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Can the Boston Celtics salvage Gerald Wallace offensively?

 

A mostly accurate depiction of Gerald Wallace playing basketball.

On the Celtics official page, the Cs have been running a series of posts documenting the depth chart and introducing fans who get all of their NBA news from official team websites to the new arrivals. These posts double as an interesting look into what the organization sees as possible roles for the incoming players and a kind of sad unintentional comedy as a web staff tackles the problem of selling Gerald Wallace.

From the Small Forwards post:

There’s a possibility that Wallace could start for the Celtics if they decide to play small ball, which is a real possibility considering that it’s the going trend in the NBA. Regardless of the starting lineup, however, Wallace is likely to eat up all of the minutes Green leaves on the table at the small forward position.

Both Green and Wallace possess size, scoring ability, athleticism, rebounding ability and defense. If Green picks up where he left off last season and Wallace rediscovers his jumper, these two could wind up being one of the best small forward tandems in the league.

First of all, Wallace probably only starts for the Celtics if Danny Ainge thinks Boston is winning too many games halfway through the year and sees Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker fading into his rearview mirror. Second, the best small forward tandems in the NBA are probably LeBron James/Shane Battier (because that tandem includes LeBron) and Kevin Durant/DeAndre Liggins (because that tandem includes Durant). Jeff Green was very good last year, but realistically, having “the best tandem” doesn’t mean much. Depth is nice, but superstars run the league.

That being said, it’s hard not to like Wallace, no matter how much of a financial drain he is on your organization. His nickname is Crash, and he earns it. Here’s video evidence:

The problem with a guy who constantly goes as hard as Gerald Wallace is that over time, all of those hard landings begin to take a serious toll on anyone’s body, even that of an athletic NBA veteran like Wallace. But Wallace has never really let that deter him. All of the above clips were from last year, and Gerald Wallace is currently 31 years old.

It’s fairly evident that barring an exceptional trade by Danny Ainge which somehow unloads one of their contracts, Wallace, Kris Humphries and Keith Bogans will all play for the Celtics next season. For Bogans and Humphries, their time in Boston is limited, at least on their current contracts. But as has been pointed out ad nauseum, Wallace’s contract is guaranteed $10 million for the next three seasons.

While there’s almost no chance Wallace will be worth the cash, the Celtics can try to maximize his offensive abilities by using him in a few situations while avoiding others.

One final note: I’m not including in-depth analysis of Wallace’s defense last year since it didn’t see as significant a drop-off as his offense. Just know that his defensive numbers may be a little bit skewed against him — especially during the regular season, Brooklyn frequently used him against the opposing team’s best perimeter player.

USING WALLACE EFFICIENTLY

Pick up the pace

According to MySynergySports.com, Wallace averaged 1.06 points per possession in 116 transition opportunities this season. 1.06 points per possession isn’t particularly impressive (Wallace ranks 200th in the NBA with that number, according to Synergy), but it is efficient enough to warrant attention. What’s more, as we see examples of in this video, Wallace is very aware on defense not just of his man, but also of the play developing around him. When Deron Williams gambles and it pays off, Wallace is one of the first players streaking down the floor with him. Rondo has long been known for his gambling hit-and-miss style of defense. Playing with that type of point guard might very well help increase Wallace’s efficiency.

Now, to be sure, it’s impossible to play in constant transition in the modern NBA. But the chaotic style fits well with Wallace, and if Stevens feels the need to play a pressuring uptempo style for a while, Wallace would probably be a beneficiary.

Exploiting defensive mismatches in the post

Statistically, Gerald Wallace was really bad in the post. At 0.59 ppp in 64 attempts (which made up 8.6% of his offense), Wallace was pretty clearly not a go-to threat. But as we see in the video above, when the Bulls tried to cheat by putting a weak defender in Belinelli on him, he was able to take advantage.

The Bulls quickly figured out that Wallace was exploiting their post defense along the baseline and adjusted by bringing Noah to help on a later play:

This clogged things up for Wallace, who turned the ball over on this possession. He isn’t especially creative with his back to the basket; he can turn over either shoulder, but if his turn doesn’t beat his defender, he usually opts to attempt to draw a foul. In the video above, I included the clip of him successfully drawing the foul, but when he fails to do so, the result is usually an unseemly missed shot or a turnover. Wallace has never been much of a finesse player, so it probably should not be surprising that he doesn’t have a series of pump-fakes to get his defender off-balance. Instead, he mostly just crashes toward the hoop and hopes for the best, for better or worse. Unfortunately last season, as demonstrated by his 0.59 ppp, it was mostly for worse.

Cuts to the basket

Anyone who has played pick-up ball will tell you that cutting to the basket is a lot of work. It involves a ton of running, and if you don’t have a good point guard, your running might very well go to waste. Wallace, unsurprisingly, isn’t particularly concerned about the running. His scoring in cuts to the basket wasn’t off-the-charts in efficiency last year as he averaged 1.06 ppp (good for 182nd in the NBA), but it made up 12.5% of his offense. Avery Bradley, who also has demonstrated a good sense of when to cut, recorded 7.5% of his offense in cutting situations. This is probably where we will see Wallace at his best on offense — doing frequently thankless work and occasionally being rewarded.

