Why Detroit Pistons’ Ben Wallace matches his Hall of Fame peers around the block

Detroit Free Press

Detroit Pistons star Ben Wallace’s route to induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Saturday night may not have been the most unlikely — but it’s pretty close.

The Alabama native starred at Division II Virginia Union, averaging 12.5 points and 10 rebounds a game as a senior while leading the Panthers to the 1996 Division II Final Four and being named a Division II All-American.

But he went undrafted and landed with the then-Bullets in Washington — after a tryout with the Boston Celtics and a one-week run in Italy — for 34 games in the 1996-97 season, averaging just 1.1 points in 5.8 minutes per game. Two years later, the renamed Wizards shipped him to the Magic (in a package deal for Isaac Austin, who played just three more seasons in the NBA).

SHAWN WINDSOR: One play in NBA Finals shows why Wallace to Hall of Fame is a slam dunk

BIG BEN’S CITY: Pistons great Ben Wallace personified Detroit: An underdog in an underdog city

SECOND COMING: Why Pistons’ Isaiah Stewart is a mix of Ben Wallace and Rasheed Wallace

With the Magic, Wallace started 81 games in 1999-2000 — he was up to 24.2 minutes a game, with 4.8 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks by now — but he was still deemed expendable when the Magic inked Grant Hill; Wallace and Chucky Atkins were sent north to Detroit in the sign-and-trade.

(Let’s pause here to swat down the notion that the Pistons settled for Wallace in the deal. As then-GM Joe Dumars noted to the Freep’s Jo-Ann Barnas in 2002: “We recruited Ben really hard to come here, he and Chucky Atkins both,” Dumars said. “Now the fact that we went ahead and did a sign-and-trade, that was strictly for salary-cap purposes. He was going to come anyway, because we recruited him.”)

Nevertheless, it was the best thing that could’ve happened to him.

Piston powered

As his minutes per game soared into the mid-30s with Detroit, so too did his rebounds; in his first stint with the Pistons, covering six seasons from 2001-06, Wallace averaged 12.9 boards an outing over 470 games. His first season in Detroit, he averaged 13.2 rebounds; in his second, his average dropped to 13, but it was still enough to lead the league. He repeated as the NBA’s rebound champ in 2002-03 with an average of 15.4 rebounds per game — two full boards better than the No. 2 rebounder, Minnesota’s Kevin Garnett — en route to the first of four All-Star appearances.

(Wallace’s second stint with the Pistons, covering three seasons from 2009-12, wasn’t nearly as dominant, but he still averaged 9.6 rebounds in just under 30 minutes a game.)

MITCH ALBOM: Chris Webber finally gets the gold star, but remains a mercurial figure

Of course, rebounds weren’t all he provided. Here’s a quick look at three of his most epic games as a Piston:

March 24, 2002: In the brightest spotlight — the Pistons’ first nationally televised game in 2½ seasons — Wallace was the star, pulling down 28 rebounds and adding 13 points, a steal and six blocks in 44 minutes of a 109-101 victory over the Celtics. It was as much of a statement of candidacy for Defensive Player of the Year as a player can make, and Celtics coach Jim O’Brien was ready to cast his vote, telling the Freep: “I can’t really think of anybody that would be more deserving. He’s really a guy that is very difficult to get the ball to the rim on. I can’t think of anybody off the top of my head that deserves it more.”

Nov. 20, 2002: Wallace did indeed win DPOY in 2001-02, but he wasn’t through. In a 79-68 win — yes, they played all four quarters — over the Miami Heat at The Palace of Auburn Hills, Wallace turned in a triple-double the hard way: 12 points, 19 rebounds and 10 blocked shots. (It was his second triple-double as a Piston, after a Feb. 24, 2002 outing against the Bucks in which he had 10 points, 10 blocks and 17 boards.) Six of Wallace’s blocks came in the first quarter, as Wallace demonstrated the approach that would come to define the “Goin’ to Work” era of the franchise: “A lot of people have been talking about offense and having a slow start on offense, but if we go out and don’t let people score, the offense will take care of itself.”

FLASHBACK TO 2002: Ben Wallace uses fierce defense to lead Pistons’ renaissance

April 29, 2005: No, really, it wasn’t ALL rebounds and blocks, as he demonstrated in a Game 3 of the first round of the playoffs on the road against the Philadelphia 76ers. Wallace attempted 17 shots — all 2-pointers — and made 11 of them and also shot 7-for-9 from the free-throw line, for a career-high 29 points in 44 minutes. Unfortunately for Wallace, future Piston Allen Iverson had 37 points in 48 minutes as Detroit lost, 115-104. Wallace wasn’t too distraught: “It’s tough to beat a team when you have a hand in (their) face and they hit shots,” he told the Freep. Of course, Wallace also had 16 rebounds and a block, salving any guilty conscience over his one-night run as a scorer. “I’d give all my points and rebounds up for a win,” Wallace added. And in the final two games of the series, both wins for the Pistons, Wallace totaled 23 points, 25 rebounds and three blocks.

