Can the Boston Celtics salvage Gerald Wallace offensively?
Posted by Tom Westerholm on Aug 8, 2013
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
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.
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.
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