Why Ben Wallace could leave Pistons
If free agent Ben Wallace signs with another team this summer, his recent stretch of 9 games through Feb. 7 might be the reason. He’s averaged about 38 minutes a night, but only four field goal attempts (FGA). It seems his only shots come off of offensive rebounds and alley-oops. Departed coach Larry Brown, for all his faults, took a real interest in helping Ben become a complete player. Under Brown’s predecessor, Rick Carlisle, Ben averaged a paltrey 6 FGA; he averaged 9 in each of his two seasons under Brown. (Click here for Ben’s year-by-year stats.)
Brown gave him touches, encouraged him to shoot when open and within his range, and gave him opportunities in the low post, particularly early in games. Ben was reasonably effective, but more importantly, he was getting better. Brown viewed him as a work in progress and thus didn’t have a cow if he shot an airball from 15 or lost the handle on a drive. What was important is that he was DRIVING. He was using his quickness and some new moves to get around his defender, and while he still had lots of work to do in finishing those drives successfully, he was on the right track. Ben was part of the offense in a variety of ways, and though he wasn't a consistent shooter, occasional hot streaks from mid-range helped the Pistons win some crucial playoff games.
It’s hard to fault Flip Saunders for anything, particularly at the offensive end. The Pistons have improved dramatically in scoring, FG percentage and trey percentage. They’re also more watchable than under Brown. They run more, and in the halfcourt the offense is more free-flowing and guys are free to take good shots that materialize early in the possession. Ben remains somewhat in the mix as a picker, cutter and occasional passer, but his FGAs are back where they were in the (depressing for Ben) Carlisle years, when the Pistons played mostly 4 against 5 on offense.
Ben is one of the smartest guys in the league, and by now he’s surely figured out that he has little chance to, as the Army Reserves commercial says, “Be all that you can be” under Flip. Will Ben be content with a max contract and a minimal offensive role? Or will he listen to offers from teams that will give him a chance to reach his full potential?
The reason I said “little” rather than “no” chance of fulfilling his potential under Flip is that there’s still a chance. Flip certainly appreciates Ben’s myriad contributions to the Pistons’ cause, and he’d be delighted if Ben could average 13-14 points and 10 FGA — if it’s within the flow of Flip’s tried-and-true offensive schemes and philosophy. The problem, which I’ll develop in a future post or essay, is that Ben is uniquely ill-suited to score in the flow. He shoots adequately from certain spots on the floor under certain ideal conditions. But making instant shooting decisions or instinctive catch-and-shoot or catch-dribble-and-shoot plays are not, at present, part of his game. As far as offense goes, I regard Ben as one of the worst-coached players in NBA history. It seems no one has worked with him on the types of drills that would help him develop an IN-THE-FLOW mid-range game of catch-and-shoot, stop-and-pop, dribble-and-shoot, fake-and-drive and other moves and shots that would take advantage of his quickness, explosion and judgment. Instead, he practices with a worthless oversized ball, as if his problem was a weak shooting wrist (and why practice with a ball that's considerably different from the one used in games?), and shoots countless repetitions from the same spot. (At least that's what I saw when dim-witted Bill Walton hailed Ben's pre-game drills as footage of same rolled on ESPN one night last season.) That is how NOT to develop touch, feel and instincts. That’s how you guarantee that you don’t.