Few players in the NBA have the career arc of Gerald Wallace. A first round pick to the end of the bench in Sacramento, where he became a fan favorite for his dunking prowess. Then shipped off to the new Charlotte franchise in the expansion draft, where he was propelled from mop-up duty to starter. Once Emeka Okafor departed he became the face of the young team and ultimately named to the All-Star team and all-defensive first team in the same season. This season, however, something is different and not in a good way.
Gerald’s always had a cult following, but mired in mediocrity of the first five years of the Bobcats organization, few have observed the metamorphosis of Crash. From year-to-year it has been a gift to watch his off-season work pay off as he’s improved in virtually every aspect of the game, from defense to rebounding to shot selection. Even after signing a healthy contract extension he continued to be a student of the game (a fact that is oddly praiseworthy when referring to NBA players), receiving effusive praise from notorious grumpy old man, Larry Brown. He’s gone from bench energy guy to basketball dare devil (before Blake Griffin reinvented the term) to team leading crafty veteran who still possesses the power to amaze athletically.
My view, as well as other Bobcat fans, of him has likewise evolved. I’ve argued he’d never be able to be healthy to be worth the money, that he should be traded because his value would never be higher, that he deserved to be 1st team All-Defense over LeBron , that the team would be better if he never took a shot and now I have to recuse myself from trade discussions involving him because he’s my guy.
Perhaps last season was his peak. For the first time in his Bobcat career there’s been no sign of the continuing growth that had been as much his calling card as his ability to careen in to the line, get fouled and fall awkwardly. Last season, Gerald had fewer than five rebounds just five times. He’s already logged four games this season with fewer than five. He’s also fouled out more times than he did all of last season. The biggest question for Bobcat fans, is what brought on this de-evolution? There are several possibilities, but few answers.
Possibility 1 – The loss of Robin. Entering last season, Gerald and Raymond Felton were the undisputed leaders of the team. Gerald accepted that mantle and led the team with historic rebounding numbers and for him, unprecedented scoring punch. This year, however, Raymond is gone and Stephen Jackson appears to be DJ Augustin’s preferred option. Gerald’s seemingly become an afterthought in the offense for long stretches. His “demotion” seems to have resulted in him uncoiling a greater percentage of ‘well, I guess it’s my turn’ jump shots, which have been as inaccurate as a senior citizen with a Derringer.
Possibility 2 – New Toys. Head Coach Larry Brown’s known for his penchant to tinker with the roster and also for falling in love with projects. Early in his tenure, that project was Gerald. Now, Tyrus Thomas and even Dominic McGuire have seemed to become the Players du jour for LB. Gerald’s been put on the back burner, possibly by his PG and his coach, whom he worked tirelessly for the last couple years. A couple times this season, it’s seemed clear that LB has insisted Gerald get the ball early in the 2nd half after lackluster first halves, so while he may not be getting the bulk of attention (PGs would tell you that’s a good thing) from Larry, the coach clearly understands the importance of Crash.
Possibility 3 – The Mountain Top. This one’s tough to even type. For the first time, Gerald looks like he might be feeling entitled. Not to say he hasn’t been making the “Crash” plays that fans love, but too many jumpers, too much disappearing, too much whining instead of fighting. For the first time, could he have tapped cruise control during the off-season? In the teams last four games, Gerald’s averaged over 32 minutes per game, but ten of the sixteen quarters have had either zero or one made field goal by Crash, and excluding the Knicks game in New York where he appeared to be the Gerald of old, 10 of his last 12 quarters have been subpar efforts.
Maybe last season was the peak. Maybe Gerald’s not a good fit anymore. Obviously, I hope the Cats get it figured out, but I fear it may be time for me to recuse myself from the conversation.