Gerald Wallace played 31 1/2 minutes on Saturday night without taking a shot. It didn't register as a super big deal at the time, because there was other stuff to talk about — namely, his current team (the Brooklyn Nets) beating his former team (the Charlotte Bobcats), point guard Deron Williams (32 points and six assists) continuing his post-All-Star surge, Reggie Evans posting his league-leading eighth 20-rebound game of the season and the Nets adding a half-game to their lead over the Chicago Bulls for the East's No. 4 seed (they added another on Sunday, thanks to the Detroit Pistons).
As has been the case for most of this Nets season, Wallace flew under the radar a bit in the immediate aftermath of the game, even though he'd clearly passed up some open looks en route to ending the game with just one point after splitting a pair of free throws. That changed a bit after the fact, though, as the 30-year-old small forward discussed the circumstances behind the rare gun-shy game — just the fourth time in nine seasons since becoming an NBA starter he'd failed to take a shot and only the second such game in which he'd played more than 12 minutes — with Tim Bontemps of the New York Post.
The oh-fer served as the nadir of a dreadful post-All-Star stretch for Wallace, and he pulled no punches in his self-assessment — he's flat-out shook when he gets the ball these days:
“My confidence is totally gone,” Wallace told The Post Saturday. “I’m just at the point now ... I’m in a situation where I feel like if I miss, I’m going to get pulled out of the game, you know what I’m saying? So my whole concept is just that you can’t come out of the game if you’re not missing shots.
“I think I lost the confidence of the coaching staff and my teammates. So my main thing is those guys can score, so instead of thinking about it so much, just trying to focus on defense, try to move the ball and get those guys shots.”
First thing's first: It's pretty understandable that Wallace has zero confidence in his offensive game right now, because there's not much cause for confidence. He wasn't exactly an offensive dynamo earlier in the season, but he's fallen off a cliff since mid-February.
Before the All-Star break, Wallace was averaging 8.9 points per game on 43.2 percent shooting and connecting at a 35.1 percent clip from beyond the arc — not stellar numbers and down from his career per-minute averages (15.6 points and 7.3 rebounds per 36 minutes entering the season, 10.2 and 6 before the All-Star break), but everybody expected his scoring numbers to drop off on a team featuring Williams, Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson. But fourth option or no, his post-All-Star decline's been just awful — he's kicking in just 6.5 points per game, shooting 33.8 percent from the floor and 64.6 percent from the free-throw line (by far his worst performance at the line in a half-dozen years), and has made only seven of his last 47 attempts (a woeful 14.9 percent) from 3-point range.
And it's not just that his jumper's been janky; the misery's been pretty well spread-out, according to NBA.com's shot location stats. Yes, Wallace's accuracy has dropped by nearly 10 percent on corner 3-pointers and by just under 25 percent on above-the-break triples, but his field-goal percentage is also down just under 12 percent on shots taken inside the restricted area; on top of that, he's getting a significantly higher share of his interior tries blocked, as Bontemps noted.
About 85 percent of Wallace's shots this season have come from one of those three floor locations — his highest mark since five years ago, when he basically lived at the rim and rarely fired from deep with the Bobcats — so if he's not getting buckets at the rim or from beyond the arc, there's not a whole lot of offensive punch he can provide an offense. (Wallace has been a league-average-or-below mid-range shooter virtually his entire career, peaking at a 38.4 percent success rate between the paint and the arc during the '06-'07 season.) While he's a decent facilitator, dishing just over three assists per 36 minutes of floor time, he's also turning the ball on a higher percentage of possessions than he has in eight years.
Basically, there just aren't a whole lot of positive things that are likely to happen when Wallace has the ball right now, and it's difficult to see a scenario in which he turns that around significantly in time for the Nets to do any real postseason damage. Brooklyn coach P.J. Carlesimo said he'll look to "post [Wallace] up" to get him jump-started, which seems like a less-than-stellar plan considering Wallace is shooting 35.5 percent on post-ups and producing just 0.58 points per post possession (158th in the league), according to Synergy Sports Technology's play-tracking data.
Synergy's numbers shows what the eye has long told us about Wallace — that when it comes to scoring, he's most effective as a scorer in transition and getting to the basket on off-ball cuts. And Carlesimo acknowledged that, too, saying that the Nets "have to get him some other things, on the wing, on the fast break, move him without the ball" to try to shake him loose. But it doesn't seem to make a whole lot of sense for Brooklyn to juggle the offense too much to get Wallace involved — after all, the version of the Nets that plays at the league's second-slowest pace and ranks in the bottom five in fast-break points per game still boasts the league's ninth most efficient offense, and has actually been scoring at a better per-possession rate since the All-Star Game than before it, even with Wallace's struggles.
Sure, providing some more flexibility within half-court sets to move off the ball rather than spotting up on the perimeter could help get Wallace some easy buckets, but if that at all messes with the spacing (hey, sometimes defenses even guard guys who can't shoot) that's enabled Williams and Lopez to go great guns offensively of late, is it worth it? Yes, in the long run, you want to get Wallace back to being a productive member of a competitive offense, considering you're paying him $30.3 million over the next three seasons, but returning him to someone who could provide 15 and 10 in a playoff series seems increasingly like a pipe dream irrespective of how Carlesimo might tinker with the offense.
Perhaps the biggest bummer of all is that Wallace clearly knows this, and that despite how many shots he gets up or how much time he puts into trying to work into a rhythm, he's left in a position where all he can really do is try not to mess things up too much. More from Bontemps:
“I’ve been working and I’ve been shooting, but it’s hard,” Wallace said. “Regardless of how much work I’m doing on my shot, the fact of the matter is it is what it is.
“I’ve been in the league 12 years. Am I mad about not being out on the court? Am I mad about not making shots? Yeah. But my main thing is I’m trying to stay on the court. I know I can play defense, make plays for the other guys and try to do some things to help me stay on the court.”
You don't like to hear the repeated emphasis of "help me stay on the court" — if you don't have it, Gerald, you're hurting more than you're helping, which is why the minutes go down — but credit Wallace for trying to turn into the skid and focus on having a bigger impact as a passer and defender (where he's done a pretty sound job holding down opposing small forwards this year) as he tries to get right. If he can, he could provide an extra surprise spark that could help the Nets get past the opening round and make a good showing in Round 2; if he can't ... well, considering the way the Nets' offense has operated without his help and the fact that the Miami Heat loom in a prospective second-round matchup, that really might not matter too much.
Well, not in the grand scheme of the title chase, that is. In the larger picture, it'll matter to the die-hards who fell in love with the full-court, full-throttle game "Crash" played in Charlotte, who miss seeing it at its apex, and who now can't help wondering — as we watch him struggle at the rim and throw up flat jumpers — if maybe the foot, ankle, knee, rib and heel injuries he's had this year, and 12 full years of those dings and worse, have finally come home to roost. It'll matter to us, and it'll suck.