One small caveat: We don’t know how the Celtics will be as an offensive rebounding team next year under Brad Stevens instead of Doc Rivers. The Cs have been at the bottom of the league for several seasons in a row in that category thanks to Doc’s system. In cutting opportunities, Wallace frequently missed shots that his teammates then rebounded and put back for easy baskets (Brooklyn was fourth in the NBA in offensive rebounds last season).

A SITUATION TO AVOID

Spot-up shooting

I don’t really need to include a video to show you this: Wallace is not a good shooter at all. This has been the case for his entire career, but last year was especially bad. In spot-up situations last season, Wallace shot 30.9%, per Synergy. In fact, his 3-point percentage, while still bad, was somehow better than his overall percentage at 31.7%. He averaged 0.83 ppp in 253 attempts which made up a staggering 34.1% of his offense.

To recap that: Wallace was around .20 ppp lower than an acceptable percentage 34.1% of the time. That’s a huge chunk of offense eaten up by inefficient shooting. By way of comparison, Jeff Green averaged 1.17 ppp in spot-up attempts, good for 35th in the NBA. Green’s field goal percentage in spot-up attempts was also somewhat mediocre (48.1%) but his 3-point shooting in spot-up attempts was nearly Ray Allen-esque, a sterling 46.8%.

That’s a lot of numbers to say that Gerald Wallace has GOT to cut down on his outside shooting. At no point in his career was Wallace best used as a shooter, but he has become considerably less efficient as he has aged. If Boston is forced into a half-court offense with Wallace in the game, he should be used in cutting situations as much as possible and in spot-up attempts as infrequently as the Celtics can manage.

CONCLUSIONS

My point is very much not to argue that Wallace will earn his contract. He won’t. His contract will be painful, and there is a solid chance the Celtics will have to eat it at least until it’s an expiring deal. My point is simply that there are ways to maximize Wallace offensively. If Boston can do so, we may find ourselves rooting for him, even if we recognize his flaws.

If we are setting realistic goals for Gerald Wallace on offense, perhaps that’s the most positive one: It would be fun if he was good enough to root for.

Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.

  • hax

    I'd really enjoy seeing a Rondo-Brooks-Wallace-Green-Olynyk line-up for the beginning of the season at least.

    Also NBATV & NBATVHD is showing 'nba hardwood classics' of Celtics games for the next couple days! They are on 1987 right now. Saturday night 9pm EST is game 6 of 2008 finals.

  • Ryan

    The crux of the matter with Wallace is that the best way to minimize his deficiencies is to play him at power forward. He's a disaster at SF, which is why his #s in NJ last year took a huge nosedive. I know we have a logjam at PF, but if we want the best from Wallace that's where he needs to play.

  • Phil

    I'm not sure I get what the article is trying to say; Wallace is average in transition, bad on post ups, but can score on cuts to the basket. That averages out to average on something like 30% of his used possessions. It's a tiny part of his game, and it has nothing to do with why he's a bad fit for any significant role in the NBA at any salary, let alone 10m.

    The problem is that he can't shoot… which just happens to be the most important thing for a wing player to do in today's NBA. You sacrifice all kinds of spacing just by having him on the floor, and those energy and athleticism plays that he used to make to make up for his limitations are on a freefall towards nonexistent. Highlight reel plays are one thing, but they don't override a season of terrible numbers. He can't shoot and he can't be a consistent athletic threat anymore. At some point you become Crashed, not Crash. That was about a year and a half ago. Energy and athleticism guys don't age well.

    He would probably be less detrimental at PF, especially if he shares the floor with another big who can shoot, but this isn't a guy you should be trying to get on the court, he doesn't bring enough to the table.

    Of course, the elephant in the room is that the Cs probably don't want to put the best team out there. In that case, let's showcase the hell out of Wallace!

    • check12check

      I think DA considers him the best part of the trade. If he shares some heavy minutes with Fab Melo, we practically can't lose the wiggins sweepstakes!

  • celt76

    OK! I get all the criticism of Wallace, but you guys have to realize that there is so much more than jump shots I mean you can pick him apart until your green in the face, but to sit here and say he's a crap player is bogus! No team no matter how desperate would give a player half that money without just cause. Believe you me ,10 million a season out of someone's pocket isn't easily thrown out! HE can play ball trust and believe!! There's allot of things that can keep a player from being great. Like the system,team mates,lack of playing, injury, or even poor chemistry!! I've seen this guy be pretty dominant and im here to tell ya if things fall in place he Will be a force with green and rondo, you watch!!

    • hydrofluoric

      Ever heard of a guy named Amare Stoudemire?

    • dasein

      I've seen Larry Bird not only dominate but be historically great. But if you put him on the floor now…well, let's just not think about that.

      The point is that father time is undefeated and this guy is at the part of the aging curve where players that relied on athleticism fall off a cliff. It's true that there are a lot of things that can prevent a player from producing, but when it's because you are simply just old I'm afraid there's just not that much that can be done to fix it.

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