[From the Diaries. Just how bad has Ben Wallace been this year? I'd consider this to be a pretty nice salvage. -Matt]
I've been thinking about writing mid-season player reviews for awhile now. I'll start with Ben Wallace because looking back through my passed diaries, I found this one from a little more than a year ago. Last year at this time, Wallace had the worst plus/minus of any starter in the league. I honestly had forgotten how bad Ben Wallace was prior to the All-Star break. He wasn't great after the All-Star break either, but his FG% rose from 43.7% to 8.1% after the break, the team was winning nearly every game, his plus/minus improved, and he performed well against Shaq in the playoffs. But after reading that diary again, I could remember just how frustrated I was with Wallace a year ago. (Especially because I never wanted him to begin with; signing Przybilla instead to split time at center with Chandler would have been my choice, but that probably would have turned into its own disaster).
Unfortunately the lack of lift that was Wallace's problem last year has been even worse this year. He can't or simply doesn't jump very often anymore. His ability to finish inside and his defensive rebounding have only further declined. Over the last 5-10 games or so he's actually been trying to dunk the ball more, which has improved his FG% some, but it's not enough. There also hasn't been a corresponding improvement on the defensive boards. He's now grabbing 6% fewer defensive rebounds than his last year in Detroit (That's about 2 rebounds per game). Two years ago he would have led the team in defensive rebounding by a wide margin. Now he's the 4th or maybe the 5th best defensive rebounder on the team, behind Thomas, Noah, and Sefolosha (Thabo nearly matches Wallace's DReb%, while playing guard). He would clearly be behind Nocioni as well if I didn't suspect that Nocioni got alot of his boards by jumping over his teammates' backs. I wonder if Nocioni grabs a rebound by jumping over a teammate's back more times than Wallace lets the opposing center jump over his back for the offensive rebound? Still, his play has really only significantly declined in two areas, finishing inside and defensive rebounding. His offensive rebounding, turnovers, and steals haven't declined, and his blocks only declined only slightly this year. However, his FG% and defensive rebounding have declined to the point that the things he still does well can no longer compensate for his deficiencies.
Last year Ben Wallace was an important to the team because the Bulls had no one on the roster that was better. Brown (-8), Sweetney (-3), and Allen (-4) were all significantly worse than a declining Wallace. And if Wallace was simply playing up to last year's standard, he would still be holding his own. Using individual Offensive and Defensive rating and adjusting for usage, Wallace was plus 2 points per 100 possessions last year. This year Wallace is negative 12 points per 100 possessions. Hinrich, Gordon, and Deng also are all still at least 10 points worse than last season, but unlike those players Wallace has little hope of recovering and is easily replaced by other players on the roster. This year the team has the players to replace Wallace. Noah (+0), Thomas (-3), and Smith (+7) are all playing significantly better than Wallace (-12) this year and could easily absorb his minutes. A trade that simply got rid of his salary wouldn't hurt the team at all this year, and would have the long term benefit of development time for Thomas and Noah. He's simply addition by subtraction at this point.