Brooklyn Nets: Midseason Grades

Kris Humphries, Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez, Deron Williams, Gerald Wallace
Seems like a lifetime ago. (AP)

Gerald Wallace

Luol Deng, Gerald Wallace
Crash. (AP)

There was a lot of panic in Nets-land when the team acquired Gerald Wallace for an essentially unprotected lottery pick. It seemed like an incredibly rash move by Brooklyn Nets G.M. Billy King coming on the heels of Dwightmare (Part 34 of 58), when Dwight Howard was on the verge of either being traded or granted free agency at season’s end, and Howard instead opted for a delicious jar of assorted candies and waived his opt-out clause in his contract. I know I personally was distraught that Wallace was the consolation prize for one of the Nets’ coveted draft picks.

Perhaps I’m speaking for myself, but people seemed softened on Wallace as the seasons changed from spring to summer. He showed grit, hustle and heart in his handful of games in a New Jersey Nets uniform, and his re-signing over the summer to a 4 year/$40 million contract was the first domino to fall in what appeared to be a fantastic offseason for King. People credited Wallace for being one of the pieces that kept Deron Williams happy enough to sign a max deal to join Brooklyn. When the season started, and Wallace went down with an ankle injury, his loss was bemoaned by many. The Nets had lost their defensive stopper, a solid rebounder, and a guy athletic enough to routinely flirt with double-doubles. When Wallace returned to the starting lineup, it came at a point where the Brooklyn Nets were running somewhat roughshod over the Eastern Conference. They also had a Coach of the Month in November named Avery Johnson. Remember that?

It’s been said that time heals all wounds, but in the case of Gerald Wallace’s first half of the 2012-13 NBA season, I’d also contend that time can also re-open those wounds, or rub salt and lemon juice in them. Wallace is in the midst of the season where, if you go back to when he first started getting regular starter’s minutes in 2004-05 in Charlotte, he has averaged career lows in points per game, rebounds per game, field goal percentage, field goal attempts, Player Efficiency Rating and True Shooting %. His inconsistent three-point shooting (34 percent is decent enough, but in a league that’s changing its dynamics, is not good enough to off-set starting offensive stiffs like Reggie Evans and Kris Humphries at PF every night) demonstrates the floor-spacing issues that have hounded the Nets any time they go into one of their infamous third quarter ruts. On the defensive end, he’s been posterized and embarrassed by the likes of Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant – obviously the best of the best. But point being Wallace is not bringing anything on defense that resembles the “stopper” reputation he earned in Charlotte and Portland. In the locker room, Wallace has become apt at calling out his teammates for lack of passing and teamwork, something I’d be more sympathetic towards if he ever remotely resembled the best player on the court, or heck, the best player in a quarter of basketball, on any given night.

In truth, despite all of the lower percentages and stats, there’s nothing wholesale about Wallace’s game that’s inherently different from the past. He’s attempting and making the same percentage of his total FGs at the rim as he’s done in the past (he’s always been in the low 50% range, which is obviously not great, but at least he’s not hiding on the perimeter). His three point percentage is in line with his career numbers of 32 percent. But the most telling stat is the fact that Wallace is only attempting 6.8 field goals a game right now. This is a guy who for years has averaged between 10 and 14 attempts. Obviously a lot of this has to do with the system the team runs offensively. An iso-heavy system is not going to benefit a cutter and slasher like Wallace. But his inactivity in the offense also appears to be emblematic of the public’s perception that Wallace has lost a step or two on both ends of the ball. Injuries are taking their toll, and the net result is a player who is lesser in every way than he was in prior seasons.

And this would obviously be much less of a concern if Wallace did not just celebrate his 30th birthday days after signing his new four-year contract. Players who rely on their athleticism don’t normally have late-career renaissances, and the fact that his numbers are starting to nosedive is disconcerting. Now I’m mentally back to where I was in March 2012. What was Billy King thinking in trading for this guy? Not only did they give up a pick that could have been used in another deal (like Dwight in the summer, or James Harden, or anybody really), but the team could have – *gasp, perish the thought* – drafted a player to develop with that pick. I know the argument used by many justifiers of the trade was that Wallace was a known quantity and already better than anyone they could have grabbed with the 6th pick in the draft. But that was the Wallace of his mid-20s prime. Does anyone honestly believe that Wallace’s current trajectory points up?

All this trade successfully accomplished was giving Billy King the desperation to get some kind of return on his investment by re-signing Wallace to his contract, despite there not being any real competition from any other teams. While he was promoted as one of the “Core Four” when the season started, Wallace is looking less and less like a legitimate cornerstone for this franchise as the months pass from winter to spring. Without a more dynamic PF on the roster, he makes the Nets frontcourt a legitimate liability offensively, and his onerous contract makes it incredibly difficult to improve the team without suckering another organization into taking Wallace on.

Wallace is a nice guy, a respected veteran teammate, and somebody I wouldn’t mind on my bench to give the team bursts of energy. But in his current role and contract, he looks like a bust, one that is reminiscent of the kinds of players and deals King acquired in Philadelphia that cost him his job.
-Mark Ginocchio

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Full List:
Andray Blatche | Keith Bogans | MarShon Brooks | P.J. Carlesimo | Reggie Evans | Kris Humphries | Joe Johnson | Brook Lopez | Tornike Shengelia | Jerry Stackhouse | Tyshawn Taylor | Mirza Teletovic | Gerald Wallace | C.J. Watson | Deron Williams