Boston Celtics veteran Gerald Wallace hadn't touched the floor in over a week's time when coach Brad Stevens looked down the bench and called his name in the first quarter of last week's game against the New York Knicks.
The 32-year-old Wallace looked up, maybe a bit surprised by the early call, peeled off his warmup suit and headed toward the scorer's table as Stevens instructed him to go guard Carmelo Anthony.
This is Wallace's role now. He's a part-time player (79 minutes in 10 appearances; 12 DNPs) with a starter's contract ($10.1 million in each of the next two seasons) tasked with providing bits of defensive energy for a young team prone to lulls on that end of the floor.
Make no mistake, Wallace's contract is a blot, albeit one that Boston was willing to stomach in order to pry away three first-round picks from the Brooklyn Nets in a deal that looks better with each passing day. And Wallace's salary clog hasn't exactly hurt Boston as it navigates the initial stages of a rebuilding process while avoiding the luxury tax.
Stevens has the luxury of ignoring contract values. His job is to make the most of the players he has at his disposal, regardless of what they make or the ego they own. Wallace already endeared himself to Stevens before the season when he agreed to a reduced role such that Boston could give the majority of the minutes available at his position to younger bodies. And Stevens loves knowing that he can call on Wallace at any moment and know with certainty what he's going to get with him in the game.
Offensively, it won't be much. Not from a guy who has scored seven points on seven shots attempts this season. But, defensively, Wallace is happy to go check an opposing superstar like Anthony for a few minutes and give teammates like Jeff Green a blow, all while living up to his familiar nickname of Crash by tumbling around the court for loose balls.
Wallace's impact is reflected in the team's advanced numbers when he's on the floor. While mindful that it's a small sample, consisting of bite-sized chunks from multiple games, the Celtics are allowing a mere 89.8 points per 100 possessions with Wallace on the court. That's 13.6 points lower than the team's season average (103.4) and 6.2 points lower than the next best player on the team (Marcus Smart at 96). Even Boston's offensive rating climbs with Wallace on the floor, likely the impact of creating transition opportunities off stops.
Is Wallace's production sustainable over a longer sample? Probably not, though we'd point out that Wallace had a defensive rating of 59 (FIFTY-NINE!) over 12 minutes of action against the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday night (sure, it was the offensively anemic 76ers, but that's still a ridiculous number for a quarter's worth of play).
What's more, Synergy Sports advanced defensive numbers suggests that Wallace is allowing a mere 0.696 points per play, which ranks him in the 93rd percentile among all league players. Synergy data has Wallace limiting opponents to 27.3 percent shooting overall. The league's player tracking data doesn't reflect nearly as positively on Wallace's defense, but the team numbers hammer home his impact.
With the Celtics dinged up at shooting guard -- rookies Marcus Smart (foot) and James Young (shoulder) and veteran Marcus Thornton (calf) are all on the injury report -- Wallace will get some additional work this month. And Stevens will likely take a moment after each game to point out something that Wallace did to impact the game.
And then, once Boston is healthy again, Wallace will return to his familiar position anchoring the end of the Boston bench, where he spends most of the game offering a balance of advice and comedy to any teammates that will listen.
Wallace spent the early part of his tenure in Boston barking when the team underperformed. He provided an awful lot of tough love early last season, but he's mellowed a bit since, embracing his role as Boston's grandfatherly presence.
Stevens loves Wallace, gushing earlier this year how he's "going to become one of my favorites of all time." There will come a time when the coach will miss having his veteran presence in the huddle and in the locker room.
But if a team comes calling before February and is willing to take on Wallace's bloated contract, the Celtics aren't going to fight it because of his contributions. Wallace is here because he was a necessity to help Boston endure this rebuilding process. He's not going to be here when the Celtics emerge on the other side.
Though maybe his presence will live on a bit with Boston's youngest players. Wallace's locker is right next to rookie Marcus Smart, who likely hears a lot of chatter from his neighbor.
Yes, if nothing else, Wallace is showing a bunch of youngsters how to be a good veteran.