The Nets on Friday posted some season "highlights" of Gerald Wallace, focusing on hustle plays and athleticism. It's a nice peg to take a look at Wallace's season ... or better yet, the disparity between his regular season and the seven games he played in the first round of the playoffs.
In those seven games, Wallace looked like the player the Nets hoped for when they 1) traded for him in a controversial deal that cost them a high lottery pick and 2) signed him to a four-year $40 million contract. For all the compliments given him for his leadership and intangibles by P.J. Carlesimo and his teammates, Wallace himself saw the season as disastrous.
Late in the season, he admitted his confidence was "totally gone" adding "I’m in a situation where I feel like if I miss, I’m going to get pulled out of the game, you know what I’m saying?" Even after the second game of the playoffs, when he shot 3-for-15, he expressed disgust at how things have worked out. "I couldn’t tell you my role now. I don’t have a clue what my role is on this team."
The numbers showed just how bad things had gotten. He missed 13 games, slightly above his average for the past five seasons, and played only 30.1 minutes per game, the lowest since 2003-04, when he was still with the Kings! All his other numbers were down in the regular season -- 7.7 points per game, also lowest in nine years; 39.7 percent overall shooting, again lowest in nine years; 28.2 percent from deep, lowest in seven years; 4.6 rebounds, lowest in nine years; 2.6 assists, lowest in two years; 1.5 steals, lowest in nine years; etc., etc., etc.
In April, he reached a personal nadir. He averaged 2.3 points; 33 percent shooting, no making a single three; and 1.5 rebounds. It became fashionable to say he was done, but inside the season stats was this tidbit. In December, before Avery Johnson was replaced and after he recovered from an opening night injury, Wallace played some decent basketball. He averaged 11.3 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.5 steals while playing 36 minutes per game. His shooting percentages of 42.7 percent and 31.8 percent may not have been world-beaters, but his three point shooting was in line with his career averages, his overall number four percentage points below. Against the Pistons on December 14, he went for 25 and 10, stats lost in Joe Johnson's last second heroics. After that, he went downhill.
He didn't achieve those December numbers again until the playoffs when he turned it on, helped by a more open offensive game and no doubt his pride. From 25 minutes in April, he went to nearly 35 vs. the Bulls. From 2.3 points per game in April, he went to 12.0. From 33 percent shooting overall, he went to 46.3. After not hitting a single three in April, he made 11 in seven games, shooting 38 percent, just as he had in his 16 games as a Net in 2012. He single-handedly led the charge late in Game 5, with a three pointer, a steal and a breakaway dunk. He didn't look done ... at all. He looked like the guy the Nets traded for.
It's easy to blame P.J. Carlesimo for lost player development, but a Nets insider reflected a lot of front office opinion when he said Wallace was "misused" under the now-departed interim coach. He proved that in the playoffs. In games, 5, 6 and 7, as the Nets tried to rally from a 3-1 deficit, he averaged 15.3 points, shot 50 percent from the floor, 43.8 from deep.
At age 31, it's entirely possible that a guy whose nickname is "Crash" could fall off the table. It's also likely that he will never fully earn the $40 million contract or match Damien Lillard's --or Harrison Barnes'-- career numbers going forward. But everyone knows why Billy King did both deals: to provide Deron Williams with confidence that the Nets were serious in surrounding him with solid players. But if the Nets' next coach can give Wallace the confidence to play like he played vs. Chicago, it would go a long way to restoring fans confidence in him.
What does Wallace think? Here's what he told Ben Couch: "All in all I think this was kind of a down year for me, but I feel comfortable and excited about the way I finished the season," Wallace said. "I'm going into the summer knowing the things I can do to get better."