Some time early last year, a friend asked me, “Who was the athlete you did the biggest 180 on as a fan once he came to Boston?”, meaning “Was there a guy you always disliked when he played for other teams, but once he came to Boston, you came to love him?”
The person I was talking with said that for him, it was Bryan Cox, who was part of the 2001 Super Bowl Patriots team after spending the bulk of his career as a villain to New England fans in his time with the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets.
I struggled to come up with someone and haven’t been able to give him an answer.
Then last July, the Celtics signed Rasheed Wallace.
Prior to 2004, I wasn’t the biggest Wallace fan, but he was not near the top of the list for most disliked either. But during the 2003-04 season, Wallace was traded to Detroit. I have never liked the Pistons; in fact, I hate them. I even wrote an entire article on this topic prior to the Celtics-Pistons series in the 2008 playoffs.
As for Wallace, I grew to hate his antics. I hated his complaining. I thought he was overrated. It drove me crazy to hear commentators and so-called sports experts treating Wallace and Kevin Garnett as basketball equals leading up to, and during, that ’08 series.
Once signed, I wondered if I would be able to see to it to embrace Rasheed Wallace?
I had to give him a chance, but as Boston is set to play the 40th game of the Rasheed Wallace era on Wednesday night against his former team, the problem has become that I still have no idea what to think.
His rebounding is down and his defense seems missing at times. He still complains too much and he still gets too many technical fouls. Then there is the three-point shooting.
He has attempted 175 threes thus far this year, making only 52 for a 29.7 percentage. He is 17th in the league in three-point attempts per game (4.9), yet only 49th in make per game (1.4). Wallace is the only player in the NBA with over 165 three-point attempts shooting below thirty percent from beyond the arc. He shoots more threes per game than Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, or Eddie House.
Wallace’s 4.9 three-point attempts is the second-highest total of his career. He is doing this, albeit, in only 23.5 minutes per game, which represents by far a career low for Wallace.
What makes Wallace’s three-point shooting barrage so maddening is that the few times he does venture into the post, almost invariably, something good happens.
In Monday night’s loss to the Dallas Mavericks, Wallace shot 5-for-9 from inside the line and 0-for-4 from downtown. He not only produced points for himself from the post, but was also able to draw personal fouls on Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki.
But because Wallace so infrequently goes into the post, both against Dallas and all season, the Celtics are not getting the most out of him. Against Dallas, had Wallace stayed in the post, maybe he tires out Nowitzki or forces the German to the bench. This would have been key to Boston possibly picking up the win because on the offensive end, Nowitzki torched the Celtics for 37 points on 14-for-22 shooting.
Despite the immense frustration I feel watching Wallace miss threes, I can’t help but believe by season’s end, I will be glad he is here.
With Wallace set to return to Detroit on Wednesday night for the first time since departing Motown for Boston, I keep thinking of a Pistons fan that I know. When Ben Wallace left Detroit, he understood. Same for when the Pistons traded Chauncey Billups last season.
But when Rasheed signed with Boston, despite seeing why it made sense for Detroit, it upset him that Wallace would no longer be playing for his favorite team.
It wasn’t as if Wallace put up amazing numbers when he was in Detroit – 13.4 ppg, 7.2 rpg. It was just that when Wallace wants to, he has those indefinable qualities that make his impact on a team far greater than his numbers in the box score.
The wins didn’t hurt either – a .663 regular-season winning percentage during Wallace’s years, one title, two trips to the NBA Finals, and five appearances in the Eastern Conference Finals.
That is why I am reserving judgment on Wallace until the end of the season. I fully expect that as the importance of the games increases, Rasheed’s impact will as well.
Maybe I am just setting myself up for disappointment. But winning in the playoffs is about smart basketball and it is about playing great defense. Technical fouls aside, those are two areas Wallace has excelled in during his career.
And if Wallace proves my optimism right, I will finally be able to definitively answer my friend’s question.