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Friday, January 11, 2008

The Enigmatic Rasheed Wallace

Rasheed Wallace had 23 points, 15 rebounds, three assists, three steals and two blocked shots to lead the Detroit Pistons to an impressive 90-80 road win over the defending champion San Antonio Spurs. Amazingly, this is the first time that Wallace has put up at least 23 points and 15 rebounds in a game since February 10, 2005. Wallace is a marvelously skilled player and it was his arrival in Detroit that put the Pistons over the top and enabled them to win the 2004 championship. Yet he is averaging just 13.1 ppg and 7.4 rpg this season, numbers that are roughly in line with his career marks (15.4 ppg, 6.9 rpg). Those are decent stats for a small forward, not a multifaceted power forward/center. Wallace, who clearly has the rare ability to be a 20-10 guy consistently, has never averaged 20 ppg or nine rpg in a season.

At halftime of the Pistons-Spurs game--and again on the postgame show--TNT's Charles Barkley said that if you put Michael Jordan's mind in Wallace's body that he'd be the best player in the NBA, adding, "I've never seen a player who is seven feet tall who can post you up and shoot threes...but for him to only have 23 and 15 once every two or three years is a travesty." Kenny Smith echoed those sentiments: "Over 82 games, something doesn't trigger in him to say that he could dominate." Smith noted that Wallace can be dominant in short stretches, something that he will do during the postseason, and Smith believes that this is part of the reason that the Pistons consistently have made deep playoff runs since Detroit acquired Wallace.

Wallace is truly perplexing, someone who is prone to bizarre fits of rage that earn him numerous technical fouls, and yet someone who is also praised by his teammates and coaches as a player who is a wonderful teammate who has a high basketball IQ. It's almost like the game is so easy for him that he has never had to play hard consistently to do well. Wallace has an array of unblockable shots that he can deliver in the paint but he tends to drift outside, where he is also a deadly shooter--but that takes him out of rebounding position and prevents him from drawing fouls as often as true star players do.

It is so frustrating to watch Wallace play, because even though he has won a championship and earned some individual honors along the way it is obvious that he could do so much more. Smith asserts that Wallace's postseason performances are why the Pistons advance but it could just as accurately be said that some of his performances are why the Pistons have not won another title. Barkley noted that the only time that Wallace really seemed to try to dominate was right after he came to Detroit; not coincidentally, that is the only year that he and the Pistons won the title. Wallace's bonehead play left Robert Horry open in the next year's Finals and probably cost the Pistons another ring and Wallace has sprinkled in a few meltdowns/disappearing acts in recent postseasons.

Tim Duncan had 24 points and 15 rebounds in Thursday's game. The difference between Duncan and Wallace is that two-time MVP, four-time champion Duncan puts up those numbers on a regular basis, not once every three years. When some guys have a night like Wallace's, it is obviously a fluke, but there is nothing that Wallace did against the Spurs that he could not do on a fairly regular basis. The unsolved mystery is why he is not wired that way, whereas a Duncan, a Jordan or a Kobe Bryant tries to--as Barkley put it--"kill" people on a nightly basis, much like Bill Belichick's New England Patriots do.

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posted by David Friedman @ 5:03 AM

14 comments

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14 Comments:

At Friday, January 11, 2008 10:14:00 AM, Blogger madnice said...

Wallace can definitely be the best in the league, even better than your boy Bryant. He has no weaknesses except for those little people called the refs. He just doesnt care to be the best.

You always find a way to put Bryant in your posts. Its comedy. Not every post but a lot of them.

 
At Friday, January 11, 2008 1:30:00 PM, Blogger NFN said...

sheeeeeeeeed!

i love this man.

 
At Friday, January 11, 2008 2:26:00 PM, Blogger Wild Yams said...

