The Celtics have now had a week to celebrate the arrival of free agent Rasheed Wallace.
Wallace has been wined, dined, signed and welcomed to Boston — he
will be a Celtic this season, this much we know for sure. The hard part
is figuring out how to utilize him.
That burden rests with head coach Doc Rivers, and luckily for Doc, he’s got a veteran big man willing to do whatever the team needs from him.
“If Doc wants me to come off the bench, then that’s fine, I’ll come off the bench,” Wallace told NESN last week.
But what should Doc want? That’s a tougher question. The coach himself is downplaying it, but that won’t make the issue go away.
“We’ll get to camp and work it out there,” Rivers told the Boston Herald last week.
“We’re just going to put our best five on the floor, as always. But
it’s going to work for everyone. It’s a long season. I hope they all
play 20 minutes a night and stay fresh after what we went through last
Fair enough. And given the team’s current lack of depth, Rivers is
right — all his big men will play 20 minutes a night. Wallace, Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins will all see plenty of time.
But when these Celtics take the floor for the final possession of a
big game, they need to put their actual best five on the floor — this
can’t come down to guesswork. So by the time the season tips off in
November, Doc had better know which five he can trust.
So who’s got the inside track on the starting center position, the
veteran Wallace or the youngster Perkins? On the surface, both have
their merits. Wallace is an accomplished big man with a ring; he plays
solid interior defense and shoots well from outside. Perkins has a ring
of his own; he’s the established center in Boston that the rest of the
lineup’s grown accustomed to. And at 24, he’s still improving.
On the surface — if you simply ask “Who’s better?” — the Sheed/Perk
race is a wash. They’re both good players. But if you look at the
nuances of this comparison, you’ll see that each player brings a very
different game to the table.
Wallace is a chameleon. When you need a rebound, he’s a center; when
you need a big shot, he’s a shooting guard; when you need a stop, he
can guard anyone on the floor. The Celtics targeted him because of his
versatility, and he brings a lot of different skills to the men in
A lot of those skills, however, are made redundant by the presence of Garnett.
Like Wallace, Garnett prefers the 15-foot jumper to the low-post
bucket. Like Wallace, Garnett’s greatest asset on defense is his
length, not brute force. Like Wallace, Garnett has the energy to grab a
rebound from anywhere on the floor.
To call ‘Sheed a poor man’s KG would be an insult to a great player, so let’s reverse things: KG is a rich man’s ‘Sheed. (As Irving Berlin once wrote, “Anything you can do, I can do better.”)
Putting both in your starting five would almost be overkill. They’re both good players, but do you really need both at once?
No, the better formula is to leave Perkins in the lineup and keep the NBA’s best starting five intact.
What Perkins brings to the Celtics is 280 pounds of muscle, and
that’s something no other Celtic from this season or last can boast.
(Sorry, Glen Davis — I said “muscle.”)
Perkins gives the Celtics a physical presence down low, someone that can match up with Dwight Howard, Shaquille O’Neal or Andrew Bynum with no fear. And come next spring, you’ll be happy the Celtics have the right guy for those matchups.
While Wallace is a great player, Perkins is a true center. Great teams win with good centers.
Wallace is a tremendous addition to a Celtics team that needed one
more solid player. He’ll be a big help in the Celtics’ bid for banner
No. 18 — but as it turns out, he’ll be most helpful from the bench.
He appears to understand that. If he can stay happy in that role all season, he’s got a good shot at another ring.
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