The trade deadline came and went, and while the Nets did miss out on the biggest prize of them all, they made an immediate move to shore up their most significant hole.
Yes, just hours before the trade deadline, once it was clear that Dwight Howard would remain the Magic’s franchise player for at least one more season, Billy King turned around and completed a deal I assume he’d had on the table all alone, dealing the injured Mehmet Okur, the injured Shawne Williams, and the Nets’ 2012 first-round draft pick (top-3 protected) to the Portland Trail Blazers for Gerald Wallace.
Uncomfortable with the prospect of reducing him to just one question, I decided to delve into the big six. So who is Gerald Wallace? And just as importantly, what, where, when, why, and how is Gerald Wallace?
Who is Gerald Wallace: A 29-year-old small forward, nicknamed “Crash.” Wallace stands 6’7″ and weighs roughly 200 lbs., and earns $10,650,000 this season. He has a player option for next season, worth 11,437,500 if he chooses to opt in. Wallace is also the founder of the Gerald Wallace Foundation, and has taken a picture with a giant cardboard cutout of himself.
Where/When is Gerald Wallace: Wallace was born on July 23, 1982 in Sylacauga, Alabama, and attended high school in Childersburg, Alabama, where he was named the Naismith Prep Player of the Year in 2000. After one season at the University of Alabama, Wallace entered the NBA Draft and was selected by the Kings 25th overall in 2001. He played sparingly there for three seasons before the Charlotte Bobcats drafted him in the 2004 Expansion Draft. Wallace played in Charlotte for seven seasons before a trade sent him to the Portland Trail Blazers, his team until Thursday’s trade.
What is Gerald Wallace: Wallace is, simply, the first two-way player on the roster. He’s an instant upgrade both offensively and defensively on the wings, and can function as a power forward in smaller lineups. He’s normally a tenacious defender, though he’s struggled closing out on guards this season. People I’ve spoken with say he’s looked disinterested in Portland after a red-hot start.
Offensively, Wallace is most dangerous cutting to the rim, where he’s able to find holes in the defense for easy layups. Wallace is no longer a supreme high-flyer — he’s got just 11 dunks on the season — but almost 63% of his shots come within a few feet of the basket (via NBA.com), and he hits shots at the rim at a 61% clip. He gets these shots mostly on cuts, though he’s a solid pick-and-roll player as well, which the Nets lack desperately outside of Kris Humphries.
While he’s struggled away from the rim this season, history suggests that Wallace does have range out to the three-point line. He’s never ben a particularly adept deep shooter and doesn’t create his own shot beyond the arc, but he can be dangerous; in Wallace’s most successful shooting season — 2009-10, when he shot 37.1% from beyond the arc — he did so by developing as a corner threat, shooting nearly 70% of his threes from the corner spots at a 40% clip. However, in this season, Wallace has shot just 45% of his threes from the corners (via NBA.com), and his overall production has dipped considerably.
Defensively, Wallace earned the nickname “Crash” for a reason — he’s a tireless defender with more regard for the stop than his body. (Incidentally, “Crash” has missed an average of 12 games per season since becoming a full-time starter.) Wallace routinely guards the best perimeter scorer on the floor, having matched up with LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Kevin Durant on numerous occasions this season. With New Jersey, that role won’t change.
(For what it’s worth, in isolation plays with Wallace as the defender, LeBron is 0-4, Kobe 2-6 with three turnovers, and Durant 3-7 with one turnover.)
Why is Gerald Wallace: Wallace is an instant fix for New Jersey — he shores up a dangerously thin (quite literally) wing spot, alleviating Avery Johnson from running out Stevenson for the 22 minutes per game he’s playing as a starter. Stack up Wallace next to Stevenson and there’s no contest: even in a down year, Wallace shoots better, rebounds better, passes better, and is a better perimeter defender. Nets small forwards have produced an 8.0 PER this season, and after the revolving injury door of Damion James, Shawne Williams, Keith Bogans, having a legitimate small forward that can play both ends of the floor improves the wings immensely.
Statistically, Gerald Wallace’s PER currently is 15.5, his lowest in seven seasons. DeShawn Stevenson’s is 3.9. According to John Hollinger’s estimated wins added (a number deviated from PER), the difference between Stevenson and Wallace so far this season is roughly six wins. Add six wins to the Nets, and they’re 21-24 — seventh-best in the Eastern Conference.
The Nets gave up a significant asset to get him — their 2012 draft pick, protected only through the top 3 — which, barring a significant stroke of good fortune, the Nets will relinquish. The argument goes that to keep Deron Williams, who wants to win now, the Nets had to take a chance on the “now” rather than the “later” — which is true, but also doesn’t remove the significant risk.
And, of course, let’s also not forget that Wallace was a piece included in the first iteration of the Dwight Howard deal in December.
How will Gerald Wallace: Depending on his effort and concentration level — questionable this past season in Portland — Wallace will range from “significant upgrade over DeShawn Stevenson” at worst to “complete revelation” at best. If Wallace plays at the level he’s played this season — admittedly a step down from his previous years — he’ll still vastly improve the Nets, and his presence alone may pull them out of the defensive cellar. But if he’s healthy, if he’s engaged, if he’s finding the shots that made him successful, he’ll provide more offense to alleviate the anemic production the Nets have gotten from non-Gerald Greens than anyone since Richard Jefferson left. His real impact comes defensively — helping turn around a league-worst defense by giving them an asset to throw at dangerous wing scorers and power forwards alike, something the Nets have lacked for even longer.
I’d expect the Nets to start Wallace immediately tonight against New Orleans. Without much of an introduction to the Nets’ system, expect Wallace to hang on the wings, occasionally cut to the basket when there’s open space, and set some screens on the more basic curl/cut-into-pick-and-roll plays. Expect also to see him in small lineups, optimally with Deron Williams, MarShon Brooks, Gerald Green, and Kris Humphries.
Overall, When Lopez returns, a healthy starting lineup of D-Will, Brooks, Wallace, Humphries, and Lopez… well, that ain’t bad. Not competing for a championship, but not bad at all.