Dwyane Wade vs Paul Pierce and James Harden? It’s no debate

Dec 29, 2012; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade (3) during the game against the Milwaukee Bucks at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. The Bucks won 104-85. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 29, 2012; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade (3) during the game against the Milwaukee Bucks at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. The Bucks won 104-85. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports /

The aftermath of NBA free agency and Summer League brings upon a brief, yet dark period to the realm of NBA media, where only the most precarious narratives lurk and crosses the line between informed analysis and personal bias. Dwyane Wade is the most recent victim of this period, as his placement in all-time rankings have been supposedly “threatened” by Paul Pierce and James Harden.

To have arguably the third best shooting guard of all time, a top-20 player ever, a three-time champion and Finals MVP under a microscope, reeks of pure boredom. Although, it doesn’t have to be — the stats, historical accomplishments and context can help bring fans back to reality.

Starting off with Paul Pierce, lets preface this by saying that Pierce was a highly talented player, and while it’s funny to make jokes, he was insanely skilled, and had a certain edge to him when he stepped onto the court. It would be fine to leave it there, but he put himself into conversations he doesn’t belong in, and that’s when boundaries blur and credibility wavers.

To celebrate Dwyane Wade’s enshrinement in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, this week at All U Can Heat is “Dwyane Wade Week.” Each day, we will celebrate his career, rank his greatest performances and break down the biggest moments.

Pierce argues he was a better scorer than Dwyane Wade, which is a puzzling statement to make considering the only credible point to back this up is him being the higher all-time points scorer of the two. Pierce accumulated 26,397 points to Wade’s 23,165. This doesn’t even paint the full picture though as Pierce played three more seasons than Wade and Pierce averaged 70 games played per season in his career to Wade’s 65.

When looking at these two at their absolute best, Wade averaged 30.2 (2008-09) points per game on 49% shooting, earning him a scoring title. Pierce averaged 26.8 (2005-06) points on 47% shooting. For their careers, Wade averaged 22 points, besting Pierce’s 19. As a matter of fact, if you remove his last two years in Los Angeles (6.1 & 3.2 PPG), his career averages still come out to only 20.6 points per game. So, Pierce doesn’t even have the longevity excuse in his bag if he wanted to use it.

Now let’s compare playoff scoring numbers. Wade’s career average in the playoffs is 22.3 points on 47% shooting while Pierce is at 18.7 points on 42% shooting. Looking at their total points in the playoffs, Wade has 3,954 in 177 games played to Pierce’s 3,180 in 170 games. Wade was always one of the NBA legends to always upped his game come playoff time, meanwhile Pierce stayed nearly the same. Which isn’t a bad thing — consistency is key — but against Wade you need to hit that next gear and Pierce never really did that.

For the NBA Finals, 2006 speaks for itself as Wade engraved his name in NBA history averaging 34 points for the series and 39 points per game after going down 0-2. This earned him first and only Finals MVP. Pierce received his Finals MVP in 2008, when he averaged 21 points per game. Big difference in the numbers there. For total averages in all of their Finals appearances, Wade averaged 24 points to Pierce’s 20, despite Wade playing 29 games to Pierce’s 13.

Pierce could score on all three levels, yet Wade was with him every step of the way, even without a 3-point shot! Pierce’s only argument doesn’t even have the numbers to back it up. Not to mention that’s the only aspect of that Pierce is questionably better at. Passing and playmaking? Wade clears. Wade is one of the best shooting guards at creating for others, was a top tier defender, making him one the best two-way guards in the league alongside Kobe and is statistically the best shot-blocking guard of all time.

Comparing career accomplishments…

Wade: Three championships, one Finals MVP, three-time All-Defense, eight-time All-NBA (two-time first team), 13-time All-Star, 2009 scoring champ

Pierce: One championship, one Finals MVP, zero All-Defense, four-time All-NBA (never first team) and a 10-time All-Star.