I saw Barkley's comments last night and agreed with them wholeheartedly. For years when people were debating who the best power forward in the league was, either Kevin Garnett or Tim Duncan, I always thought that Rasheed Wallace could be better than either of them if he just applied himself. I think outside of Shaq and maybe Dwight Howard now, Rasheed Wallace has been (at times, when he wanted to be) the most unstoppable post player in the NBA since Hakeem left his prime. That Rasheed is also a dead-eye shooter from even a few feet behind the 3-pt line means that he might be even more adept at scoring from anywhere on the floor than even Kobe Bryant.

And yet with that combination of talent Rasheed has maybe the most bizarre mentality of any great player I've ever witnessed. He's not a guy who's content to just be dominant without working too hard, like Shaq, and he's not a guy who is supremely talented but with more of a role-player mentality like Kevin Garnett. Instead he's a complete enigma, and his technical foul problems are just the tip of the iceberg. I think if Rasheed had ever had the proper mindset for someone with his skills, not only would he be thought of as being the best power forward to ever play, but the Portland Trailblazer team he was on in 1999-2000 probably would have gone down in history as the greatest team of all time and would have ended up blowing the Shaq-Kobe-Phil Lakers off the court. Instead those Blazers never won anything and are thought of now as a disappointment or a disgrace and Rasheed just continues to confound.

 
At Friday, January 11, 2008 3:02:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Madnice:

People who are the best at what they do interest me. That is why Kobe, Duncan, LeBron and Belichick/the Patriots show up in a lot of my posts.

I think that the game is so easy for some multifaceted big guys like Sheed, Odom, Derrick Coleman and a few others that they never push themselves to reach their maximum potential. Barkley has said several times that when he first saw Coleman he thought that he would be the best power forward in the NBA but it never happened. Some people surmise that many big guys don't love basketball but they just play because they are good at it. I don't want to disparage how much these guys love the game because I don't know if that is true of them but I do think that it is apparent that for most of their lives they were always the most talented players on the court, so they could get by without pushing themselves. MJ, Kobe and other "mid-sized" players usually were underestimated at some point--MJ was famously cut from his high school team and I previously mentioned the story about Kobe not winning the best player honors at Vaccaro's camp one year--and I think that these slights (real or imagined) fuel them to greater heights. That said, MJ and Kobe just seem to have something inside that most players of any size do not have.

 
At Friday, January 11, 2008 3:09:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Wild Yams:

Two advantages that the 2000 Blazers had over the Lakers were Sheed posting up against any Lakers power forward and posting up Pip, Bonzi or Steve Smith against Kobe; at that time, the one weakness in Kobe's game was that he was not strong enough to defend big twos/threes on the block. The Blazers got some mileage out of those matchups but probably should have utilized them even more.

Sheed does not have the off the dribble game or passing skills of Kobe, so I can't see him being a more dangerous offensive player than Kobe. However, if Sheed played the way that he should all the time then he would average over 20 ppg, 10 rpg and 2-3 bpg and he would be a dominant two-way player who would certainly have to be in any discussions about the best player in the NBA. He literally is about half as productive as he should be. Some of that comes from playing with a talented ensemble cast in Detroit--each of those guys could score more points in a different situation--but Sheed has never asserted dominance for a sustained period of time.

 
At Saturday, January 12, 2008 1:39:00 AM, Anonymous eniq 0x00 said...

madnice,

"Wallace can definitely be the best in the league, even better than your boy Bryant. "

Laughable. Aside from not possessing Bryant's all-around skill, he doesn't have his heart or intelligence for the game.

He's such a weak player that he lets the refs take him out the game.

"He just doesnt care to be the best."

That's what separates winners like Bryant and Jordan from losers like Wallace, beside their talent and ability. The desire to want to be the best.

There are plenty of talented players around the league who can do a lot of things, but for one reason or another they don't bring it every night or take it to the next level.

We don't make excuses for them, nor should we for Wallace.

 
At Saturday, January 12, 2008 3:52:00 AM, Blogger vednam said...

