NBA Top 50: Rasheed Wallace (No. 34)
Rasheed Wallace is not underrated (whatever that means) -- he actually pulled as many MVP votes (one) as Paul Pierce last season. But 'Sheed is vastly misunderstood. We think of 'Sheed's baseline jumper, his three-ball ... his barking at the refs. But Wallace's best value over the past decade has been as a defensive anchor.
Ben Wallace received most of the credit for Detroit's defensive resurgence in the early part of the this millennium, and Tayshaun Prince gets plenty of dap as well. But in the absence of Big Ben, 'Sheed has ably filled in the gap in the frontcourt. Wallace quietly blocks a good number of shots (he's the 50th best shot-blocker of all time), hits the boards hard, and doesn't foul much.
It's weird with Detroit -- and this sullies the good names of Chauncey Billups and Rip Hamilton, too: dishing out credit for the Pistons' long run of defensive excellence is boggling exercise. Again, Prince seems to get much of the credit these days; that's fine, Tay is a fine defender. But don't we owe Wallace some deference here?
Only once has 'Sheed played on a below-average defensive team -- his rookie 1995-96 Bullets. Since then, he has been featured on some of the best defensive teams of our era -- the late-90s Blazers and the mid-oughts Pistons. Portland has some strong defenders in Dale Davis and Scottie Pippen. Pippen was the coach on the floor, but 'Sheed was the anchor, the linchpin of the D. His ability on that end of the ball got his team to one quarter from a de facto championship. Later, in Detroit, it did help his team get past the Lakers.
On offense, Wallace isn't nearly the effective player he appears to be. He's wildly inconsistent, one of the few modern All-Stars who can put up a goose egg any given night. If Vince Carter is in love with his jumper, Wallace desperately wants to have sex with his own. I'd blame the age for 'Sheed's unwillingness to drive to the basket and draw some fouls, but Wallace has always played this way.
As such, his shooting efficiency is pretty low for a featured player. Lucky for Detroit, Wallace isn't the type of fellow who demands a certain amount of shots; Billups and Rip more than neutralize 'Sheed's inefficiencies. Wallace also helps by not turning the ball over and stretched the opposing defense for his mates. But as I said, though our view of Wallace is as a range-y shooter, a Euro-style big -- his reign has been rejectionary in nature.
Wallace turns 34 in a few weeks. It's expected he'll be part of the bait should Joe Dumars pull the trigger on his re-tooling effort. A free agent next summer, Wallace will likely command a double-figure, 3-4 year contract, despite his age. It might be for all the wrong reasons, but that won't matter in the end, assuming 'Sheed can keep up his defensive effort.