SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN
Months after Pat Riley challenged Dwyane Wade to “change the narrative about his injuries and about missing games,” Wade started the season impressively, ranking seventh in the NBA in points per 48 minutes and 10th in efficiency, before struggling badly with his shot Friday at Indiana.
But it’s durability, not ability, that remains the question with Wade, after missing 17, 13, 28 and 20 games the past four seasons, some for “maintenance,” others because of assorted ailments.
Wade --- who turns 34 in January --- made a change this past offseason, beginning a new workout program with a new trainer (Dave Alexander) --- one he hopes translates into fewer missed games.
“I love [former trainer] Tim Grover. I just wanted to give my body a different experience,” Wade said. “I thought Dave… did a good job of looking at my overall body, at my weaknesses and trying to correct those things.
“It challenged my body in a different way since I’ve been coming off injuries, since I’m older. We did a lot of power and explosion work. I got fit. Got lean. I came in the same weight as last year [but] I feel better than I’ve felt in the previous three years.”
Most of the 20 games he missed last season stemmed from hamstring injuries “and I worked as hard as I could to make sure that's not the case this year. But hamstrings are a luck thing. Sometimes, it’s bad luck; I’ve had a lot in my career."
So in terms of availability, what can we realistically expect from Wade as he approaches his mid-30s?
For some perspective, we studied 20 of the NBA’s top perimeter players over the past two decades. We considered only guards and small forwards and only those who played into their mid-30s and in many cases, beyond.
Only one of the 20 --- Paul Pierce --- never missed double figures in games in any season covering their mid 30s and beyond.
Of those 20, eight had pretty good durability in their mid 30s: Pierce, Ray Allen, Vince Carter, John Stockton, Jason Kidd, Gary Payton, Reggie Miller and Grant Hill.
The cases of Hill and Carter should be encouraging for Wade, because both missed a ton of games earlier in their careers. Carter, 38, missed just 18 games over the past three seasons.
Hill played 82, 81 and 80 as a starter between ages 36 and 38 (while averaging 30 minutes), before missing a lot his final two seasons. The limitation on Hill's minutes seemed to help his durability and longevity.
Erik Spoelstra said he doesn’t want to place a limit on Wade’s minutes, but he is down this season, to 30 per game, from 31.8 last season.
Among our 20-star sample size, more ominous is what happened to a dozen players once they reached their mid 30s. There were tons of games missed, most due to injury, some due to lineup decisions resulting from diminished skills. The Heat better hope that Wade doesn't follow the pattern of 12 of the 20 high-end players we evaluated.
During their seasons at age 35 and beyond, Scottie Pippen played 64, 62, 64 and 23 games; Mitch Richmond 37 and 64; Glen Rice played 62 and 18, before retiring at midseason.
Chauncey Billups played 20, 22 and 19 in the three seasons after turning 35. In his career from age 33 on, Clyde Drexler played 52, 62 and 70.
Then there’s Kobe Bryant, who missed eight games at 33 and four at 34 but 76 and 47 the past two seasons.
Does Wade worry what happened to Kobe could happen to him?
“I've been through a lot, and you knock on wood and hopefully it doesn't happen to you,” Wade said earlier this year. “I don't think about that. I just worry, how I can be effective at 33.”
Wade has spoken to Hill, Bryant and Jason Kidd “just to see how those guys can still be successful at an older age.”
The first few games (before Friday's off night) suggest that Wade --- most nights --- remains one of the NBA's top half dozen shooting guards. Even after Friday's nine-point game, he still entered the weekend 20th among all players in efficiency rating.
But so much rides on his health, from the Heat’s chances to the salary he will command in free agency next summer.
### Don't draw any conclusions about Wade's effectiveness in back-to-back games merely from his 4-for-15 shooting night Friday. Last season, in the second game of 11 back-to-back sets, Wade averaged 22.4 points and shot 48.5 percent.
### There are 129 NFL players who have had at least 25 passes thrown to them this season.
It's troubling that only one of those 129 (Carolina’s Ted Ginn Jr.) has caught a lower percentage of targets than Dolphins tight end Jordan Cameron (44.2 percent, 19 for 43).
But don’t blame Cameron, who has no drops and is questionable for Sunday with a hamstring injury.
His lack of consistent chemistry with Ryan Tannehill is one reason why he ranks 24th among tight ends in receptions (19 for 257) and why he hasn’t approached his 2013 numbers with Cleveland (80-917).
“Work in progress,” he said of the chemistry with Tannehill. “We’ve been asked to block a lot. I’ve gotten a lot better as a blocker.”
