Monday, November 23, 2009
A reputation is a powerful thing. Many times, simply having a reputation for being good at something outweighs the reality of whether or not that skill actually exists. I present to you now, Exhibit A, in this demonstration: Rasheed Wallace and his reputation for being a guy with the ability to "stretch defenses" with his long range shooting. NBA followers for years have touted Sheed's "inside-outside" combination, and his uncanny knack for a power forward to step out and knock down the three. But when you stop taking all of these myths as gospel, and actually watch Mr. Wallace play for several seasons in person, you ultimately discover the truth. Just because he likes shooting the three does not mean he can shoot the three. I just thank the Lord he's doing it somewhere else now.
The Celtics lost a rare home game Friday night to the defending East champs, the Magic. Interestingly, heading into this game, Doc Rivers had went public with his unhappiness regarding the team's shot selection and their propensity to settle for the deep ball instead of attacking the basket. Prior to the game with Orlando, this excerpt appeared in the Boston Globe.
The Celtics have become 3-point happy at the wrong times this season. Coach Doc Rivers finally stepped in, telling Rasheed Wallace to limit the threes, during the final quarter of last night’s 109-95 win over Golden State. "I got on him, and I rarely do, about the threes. Because even though he was wide open, it’s really tough. I mean, he was wide open and he took two, but we had just taken two quick ones."
So all of this was said heading into the Friday night game with the Magic. Rivers was clear; more ball movement, better shot selection, less 3s. What does Rasheed do? He goes out and jacks up eight bombs from downtown, making a grand total of zero. Now there are very few players in the NBA that can hoist that many 3s in a game and get away with it. Steve Nash...Andrea Bargnani...maybe even Jason Richardson, with the way he's been stroking it this year. But Rasheed Wallace?? After a very specific order from his head coach to "limit the threes"??? He shoots eight of 'em????? Trust me when I tell you after watching this man play in Detroit for the last six years...the more 3s he takes, the less likely you are to win the game. How did the Celtics do Friday night in that game with the Magic? They lost by five, and scored a season-low 78 points. It was an ugly affair, filled with clumsy offense and errant shooting. And our man was at the center of it all.
I still do not know where Rasheed Wallace's reputation as a "dangerous outside shooter" originated. It's the classic case of, "Never let the facts get in the way of a good story," because the facts in this matter do nothing to support this longstanding claim. Sheed has played in the league for 15 years. You wanna know how many times he has shot above 36% from beyond the arc? Once. And that was 11 years ago. Keep in mind, 36% is not some ridiculously high number for a 3-point shooter. It's probably a little below average, at best, especially for a player that fires them up at the rate Sheed does. How many times did we as Pistons fans have to watch Rasheed on those silly "pick-and-rolls" in late game situations when there was nary a "roll" to speak of? He would set a lame pick, float behind the long line, wait for the pass, and then jack it up as soon as the ball touched his fingertips. The shot would almost always go begging, and you were left wondering how this continued to be viewed as a smart offensive strategy when it worked so infrequently.
Take a look down south, where Atlanta currently sits in the catbird seat of the Eastern Conference with a glistening 11-3 record. Sure, they picked up high-scoring guard Jamal Crawford in the off-season and franchise player Joe Johnson continues to do his thing, but it's been the emergence of Josh Smith that has been one of the biggest differences for Mike Woodson's crew. Before this year, he'd been a freak athlete too block-headed to take full advantage of his insane set of physical gifts. He would dominate for periods, make the occasional highlight play, and far too often, become lazy and go hang out in three-point territory. Should he have been spending that much time out there, or for that matter, any time out there? The answer is a resounding N-O. He was a putrid shooter from long range, and each one of the 100-150 bombs he attempted every year did their own small part in making you realize that this guy was simply "never going to get it." Sound familiar? After all, that's basically the way Rasheed's whole career has been. No light bulb ever went off for him. He entered the league shooting a relatively low amount of threes, usually between 30-50 a year. That changed very quickly. By the time he had gotten comfortable in Detroit, he was practically paying rent outside the line, routinely forcing up over 300 a year, culminating in his unforgettable 2005-06 campaign when he managed to sling 434 from distance. Free-throws for Sheed that year...183. Way to use your 6'11" frame to your advantage, Sir. But Josh Smith made a decision as this season approached. He was going to become a smart player for the first time in his career. He was not going to become another Rasheed Wallace.
The three-point section of Josh Smith's stat line this year has been virtually non-existent. And not just an, "I'm gonna take maybe one or two 3s a game so I don't go into withdrawal" kind of thing. He has literally sworn off the three-point shot entirely. Save for one last-second desperation heave against Miami last week with the first half clock winding down, young Josh has not taken another three-pointer this whole year. And the difference it has made on his game has been evident from opening night, when he made 7 of 10 shots and handed out 8 assists, leading to a double-digit win over Indiana. He is shooting a career-high 54% from the field. (The first time in his career he's been over the Baron Davis mark.) His rebound and assist figures are also the highest they have ever been, and he's committing less turnovers than at any point over the last four seasons. He's like a new person, and it all traces back to his cathartic admittance that he could not conquer his personal devil, the three-point line. It has turned him into one of the most feared players in the league, and it has made the Hawks a legitimate contender in the East for the first time since Mike Fratello was roaming the sidelines. As for Sheed, I wouldn't expect a similar revelation at any point in the near future.
Watching Rasheed Wallace play for the Pistons over the last number of years was one of the more frustrating experiences any Detroit sports fan has had to go through. You always heard from people on TV and around the league that he was such a "team player" and that his "basketball IQ was off the charts," but I got news for you. It was all a whole lot of...you know what. The man could have undergone a Josh Smith-type renaissance at some point in his career, but he never did. He just got worse. That 0-8 three-point performance against Orlando is the perfect reminder of the type of player Rasheed has always been. His coach put out an order for his team to follow, and Sheed simply ignored it. In yesterday's game against the Knicks, a two point escape job in overtime, his minutes were sliced in half. After playing a season-high 34 minutes in the game with Orlando, Sheed played just 15 on Sunday, his lowest total on the year. And he didn't exactly make a case for a bump in that playing time. The old gunslinger snapped off six shot attempts in his limited appearance, again making zero, including a goose egg for three from TreyVille.
As a Pistons fan, I'm just grateful that those shots are being taken somewhere other than the Palace. His act grew tired over the years, and for people to think his addition suddenly makes the Celtics the favorite again in the East is absurd, to say the least. Most good shooters will tell you that the reason they keep on shooting is because no matter how many in a row they miss, they still feel like the next one is going in. For bad shooters like Rasheed, that mentality leads to self-destruction, and an NBA career ultimately defined by countless bricks, plummeting shooting percentages, and a reputation that could not be less deserved.
Drop a comment below, or whip an E-mail my way at