Tale of the Tape: What Can Gerald Wallace Actually Do?


As all of you should know by now, Gerald Wallace is a Boston Celtic. After being a feature on a low-seeded Charlotte Bobcat’s team, Wallace has turned into a journeyman, of sorts, in the NBA. He’s gone from the ‘Cats to the Portland Trail Blazers to the Brooklyn Nets and, now, he’s here with the Boston Celtics.

Wallace’s absolute worst season with significant playing time was last season. When he was first moved to Charlotte for expansion purposes, he was a slightly below average player getting significant minutes. Every season after, though, he improved on what he was doing and became their second scoring option after the acquisition of Stephen Jackson for scoring.

Every season since Wallace has been traded from the Bobcats, his PER  has dropped. From 2010-11 to 2011-12, his PER dropped from 16.2 to 15.9. From 2011-12 to 2012-13, Wallace’s PER dropped to a morbid 11.6–way below the average of 15. There’s a trend here.

The Brooklyn Nets got the worst of Gerald Wallace, obviously. He wasn’t much of a factor in their offense. Normally he was the fourth or fifth option on the team as far as scoring went and only got touches when he could make a play for himself without the ball.

Wallace has never been a shooter of any type–he’s never taken over 3.3 three pointers per game in a season–not an ideal fit for the Nets last season. Now, last season has proven to be a stigma on his, otherwise, productive career.

When looking at his career, Wallace’s best day are behind him. Naturally we going to take the most recent sample to heart. But with Wallace, I think relying on an outlier season to provide us with answers on where he is as far as his career goes could be a mistake. He was a decent player in Portland and went into a situation that wasn’t ideal for him with the Nets.

Before we get into what Wallace can do, lets go over why the Nets weren’t the ideal team for him. The Nets were one of the slowest teams in the NBA last year. The Nets were a team that put a premium on playing in the halfcourt. Not only were the Nets 28th in pace, but they were 28th with only 88.8 possessions per 48 minutes. That’s a very, very slow place for a player who belongs in the open floor.

We know that Wallace is more suited for the open floor and a moving offense because his synergy numbers say so. They indicate that he’s actually good at something. That isn’t too surprising, reason being because he’s an actual NBA player and former All-Star.

I digress. Wallace scored 1.06 points per possession on cuts and in transition. On offensive rebound opportunities, Wallace scored .97 points per possession which is a decent amount. Wallace’s spot up numbers were terrible. He shot 31% on 253 plays that qualify as spot up attempts, per synergy sports technology. That was, by far, a majority of his offense. It was 34.1% of it, to be exact, with a frog leap in between that and the next highest percentage of 15.6% of his offense coming in transition.

Wallace was so bad in the halfcourt that teams wouldn’t even guard him once the game slowed down. Its astounding that the Nets offense was as good as it was, because occasionally there would be 4-on-5 basketball. With Wallace not being able to be on the ball, that made it even more difficult to include Wallace in an offensive gameplan.

Luckily for the Nets, and now the Celtics, Wallace found some value offensively somewhere. He used his knowledge of the geometry and layout of the floor to take advantage of defenses who play off of him and ball watch. Wallace did this by cutting, getting in position after offensive rebounds and running in transition.

Those are all instances where you can take advantage of a team not putting a body on you. Once the ball goes in the air, its the opponents job to box you out and put a body on you. When you’re off of the ball and not a shooter, your opponent is supposed to get in your way once you cut. They’ve got to cut off the fill lanes in transition as well. Because no one pays attention to Wallace, he was able to take advantage of those situations.

Starting with Wallace in transition, here’s a rim run where the Chicago Bulls lose track of him because of the threat of Deron Williams.

As Williams pushes the ball up the floor, Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli both give him their full attention. Wallace, in the meanwhile, cuts in between them and runs to the edge of the rim. Take a look:

Wallace manages to get by the two defenders with no one in the space between he and the rim. This creates an easy score for the Nets. Its plays like these that allow Wallace to prosper in the open floor. Had the Nets been more of a team that pushed the ball in transition–even just a bit–Wallace would probably have been a bit more productive with them.

Not only could Wallace slide through unnoticed, but even when he was picked up he was still willing to get through contact and try to finish. Here’s an example of that below:

Plays like these allowed Wallace to shoot 58% in transition. That’s a pretty good figure for a player who has little offensive ability. If he was used in a fast paced structure, he’d probably have been far and away better than he was last year.

Getting to his off ball movement, Wallace was a very smart player when moving away from the ball. He used his quick and long strides to cover ground when opponents would ball watch. He found exactly where the holes were in the defense and took full advantage of them. That is shown in the play below:

Wallace sees that no one is watching him, but the defense is moving. Once Reggie Evans moves Kyle Korver under the basket, Wallace immediately cuts to that area. He earned himself an easy layup by moving without the ball and taking what the defense gave.

There are multiple teams who emphasize cutting like this on offense. The Miami Heat have used cuts like this along with misdirection for the last two seasons. The Boston Celtics have also done similar things with Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradely. There’s no doubt in my mind that this will be a factor once Wallace puts on the green uniform for the first time.

Here’s another video where Wallace takes advantage of a moving and aggressive defense. The Miami Heat are a team that puts a premium on forcing turnovers and getting out into transition. LeBron James leaves Wallace unguarded and Chris Bosh is the only player who hangs back to protect the paint. The Nets end up getting the ball back, and this happens:

This is a relatively simple play, but its important. Wallace knew not to sit in the corner to make it easy for the defense to recover. He cut to the rim and put pressure on Chris Bosh to try to make a play. Kris Humphries was able to get the ball to Wallace on his cut.

And, finally, we have Wallace cutting off of an offensive rebound attempt. The best time to find a hole in a defense is when it has to reset. Once the offensive team rebounds the ball, the defenders will inherently try to recover to their original man. If the offense is in motion while this reset is happening, they will more than likely find an easy score. Wallace does that here:

Jimmy Butler is still out of bounds because of his hard contest on  Wallace. This creates 5-on-4 basketball in the Nets favor. Wallace sees this and immediately flashes toward the ball. Because of this, he earns an easy two points.

If Wallace can routinely make plays like this for the Celtics, he’ll be a decent addition to the team and they won’t be as bad as many people think they will. However, the Celtics have to play to his strengths. They can’t be like the Nets and play in the halfcourt a majority of the time. Wallace won’t prosper there–neither will many other Celtics who lack shooting range.

Its best that the Celtics play in the open floor and put an emphasis on perimeter rebounding with guys like Wallace and Rondo available. They’ve got the size to box out most teams in the league, but their rebounding strength lies in the perimeter. And if that happens, then the fastbreak will be far easier to initiate.