By Ian Parfrey @Ianparfrey
When Gerald Wallace scored 14 points against the Pistons, it was his season high in the 21 games since P.J. Carlesimo took over. Wallace has become the invisible man in the Nets’ offense, especially on the post-Avery Johnson team, where he’s averaged only 6.6 points while shooting .407/.313 from the floor. Is this really a problem? The Nets are winning, for one thing. Wallace has been playing through some nagging injuries, for another. And his main role on the team is to make life difficult for the other team’s best wing player, for example his work on Kobe Bryant Tuesday night.
If the Nets plan to sneak into the conference finals this year (or maybe more), they’ll need to get some offensive production from the forward spots. A three-man game of Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, and Joe Johnson probably isn’t going to get it done in a playoff series, if the opponent doesn’t have to worry about guarding Reggie Evans or Gerald Wallace.
There are two problems, as I see it. One is that Wallace is barely involved in the offense. He’s attempted a career-low 8 shots per 36 minutes this season, after consistently averaging about 11 shots per 36 over the past few seasons. The other is that Wallace has been used, by both of the Nets coaches, in an extremely sub-optimal fashion. Wallace is a career 32% shooter from downtown (34% this season), and on this team, 37% of his attempts are coming from behind the arc. This is by far a career high.
Or, to put it plainly, Gerald Wallace is not a good deep shooter, but the Nets’ coaching staff does not seem to realize that.
The first problem is harder to solve. The Nets have more offensive firepower than they did last year, and Brook Lopez is healthy and playing the best ball of his career. There’s no real justification for taking away shots from the Nets’ top three players to give to Wallace. I think the elevation of Reggie Evans to the starting power forward spot has been bad for Wallace’s offense, too, because the only thing Evans should ever be doing on offense is lurking around the basket and waiting for rebounds and garbage points. And you can’t clog the paint with two guys looking for opportunistic baskets– one has to go to the perimeter.
Wallace could have some value to the Nets on late-in-the-shot-clock bailout plays, but in the 27 instances of this I found since P.J. took over, Wallace has attempted 13 threes, 6 mid-range shots, 6 layups, and been fouled twice. Wallace is 5-of-19 on anything that isn’t a layup, and 3-of-13 on late shot-clock threes. In contrast, he’s made half of his layup attempts.
If the Nets are going to get anything from Wallace on offense, they’re probably better off using him more like the Dallas Mavericks do with Shawn Marion. Despite the ugliness of his jump shot, Marion has actually been a little more accurate than Wallace from downtown (33% career). Their shot charts are fairly similar, except Wallace draws more contact, and Marion takes more mid-range shots and fewer threes. There are two other important differences. One, the Mavericks make more of an effort to get Marion involved in the offense in the first quarter. Two, on bailout plays, Marion will drive into the paint more than 50% of the time, where he has a very effective repertoire of floaters and layups. He’s no better than Wallace at shooting late in the shot clock, but he doesn’t shoot anywhere near as often.
Of course, the Mavericks don’t have the same problem with floor spacing that the Nets do, as their big men are all capable of stepping away from the basket and making perimeter shots. What Wallace may need to really get going is for Kris Humphries or Andray Blatche to earn more minutes at power forward, which should open up the paint for Wallace a little. The Nets have come a long way from the Avery Johnson era, in terms of running a coherent offense, and finding an effective role for Wallace should be their top priority going forward.