So here we are, two nights removed from Portland’s biggest win of 2010-11, winners of four straight, seven in a row on the road, very possibly poised to make a meaningful playoff run, and there is one question that is on the minds of Blazer fans the world around: Should Gerald Wallace be a starter?
It’s a good question, and one that I will try to shed some light on if I may, but first, let’s take a minute to think about where we as Blazer fans are right now. Not three months ago, nobody would have been surprised if come March 10th we were talking about next season’s lottery, admiring Andre Miller in a Nets jersey and Marcus Camby lined up next to Amar’e Stoudemire back in the Big Apple, and commenting on how interim head coach Billy Bayno has done better than his 1-6 post All-Star game record shows. To be sitting here, contemplating the minutes that should or shouldn’t go to one of the game’s most electrifying players is kind of a treat, don’t you think?
So on to Crash. As we all know, Gerald Wallace is a heck of a player, and barring a few first game jitters, read no headband, he has had an immediate impact on the Blazers. As we also know, so far everything he’s done has been done whilst coming off the bench. A third thing we know, as Blazer fans, is that sometimes head coach Nate McMillan has been a little stubborn about new vets having to earn their starting positions, and that has led to a few very interesting locker room type situations. See: Andre Miller.
The question is, should we be worried that a player of Gerald Wallace’s caliber getting relegated to bench duty is going to adversely affect what he can do for Portland, with the sub question, is Gerald Wallace being used incorrectly, and with the second sub question, would the Blazers be better off with Wallace among the starting five. My answers: No, yes, and maybe. Recap: No, we shouldn’t be worried, yes he is being used effectively, and maybe he would be better in the starting lineup.
I’ll break it down one question at a time. First, is coming off the bench keeping Gerald Wallace from adequately meshing with his new team. I would whole-heartedly say that no, it is not. Every player goes through an adjustment period when they come into a new situation. Yes, I do think that the Blazers mishandled Andre Miller, but integrating a new point guard, one that does almost none of the things that the guy he’s replacing does, is more of an overhaul than adding a wing player.
As of right now, Gerald Wallace is basically playing starters minutes. In six games with Portland he is averaging nearly 32 minutes per outing. To compare, as a full time starter for Charlotte he was averaging 39 minutes. Sure seven minutes is a fair amount, for a short minute rotation player that’s almost 50% of your PT, but to go from being “The Guy” on one team to being one of the guys on another team and losing only seven minutes in the process doesn’t seem like that big of a deal.
Here’s another reason to not be worried. In the Florida sweep, Wallace has played 33 and 34 minutes. In both wins the only Blazer with more minutes than Wallace was LaMarcus Aldridge. LA also is the only Blazer without a back up. Yet another reason not to start pulling your hair out over Wallace’s status on the team: in both Orlando and Miami he was among the five that finished the game. Both nights, Nate had the closing five of Brandon Roy, Wesley Matthews, Andre Miller, Gerald Wallace, and LaMarcus Aldridge. I’ve said it before, but that’s not a bad unit. Anyway, isn’t it more important which players finish the game?
Moving on to whether or not Wallace is being used correctly. I’m not sure if anyone thinks that Gerald Wallace is being used incorrectly, but I threw this one in because it brings back memories of 2009-10-you all remember no doubt remember the beginning of the season when Steve Blake and Andre Miller were both starting-and it brings up the question as to whether or not Nate knows how to integrate new pieces.
From the beginning Nate has said that he has plans for Crash. It’s very likely that Nate is only sticking to Wallace coming off the bench because it’s working. As far as not knowing what to do with older, established players once they are added to the Blazer roster; Marcus Camby has been in uniform for Portland 68 times, and has started 68 games.
Finally, would Wallace be better in the starting lineup, and would Portland be better with Wallace in said starting lineup? Of these three, I think this is the hardest question. It would seem logical that if Wallace were inserted into the lineup, and given four or five more minutes a night, his numbers would improve. His numbers going up would certainly not hurt the Blazers, so you would have to look at it as a positive.
It’s not that simple though. Putting Wallace in means taking somebody else out. The logical selection would be Nicolas Batum. They play the same position, and bring roughly the same thing to the floor. Nic’s better from deep; Wallace is better attacking, but otherwise they are pretty similar players. The problem here is that Nic has been far better when starting. The same is true for Wesley Matthews, the other logical spot Wallace could take. Both Nic and Wes are young players, and need to get touches early in order to establish rhythm and been effective.
A third place to go, and maybe the best option, would be to have Wallace replace Camby, and start small. This is the closing unit minus Brandon. B Roy has adjusted to his new role, but I feel like it is highly unlikely that he becomes a starter again this season. There are lots of upsides to this lineup. Portland can get out and run early, and can spread the floor to give LaMarcus room to work. My problem is that by starting without a center the Blazers become very weak against teams with length and size. If LaMarcus has to start a game guarding a guy like Andrew Bynum, or a less dominate pivot player like Marc Gasol, there is a very real chance of his getting into early foul trouble. Throughout his run of killer play, LA has managed to stay out of foul trouble, and it has had a major affect on his game. LaMarcus staying free of fouls is by necessity, seeing as he’s been the engine of Portland’s offense. If LA goes to the bench early against a team like the Lakers, or in the playoffs against a team like the Thunder, it’s going to be a long night for the rest of the squad.
To finish with the tried and true, In Conclusion, I will say this: I don’t really know what should be done with Gerald Wallace at this point, other than to say he’s been at least part of the difference in Portland’s last few outings, and that if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. He’s a tremendous player, who seems genuinely happy to be a Blazer. I wouldn’t be surprised if he starts at some point, and I also wouldn’t be surprised if he stays coming off the bench the rest of the way. With a bench of Rudy Fernandez, Brandon Roy, Patty Mills, and Gerald Wallace, there isn’t a whole lot to complain about.
Look at it this way: whatever Gerald Wallace does in a Blazer jersey is better than him not doing anything in a Blazer jersey. And as long as Portland keeps winning, I don’t have much of a problem with Crash coming off the bench. I’m just glad he’s here.