Okay, okay. I know what you’re going to say…
“Rasheed Wallace stays on the perimeter way too often! He looks so out of shape! My three-year old daughter has more offensive rebounds than Wallace this season!”
Maybe even, “That guy on Jersey Shore who sucker-punched Snooki in the face controls his temper better than Wallace!”
Believe me, I hear all your complaints. I sympathize with them and — hell — I agree with them. Rasheed has been, to say the least, a little bit of a disappointment this season. He’s shooting 39.4% from the field, a number that — if you’re Allen Iverson — is brutal. If you’re a 6’11″ center, it’s almost completely and entirely unfathomable.
Beyond just the pedestrian shooting numbers and weak scoring and rebounding averages (career-low 9.4 points and 4.3 rebounds), ‘Sheed just seems, a lot of the time, like he doesn’t care. He saunters around the court, in apparent cruise control for almost the entire time he’s in the game. He doesn’t go after offensive rebounds, can’t move his feet quickly enough to defend anybody on the perimeter, and came to training camp almost as flabby as an aging Antoine Walker.
(There are times I look out onto the court and realize to myself, “I’m probably doing more work, sitting on my couch taking notes about this game, than Rasheed is out there playing.” Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration, but whenever I take a break to go fetch a glass of water I’m definitely exerting more energy than Rasheed at any time he’s on a basketball court… unless he’s the recipient of what he deems an unfair call; then he steps it up a few gears.)
Still, despite all his shortcomings — and there are admittedly a lot of them — I maintain that Wallace is a great addition to the Celtics.
Why, you ask? For a number of reasons…
1. He plays great post defense – As much as Sheed’s lost a step outside, he remains a valuable cog of the Celtics interior defense. How valuable? Two of Dwight Howard’s three single-digit scoring games this season have come against Boston (5 points the first meeting, 9 points the second).
You could say Howard’s weak scoring games were mostly because of Kendrick Perkins, but the fact of the matter is: you’d be wrong. Perk was in foul trouble during both those games, and only averaged 17 minutes. Rasheed did the brunt of the work on Howard, with 32 minutes in the first meeting and 33 in the second. Despite the recent dip in his athleticism, Sheed can still bang down low and is a factor in the paint.
2. He can actually be quite a weapon – Okay, for a second let’s forget that Sheed’s shooting a bricklayers 28.5% from downtown. (Trying to forget… doing my best… keep having flashbacks of front-rim clang after front-rim clang… okay, I forgot.) If he starts to hit shots, Sheed’s three-pointers can actually be a valuable weapon. Now, I don’t want to say I’m fine with him firing threes while completely abandoning his duties down low; I’m not, not at all. But if your center shoots 35% from the arc (which is the number Sheed’s posted each of the last four years while bombing away), it really adds another dimension to an offense, spreads the floor and opens things up for other players going to the bucket.
3. He’s improving his shot selection – My biggest qualm with Sheed over the first month or so of the season — and, I think, everybody’s biggest qualm — was his unwillingness to take his game down low. We all figured Sheed still had a reliable post game, but we never really knew… how could we, when all he did was fire threes?
Well, now we know that Sheed still has a nice little post game, because over the past month or so he’s actually made a bit of an effort to play on the blocks. Granted, he still wanders outside and gets trigger-happy on occasion, but we knew getting into this that he would. At least, lately, Sheed’s been showcasing flashes of the post game that once made him one of the more versatile big men in the game. (By the way, I’m very, very proud of myself for writing “trigger-happy” and not inserting a Gilbert Arenas joke.)
4. He’s rounding back into shape – Yes, he came back into camp looking more like the Pillsbury Doughboy than ever before. Indeed, he has looked far slower than I remembered him being even last season. Absolutely, I wish Rasheed had spent more time in the gym this summer than he did eating apple pie.
But he’s getting back into shape. Sheed is starting to look more nimble by the game, and he’s actually had a few dunks in recent games. (I honestly don’t know if he could dunk at the beginning of the season: Being 6’11″ with a wingspan that would make Jay Bilas blush would make you think he could… but the man could barely get his toes off the ground.) I would have preferred an in-shape Rasheed all season long, but if he can be in tip-top condition by the playoffs, that will certainly work for me.
5. He’s injury insurance – Last season, when Kevin Garnett and Leon Powe went down, minutes were dished around and the C’s once-proud frontcourt was reduced to playing Brian Scalabrine big-time minutes and Mikki Moore spot minutes. This season, Garnett goes down and a four-time All-Star steps into his starting spot.
I’ll admit Sheed doesn’t play at an All-Star level anymore; anyone can see that. But he still knows how to play basketball and, let’s face it, he’s a dependable starter who can really have a positive effect on a game.
Take Saturday’s game against the Raptors, for instance. Sheed came out hot, hit a couple threes early (I told you it can be a weapon), and ended the first half with 12 points and 5 rebounds while leading the undermanned Celtics to a ten-point lead. Sheed then disappeared for awhile, but showed up in time to finish off the Raptors with Toronto threatening to come back near the end of the fourth quarter: First, he hit a bank shot from the post to extend the lead to seven. (Told you he still has that post game.) Then he secured a steal at the other end. (Told you he can still play defense.) Two possessions later, a Sheed spin-move and dunk around Andrea Bargnani again stretched the lead. (Told you he’s starting to look quicker and more agile.)
Clearly, Rasheed is flawed. Clearly, there are holes in his game. Clearly, he’s a techical foul waiting to happen.
I’m not trying to say Rasheed Wallace is perfect.
I’m just saying I’ll take him on my team any day of the week.