The Myth of Gerald Wallace



You may have heard that Gerald Wallace, one of the soon-to-be newest Celtics, is no good. In March, one of the most famous Celtics fans called his contract the third-worst in the NBA. He’s signed for 3 more years at just over $10 million per season, which, for a player who is "no good", certainly sounds terrible. Even Wallace himself admitted to having no confidence in his shot.

Despite the above, I’m here to dispel the myth that Gerald Wallace is no good at basketball, because that’s just what it is, a myth.

Myth #1: At Least Wallace Will Help the Celtics Lose Games and Get a Better Draft Pick

Last year the Nets scored 4.1 more points per 100 possessions than their opponents when Gerald Wallace was on the court. Overall, the Nets only scored 2.0 more points per 100 possessions. If they netted 4.1 more points per 100 possessions for the season, that would have placed them 9th overall in the NBA, between Indiana at 4.5 and Houston at 3.6. In other words, when Wallace was on the court, they were arguably a top 10 team.

When Wallace was off the court, the Nets had an approximately -0.2 net points per 100. (I say approximately because I could not find this exact statistic, and do not know if the Nets played at a faster or slower pace without Wallace, and so was only able to adjust for the percentage of minutes he played. Regardless, it is unlikely to be extremely different). That -0.2 was precisely what last year’s Celtics performed at, good for 16th in the NBA. So to reiterate – the Nets with Wallace were a little less good than the Pacers, while the Nets without Wallace were as bad as the Celtics. This doesn’t sound like a player who is bad at basketball – what gives?

Well, for starters, Wallace has always been good at defense. He’s #8 amongst active players in steal percentage for his career. He’s also a very good rebounder for his position. And this showed – when he was on the floor, the Nets had more steals, more rebounds, and committed fewer fouls than when he was off the floor.

But wait, you may say, couldn’t it just be that Wallace was playing with better players, and was simply riding on their coattails? It certainly could, so let’s check. Here are the +/- rates of the ten Nets who played the most minutes:

Player Minutes +/-
Deron Williams 2842 +2.5
Joe Johnson 2642 +5.2
Brook Lopez 2253 +5.3
Gerald Wallace 2076 +4.1
Reggie Evans 1967 +4.8
Andray Blatche 1555 -0.5
C.J. Watson 1521 +0.6
Keith Bogans 1408 +0.2
Kris Humphries 1191 -3.5
Marshon Brooks 912 -3.2

While it’s not completely clear as to whether or not Wallace’s solid +/- ratings are simply a function of playing with the starters, I think there’s evidence in Deron Williams’ numbers. He played the most minutes, but had a relatively poor rating, which means he was brought down by the reserves. Wallace was one of the lesser-used starters, along with Reggie Evans. Evans primary backups were Blatche and Humphries, who both had considerably worse ratings despite logging a good deal of time with the starters. Likewise, Wallace’s primary backup was Keith Bogans, whose numbers were also a good deal lower despite getting time with the primary unit.

Still, we can dig a bit deeper into these +/- numbers, and look at how each of the above players performed while Wallace was on the court. Here’s another table:

Player Minutes with Wallace +/- with Wallace Difference with Wallace
Deron Williams 1774 +3.7 +1.2
Joe Johnson 1515 +5.9 +0.7
Brook Lopez 1476 +6.3 +1.0
Reggie Evans 1170 +6.4 +1.6
Andray Blatche 487 +3.1 +3.6
C.J. Watson 461 +3.8 +3.2
Keith Bogans 396 +4.2 +4.0
Kris Humphries 489 -6.8 -3.3
Marshon Brooks 255 +0.4 +3.6

When you look at these numbers, you see that eight of the nine other most used Nets had better +/- numbers when Wallace was on the court. While it would be reading too much into this to say that Wallace made the players around him better, it is not too much to say that Wallace did not make his team worse. And if Wallace didn’t make the Nets, who won nearly 50 games, a worse team, then it’s very unlikely he will make the Celtics worse. And it is similarly unlikely that he is bad at basketball.

Myth #2: Gerald Wallace Can’t Shoot

This one is less of a myth. Wallace had a horrific year shooting the basketball, and he knew it. (To his partial credit, he took fewer shots, which probably mitigated his bad shooting somewhat).

Still, last year may have been an anomaly. While his shooting had been trending down, prior to last season he was still in the top 50 of active players in career eFG%. Despite last year, in which his numbers completely fell off a cliff, he is still in the top 50 of True Shooting %. He has in the past been able to shoot, and shoot quite well.

Furthermore, he did all right in the playoffs. While it’s admittedly a small sample of 7 games, he shot 46.3% from the field, and 37.9% from 3, much improved from his 39.7% from the floor and 28.2% from downtown in the regular season. At a time when many players shrink, Wallace got better, despite suffering from a lack of confidence just weeks earlier. While he may no longer be one of the top shooters in the league, there is reason to believe he won’t be the offensive liability he is advertised to be.

All in all, Gerald Wallace can still play basketball at good level. He was without question one of the 5 best players the #4-seed Nets had last year, in arguably the worst year of his career. Even a small rebound in shooting ability will make him a valuable player to the Celtics in the coming years. While he may not quite live up to his $10 million per year contract, the notion that he should be traded at all costs is vastly overlooking what he has to offer. The Celtics can win because of Gerald Wallace, and not in spite of him.

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