With Wallace putting up about 18 points and 10 rebounds every 36 minutes, and Amar’e Stoudemire out most of the year so far, the backup power forward has made an oversized impact on the season.
Wallace is flustering opponents and putting up nearly two blocks and 1.6 steals over that same per-minute play, as well.
It doesn’t stop at his stat line, either. The record shows that the Knicks defense, as a whole, lacks punch when Wallace is out. They’ve dropped from a dominant 17-5 to a more reachable 23-11 during Wallace’s most recent, now 12-game absence thanks to a stress reaction in his foot.
Wallace was also out for the Houston Rockets’ 131-103 trouncing, the Knicks’ worst beating of the season.
If you include New York’s 112-106 win against the Denver Nuggets early in December, the Knicks have given up 100+ points in 10 of the 14 games Wallace has missed for an average of 102.4 per game. That would rank the Knicks’ defense 27th in the league right now.
So Wallace has picked up the slack on both sides of the ball—for Stoudemire on offense, but also for the Knicks’ defensive “specialist,” Iman Shumpert, who’s probably out until February.
He fits right in, too. Wallace’s mindset is geared towards Mike Woodson’s defensive scheme, and he’s become both an important cog and leader on that side of the floor, as this SNY.tv excerpt testifies:
“Offense sells tickets, defense wins championships,” Wallace said in the Knicks’ locker room after New York handled the Sixers, 100-84. Wallace has specifically emphasized to his teammates the need to be vocal — on the floor and from the bench.
After sitting out two years, his history of “debate” and arriving at training camp out of shape, Wallace looked like a long shot to make the team. Woodson told the New York Post where Rasheed was just a few months ago:
“He’s not ready yet,’’ said Woodson, who hasn’t guaranteed Wallace a roster spot. “It’s conditioning. He’s just not there where you want him to be. He’ll get there eventually. We’re doing things to get him in shape. It’s not always running up and down the floor to get in shape. Other things you can do as well.”
Back then, J.R Smith, Amar’e Stoudemire, Jason Kidd and maybe even Ronnie Brewer were considered possible X-Factors for this team. Three of those four have made good on it.
J.R. Smith is having the best offensive season of his career, winning games at the buzzer and bringing the intangibles.
Jason Kidd’s leadership and ageless play (30 minutes per game) helped launch the Knicks to their best start in years. Pairing him at shooting guard alongside Raymond Felton turned out to be one of Woodson’s best roster moves of the season.
So was starting Ronnie Brewer at the No. 3, which in turn let Carmelo Anthony roam at the No. 4, creating those game-winning mismatches against most teams.
Dictionary.com defines X-Factor as “an important element with unknown consequences.”
None so far have made as surprising an impact—on offense, defense and leadership at the same time—as Rasheed Wallace.
Now, the Knicks face possibly another unknown consequence: How will losing their X-Factor for a long time—maybe the whole season—affect the team?
So far, there’s no official word on whether Wallace’s injury is season-ending. For now, the Knicks are exploring a similar reclamation project to tide them over.
According to Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski,
As Rasheed Wallace's foot injury lingers, the New York Knicks are showing a renewed interest in free-agent forward Kenyon Martin…The uncertainty surrounding Wallace's return has made the Knicks circle back on the possibility of signing [him].
Maybe the Knicks have another X-Factor on hand.
All stats in this article are as of Jan. 8, 2012.