I've felt this way about Rasheed for years. Few things in basketball frustrate me more than watching Rasheed Wallace hang out at the 3-point line chucking up jumpers when he could be killing people on the blocks.

Rasheed reminds me a lot of Kevin McHale as far as his skill-set goes. Very long, excellent defenders, numerous moves in the low post (of course, McHale never had Rasheed's range). Interestingly, McHale was also accused of not being intense enough, but he did put up substantially better numbers than Rasheed has.

Plenty of mid-sized players have gotten by on their talent without pushing themselves to achieve their potential. This goes back to guys like David Thompson and Micheal Ray Richardson, and can be seen today in numerous players: Vince Carter, Ricky Davis, Bonzi Wells, Rudy Gay, etc.

 
At Saturday, January 12, 2008 4:58:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Vednam:

McHale had five straight 20-plus ppg seasons and narrowly missed a sixth. It may have been said of him that he did not have a burning desire to be the MVP but he made seven All-Star teams, six All-Defensive teams and one All-NBA team; Sheed has made three All-Star teams and no All-Defensive or All-NBA teams. McHale was much more focused for longer stretches of time than Sheed has ever been.

DT and MRR both dealt with substance abuse problems; they are certainly responsible for their actions in that regard but I don't think that either player lacked focus or intensity on the court. I believe that Isiah has said that MRR defended him better than any player. Rudy Gay is only in his second year and his numbers are up markedly this season so it is too soon to pass judgment on him. It does seem at times like VC, RD and Bonzi could get more out of their abilities than they have. However, I still think that, in general, big guys coast more than smaller players. The reason for this is simply that they can get away with it; a player who is seven feet tall and reasonably coordinated is always going to be given second and third chances and such a player can take up space and be of some use even playing at less than his full potential. Guys who are 6-6 are a dime a dozen--except for a handful of very gifted players--so if they don't put forth a certain amount of effort they can easily be replaced.

 
At Sunday, January 13, 2008 12:06:00 AM, Blogger madnice said...

eniq 0x00....
Wake up. Wallace just doesnt want to be the best. He is complacent with 10 points. Wallace did get a ring so how much of a loser is he? Im not making any excuses for him nor do I for anyone. I just know that if he wanted to (key word wanted) he could be the best.

David,
I understand why you include these people. I have my own feelings when it comes to including Jordan in any basketball conversation. And I think Bryant is great and I know the comparisons. But Mike is just so much better than him or anyone its the same as mentioning so and so is like Babe Ruth or Ali.

Micheal Ray was definitely one of the best but that nose candy, which ended many wonderful black athletes careers. The Rockets definitely messed up by trading Gay.

 
At Sunday, January 13, 2008 12:16:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Madnice:

If anything, I am more circumspect about comparing Kobe to MJ than many other people are. Dan Majerle, who played against both of them, told me that it is difficult for him to say which one is greater. I have consistently said that I consider MJ to be a greater player than Kobe; one area in which they are very similar is work ethic/drive: Kobe is certainly more like MJ in that regard than any other current NBA player.

 
At Sunday, January 13, 2008 10:29:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anymous reggie

rasheed could be the best player in the league if he wanted to. but kobe and lebron want to is the diffrence if he had more drive he could be better than he is.

dan majerle is kidding himself jordan is way better than kobe and kobe is heka great. jordan has kobe in every stat but 3point shooting easily and if he we go through numbers 40 point games mvp championships etc it's not close kobe is great i have more respect for kobe now than i ever have he is no micheal jordan stop comparing him alot of people are competive like the two of them but the compariosn is a joke and kobe is great so that tells you how great kobe is. personall i think lebron will come closest to jordan.

