Gerald Wallace Wants To Make A Bigger Impact
Since being acquired from the Charlotte Bobcats at last season’s trade deadline, Gerald Wallace and his extensive defensive repertoire have been monumental assets for the Portland Trail Blazers.
Less than a year after being traded from the abyss that is now the 3-24 Bobcats, Wallace finds himself in Portland with a Blazers team that not only strives for the playoffs but expects a postseason berth year-in, year-out.
The new, more positive atmosphere doesn’t necessarily mean that everything has gone smoothly. After spending the last seven seasons in Charlotte, the 10-year veteran Wallace had just a few months last season – then less than a month of training camp this year to gel with his new teammates.
“It’s been an adjustment – especially with the way that this season is compact, it’s like we’ve been thrown into the fire,” Wallace told HOOPSWORLD. “It’s totally different. It’s not like we’ve had a full training camp, we’ve pretty much had to learn on the run and I think we’re there. We definitely have the talent and we definitely have the pieces, I think we’ve just had some setbacks at times where everybody’s trying to adjust to everyone. Other then that it’s been a great adjustment for me.”
While Wallace’s stats may not blow anyone away, they’ve been consistently good throughout the 2011-2012 campaign. Through 27 games, he’s averaging a respectable 13.4 points per game on 50 percent shooting to go along with nearly seven rebounds per and a team-best 1.6 steals per contest.
“He’s doing a good job,” Blazers head coach Nate McMillan said. “He’s a guy that we try to establish in the post along with LaMarcus (Aldridge)… He’s been the glue guy for us when he has established us on the defensive end of the floor – disrupting — whether he’s forcing turnovers or rebounding the ball and starting the fast break.”
That versatility has also played a large role with McMillan electing to play Wallace in a smaller lineup at the power forward position on a consistent basis.
This subtle switch gives Portland a leaner, quicker look on both ends and McMillan feels like the Blazers have been especially successful with that configuration.
“We play Wallace at both [small forward and power forward],” McMillan said. “He has a lot of versatility; at times he’s drawn the assignment of guarding every position on the court. We go small sometimes and put him at the power forward to try and speed the game up and we’ve been at times good with him at power forward.”
In terms of that range on the defense that McMillan alluded to, Wallace is gradually etching his imprint on the defensive end of the floor as Portland’s most tenacious perimeter defender.
Even though Portland currently ranks 10th in the NBA in scoring defense (allowing an average of 92.8 points per contest), Wallace believes there is still plenty of room for improvement.
“It’s still a process right now,” Wallace explained. “I don’t think I’ve made a big enough impact because we’ve had letdowns on defense. I think it’s still a struggle for us, it’s still something we’re adjusting to as far as the defensive principles and getting accustomed to everybody defensively.”
Coach McMillan believes that the pressure shouldn’t rest solely on Wallace; this team needs to step up as a group with Wallace leading the charge.
Sometimes, according to McMillan, Wallace’s aggressiveness on defense does backfire and the Blazers’ coach acknowledged that Wallace’s teammates have to be ready to cover for him just in case his gamble defensively doesn’t pay off.
“It’s not one guy.” McMillan said. “It’s got to be team defense. [Wallace] is a guy that takes chances. He gets some of those [chances] but he misses some of those, too. When you’re playing with a guy like Gerald, the team has to be alert. He will look to shoot the gap in the passing lanes and take a chance and gamble and that’s ok if your teammates are aware of what you’re doing.”
At 15-13 Portland currently sits at eighth in the Western Conference, and while they’ve had their struggles (especially on the road with a conference-worst 4-10 record) the Blazers find themselves right in the thick of the congested West playoff hunt. With a little more seasoning, Wallace believes this team is starting to come together and execute better on both ends of the floor.
According to Wallace, it all starts with effort on defense.
“We’ve had our setbacks, but for this team as much offense as we’ve got and as talented as we are offensively, I think we’re really good when our defense is picking up,” Wallace told HOOPSWORLD. “When we’re aggressive on the defensive end it really sparks our offense. When we’re lackadaisical on the defensive end, our offense struggles and it takes us out of what we want to do: which is be an up tempo style team where we force turnovers and get out in the open court.
“There have been some struggles, especially on the road so far this season,” Wallace explained. “When you’re on the road you become a half-court team, when you’re at home you’re more of an up-tempo team, and I think we’ve struggled at times trying to play half-court ball. That’s being adjusted, though.”
On the flip side, while Wallace is certainly valuable to Portland’s title hopes this season, that doesn’t mean he’s irreplaceable. With a player option on his contract and young Nicolas Batum waiting in the wings, Wallace could decide to go elsewhere and Portland wouldn’t necessarily be without a plan B.
That being said, it’s highly doubtful Wallace hits the open market with $9.5 million owed to him by the Blazers next season. Even if he does, or if there is movement come the March 15th trading deadline, the brass in Portland has made it clear that resigning the restricted Batum will be a top priority.
Regardless of pending offseason decisions, right now Wallace brings an intensity and defensive mentality that has fueled these Blazers to become one of the top squads in the loaded Western Conference.