Jalen Rose laid it down perfectly live on air back in 2019.

Addressing the head-to-head match-ups, Pierce does have the edge in the regular season, 31-24. Wade owns the playoff matchup, 13-9. One interesting thing to note is that Wade lost to the Boston Celtics 4-1 in 2010, despite Wade averaging 33.2 points per game while Pierce averaged 19.6.

The narrative is that Wade had more “offensive freedom” while Pierce shared the ball with Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. This would be a fair point, but the next year with LeBron James and Chris Bosh on the court, Wade still averaged 30 points to Pierce’s 19.6. Some things just don’t change.

The final point to address is Paul Pierce saying “Put Shaq on my team. Put LeBron and Bosh with me. I’m not gonna win one? Put me, LeBron and Bosh… we not gonna win a couple?” These claims make no sense because after Shaq became a shell of himself in 2007, Wade had no help, while Pierce teamed up with Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. Wouldn’t prime Wade, Garnett and Allen win a title? Wade, LeBron and Kobe were widely considered the three best players in the league!

Not only are these claims comical, but for someone who calls himself “The Truth,” he’s living in a world of fiction.

Wade vs James Harden

Moving on to James Harden, it is quite difficult to compare the two due to each of them peaking in different eras. Wade and Pierce you can directly compare because they both played in the same slow-ball era. The numbers lean heavily in favor of Harden, but context is certainly missing.

Wade had his best season in 2008-09 finishing as the league-leading scorer (2,386) and the points per game leader (30.2). During this season, Wade was the only player to average 30, and there were 20 total players to average over 20. Applying this to Harden’s 30 points per game MVP season, there were 23 players to average over 20 points and the following season where Harden averages 36.1 points, there were 31 players averaging over 20.

This is all to say that we’re in a different time period of basketball. This isn’t the NBA where teams come down and waste a full 24 seconds on the shot clock. More players are getting more shots off and are taking an extreme amount of three point shots on top of that.

This is not taking credit away from Harden, as he’s done amazing things in the regular season and was a joy to watch, but acting as if Harden was on some other planet is just a lie. Wade in 2008-09 didn’t win the MVP, but he finished third behind Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, two of the best to ever touch a court, and finished third in Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY) voting behind Dwight Howard and LeBron. Wade was playing both ends on an elite level, unlike Harden who was only getting it done on one end, thought it did earn him an MVP.

However, if you adjust Wade’s 2008-09 season to the era of basketball around this time per 75 possessions, Wade finishes with 33 points, five rebounds, eight assists per game, two steals and a block. Granted, in-game context would matter as Wade would have to develop a better 3-point shot in this era. But this is the closest fans can get to actually comparing seasons that are a decade apart.

The debate can be made that Harden is a better offensive player, and in some cases that’s true. Harden is a better 3-point shooter, better at getting to the line and would probably be recognized as the better passer. After that, Wade is either just as good or better in different areas. Wade was a better mid-range scorer, better post-player, better finisher around the rim and always hit timely clutch shots in both the regular and postseason.

Defensively, Harden and Wade couldn’t be further apart. Wade again is a three-time defensive team select only furthering the gap which starts with the eye test. Wade has also seen more total All-NBA teams than Harden, though Harden  All-NBA first team six times to Wade’s two.

But let’s move on to the postseason. This is where the two are separated. Harden’s struggles in the playoffs aren’t only well-documented, they have become the biggest story of his career. Meanwhile, Wade’s legend grew in the playoffs. His performance in the 2006 Finals speaks for itself and he consistently dragged inferior teams to postseason success.