 
At Monday, January 14, 2008 12:34:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Reggie:

As you know, I've never said that Kobe is better than MJ. However, it is not true that a lot of people are as competitive as MJ and Kobe; in fact, very few people--even in the NBA--are that competitive. That is one area in which Kobe is basically indistinguishable from MJ. It is also a bit extreme to say that no comparison at all can be made between MJ and Kobe. You have to understand that they came into the NBA at different ages, started out their careers in different situations and played with different rules (concerning hand checking, zone defenses, etc.) but if you take those things into account then a comparison can certainly be made. Here is what I wrote about this subject in a different comment thread, in response to Vednam asking whether I ranked MJ above Kobe due to "accomplishments" or due to an evaluation of each player's skills:

"MJ is definitely more "accomplished" than Kobe, both from a team standpoint (more championships) and an individual one (scoring titles, MVPs, DPoY--even though some of those things are obviously beyond Kobe's control; even if you give Kobe the two MVPs I think he deserves he would still trail MJ in that category). In terms of "skills," I think that they are pretty close. Shooting percentages are somewhat dependent on the context of one's era and the defensive rules in place at that time but I think that MJ was a more reliable mid-range jumper shooter than Kobe is. Kobe has the edge in terms of range but in that mid-post area I think that MJ was a little deadlier. I also think that MJ was just a little better as a finisher in the paint in terms of not getting the ball stripped; Kobe does not have super large hands like Doc or MJ, so when he goes into traffic he does not have the full menu of options that they did and he is a little bit more vulnerable to having the ball knocked away. Kobe is the closest player in the modern game to MJ and there probably is not a huge difference but I'd give the edge to MJ. Also, even though I don't really care about the whole #1/#2 business in terms of who gets "credit" for the Shaq-Kobe dynasty, there is no question that Kobe's stock would go up in everyone's eyes if he wins another title while playing at an All-NBA level."

However, while I have my reasons for ranking Kobe below MJ, it is worth noting that guys like Majerle and Mark Jackson who played against both players don't see much difference at all between them.

 
At Wednesday, January 16, 2008 6:12:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

reggie

if you look at career accomplishments and numbers it's not even close david i know jordan played his whole career with no big man so when he was younger he could score like crazy like he did and kobe was a little limited with shaq he had to defer some younger so he could of put up a little better numbers without him but jordan was better had better shot selection shot a better percentage by 5 points all numbers favor jordan by a wide margin. i dont think kobe could win 6 rings with pippen in fact i know he couldnt win 6 rings with pippen all the great playoff performances jordan had no comparison. jordan was better in the post than kobe and mid range better defender than kobe was one on one and 2nd or 3rd all time in steals all time. jordan will is what seperated him from everyody kobe shows that will at times but not like jordan did. i think james is going to be better than kobe and jordan probably so this moot in a sense but to me no one stand with mike charles barkley and almost everybody else who played aginst jordan will tell you it's not close. jordan was better in the playoffs than regular season so kobe has to win 2 rings or more without shaq for me to start saying jordan. big o magic doc j larry bird wilt russell kareem jerry west shaq duncan all better than kobe and probably 5 to 10 others he's 29 so he got some time he is probably low 20's right now all time.

 
At Wednesday, January 16, 2008 10:59:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Reggie:

I'd put Kobe in the top 20 all-time but other than that you make some valid points. I've never written that Kobe is better than MJ; all I'm saying is that there are people who played against both players who think that it is a close call. Also, as you mention, Kobe has several more years left, so in a sense we are comparing a finished product (MJ's career) to a work in progress. Purely from a skills standpoint, the two players are actually pretty close; as I said, I give MJ an edge in terms of his midrange jumper and his ability to finish in traffic in the paint. Their differing accomplishments have a lot to do with the eras that they played in and the opportunities that they had (and the fact that Kobe's career is not over). When MJ was Kobe's age, he had more scoring titles and fewer rings. Shooting percentages are down league wide, in part because of the increasing usage of the three point shot, so comparing shooting percentages across generations is misleading. Kobe is a better long range shooter, while MJ is a better midrange shooter.

 

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