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Hoping One Player-Coach Pairing Comes to Fruition

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Last week in this space, we discussed the downsides to a westward move for Charlotte big man Emeka Okafor.  As it turns out, he has been unseated for the top spot on the list of players who would really be best served to stick around for some further time with the Bobcats.  That's because the new regime in Charlotte may be most crucial to the development of swingman Gerald Wallace.

Unlike restricted free agent Okafor, Wallace doesn't really have a choice in the matter.  He is under contract and can only be moved through a trade at this point.  But there over the early portion of the summer, there has been a flurry of rumors of trade talk, both real and imagined, regarding the possibility of Wallace being sent out of town.

The passionate vote and hope here (since the vote doesn't count for all that much in the Charlotte front office) is for the 'Cats to hang on to their versatile forward so that he has a shot to both continue to be part of the foundation there and to learn from one of the planet's best basketball minds.

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It was just last summer that the 'Cats made it clear that Wallace was to be a big part of the future in Charlotte as they extended him through 2013 to the tune of greater than $60 million.  At the time, expectations were growing that the ever-improving core of young 'Cats (Okafor, Wallace, Ray Felton) and the team's new acquisition and coach (Jason Richardson and Sam Vincent respectively) were going to vie for a playoff spot in the less-than-stellar Eastern Conference in 2007-08.  

Instead, the team crashed and burned with just 32 wins, and Vincent saw the door after just one season on the bench.  With wins totals of 18, 26, 33 and 32 in their four seasons of existence, the 'Cats have gone into the summer once more willing to entertain seemingly any and all proposals in the interest in taking any steps possible to positively re-shape the team.  As Wallace said to the Charlotte Observer recently, he understands that everybody is on the market in Charlotte these days.

That's all well and good, and it makes enough sense.  But when healthy (and one can't help but concede that this is a major qualifier), Wallace has shown the ability to be part of the solution rather than the problem in Charlotte, and the possibility of the progress he could make with Larry Brown is highly appealing.

In fairness, Wallace has had a myriad of injury problems over the past few years, having played 70, 55, 72 and 62 games in his four seasons in Charlotte respectively, and he battled major concussion issues throughout last year.  But when he has been on the court, he has only continued to improve.  At 6-foot-7 and 215 pounds, Wallace possesses a special blend of strength, quickness and explosiveness.  While he isn't a good jump shooter, he is incredibly dangerous getting to the rim and is one of the best in the league at elevating around the bucket.  This has helped him consistently increase both his per-game and per-minute scoring production. 

In his four years in Charlotte, Wallace has gone from 11.1 to 15.2 to 18.1 to 19.4 points per game.  He has shot over 50 percent from the field in two of those seasons, though he dropped to 45 percent last year.  Much of that had to do with the incraesed shooting that Wallace was forced to do from the outside and three-point land, where he stayed relatively constant with another year of poor (32 percent) shooting though he took more attempts per game.  Wallace was still very effective when he looked to attack the basket, getting to the line nearly 7 times per game, and his true shooting remained a respectable 54.1 percent.  

Wallace's appeal goes beyond the scoring stats.  He is a very good rebounder for a small forward (though he dropped to 6 per game last year, he was up over 7 in each of the last two seasons), and he has the jumping ability and willingness to hustle to track down loose balls galore and to make himself very difficult for opposing defenses to stop.  Wallace plays hard on both ends of the floor, and he has shown flashes of using his wingspan, quickness and tenacity to turn himself into a big-time defender in this league.

Enter Coach Brown.

He is likely the perfect mentor for Wallace at this point.  What makes Larry Brown special as an NBA coach is that he is one of the best teachers of the game around.  What makes Wallace special is that he has all the tools and has demonstrated a willingness to work at his game and to take direction.  Brown is the sort of coach who could get Wallace to keep getting in the gym to improve his jump shooting en route to becoming a dominant offensive player, and more importantly, he is the sort of coach who could teach Wallace to harness his energy on the defensive end and use his variety of physical tools to become a defensive stalwart.  With those improvements, Wallace could morph from a very talented swingman to one of the upper-echelon (albeit likely not premier) players in the league at his position.

Gerald Wallace is only 25 years old, and he has already been one of the league's most underrated fun-to-watch players for some time now.  He is blessed with a special sort of explosiveness, and he has made impressive progress in recent years.  Giving him some time to work with one of the game's premier coaches might just be the right formula to make him worthy of cornerstone status for the league's youngest franchise. 


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