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2 posts from March 16, 2014

March 16, 2014

10 a.m. Dolphins item; Dwyane Wade at historic shooting level and LeBron James close

Now that the Heat is back on track with Sunday's win against Houston, let's take a minute to acknowledge something remarkable that has gone somewhat under-the-radar regarding LeBron James and Dwyane Wade:  

### Wade is poised to post the highest shooting percentage by any shooting guard in the past 29 years and the highest of any starting shooting guard since the NBA implemented the three-point shot in 1979-80.

Wade is shooting 55.1 percent from the field --– something Michael Jordan never did over a full season. Jordan’s high: 53.9 in 1990-91.

And if he stays above 54 percent, it would be the highest by a shooting guard since Atlanta backup Mike Glenn shot 58.8 in 1984-85. The highest field-goal accuracy by a starting shooting guard in the three-point era was Otis Birdsong, at 54.5 percent in 1980-81.

What’s more, Wade is on pace to lead all shooting guard in accuracy for the fifth time in the past six seasons. (He was beaten out by Wilson Chandler in 2009-2010). Wade has topped 50 percent only once before – 52.1 last season.

Shooting 54 percent, let alone 55, “is something I’ve never done before, so it would be great,” he said. “I take pride in my field-goal percentage, have always cared about it. I was 49.6 percent in college. I wanted to be at 50. I try to take good shots.”

For perspective, only one other NBA guard has shot better than 50 percent this season: Phoenix's Goran Dragic at 50.8.

So what’s the biggest difference? Wade said he worked on his mid-range game and post game during the offseason, and the results are dramatic.

Consider that Wade is shooting 53 percent from 3 to 10 feet, well above his 46.4 career mark. From 10 to 16 feet, he’s at 47.5 percent, a huge jump from 38.1 in his career.

He’s shooting 55 percent when he posts up, up from 48 percent last season: “I’m pretty good on the post game. I added that. I didn’t have it in college.” He also has diversified his game by polishing his Eurostep move and adding a hook shot.

Wade has taken only one heave at the end of a quarter after shooting 17 over the past five seasons. Will he avoid those shots to keep his percentage high?

“I haven’t been in that position [to take them],” he said, with Wade usually on the bench at the end of the first and third quarters. “It depends on how I’m going. Sometimes, I’ll want to shoot. Sometimes, I’ll dribble it out.”

It also helps his percentage that he shoots three-pointers sparingly (he’s 9 for 27), after launching 243 in his final season playing without James. Wade noted the Heat already has enough three-point shooters without him lofting a lot of them. But Indiana coach Tom Crean, his friend and former coach at Marquette, said last summer that it’s a part of his game he will need to polish as he gets older.

Coach Erik Spoelstra said “the No. 1 factor” in Wade’s remarkable shooting percentage is his shot selection and “not settling” for bad ones: “Most players aren’t capable of that type of maturity. It becomes about them.”

### James stands at 56.9 percent from the field, even after shooting just 45 percent over the past six games. He needs an exceptional close to post the highest shooting percentage of any starting small forward (and better than any guard, for that matter) since the three-point shot was implemented.

Cedric Maxwell shot 58.8 percent for Boston in 1980-81 but attempted only one three-pointer. Conversely, James has attempted 240 and made 89, which would naturally drag down a high shooting percentage.

In the three-point shot era, 11 starting small forwards have shot at least 55 percent in a season. James seems likely to do it twice in a row, after shooting 56.5 percent last season.

For perspective, the highest Larry Bird ever shot in a season was 52.7, Scottie Pippen 52, Rick Barry 51, Alex English 54, Julius Erving 54.6, Chris Mullin 55.3. Dominique Wilkins, Elgin Baylor and John Havlicek never shot 50 percent.

“Do you realize his field goal percentage, literally since his first season, every year has gone up?” TNT’s Greg Anthony said. “That’s unbelievable. How can a perimeter player shoot 58 percent?  When you’re the focal point of the defense, and you’re playing at an elite level, to shoot that high of a percentage is absurd.”  


Right tackle Zach Strief, who declined an invitation to visit the Dolphins --- re-signed with New Orleans today. "Saints are his home," agent Ralph Cindrich explained of his decision not to pursue Miami.

Meanwhile, the Dolphins have expressed preliminary interest in Houston free agent right tackle Ryan Harris but no visit has been set up, according to Herald colleague Adam Beasley. Harris and Eric Winston are the top remaining right tackles available. The Dolphins instead might choose to draft one, potentially Notre Dame's Zach Martin at No. 19.


Please see the last post for Dolphins, Marlins and Canes items Twitter:@flasportsbuzz

Dolphins free agency, Heat notes, Riley/Shula/LeBron moment, Marlins, UM chatter

Sunday morning tidbits:

### Keep this in mind about new Dolphins cornerback Cortland Finnegan, who was a very good player before declining and battling hamstring and orbital injuries the past two years:

One recurring issue is that he has allowed simply too high of a percentage of passes to be completed against him: 66.7 and 63 percent in 2010 and 2011 (his most recent very good season), 73 percent in 2012 and an absurd 76 percent last season (26 of 34).

