I spoke the other night on Rant Sports Radio about the differences between this year’s Brooklyn Nets team as compared to years past and one major reason is the leadership roles on the team as well as the intensity and level of play. It all starts with guys like Gerald Wallace, who, on the defensive end, has a huge presence and sets a tone that trickles down to the other members of the Nets team.
Wallace’s nickname is “Crash” for a reason: his many years of diving around the court without any regard for his body to save a ball to change a single possession for his team. Wallace’s “warrior” mentality has been something that has endeared him to his coaches and teammates throughout the years and something the Nets have truly lacked for years.
Billy King traded a top five pick for the rights to Wallace last year at the trading deadline knowing he needed someone to bring some energy and attitude to a team sorely lacking in both. He also helped lure Deron Williams to resign with the Nets in the off-season. King knew that Wallace is one of the most explosive athletes in the NBA and would help right away.
The idea that Wallace is an “enforcer” or “tough guy” for the Nets is not a bad thing when the team he now plays for has been softer than Cottenelle for the last five years. The organization was broken down to its core to allow for free agent signings and the talent was one step above the D-League.
Wallace turned that reputation and attitude into a new four-year, $40 million contract with the Nets at the age of 30 and the Nets are reaping the benefits of it ever since. The stat line will never overwhelm the average NBA fan, but players who play with him and against him know his value to a team.
The importance that Wallace has for the Nets cannot be measured by just being the “enforcer” on the team because it is probably the most underrated position on any team, although it stands out more with the Nets. This year, the Nets are 11-5 right now and without Wallace in the lineup, out because of an opening night ankle injury on opening night, the team is just 4-3.
The Nets team gives up 90.7 ppg 2ndt in NBA) with Wallace in the lineup and an astounding 104 ppg with him not in the lineup.
The losses to the Miami Heat, Golden State Warriors and Minnesota Timberwolves early in the year come right to mind and if the Nets had Wallace on the floor, I do not think they would have lost all three games.
Another aspect of this versatile players game is his shot making ability and it showed just last week when the Nets beat the Orlando Magic in Orlando while Wallace dropped 5-for-6 from 3-point range and stifled the Magic’s forwards all game. The five 3-pointers were a career high for Wallace, but playing with Williams as his point guard changes things quickly on the offensive end.
The following night, the Nets went to Miami to exact some revenge from an earlier season blowout loss without Wallace, and the Nets hung tough this time and dominated play for the entire first half taking a 59-50 halftime lead against the defending world champions. In the second half, the Heat turned up the pressure and the Nets succumbed following a horrendous fourth quarter shooting display.
Rod Boone of Newsday asked him about the “gap” between the Heat and the Nets.
“What gap?” Wallace said after the Nets loss. “I think we are just as good as them. We know what we have to do offensively. We were in the game pretty much until we started with unforced turnovers and giving them easy baskets. We controlled this game. We had an opportunity to win and we should have won.”
This is the type of player I want on my team and I think I can speak for all GM’s around the league that if you could clone a player’s heart and intangibles, that player would be “CRASH” Wallace.
John Paolantonio is a Featured Columnist for RantSports.com, covering the Brooklyn Nets. Follow John on twitter @pingshoops and like his page on FaceBook for all of his latest articles, thoughts, and rants.