When the Charlotte Bobcats traded Gerald Wallace last February, he was in the middle of a down season, scoring just 15.6 points per game with a PER of 15.0, while posting a True Shooting Percentage (TS%) of 53 percent in 48 games. Upon his arrival in Portland, Wallace was immediately able to return to his past level of success. Despite seeing his minutes drop slightly, Wallace was able to not only match his scoring with the Bobcats, but exceed it by 0.2 points per game. Additionally, Wallace's PER rose dramatically to 18.9 while his .590 True Shooting was also higher with the Blazers.
The difference can be explained by the Portland coaching staff looking at what Wallace didn't do well in Charlotte and taking it out of his offensive repertoire. Specifically, they stopped letting him work away from the basketball and instead put the ball in his hands. With the Bobcats, Wallace came off of screens 13.3 percent of the time, making them his third most common source of offense. The problem was that Wallace faired poorly when catching the ball off a screen, shooting 35.7 percent and scoring 0.731 points per possession, putting him in the bottom 25 percent among all NBA players:
Wallace's biggest issue when coming off of screens is that he doesn't get his feet set before shooting jumpers. This often leads to a shot with Wallace fading away from the basket. When that happens, the chances of Wallace's shot going in drop dramatically. Despite the obvious hole in his game, the Bobcats continued to go to Wallace off of screens in sets where he was the clear first option.
The Blazers cut curls out of Wallace's game completely. In 23 games in Portland, Wallace came off of screens 3.9 percent of the time. Coach Nate McMillan was able to replace those possessions with isolation possessions, where Wallace was much more effective. Wallace was put in isolation situations 13.3 percent of the time, a jump from his time in Charlotte, where he had already been effective in isos. Wallace shot 54.5 percent of the time while scoring 1.062 PPP, putting him in the top 6 percent among NBA players:
When watching Wallace isolate defenders, you start to see the type of problems that he presents to opposing teams. Wallace has a unique combination of size, speed and ball handling that really makes him a tough cover. If opponents defend him with someone who can match his speed, he will more often than not out-physical his man and use that size advantage to get into the paint. When facing a defender capable of matching his size and strength, Wallace will use his speed to get around his defender and get to the rim.
McMillan was able to recognize that Wallace's strengths lie here, where he can take advantage of the mismatches he creates, rather than letting him work off of the basketball, come off of screens and settle for outside shots. This was a great adjustment and also an example of how teams are able to look at a player's past situation and find ways to make a player more successful. Portland's coaching staff found a way to utilize Wallace's skills, and if they continue to let him exploit mismatches, he should be just as successful when basketball resumes.
Sebastian Pruiti is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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