During his time as a New Jersey Net, Gerald Wallace had more often been discussed in relation to the lottery pick given up by general manager Billy King in order to obtain his services, with the veteran's actual game sliding into the background of discussion. The debate and the need for it made sense at the time; we as Nets fans had gotten so used to thinking of our players more as assets and trade chips than how they could improve the play on the court, and as far as we knew, the grand prize was still waiting to be traded out of Orlando. That all has thankfully come to an end, the Brooklyn Nets have put together a finished roster, and we can start thinking of players as players again. So how do we evaluate Gerald Wallace as a basketball player?
The immediate thing anyone will notice about Gerald Wallace's game is its lack of an off switch. For those still watching as the Nets tanked out their final, waning days in New Jersey, it was obvious that the man they call "Crash" had well earned that moniker. As star point guard Deron Williams coasted through his "never asked for" final games in Newark (or sat them out entirely), Gerald Wallace was ballin' so hard that he injured himself. Wallace even threatened to undermine the Nets not-so-subtle plans to tank out the season (ironically, in order to preserve the pick they had traded to get him), as he insisted on playing in the Nets' ultimately meaningless final game in New Jersey when he well could have rested and avoided a possible further injury. That relentless desire to play hard every night is a great quality for the Nets to have on their roster and will hopefully rub off on the rest of the team.
Where concerns come in is when we consider just exactly how long Gerald Wallace has been in the league and how much he could conceivably be expected to contribute as his 4-year contract nears expiration. Though he just turned 30 this summer, Wallace has more years to his credit than many realize; having been drafted directly out of high school, Wallace was a rookie on that 2001-2002 Sacramento Kings team, that if not for some completely shady officiating, would have gone on to face those upstart Jason Kidd-led Nets. When Wallace's current deal expires, he will be 34, and for a player that relies more on pure energy as opposed to a consistent jump shot, it's hard to see him still contributing at a high level without his body breaking down. The Brooklyn Nets, however, are clearly in "win now" mode, so they will take 2 or 3 years of a still just-past-prime Gerald Wallace even if down the road the large size of Wallace's contract comes back to bite them.
For this coming season, Wallace's presence in the starting lineup is surely a positive thing, provided he's able to stay clear of any serious injury (said everyone about every player ever). On a roster with many question marks on the defensive end, Gerald Wallace is as close to a sure thing as the Nets will get on that side of the court. Wallace has long been considered one of the better defensive wings in the league, and even less athletic players like Paul Pierce have shown that it's possible to remain a reliable defender even as a player reaches his mid-30s. Wallace's steady rebounding and ability to play the power forward position will also come in handy, particularly when the Nets have to match up against the growing amount of possible small-ball lineups popping up around the league.
Where the Nets will need to ask more of Wallace than might be expected is on the offensive end, particularly around the perimeter. Though the Nets retooled enough so that Wallace will never have to be more than a 3rd option on offense, Wallace's ability to hit the open three will be crucial to maintaing the kind of court spacing that will allow Brook Lopez to operate down low. This becomes even more important when Kris Humphries is on the court, who the Nets most certainly can not rely on to stretch the floor. This seems perfectly doable; Wallace is a 32% 3-point shooter for his career, but this is where age once again comes into the picture. Some players, such as Jason Kidd, improve their three-point shot with age as it becomes one of the last offensive tools they can rely on given their disappearing athleticism; others fall off completely and never recover. The Nets will need Wallace to shoot the three at a decent clip if they want their offense to be top tier.
In the end, Gerald Wallace's workmanlike game and hustle will be a great asset in Brooklyn, not just on the court, but for the fans' affections as well. Brook Lopez's mental concentration often comes into question, as does Deron Williams' motivation; one thing Nets fans will never have to question will be Gerald Wallace's heart. Already in the pre-season we have witnessed Gerald Wallace diving into the stands after lose balls, minutes into a meaningless un-televised game in Atlantic City. The Brooklyn fans will love the energy "Crash" brings to the court, and the Nets' play should benefit as well.