Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Like Tupac and zombies, Rasheed Wallace has shown the world he will always come back.
The first time I saw Rasheed Wallace shuffling around in his ill-fitting Knicks practice uniform, my thoughts turned to Adam Sandler. Every time I see a commercial for a new Adam Sandler movie, and I see that pudgy, sagging form on the TV, I sink into despair: "God, he's so old and sad...and tired and bloated. He's just going through the motions. What's the point anymore? Don't you care about your legacy? God, I feel old. I need a drink."
Unlike Sandler, Sheed had the good sense not to seek out work the past few years....then, suddenly, he was back. As a Knick. And it became clear as the preseason dragged on that he would make the roster, despite the fact that everyone involved admitted he wasn't in basketball shape. His role on this team seemed destined to be little more than an extra assistant coach and a possible bridge partner for Marcus Camby, Jason Kidd and Kurt Thomas.
And then the season started. These first 22 games have been as weird as they've been wonderful; so many of the team's accomplishments defy belief, even now. The Knicks took a below-average offense, added a point guard who was run out of Portland and a bunch of dudes on the wrong side of 35, lost one of their best offensive players in the preseason...and they have produced the second-best offense in the league. The Knicks beat Miami by 20 points at the Garden, lost their best player just before the rematch in Miami...and won by 20 points. Still, none of these accomplishments, as wild as they've been, can quite match the believe-it-or-not shock value of the Sheed Renaissance.
Before this season, Sheed was last seen plying his trade with the 2009-2010 Celtics, inspiring so much hatred among Celtics fans that Bill Simmons wrote an entire article to make the case for Sheed as his least favorite Celtic ever. I think it's fair to say that any player who earns the title of "Bill Simmons' least favorite Celtic ever" will have a permanent seat of honor reserved for him on the Knicks' bench. Is it any wonder Knick fans chanted the man's name before he ever set foot on the Garden floor as a Knick?
Following that first Miami game, Sheed's role seemed clear: he would be called on at the end of blowouts, to the merriment of everyone involved. I had even taken to calling him the Human Victory Blunt. Then the story took a turn for the weird. Despite all the talk that he wasn't in game shape, Woodson kept feeding Sheed minutes. Marcus Camby's injuries never seemed to heal (he may or may not still be alive), and Sheed became Tyson Chandler's primary back-up, playing in 28% of the team's minutes so far.
Though he resembles the Rasheed Wallace of old in the (somewhat doughier) flesh, the Sheed playing for the Knicks right now is a different player than at any other point in his 15-year career - for better or for worse. Let's break down Sheed 2.0:
That delightful Bill Simmons article I linked above contained a sidebar with some interesting facts concerning Sheed's rebounding. Apparently, Sheed 1.0 had the lowest per-48-minute rebounding average of any player in NBA history who had played more than 1000 games. Sheed has put together a career that should at least put him in the Hall of Fame conversation, but rebounding has never really been his game.
But who cares about Sheed 1.0? The new-and-improved Sheed has been a rebounding machine for a Knicks team that has sorely needed that skill. Though he hasn't done much on the offensive glass, Rasheed's 30.1% defensive rebounding percentage leads the team, and his 16.5% total rebounding percentage is second only to Chandler. Watching a 38-year old, supposedly out-of-shape Sheed consistently beat out younger kids for rebounds, despitre the fact that he can't jump over a broom at this point, has truly been a joy to watch.
This new glass-eating Sheed 2.0 bears almost no resemblance to the earlier model Sheed. That 30.1% DRB rate is a full eight percentage points higher than his next best season, and almost double his career average of 18.9%. In being asked to replace Camby's minutes, Sheed has effectively replaced much of Camby's defensive value, which has been a Godsend for the thin Knicks' front-court. Sheed is currently fourth among regulars in PER and he actually leads the team in defensive rating, per Basketball Reference:
The DRtg statistic measures opponent's points per 100 possessions, so naturally a lower score is better. Sheed's 98 DRtg would put him the top ten in the NBA, if he had enough minutes to qualify. A player's ORtg, on the other hand, measures the points his team scores per 100 possessions, so a higher score is preferable. Which brings me to...
Both Sheed's O and D ratings look like outliers, don't they? But these ratings seem to fit pretty well into what we've been seeing from the Knicks, don't they? When Sheed enters a game, the scoring stops...for both teams.
There's no easy way around this: Sheed has pretty much been a black hole on offense. And if you've watched the Knicks this year, you probably already know the reason.
It's all those damn threes!
You're not mistaken, Knicks fans. Sheed be chuckin'. His usage rate is third on the team - behind only Melo and Ray Felton - and would mark his career high. Basically, Sheed 2.0 is using way more of his team's possessions than the earlier model, which is pretty insane when you think about it. And what is he using those possessions for? To shoot threes, of course. Nearly half of his shots this season (68 of 139) have come from downtown - downright Novak-ian.
Sheed currently leads the Knicks in three-point attempts per 36 minutes with an absurd 8.4 3PA / 36 MIN. Yes, he's actually averaging more three-point attempts than Steve Novak, who is brought in solely to shoot threes. And his .325 3p%, while not terrible, is ninth on this team; basically, any Knick shooter would be doing a better job with Sheed's attempts.
It is truly disturbing how similar Sheed's offensive profile has become to that of Steve Novak. How did this happen? It's impossible to know what the man is thinking, but as a certified Sheedologist, I've come to the conclusion that Sheed has somehow convinced himself that he is Steve Novak. Novak is Wallace! Wallace is Novak!
Don't believe me? Check out this irrefutable visual evidence:
Rasheed Wallace's contributions on defense have been so important, and the Knicks have been so successful, that it has been easy to sweep these offensive problems under the rug. But the time might come when Sheed's compulsive three-chucking costs the Knicks a lead in a close game. I'm hoping that the solution to this problem just might come in the be-goggled form of Amar'e Stoudemire. When Amar'e comes back, I'd like Woodson to pair him with Sheed whenever possible. I believe Amar'e has the kind of cache to make Sheed think twice about throwing up another contested three instead of passing the ball back to somebody who can instigate the offense. Let Pablo run the pick-and-roll with Amar'e and let Sheed camp out at the three-point line like the gunner he thinks he is. If the Knicks can establish a smoothly-running second-unit offense, they can fix one of the very few weaknesses left on this team.