Maybe I should be here in praise of Rasheed Wallace.
I mean, did you watch his performance vs. the Pistons on Monday night? Granted, we are talking about a 23-43 team missing its best player in Rodney Stuckey (and getting just seven minutes from Tayshaun Prince), but that should not take away from the fact Wallace scored eight points (on 3-of-4 shooting) and grabbed four rebounds in the 119-93 Celtics rout. The stuff of legend. Plus, he was active on defense and managed to take only one 3-point attempt in nearly 17 minutes on the court. And hey, no technical fouls! All in all, a real swell effort from the guy that we were told was the missing piece.
But a nice night against an awful team that was mailing it in is not enough, alas, to hide the ugly truth about Rasheed Wallace's 2009-10 season. It has, to this point, been an absolute wipeout, a huge miss, and is shaping up to be one of the all-time free agent whiffs in Boston sports history.
And 500 solid games against lousy teams really amounts to nothing. The Celtics can handle the Pistons or the Knicks or the Wizards with or without Sheed. No, Wallace was signed to help the Celtics get past the elite. Which, in today's NBA, means the Cavaliers, Magic, Lakers, Hawks, Nuggets and Mavericks. If the Celtics are to even dream of another title, the reality is that they would likely have to beat at least three of these teams in the postseason. Do we have a progress report on how Wallace has helped against the measuring sticks of the NBA?
Uh, the Celtics are a combined 3-12 against those teams so far this season. And a major reason why is that Rasheed Wallace, who told us in the preseason that the Bulls' 72-win record was in jeopardy, has failed time and time again in big games this season. Take a look at some of his numbers vs. the best teams in the league:
Atlanta: 40.2% FG, 28.5% 3-point FG, 50% FT
Cleveland: 32.0% FG
Orlando: 39.5 FG, 22.2% 3-point FG, 50% FT
Denver: 40.0% FG, 0.0% 3-point FG
Lakers: 21.4% FG, 16.7% 3-point FG, 3.5 PPG
Dallas: 38.5% FG, 0.0% 3-point FG, -3.0 assist-to-turnover ratio
Brutal. Think those numbers should earn 23 minutes of playing time a night? And look, I get that with this team the buck doesn't start and stop with Wallace. Sure, Kevin Garnett's injury is the biggest reason why this team is closer to the middle of the pack than to where we all expected it to be. We all know that. And Paul Pierce has been battling his own injuries and Ray Allen struggled until the trade deadline.
But wasn't this stuff anticipated? Sure it was. And that's why Wyc Grousbeck and Danny Ainge and The Big Three* all flew out to Detroit to woo Rasheed. And when he was signed it was expected that he would, at the very worst, be someone who would show up in "big games." Maybe he was coming off his worst season in 2008-09, but this was an All-Star the year prior, a guy who finished 14th in the MVP voting. Being back in the title hunt was going to rejuvenate him, right? He had championship experience, after all. The Act I Rasheed (from 1996 until, oh, about 2004), who had the (let's leave it at well-earned) reputation for A) dogging it and B) destroying the chemistry of a team? Gone. All in the past. It was time to sit back and watch the best bench player to wear the Green since Bill Walton in 1986. Hello to 74-8.
Well, as we know, that isn't going to happen. This team will do well to finish with 52 wins. The Celtics have been a .500 team for nearly three months now.
Average. The team, I mean. Average would be a promotion for the Rasheed Wallace we have seen all season long.
Take a good look at Wallace's numbers for 2009-10 and something jumps out at you almost immediately. He has been almost frighteningly consistent in his terrible play. You name it, he's probably been lousy. Bad at home, bad on the road, hideous in October and Brett Szabo-esque in February. I spent a good hour on ESPN.com's page for Sheed, pouring over his split statistics, just looking for a silver lining, anything that might signal that he could be a help in the postseason.
And after swimming through a buffet of mediocrity, I found it.
He's played well on Tuesdays (50 percent from the floor, putting up an 11-5 in just over 23 minutes in nine games) AND against the Raptors (62.3 percent shooting in three games, averaging an even 20 points a night.)
So, if the Celtics could get David Stern to agree to play only on Tuesdays in the playoffs, and only vs. the Raptors, I think we might be on to something here.
Wallace simply isn't the player we thought the Celtics were going to get. We were sold on a solid shooter who would open things up for Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo when they attacked the basket. We were sold on an aging but still intelligent defender who could step in and give the Celtics 20-25 minutes a night of play at a top level. He has been neither.
Rasheed Wallace has attempted 257 3-pointers this season, 35th in the NBA. That number, by the way, is more than Larry Bird ever attempted in any season of his career. Wallace has made 73 of those 3-pointers, or 28.4 percent. That number ranks dead last among the 123 players qualified for the league lead in that category. He's also averaging the same amount of rebounds (4.1) as 3-point attempts, which is exactly what you want from a power forward doubling as the worst 3-point shooter in the league.
So, he's been the worst 3-point shooter in the NBA this season. OK, that's life. He is 35 years old, after all. But here's where it gets a little strange. The worst 3-point shooter in the league, having the worst shooting season of his career, is firing 3's at a career-high pace. It's true. In 2009-10 Wallace has taken a 3-pointer an average of once every 5.6 minutes on the floor. For his career he's averaged one every 11.5 minutes. How does this make any sense?
But my biggest beef with Wallace has been on the other end of the court. He's now too slow to defend the more athletic forwards (no shot against the J.J. Hickson-type) and just doesn't seem interested in getting overly physical on post defense. And I'm not kidding when I write that Rasheed Wallace may be the worst help defender I've ever seen. He'll just watch guards go by without even trying. Glen Davis, for all his faults, puts in more effort on the defensive end in one game than Wallace does in a month. Doc Rivers was a tough player (if you don't believe me, pop in a tape of the Bird/Dominique Wilkins shootout and watch Doc and Dennis Johnson battle for 48 minutes.) We all know about Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins and Pierce. These guys must know Wallace is giving nothing on defense, and it must be killing them. They know how they won a title, and it wasn't by jacking 3's at a crazy pace and playing zero defense.
I hate playing this card, because it is so tough to prove, but it's hard to shake the idea that Rasheed Wallace might just not care that much. Maybe because he's already won a title, the fire is missing. Maybe it's because he's 35 years old and the idea of showing up to begin the season in shape and ready to play isn't that inviting. Maybe this Celtics team is just a bad fit for his game at this stage of his career. Maybe things were better with Leon Powe (remember him?) and P.J. Brown, not big names but plenty tough.
Lots of maybes, but really only one certainty when it comes to Rasheed Wallace to this point in 2009-10.
A total disaster.
And that is tough to praise.