I watched a classic Portland Trail Blazers–Los Angeles Lakers game over the summer, before Rasheed Wallace signed with the Celtics. Watching the game, a playoff game versus the Lakers in 2002, I was struck by two things. First, the Lakers were a great collection of talent. They had two guys, Shaq and Kobe (obviously), who were probably the very best players in the game, and they had role players galore surrounding the two super-duper-stars. Derek Fisher, Robert Horry, Rick Fox, Brian Shaw, Lindsey Hunter, Devean George. Those guys knew their roles and played them well.
The second thing I noticed was Rasheed Wallace. Watching him recently, you forget how good Wallace once was. Don’t get me wrong, I think Wallace is a great fit for the Celtics. I’ve written plenty of times about how he’ll spread the floor on offense and provide stellar, versatile defense. But this guy used to be SO talented. He would post you up, and could turn either way and finish with both hands. He could take it strong to the hoop or he could fade away for a pretty much unblockable jumper. He could take you outside or he could punish you on the blocks.
On that night in 2002, guarded mostly by Horry, Rasheed scored 31 points and corralled 11 rebounds. But it wasn’t just the stats that were so impressive; it was the way he got them. Whenever the Blazers needed a bucket, they went to Wallace down low. He took five three-pointers that game, but the longer the game progressed, the more ‘Sheed took the ball down low. And he was so tough to guard on the blocks. He had a full repertoire of moves, and was a lot stronger than his 225-lb. frame would seem to suggest. Wallace punished Horry that night, demanding the ball and scoring at will. His team lost, but Rasheed did everything he could to keep the Blazers in the game.
Sadly, Rasheed’s game had already begun to change. Those five threes he took that night weren’t just a sign of a player taking what the offense gave him; they were the signs of a player whose game was evolving. Whereas Rasheed was once almost strictly a post player, he quickly became more and more perimeter-oriented. ‘Sheed took 0.6 three-pointers per game in 1999-2000, 2.1 the following year, and 4.0 in 2001-2002. He was still capable of dominating in the post, but Rasheed was floating to the arc more and more.
As his game became more centered on outside shots, Rasheed’s shooting percentages plummeted. From 1996-1997 to 2000-2001, ‘Sheed never failed to shoot above 50% from the field. Not coincidentally, he never took more than 2.1 three-pointers per game over that span, and took less than 1.0 threes per game during every other year in that time frame. In 2001-2002, Wallace shot 46.9% from the field while shooting 4.0 threes per game. He has not come close to the 50% plateau since, and has never again shot less than three three-pointers per game. His past four years, Wallace’s shooting percentages have been brutally low: 43.0%, 42.3%, 43.2%, and 41.9%.
In Doc Rivers’ offense, Doc expects and even encourages Wallace to stay near the three-point arc. I see where Doc is coming from; he wants to spread the floor and leave more space for slashers like Paul Pierce and Marquis Daniels. Hell, I’ve even been an advocate of the advice. It makes sense to keep Rasheed on the perimeter and, especially against a team like Cleveland that has Shaq and Zydrunas Ilgauskas playing center, Rasheed’s bombing tendencies can even be an advantage.
But if ‘Sheed stays almost strictly to the perimeter, he could be in for a pretty miserable year shooting the basketball. I’m talking about Allen Iverson-on-an-off-day type numbers. I know you can’t put too much stock into preseason stats, but Rasheed took 39 threes in 7 preseason games, despite playing only 25 minutes per game. He shot only 35.8% from the field, and didn’t even shoot 50% from the field in a single game. Not one game. For a 6’11″ center, that’s almost unheard of.
Now, I don’t know if Rasheed is still capable of dominating down low. In fact, he almost certainly isn’t. He’s older, slower on his feet, and hasn’t shown the ability to control the low post in years. But if Rasheed doesn’t put more of an effort into getting shots closer to the bucket, he could be in for a miserable year shooting the basketball. Watching him now, it’s easy to see ‘Sheed can’t get easy buckets. It’s no longer easy for him to operate down low and get easy layups and dunks. Almost none of the shots he takes are high-percentage; they are mostly contested jumpers from the post or long three-point bombs. Old age has taken away Wallace’s ability to create easy looks for himself.
Still, I like Rasheed in Green. He will solidify the defense and spread the court, and he simply knows how to play the game.
Just don’t be surprised if his field goal percentage struggles to reach 40%.