(Wallace’s regular-season scoring high as a Piston came, improbably enough, in his second stint with the franchise; he put up 23 points — and 14 rebounds, four assists and five steals — as a 36-year-old in a 120-116 loss to the Toronto Raptors on Dec. 11, 2010, at the Palace.)

Hall call

In all, Wallace topped 20 points in a game just seven times — four in the regular season, three in the playoffs — which is fewer than 150 of the 157 Hall of Fame members who played in the NBA. (The six with fewer 20-point games: Chuck Cooper, 6; K.C. Jones, 5; Red Holzman, 4; Alex Hannum, 4; Al Cervi, 4; and Buddy Jeannette, 1.)

Indeed, Wallace’s career averages of 5.78 points, 9.6 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game (in 1,088 appearances) don’t entirely look like a Hall of Fame stat line. Here’s how he stacks up against his peers in Springfield, Massachusetts, in several key categories.

Win Shares: Wallace fares reasonably well in this advanced metric that attempts to measure the wins contributed by an individual over his career, checking in at No. 60 (out of 157) with 93.5. He’s just a few behind trade-mate Grant Hill (No. 54 with 99.9) but still ahead of fellow Pistons rebounding star Dennis Rodman (No. 67 with 89.8). (No. 1, by the way, is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, at 273.4.)

Points: That 5.7-point per-game average is third-worst all-time, and last among players in the Hall. (John Thompson II and Al McGuire, both inducted as coaches, averaged 3.5 and 4 points a game, respectively.) Even at his peak during his first run with the Pistons, Wallace averaged 7.9 points, more than only 12 Hall of Famers.

MAIZE AND WHO?: Michigan athletic director: I never apologized to Chris Webber on school’s behalf

LONG GONE: Ex-Piston Griffin talks exit from Detroit, and yes the dunking rumors

Rebounds: Wallace fares better here, ranking 44th with 9.6 boards a game, just a bit behind fellow 2021 inductee Chris Webber at 9.8. If we look at total rebounds, however, Wallace shoots up the charts; his 10,482 boards rank 28th. Wallace fares even better on the offensive and defensive rebound leaderboards: His 7,038 on defense ranks 18th, while his 3,444 on offense are 13th.

Steals: His 1.3 steals a game rank 37th, decimal points behind fellow Pistons star Dave Bing (though steals didn’t become an official stat until the 1973-74 season, midway through Bing’s career), and Wallace’s total of 1,369 ranks 27th.

Blocks: Wallace finished his career with 2,137 rejections (not counting those by the front offices in Washington and Orlando), good for 11th all-time, a couple hundred fewer than Alonzo Mourning and ahead of legends such as Garnett (2,037) and Moses Malone (1,889). It’s not a total built entirely on Wallace’s longevity, either — he’s one of only 13 members of the Hall to average at least two blocks a game. (The others: Elvin Hayes, Nate Thurmond, Bill Walton, Tim Duncan, Shaquille O’Neal, Artis Gilmore, Patrick Ewing, Dikembe Mutombo, Alonzo Mourning, David Robinson and the leader, Hakeem Olajuwon at 3.1 per game.)

Trophy case

Stats are one thing. But a great deal of Wallace’s Hall of Fame argument was his run of four NBA Defensive Player of the Year awards: 2001-02, 2002-03, 2004-05 and 2005-06. No player has won more, though Dikembe Mutombo is tied with Wallace, and Rudy Gobert and Dwight Howard are still active with three each.

Not only did Wallace win four times, but three of the four were dominant in his share of the vote:

2002: 116 points out of 120 possible, for a 96.7% share (and 116 of 120 first-place votes).

2003: 531 points out of 585 possible, for a 90.8% share (and 100 of 117 first-place votes).

2005: 339 points out of 625 possible, for a 54.2% share (and 45 of 125 first-place votes).

2006:  420 points out of 620 possible, for a 67.7% share (and 58 of 124 first-place votes).

But what about that 2003-04 season, when Wallace finished second to Metta Sandiford-Artest, who was then going by Ron Artest?

Well, Wallace had some shade in the media, noting that while he had stepped up his offensive game, the new DPOY had not: “Any time a great defender is looking at another defender, you’re going to see some things similar to yourself. There aren’t many guys who are going to take it upon themselves to go out and be a defender first and worry about the offense later.”

And, of course, “Big Ben” had the sweetest revenge of all: His Pistons bounced Artest’s Indiana Pacers in six games, with Wallace averaging 15.5 rebounds and 7.8 points, and would go on to win the NBA title in five games over the Los Angeles Lakers.

Contact Ryan Ford at rford@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @theford.

Articles You May Like

Isiah Thomas, five other ex-Detroit Pistons and Magic Johnson make NBA’s 75th anniversary team
Pistons plan to do better job disrupting Zach LaVine’s rhythm in rematch with Bulls
VOTE: Should Killian stick as starting point guard, and which sophomore will have the best season?
From pink backpacks to silly songs, Pistons carry on with rookie indoctrination
Pistons vs. Bulls final score: Turnovers and abysmal shooting plague Detroit in lopsided loss

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *