Moving past the state of panic surround the Trail Blazers’ guard rotation, the biggest disappointment this season has without a doubt been the subpar play of Gerald Wallace. Though to some extent Wallace is a working class hero due to his hard-nosed style and over-achieving career, he is also an all-star talent who makes all-star money. With his track record of production, the Blazers need to expect more than the occasional awesome effort. What’s going on here?
What’s going on here?
For the most part, Wallace’s “hustle” indicators are still there. He’s producing defensive Win Shares at about the same rate, his rebounding is basically fine (Defensive Rebound Percentage is down some, but given the Blazers are fine on the defensive glass as a team, that’s no problem). The really stark number is his usage rate:
Player Name Yr Tm USG TS% %Ast
Gerald Wallace 2007 CHA 22.49 56.8 54
Gerald Wallace 2008 CHA 24.54 54.8 57.8
Gerald Wallace 2009 CHA 20.52 58.5 54
Gerald Wallace 2010 CHA 20.26 58.6 61.4
Gerald Wallace 2011 CHA 20.18 53 65.5
Gerald Wallace 2011 POR 20.47 59 59
Gerald Wallace 2012 POR 18.4 55.3 64.3
Though HoopData’s data only goes back to 2007, a closer look shows that the 18.4 usage rate he’s at this year is the lowest he’s posted since he was a below average 21 year old player with the Sacramento Kings. Although Gerald’s forte has always been on the defensive end, using more than his fair share of his possessions at an efficient clip is what makes him an all-star and a hugely valuable asset at small forward.
With Wallace basically deferring on 10% of the possessions (2 percentage points) he would normally shoot on, those are distributed to Portland’s everything man LaMarcus Aldridge and the inefficient Jamal Crawford. Giving the possessions to Aldridge isn’t bad for the offense as he can’t miss at the moment, though it does put inordinate pressure on him. Giving those possessions to Portland’s guards is much more problematic.
Compounding the problem is reducing Wallace’s workload hasn’t made him considerably more efficient (we would expect a player of his usage level and efficiency to approach .60 TS by shedding 2-3 points of usage).
What’s going on here?
So why is Gerald deferring? Purely speculative, but I think there are two factors at work here. For a “tough guy” or hustle player, Wallace is surprisingly tempermental. There were strong indications that he mailed it in on Larry Brown over the first half of 2010-11, and he’s famously extremely unhappy about his college coach. Though Wallace will always play hard, even losing the slightest edge from his game makes him far less effective.
That said, in Charlotte in 2010 he stopped driving to the hoop, stopped drawing fouls and started shooting more jumpers. This season is a little different. He’s just shooting less from everywhere. That’s why I think there’s a second thing going on here.
It seems the reputation that Wallace is “not an iso player” and “not that great in the half court” has sort of dominated the play-calling. It’s true that there is very little subtle about Wallace’s individual scoring. But his size, strength and speed make him a brutal matchup for most NBA 3s and 4s. His percent of baskets assisted has fluctuated between 55-65% throughout his career; LaMarcus Aldridge is in the same range.
Given his career numbers and history of success in the half-court, it’s unlikely Wallace’s efficiency would take a substantial hit if he was given a few more isolations per quarter, and that might help get him in the flow of the offense. It would also have the benefit of getting him involved, and making it so his defender can’t take advantage of his slightly suspect jump shot to double-team LaMarcus. Finally, anything that can take possessions away from the guy with a 96 ORtg can’t hurt.