So, that happened. Rasheed Wallace is going to be a member of the Boston Celtics after signing a two-year deal worth the full mid-level exception (about $5.6 million for next season). I’ve already written about the decline in Sheed’s statistical production last season here, and how I think he would fit in with Kendrick Perkins here.
Whenever one of my teams signs a big-name free agent whose career is clearly declining, I think of Carlos Baerga. In 1997, Baerga was 28 and entering his third second season (ed note: Thanks to commenter Josh for pointing out the error) with the Mets after two disastrously unproductive seasons in New York. In Cleveland, he’d been an All-Star on a Hall of Fame career trajectory, but something happened in 1995, and his game fell apart. But 1997 was going to be a bounce back season. In story after story, he told reporters he had found God, given up booze and gotten himself into shape. I remember one columnist arguing that Baerga would surely play better because he’d be surrounded by other Spanish-speaking infielders (Rey Ordonez and Edgardo Alfonzo), which would make him feel more comfortable.
I bought all of it, and drafted Baerga in my fantasy league. Of course, he continued to be a disaster. None of the off-the-field changes or cultural comfort mattered at all. He was washed up physically (or, more likely, mentally), and he wasn’t going to recover.
This is not to say any of this applies to Sheed. At 34, he’s a much, much more productive basketball player than the 28-year-old version of Carlos Baerga was a baseball player. And he fits perfectly here. Think about it like this: He does everything Glen Davis does, but better (except for grabbing offensive boards) and he does a lot of things Glen Davis simply cannot do. (Note: Amid your Sheed Euphoria, consider whether this is the end of Glen Davis’s Celtic career, and what that might mean for the future of a team that is very old and has exactly two proven assets under 30. Gary Tanguay has Tweeted that he expects Davis to be a Spur very soon. Hat tip: Graydon at the Spurs blog 48 Minutes of Hell).
Glen Davis became a valuable offensive player last season because his jump shot helped the C’s space the floor and gave defenses an extra threat to think about. Rasheed Wallace can do the same thing, except he can stretch the floor even further. As we’ve discussed, about 44 percent of his shot attempts last season were three-pointers. In fact, one look at his NBA.com hot spot data shows there is a lot to like in Sheed’s oft-criticized shot selection.
The thing that immediately struck me was how few long two-point jump shots Sheed attempted. Yes, everyone would like Sheed to post up more on offense and work for interior shots, but at least he’s not out there chucking up 20-footers–the least efficient shot in the game. Add up all those long two-point attempts, and they average out to almost exactly 1.5 long two-pointers per game. I can live with that.
On defense, Glen Davis became a useful player this season because he worked damn hard to not be a defensive liability. Even so, he had trouble defending the screen-roll and guarding big men who are too strong or too quick for him, though he uses his broad base effectively.
Sheed, at 6’10”–at least–has no such problems. He’s played center for the last three seasons, and he can defend a variety of skilled big men. He has managed to hold Dwight Howard to 18 points on 53 percent shooting despite a mismatch in size and athleticism, according to Basketball Reference. He’s not exactly bottling up D12, but he’s not getting steam-rolled, either.
As I mentioned last week, there are observers of the NBA who still consider Sheed among the most highly-skilled and smartest post defenders in the league. (For more on Sheed’s defense, smarts and personality, since this great Eric Adelson profile of Sheed in ESPN the Magazine, which Jeff at CelticsBlog helpfully dug up last week). He will be able to spell both Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins for more extended stretches than any back-up big the Celtics have had since KG got here. That has enormous benefits. We still don’t know how well KG’s knee is going to hold up in, say, Game 52 of next season.
He will also likely replace Kendrick Perkins in the team’s crunch time line-up on a semi-regular basis.
Truly, I believe signing Rasheed Wallace could have just as big an impact on the Eastern Conference hierarchy as Cleveland’s deal for Shaq and Orlando’s decision to trade for Vince Carter instead of signing Hedo Turkoglu.
But this is where I find myself thinking of Carlos Baerga. I just spent several paragraphs raving about Sheed despite an obvious decline in production last season. But wait! Detroit was a dysfunctional team in 2009 with a young point guard learning on the job, a star player who fit in so poorly the team basically told him to go away, and a star two guard who reportedly didn’t get along with his unprepared rookie head coach. The team was a mess! Maybe Sheed was frustrated and unmotivated.
That won’t happen here, not with the magical motivational powers of KG and a newly realistic chance at a ring! Right? We’re getting a fully engaged, fully driven Sheed who is not breaking down physically after more than 34,000 minutes played in the NBA. Right?
I’m hopeful that we are, and I’ll be rooting for Sheed as if he’s been here for ten seasons. Help us win #18, and you’ll be a legend in New England.