Ben Wallace is heading into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2021. The former Detroit Piston will be the lowest point-per-game scorer in the Hall of Fame when he’s officially inducted. Yet somehow, Wallace believes he’s “tailor-made” to play in today’s pace-and-space NBA, a league based around offensive skill and shooting.
Wallace was maybe the most intimidating defensive presence of his era. He was the toughest player on a team that won a championship with toughness. But he was a liability on offense then, and he would be even more of a liability now.
Ben Wallace built a Hall of Fame career solely on defense and rebounding
When Wallace went undrafted in 1996, he wasn’t entering a league known for its offense. Still, Big Ben won the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year Award four times during this career. When Detroit won the 2004 NBA Championship, the average team scored 93.4 points per game. So to stick out as the best defensive player in that league wasn’t easy.
The offensive revolution of Steph Curry and the three-pointer wouldn’t happen for another decade. The former Virginia Union standout was the league’s leading defender in a defense-first era.
Wallace may be dead last in the Hall of Fame in points scored, but he’s 11th in blocks and has surpassed players like Oscar Robertson, Jamaal Wilkes, John Havlicek, and Reggie Miller in steals. In terms of players who could be considered centers, he’s third in thefts. When extending that criteria to forwards, he’s in the same breath as Kevin Garnett and fellow 2021 inductee Chris Webber.
But Wallace would be run off the floor in today’s NBA because of his lack of offensive skill
Wallace’s career-best season in terms of scoring was the 2004-05 campaign in Detroit, when he averaged 9.7 points per game. He never shot more than 4 free throws per game in a season and was 41.4% from the line in his 16-year career.
His career average in three-point attempts is 0.0.
The 6-foot-9, 240-pound center was a physical specimen and could have competed with any big man in today’s game athletically. Between that and his effort, Wallace would have been able to dominate the boards as well as he did 15 years ago — he averaged 15.4 rebounds per game in 2002-03. He surpassed double digits in seven consecutive seasons.
But his lack of any semblance of offensive skill would significantly hold him back.
According to NBA.com, Julius Randle led the league in minutes played at the center position in 2020-21. Randle shot 41.1% from three on 5.5 attempts per game. Indiana’s Domantas Sabonis was second behind Randle in minutes and shot *only* 32.1% from deep, but Domas has infinitely more playmaking ability than Wallace ever showed.
The closest comparison to Wallace in terms of playing style is Utah’s Rudy Gobert. Gobert, also a multiple-time Defensive Player of the Year Award winner, has little to offer on the offensive end besides setting screens and catching lobs. Wallace could handle both of those tasks. Gobert played 30.8 minutes a game during last year’s regular season.
Best case scenario, Wallace is Gobert minus four inches and 20 pounds. Based on his offensive statistics, though, he lands more in the range of Bismack Biyombo or a worse-shooting Willie Cauley-Stein.
There’s no doubt Wallace could have played a role in today’s league, but not a significant one
According to NBA.com, though, the former Piston is fully confident his style of play would translate to how the game is played in 2021:
“I think my game would be tailor-made for today’s game. In my prime, I was that guy on the floor somewhat out of place because of my size and the way I played the game. I had to play in the land of the giants. The game is a lot faster. I think this style of basketball would’ve been tailor-made for my game.”Ben Wallace on whether or not he could play in today’s NBA
Offensively, there’s no way the 2004 NBA Champion could have hung with today’s players. Athleticism and hustle are no longer enough and Wallace didn’t have the skill level to adjust. But, as he said in the same NBA.com story, he still would have found a way to affect the game on the opposite end of the floor.
“There’s no rule you can put in place to stop me from playing defense,” he said.
All stats, unless otherwise noted, courtesy of Basketball-Reference.