NBA 50 Greatest Players: Rasheed Wallace (#47)

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Rasheed Wallace’s remarkable consistency is the primary reason for his inclusion into the NBA Greatest players of the 3 point era. Whilst he never posted huge numbers, he never really needed to, as he was an incredibly unselfish and reliable player when motivated (we’ll get to that shortly). For seven straight seasons, Wallace averaged at 15 points per game (from 99/00 to 05/06) and regularly shooting over 50% from the floor. He was considered one of the most un-guardable players in the early part of the 2000’s because of his incredible skillset (he could post up, face up, shoot jumpers with range, get to the foul line and had no problems dishing it to open shooters). He was the catalyst for the 2004 NBA champion Detroit Pistons squad, and a 4 time all-star (2 with Detroit, 2 with Portland).

Out of his 16 NBA seasons, he only missed the playoffs once (in his rookie season), and often saw his production sky rocket in the post season (in 2002 against The Lakers, he averaged 25.3 ppg and 12.3 rpg). In his playoff career, he started the first 153 games for the Blazers and Pistons. When he was playing for Boston, he came off the bench for the first 23 games in their legendary run in 2010, before being summoned to start in game 7 of the NBA Finals in L.A in place of injured Celtics centre, Kendrick Perkins. In that game, Wallace helped the Celtics build an early lead, but age caught up with them (and Doc Rivers’ idiotic decision to only essentially only play 6 players). Rasheed finished the game with 11 points and 8 rebounds (as a point of reference, Garnett only had 3 rebounds). Wallace’s teams made the conference finals an incredible 8 times in his 14 seasons. I refuse to simply accept that as a coincidence.

Did Rasheed Wallace under achieve?

Wallace's arrival in Detroit helped transform the Pistons into contenders.

Wallace’s arrival in Detroit helped transform the Pistons into contenders.

Here’s the big question mark with Wallace, and there isn’t a definitive answer. My late friend Josh McDonald told me once when we were discussing who we’d rather Russell Westbrook or Chris Paul, it simply comes down to what we look for (and celebrate) in a basketball player; is it stats, or is it winning? If we’re looking at box scores and pure stats, there is no way Rasheed Wallace deserves to be here over a Chris Mullin or a Kevin Johnson. But if we look at how valuable a player was throughout his entire career (even up until the very end with New York) in continued success, Wallace has to be here.

Here’s my theory on why he was reluctant in posting big numbers (because, as I mentioned before, he had all the tools required to average 25 ppg for 3 or 4 seasons when he was in Portland); He figured out basketball on a deeper level than most of us can even comprehend. Forget the tattoos, the technical fouls, the perception of being a head case, put it all to one side for a minute; Rasheed Wallace understood the value of playing within the confines of a good team, and he valued team success over individual stats. He couldn’t care less about posting 45 points on a meaningless game in November, all he cared about was lengthy post-season runs (which he enjoyed plenty of). I’m convinced of this, because everywhere he went, he was respected by his teammates and peers. Think back to the final playoff game of his career, game 7 of the NBA finals. Wallace hadn’t started one game for Boston during that playoff run, and in the decisive game of the championship series, his teammates were looking for him. He wasn’t just out there filling in for Perkins, he was actually producing. Nobody knows the game better than the players, and they recognise his importance. It can’t be luck that Wallace was instantly snapped up by Detroit to be an assistant coach after he retired. This guy understands basketball like very few do, and he understands exactly how meaningless stat padding is.

Rasheed Wallace vs. Chris Bosh

Different in so many ways, yet so similar.

Different in so many ways, yet so similar.

I stumbled across this comparison when I was compiling this list, and after changing my opinion at least 17 times, I’m still not sure I’ve picked the right guy. Chris Bosh is a guy who is willing to take a back seat to his superstar teammates and produce when it is absolutely necessary in whatever way is required (whether it’s brilliant defence on Tim Duncan without help in game 7 of the 2013 finals or becoming much more aggressive when Wade is injured, or stepping out and hitting 3’s to open up driving lane for Lebron). Bosh was a legitimate number 1 option when he played in Toronto (He averaged over 22ppg in 5 straight seasons), and he willingly gave all that up to be on a contender.

There isn’t a player in today’s game that has sacrificed more (both in terms of individual stats or legacy) for winning than Chris Bosh. He’s a better face up mid-range shooter than Wallace (but not by much), fits into a team’s structure better than Wallace (this is evident by looking at the role he’s accepted in Miami. The Heat are not a well-structured team. There are holes everywhere. And despite this, Bosh has carved out a niche plays a role that is invaluable to the team’s success) and doesn’t create any unnecessary distractions (think technical fouls). Wallace was a better post-up player, defender (both individually and in regards to team defence), and a better leader.

Rasheed has one ring, and could very easily have 3 (Both Detroit in 2005 and Boston in 2010 took leads into the 4th quarter of game 7 before wearing down on the road). Bosh has 2 championships, including a game 7 victory in last year’s NBA finals. This comparison, at least in terms of championship hardware, comes down to a few missed shots, a couple of missed rebounds (let’s not forget Bosh’s 2 unbelievable offensive rebounds that were absolutely critical for Miami to escape game 6 with a victory and force game 7)

Essentially (and I know this isn’t really fair to Bosh) it came down to roles. In Portland, Rasheed was the go to guy for the Blazers in the playoffs and he took them to the conference finals in 99 (before Pippen and Steve Smith arrived). Bosh, in Toronto (and a weaker conference in comparison to what the West was like in 1999), couldn’t get them out of the first round. Then when we compare the roles they play on their championship teams, Wallace’s role was bigger than what Bosh’s has been in Miami. Rasheed’s teammates in Detroit were Billups and Ben Wallace. Bosh’s in Miami are Lebron and Wade. On offence, the Pistons number one option in the half court was Rasheed on the block. The Heat use Bosh as a decoy and he rarely gets the ball to create.

Once again, I know that’s not particularly fair to Bosh, but it is the reality. Wallace had a lot more pressure to deliver than what Bosh has had to, and Rasheed delivered (which is evident by the consistent success of the teams he played on). Bosh will be a Free Agent this off-season, and a part of me hopes he goes to a team like New York or Chicago where he will be asked to utilise his skills a lot more. If he is able to match his regular season production in a long playoff run, he will take Rasheed’s spot. But right now, it goes to Wallace… barely.

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