By comparison, Nolan Carroll (who left for Philadelphia) allowed just 47.8 percent last season, and Dimitri Patterson (who was released) just 58.1.

The problem is Finnegan’s per-catch average has ballooned, from 8.8 in 2011 (fourth-best among all cornerbacks) to 13.6 last season. At his best, Finnegan, 30, is a feisty corner who gets under the opponent’s skin. But the Rams thought he had lost a step. “It’s the first job I’ve ever been fired from,” he said of the Rams cutting him recently. “I have a chip on my shoulder.”

### Here’s how Pro Football Focus evaluated new Dolphins guard Shelley Smith, who started only two games last season but played in 14: "In Smith’s 371 snaps this season he put up a run blocking grade of +12.3. He had the fifth-highest percentage of [running play] snaps graded positively among all guards. Those kinds of numbers are too impressive to just be a fluke. The Rams’ guard plays with great leverage at 6-foot-3 and was a terror pulling all year.

"The only problem is in Smith’s 731 career snaps he has a pass blocking grade of -10.1. A lot of teams aren’t willing to sacrifice that much pass protection for a good run blocker and Smith could have a tough time winning a starting job wherever he goes.”

### The Dolphins have been giving thought to having Koa Misi play middle linebacker, which would shift Dannell Ellerbe outside. But they’ve also toyed with that before.

### Though the Dolphins remain interested, right tackle Zach Strief's priority remains trying to get a deal done with New Orleans... 

Though the Dolphins could do worse than Bryant McKinnie as a veteran tackle backup – and he would welcome a return – Miami has not discussed that, according to his representation. Incidentally, McKinnie will host a celebrity basketball game at 7:30 Sunday night at AmericanAirlines Arena to benefit underprivileged students in the Miami area. Cost: $25 for adults, $15 for kids. (The arena will be cleared after the 3:30 p.m. Heat game).

### Pretty neat tonight to see Pat Riley and Don Shula on stage together at Heat announcers Eric Reid's and Tony Fiorentino's outstanding annual charity event, which benefit's Lauren's Kids. "There's nobody I respect more than coach Shula," Riley said, on stage at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood. "Don Shula for me is an all-time, all-time."

### Riley flew in from Atlanta, where he was scouting the SEC Tournament, to give a testimonial to LeBron James, who was honored at the event. "I just got off the plane from Atlanta; I was looking for somebody to help LeBron," Riley quipped.

Riley said there are ups and downs in his career but "with LeBron, it's been nothing but great. He's not just an incredible player. He does so much for other people." Riley called James "a person I admire and love." (Top that, Phil Jackson!; a New York Daily News column speculated today that Jackson will try to lure James to the Knicks, which is a major longshot.)

Riley said the arrival of LeBron in Miami in 2010 and the Heat's two subsequent championships "has changed the state. It has changed the city. I knew somewhere along the way, the impossible could really happen. And it did."

### James gave a classy speech. "So blessed and excited," he said. "I represent more than myself. I represent every single kid that looks up to me as a role model, a superhero... I take that role very seriously."

Then he said the "real superhero" is Lauren Book, who was the victim of sexual abuse by her nanny as a child and is the founder of an organization that educates kids and adults about sexual abuse and raises awareness. (She's the daughter of prominent lobbyist Ron Book, who also has been instrumental in helping his daughter's organization.)

 ### After showing promising signs earlier this month, Greg Oden's play has leveled off in recent appearances, raising questions about how much can be realistically expected as he works his way back from four years of injuries. In the last four games, spanning 20 minutes, Oden has four points, two rebounds, five fouls and three turnovers, and Miami has been outscored by 27 points during his time on the floor.

Overall, Miami has been outscored by 22 in Oden's 138 minutes. The other Heat players with a negative plus/minus: Michael Beasley (minus 9), Toney Douglas (minus 80) and Udonis Haslem (minus 106).  

### One Marlins official said if center fielder Marcell Ozuna continues to struggle offensively and doesn’t make the team out of spring training, one good possibility is moving Christian Yelich to center and have Brian Bogusevic and Reed Johnson platoon in left. The Marlins also could opt for defensively-gifted Jake Marisnick if he is absolutely exceptional offensively all spring, which they aren’t necessarily expecting. But they’re still hopeful Ozuna will turn it around.

### What led to UM offensive lineman Hunter Knighton losing consciousness earlier this month? According to multiple people, he had been sick for a few days, hadn’t eaten much and tried to participate in the U-tough training program before collapsing. It was very scary, “touch and go” for a few days, but he’s now out of the hospital and doing well.

### UM is no longer pursuing four-star football/basketball standout Derrick Griffin, who couldn’t make it academically.