Miami, UNITED STATES: Dwyane Wade (L) of the Miami Heat keeps Keith Van Horn of the Dallas Mavericks at bay during Game 3 of the NBA finals at American Airlines Arena in Miami 13 June 2006. The Mavericks hold a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series. AFP PHOTO/Jeff HAYNES (Photo credit should read JEFF HAYNES/AFP via Getty Images)
Miami, UNITED STATES: Dwyane Wade (L) of the Miami Heat keeps Keith Van Horn of the Dallas Mavericks at bay during Game 3 of the NBA finals at American Airlines Arena in Miami 13 June 2006. The Mavericks hold a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series. AFP PHOTO/Jeff HAYNES (Photo credit should read JEFF HAYNES/AFP via Getty Images) /

In the 2005 playoffs, Wade was dominating the Detroit Pistons before he suffered a rib strain that sidelined him for Game 6 and hampered him in Game 7. Wade also had multiple games in the “Heatles Era” where him and LeBron kept the Heat afloat for a lot of the Celtic and Pacers series.

Wade was a bona fide playoff star, who did start to decline as he got older and a bit more banged up, but you can’t say he never backed down when he was in his prime. He was a force to be reckoned with.

Harden in his prime, however, has done the opposite. It started in the 2012 Finals, where Harden averaged only 12 points on 37% shooting. Yes, it was year three, but Wade in year three won his first title. Just something to take note of.

Fast forward a couple years, and while he didn’t play the best in Houston those first couple of years, those teams weren’t all that amazing, in Harden’s defense. 2017 though is where we truly start to see Harden become the offensive juggernaut that we know him for. At the same time though, this is where Harden’s bad playoff reputation really starts.

Game 5 in San Antonio, Kawhi Leonard leaves mid-game with an injury and no Tony Parker. They head to overtime, where Harden shoots 0-3 with three turnovers and a loss. Not to mention getting the game-tying shot blocked by 39 year-old Manu Ginobili. In Game 6, Harden has a chance to keep his season alive with Kawhi and Parker out. He responds with an absolute stinker — 10 points on 2 for 11 shooting, six turnovers and 10 fouls. Bleh.

Harden’s stats in Houston’s 2018 series against the Warriors were better, but they are misleading. The Rockets had the Warriors against the ropes as they went into Golden State up 3-2 without Chris Paul. Harden scored 22 points in the first half, going into halftime up 10 against the defending champs. This was the chance for Harden to have his Wade-like moment and get his team to the NBA Finals. Instead, he shot 4-10 from the field with three turnovers in the second half and lost by 29 points. In Game 7, he once again had the Warriors down 11 at half and scored 16 points before the break. Then he barfed up six points in the third quarter, shooting 2 of 7, as the Warriors annihilated them with a 33-15 quarter. Harden finished the game with 32, but when they needed him most in the third, he vanished.

2019 is where his debate with Wade ends. He came off a regular season in which he averaged 36 points and was facing the Warriors again. Fast forward to Game 6 in Houston, there’s no Kevin Durant playing and Chris Paul is healthy for this series. Stephen Curry has zero points at halftime, and this is the opportunity for Harden to strike.

No super-teams, just Harden and Paul vs Curry and Klay Thompson. Curry ends up exploding for 33 points in the second half, and Harden doesn’t even look to get up any shots. He took 10 total shots in the second half. He finished with a lethargic 35 points, but the six turnovers and 44% shooting from the field just wasn’t enough. Harden lost to the super team the year before and lost to the regular Warriors core the next.

This list could keep on going, but this was just to highlight Harden at his peak and what he’s failed to accomplish as the No. 1 option. Yes, he faced really great teams, but that doesn’t excuse the bad performances he’s racked up. It’s harsh, but we’re talking about being compared to one of three greatest shooting guards of all time.

If Harden’s game could translate to the postseason, he would have a valid argument to be in the conversation, but it doesn’t and that’s what separates him and Wade. Wade doesn’t have the raw scoring numbers in the regular season, but he always brought his best vs the best and it paid off with multiple championships.

The numbers and accolades are important, but so are the context for these games and it’s what defines legacies. Wade happens to have both, which Pierce and Harden don’t.

So, while fans sit and wait in NBA purgatory, find some new debates, because this one is already over.

Next. Ranking All of D-Wade's Finals Performances. dark