Let's make this clear: Gerald Wallace played terribly with the Brooklyn Nets last season. "Crash" started 68 games and averaged 7.7 points on 39.7 percent shooting, 4.6 rebounds, and 2.6 assists in 30.1 minutes per game. This was no doubt the worst season of his career.
But is Wallace washed up or were his circumstances with Brooklyn bringing down his production?
It's hard to pinpoint what exactly what went wrong with Gerald Wallace, but I find it hard to believe that a guy who is two-years removed from being one of the better role players in the NBA is now a relatively worthless player with a horrible contract.
Wallace isn't like one of those old beat up couches with rips and stains that you see families tossing away on their front lawns for trash pickers to take for free. Couches take time to get in bad shape like that, just like players' talents don't normally drop off a cliff. There are other factors that contribute to such a radical decline.
Of course, it's easy to think that could be the case since the 31-year-old Wallace admitted last year that his confidence was "totally gone." Not only that, one could say that Wallace mailed it in last year after signing a four-year, $40 million dollar contract. Cha-ching!
However, I think there are three main factors that contributed to Wallace's decline last season: he didn't have a defined role, the system didn't feature his strengths, and he probably should be playing fewer minutes.
The system didn't work
For whatever reason, both P.J. Carlesimo and Avery Johnson had Gerald Wallace shooting three-pointers at an astronomical rate, despite the fact shooting the three has never been his forte. Wallace attempted 2.8 threes per 36 minutes, compared to 1.8 every other season. He shot only 28.2 percent from three last season, after shooting 31.8 percent for the rest of his career. To put it simply, Wallace wasn't utilized correctly.
Crash made his money offensively with the Charlotte Bobcats and Portland Trail Blazers by scoring near the rim. Wallace was one of the better small forwards in the league at slashing to the basket, whether it was with or without the ball. With a great basketball I.Q., Wallace was much like Avery Bradley with his ability to cut underneath the basket, opening himself up for easy buckets.
It's not like his numbers declined much when shooting near the rim: From 2004 to 2011, Wallace shot 56.2 percent on shot attempts near the rim. The past two seasons he shot 53.1 near the rim, and while those numbers dipped slightly, it's because he isn't getting as many opportunities for easy baskets in transition, which was the primary issue.
The Nets deployed one of the slowest teams in the NBA, averaging 91.2 possessions per game, which ranked them 28th in the league. Wallace had spent the majority of his career playing an up-tempo style of basketball with the Charlotte Bobcats and was able to get easy baskets in transition since he would often beat the defense up the floor.
In the clip above you see Deron Williams make an unbelievable pass to Gerald Wallace, who beat every Chicago Bull up the floor. There were many instances last season when he would put himself in a situation for a play like this, but the system (and Williams' style of play) didn't call for the ball to be pushed. With Rajon Rondo at the helm, I believe Crash will get many more opportunities like that in transition.
The Celtics' system of previous seasons had a big grab a rebound and immediately find Rajon Rondo, who would look to make a play in transition by himself. While we don't know if this system will continue, early signs point to Brad Stevens installing a more fast-paced, transition offense, which suits Gerald Wallace's skill-set to a tee. I expect forwards like Jeff Green and Gerald Wallace to grab a rebound and hustle it up the court themselves.
At one point Crash was arguably the best rebounding small forward in basketball, and while he isn't that player any more, he still can play point forward quite well after grabbing a defensive board. Click here for a look at a very impressive play by Wallace in transition. Wallace grabs the rebound and quickly pushes the ball the half court before making a terrific pass to his teammate for a score. If the Celtics allow for a system like this one, Wallace will be able to unleash his potential as a versatile player.
Define his role
After the Brooklyn Nets lost Game 3 of Conference Quarterfinals against the Chicago Bulls, Wallace had some choice words about his role on the team. He said, "I don't know. I couldn't tell you my role now. I don't have a clue what my role is on this team."
It's understandable that he was confused about his role. Even though Wallace played the worst month of his career in April, averaging 2.3 points in 25-minutes per game, he was still the starter heading in to the playoffs. He played a great Game 1, logging 37 minutes and 14 points. But in Games 2 and 3, Wallace played only 19 and 25 minutes respectively. P.J. Carlesimo is now without a head-coaching job in the NBA considering how badly he handled the Brooklyn Nets' rotations throughout the season, and Wallace was the key victim.
Crash got a spark after his role was clear in Game 4. From Games 4 through 7, Wallace averaged 38 minutes, 15.8 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 3.8 assists. This was the style of play that NBA fans saw from Wallace throughout his entire career and the energy that the Nets expected him to bring after signing him to a $40 million dollar contract.
Maybe less is more
Despite his flashes of brilliance in the playoffs, we all know Gerald Wallace isn't the guy that he was in 2009, when he averaged 18.2 points, 10 rebounds, and was named to the All-Defensive First Team; but I believe he still can be a valuable contributor on a competitive team. Maybe the key for Wallace is to cut his minutes and bring him off the bench as a sixth man, which would be his first time doing that in his career.
With Jeff Green ahead of him on the depth chart, Brad Stevens will be able to easily define Wallace's role as a bench player. Wallace can't go full throttle like he used to for over 35-minutes per night, he could instead be a guy that plays for 25-minutes at full speed.
Gerald Wallace earned the nickname "Crash" for good reason. He's the type of player that will win fans over with his hustle and was a fan favorite in Charlotte for his relentless style of play that he brought each night. Wallace has had probably more hard falls than any other player in the NBA in the past ten years. Whether it came after a dunk or a block from behind, Wallace wasn't afraid to put his own body on the line. It wouldn't be a surprise if the 31-year-old lost a little bit of that spunk that made him the great player he was once before, but that doesn't mean he still can't contribute now.
But what about that $10 mil contract?
Sure, no team really wants to pay a guy $10 million to only play 25-minutes per game, and even if Gerald Wallace plays well, he still won't be worth it because most role players or defensive stoppers make somewhere between $4.5 and $7.5 million. Either way, I don't think this deal is the end of the world like some fans think it is.
Crash can still be an effective player and could become an attractive trade piece for another team. Whether it's this year or next year, Danny Ainge can definitely find a trade partner. Teams can get desperate around the trade deadline and do crazy things. Just think about it: If Gerald Wallace plays well this year, is it inconceivable to think that a title contender would pass on trading for him, when he only has two years left on his deal and could be the player that helps win them a championship? I don't think so. If Wallace plays well, he has value. Ainge knows it and so do other organizations.
Even if the Boston Celtics are stuck with Wallace for three more years, the team is so young right now that I don't think having one bad contract is such a big deal. The C's have plenty of moveable contracts with players like Brandon Bass, Courtney Lee, Kris Humphries, and even Jordan Crawford, so if push comes to shove, someone else could be moved to open up cap space. By the time the Celtics are ready to contend for a title, Wallace should be an expiring contract, which will free up space for the team to sign a big free agent, or to trade him for a player to take them to the next level.
The bottom line is that we have to give a player like Gerald Wallace a chance to succeed with the Boston Celtics. He has had far too successful of an NBA career to drop off so quickly like it appeared he did this past season. With Brad Stevens in as the head coach, it's a fact that he valued players that hustled hard and played gritty defense at Butler; I would expect him to see that same type of heart in Gerald Wallace.