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Heat's Wade the Forgotten Rookie

The first-year player for Miami doesn't have the fame of newcomers James and Anthony, but he certainly has the numbers and talent.

March 07, 2004|From Associated Press

MIAMI — He's been a better shooter than either LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony. Some say he's even a better defender. And he, too, has carried his team into playoff contention.

Indeed, Miami's Dwyane Wade is proving the NBA has more than two super rookie talents.

True, he trails the newcomers' race for fame -- James already graces billboards in New York's Times Square and Anthony needed two bodyguards during All-Star weekend. But Wade is virtually even with his more-ballyhooed classmates stats-wise.

Most importantly, he's breathed much-needed fresh life into the Heat, who have already matched their 25-win total from last season and may be headed to the playoffs for the first time in three years.

"He should be ranked right up there with LeBron and Carmelo. The kid is awesome," said Hall of Famer Magic Johnson, who called Wade the best defender out of the talented rookie trio. "He's 'Mr. Excitement.' You can't stop him. He's much like them; he just hasn't gotten the publicity. But guys that play basketball talk about him."

Added Denver Coach Jeff Bzdelik: "It's a shame he flies under the radar screen."

The 6-foot-4, 212-pound Wade is averaging 16.7 points, 4.4 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game. With him in the lineup, Miami is 19-23; without him, the Heat were 6-13 entering Thursday's game against Milwaukee.

"What I'm proud of is we've been playing well as a team," Wade said. "We've got to continue playing that way because we've all got one goal in mind. That's the key thing for a team this young, to get to the playoffs."

Wade's offensive play in February -- 19.4 points per game on 49.6 percent shooting -- has further won over his teammates, who boldly pronounce him as the league's brightest young star.

"Hands down, he's the best rookie in the league," Heat forward Caron Butler said. "No question."

Wade is second among all NBA rookies in field-goal percentage (.468), a number ranking behind only Minnesota's Sam Cassell and Gary Payton of the Lakers among all NBA guards.

He has scoring numbers only slightly below James and Anthony, leads his team in steals and attacks the rim the way he did while carrying Marquette to last year's Final Four.

"The thing that really sort of sets Dwyane apart is his efficiency," Heat Coach Stan Van Gundy said. "Heck, he's one of the highest field-goal percentage guards in the entire league. It's rare to have a guard at any age shoot close to 50 percent."

Injuries are all that's slowed Wade this season. He's missed about a third of Miami's games because of foot, wrist and hip injuries. And he was expected to be sidelined until next week with a bruised right foot.

Wade said he prayed to come to Miami, and everything aligned perfectly for the Heat to grab him with the fifth pick in the 2003 draft.

The top selections -- James by Cleveland, Darko Milicic by Detroit and Anthony by Denver -- were made long before the draft, so the intrigue started with Toronto at No. 4. If the Raptors took Chris Kaman, Miami would have chosen Chris Bosh over Wade. But Bosh went to the Raptors.

"We made one of those great decisions that is working out," Heat president Pat Riley said. "It's all up to him. He's the one doing it. He's making the game look rather simple at times out there. The maturity he has and the coaching he got from Tom Crean at Marquette has allowed him to be successful."

Crean doesn't want any of the credit, although he merits some. Wade wasn't exactly on any hot list of coveted high school players when the Golden Eagles -- who were the first to recruit Wade out of Richards High in suburban Chicago -- persuaded him to go to Milwaukee for college.

Marquette was 15-14 the season before Wade was eligible. With him, the Golden Eagles went to consecutive NCAA tournaments for the first time since Mike Deane coached them in 1996 and 1997, won 53 out of 66 games and returned to national prominence.

"The fact he brings an honest day's effort to everything he does is one of the things that separates him for the long haul," Crean said. "What we're seeing is a young man on a mission to be known not only as one of the better players in the NBA, but someone who wants to make his team one of the best in the NBA."

His demeanor off the court also have drawn praise.

The 22-year-old guard is married with a young son, and speaks openly about his devotion to his wife, Siohvaughn, whom he started dating in high school. And he tends to be pretty low-key compared to other young NBA millionaires.

"We're seeing greatness in Dwyane and it's exciting. It's greatness without the baggage," Riley said. "He's simply about basketball and family and all the other stuff isn't part of his life."

Riley and the Heat can only hope Wade does for Miami what he did for Marquette.

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