 next month, remains incredibly effective. Among shooting guards who play at least 15 minutes a night, he trails only Kobe Bryant in PER, right where you would expect him to be. His post-30 "slide" is taking place from a very high peak and isn't anywhere near a crisis point.