The man Cameron replaced, Buffalo’s Charles Clay, enters Sunday’s Dolphins game with 34 catches for 350 yards.
Tannehill undoubtedly had a better chemistry with Clay, who caught 69 percent of the passes thrown to him last season (58 of 84). The caveat is that some of the passes thrown to Cameron have been longer than balls that Tannehill threw to Clay.
Cameron is averaging 13.5 yards per catch this season; Clay averaged 10.4 yards per catch as a Dolphin last season, and is barely above that this season in Buffalo.
Incidentally, even Mike Wallace caught a much higher percentage of passes from Tannehill last season (58.3) than Cameron has this season.
Cameron seemed surprised to hear he was catching that low a percentage of passes, noting it included some balls thrown out of bounds when Tannehill had to get rid of the ball quickly.
### Dan Campbell said last week that Reshad Jones can effectively cover any tight end in the league one-on-one, so expect Jones on Clay at least part of the time on Sunday. But others also will get a chance. Clay caught five passes for 82 yards and a touchdown in the Bills' 42-14 pasting of the Dolphins on Sept. 27.
"With Reshad Jones, we feel like he can lock down any tight end in this league," Campbell said. "And then if you draw Jelani Jenkins on man to man with a tight end, that’s a pretty good matchup, too."
### We hear Campbell is trying something unusual when a player is late to a meeting. Another player - not the one who was tardy - must serve the punishment, usually some form of physical activity.
“There’s no shortage of people volunteering; usually five or six offer,” linebacker Spencer Paysinger said. “Usually, the guy who was late the previous time volunteers. It breeds accountability.”
### More Campbell creativity: The top performers at practice this past week were upgraded to a suite at the team’s Buffalo-area hotel this weekend. He also gave away parking spaces close to the team's charter flight, as he did for the first road game after taking over as coach.
### The Dolphins moved Jay Ajayi from short-term IR to the 53-man roster today, giving them four running backs on the 53. Guard Sam Brenner was cut.... DeVante Parker (foot) and Jordan Kovacs (knee) didn't travel to Buffalo and are out Sunday.
### A few Canes notes after today's 27-21 win against Virginia: Brad Kaaya (20-26-286-2 touchdowns-1 pick) has now played in 12 career home games, with sterling numbers: 3,005 yards, 26 touchdowns and seven picks... This was only the second career 100 yard receiving game for Stacy Coley (7-132)...
David Njoku, whom Kaaya dubbed UM's secret weapon during the summer, is just the fourth Miami tight end in the last 20 years to record a 58-yard reception.... Freshman safety Jaquan Johnson had his first career interception... UM can win the Coastal if it wins out (at North Carolina, Georgia Tech, at Pittsburgh) and UNC (which is unbeaten in the conference and looks very good) loses at Virginia Tech or at North Carolina State... So much for the thought that firing Al Golden would boost attendance; the announced crowd was just over 40,000.
Notable lineup developments: Corn Elder started at cornerback in the absence of Artie Burns, who was attending to personal matters two days after the funeral for his mother.... Chad Thomas, who had been starting, came off the bench, with Tyriq McCord getting the start at linebacker. And Anthony Moten got a start on Miami's defensive line, with Courtel Jenkins playing off the bench.
### UM-UNC next Saturday was set for 3:30 p.m. on ESPNU.
### Talk about forgive and forget: When the Marlins fired Brad Arnsberg as pitching coach in 2003, he told owner Jeffrey Loria to “shut the [expletive] up" and shouted expletives at Loria and then-GM Larry Beinfest as they left his apartment. His behavior was “unprofessional, abusive and bordering on violent,” Beinfest said.
Now, the Marlins have talked about hiring Arnsberg (who works as a rehab coordinator for the Diamondbacks) for a job, though they said last week that it will not be for the position of big-league pitching coach.
### The Marlins like Giants free agent pitcher Mike Leake but worry the bidding might get too high. Free agency started Saturday, incidentally... Miami’s free agents: Jeff Mathis, Casey McGehee and Don Kelly. Mathis remains a possibility to return because of his strong defense and the way he handles the pitching staff.
### The Marlins will explore making a multi-year offer to second baseman Dee Gordon, the National League’s batting and stolen base champ, and Gordon said he would be receptive because “I love it here –-- the ballpark, the coaches, the staff.” He isn’t eligible for free agency until after 2019.
### The Marlins are less optimistic about signing shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, who declined their overtures last winter but remains under control through 2018. The Marlins were led to believe he wants a contract approaching the eight-year, $120 million deal that Texas gave Elvis Aldrus.
### Twitter: @flasportsbuzz