Through two preseason games, we appear to be a little bit closer to understanding how Rasheed Wallace will fit into the Celtics' system.
So far, the C's newcomer has contributed 19 points and 14 rebounds in the opening week of October action, and it appears that the C's have a bona fide spark plug that should provide a tremendous boost off the bench this season.
And it appears that the bench is where he'll stay.
This summer, there was a bit of a dilemma facing the Celtics, in the eyes of some: How would Doc Rivers put Sheed to use? Was he the new starting center in Beantown, or did the C's front office just spend the entirety of their $5.8 million mid-level exception on a sixth man?
After a couple of games, that issue appears to be resolved. Wallace's contributions have not gone unnoticed, but at the same time, there's no room for him in the Celtics' starting five. He's going to make a great backup forward in Boston — nothing more. Kevin Garnett is still the team's floor leader at power forward, and as the team's lone true center, Kendrick Perkins will remain in his starting role and man the paint.
Wallace's main function in the Celtics' offense is to spread the floor. He brings scoring range not often seen in a 6-foot-11 post guy — with his ability to hit a shot from anywhere on the court, he's going to make the Celtics a tougher team to defend this season.
"Rasheed’s ability to stretch the floor will be amazing when he plays with [Perkins or Garnett]," Rivers said on WEEI this week. "It doesn’t really matter which one he plays with — he still stretches the floor, he has the ability to take 5s out."
With Perkins on the floor, Rivers is absolutely correct — Sheed will spread the Celtics' offense out perfectly, creating opportunities for shooters all over the floor. With KG playing the four and Sheed coming off the bench to play center, however, things get a little trickier.
The floor can only take so much spreading. Wallace and Garnett are both perimeter-oriented players on offense — they'd much rather be putting up mid-range jump shots (and in Wallace's case, some even longer ones, too) then driving the lane for a dunk. With both guys on the floor at once, the Celtics run the risk of losing the center role altogether.
Wallace hasn't changed one bit since arriving in Boston. He's still a gunner. he was 2-for-5 in limited minutes in the C's preseason opener against Houston, 1-for-3 from beyond the arc; then, on Friday night against the Knicks, he was 5-for-12 overall and 3-for-9 from long range. He's not willing to modify his game to become a center, and after 14 years in the NBA, there's no reason to expect otherwise.
With both Wallace and Garnett on the floor, there will be a lot of long jump shots, and not all of them are going to fall in. And with those two guys on the perimeter, who will get the rebounds on their missed jumpers? The C's need a real center in the paint for that role, and that's where Kendrick Perkins comes in.
There's no debate that Wallace will be a huge boost to the Celtics this season. His length will be an asset on defense and on the boards, his size will cause matchup nightmares, and his energy will inspire the whole team. But the C's need to be cautious about using him incorrectly.
To compete in the Eastern Conference, every team needs a strong post presence on both ends of the floor. When you're looking at opposing centers like Dwight Howard in Orlando and Shaquille O'Neal in Cleveland, that much is clear. And Perkins, with his physical nature and imposing 280-pound frame, will bring that presence.
There will be a lot of pressure on Kendrick Perkins this season. The Celtics have more big men than ever before, but only one is the center that can lead this team in the low post.
As for Wallace, he will be the cream of the team's backup forward crop. No shame in that.
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