With Rasheed Wallace now expected to miss the rest of the year following news that his injured left foot will require season-ending surgery, there's more pressure than ever on newly acquired forward Kenyon Martin to fill the void in the New York Knicks' frontcourt.
Nate Taylor of The New York Times reported the news about Wallace on Feb. 27:
Martin, signed by the Knicks to a 10-day contract on Feb. 21, hasn't yet played for his new team. But with Wallace's future absence now official, the Knicks don't have any better forward options to toss out there.
But how big of a hole does Martin really need to fill?
Wallace averaged just 7.2 points and 4.2 rebounds in the 20 games he played, and his overall effect on the team was decidedly mixed. According to 82games.com, the Knicks were a vastly inferior offensive team with Wallace on the floor, but were also significantly better on D.
Specifically, New York scored nearly eight more points per 100 possessions with 'Sheed on the floor. But the team also allowed six-and-a-half fewer points per 100 possessions when he played. That's nearly a wash, and if you're being extra precise, the Knicks were actually slightly worse when Wallace played.
Yet, New York's record was 17-5 before the foot injury shelved him, so his impact may not be contained wholly within the numbers.
In his time with the L.A. Clippers last year, K-Mart's on- and off-court splits were quite similar to the ones Wallace posted this year. The Clips were about 6.5 points per 100 possessions worse on offense when Martin played, but were also about four points better on defense.
From a purely objective, statistical point of view, it seems pretty clear that Martin will be able to replicate Wallace's production.
But on-floor production wasn't really where Wallace made his biggest contributions to the Knicks.
Always lauded as a terrific teammate, Wallace's veteran leadership, defensive communication and general NBA wisdom mean his absence will be felt more strongly off of the floor than on it.
Eric Adelson of Yahoo! summed up Wallace's impact in the midst of the Knicks' strong start, simply saying, "Say what you want about Sheed's past behavior, he's always had respect in the locker room. He's always deferred to others rather than hogging the ball or the limelight."
Martin shares Wallace's reputation as something of a loose cannon, but he definitely isn't viewed as a guy who makes his team better by savvy and force of personality. Three years younger and now obviously much healthier, Martin will have to do his best to contribute by doing the dirty work and rebounding.
In other words, because Martin probably can't have the same emotional and mental impact on the Knicks as Wallace did, he'll have to make his contributions in a more physical manner.
For his part, Martin has said he's not yet in good enough shape to play, but that he still has the desire to get out there and mix it up.
Per Jake Appleman of The New York Times, Martin pointed to his heart in an interview and said, “Put your hand right here. Let me see if you feel this. What’s that? That ain’t going nowhere. Trust me.”
Martin's heart might well be in the right place, but it's really his head that the Knicks need. If he can play with the same passion he has shown for most of his career, that'll be great for New York's stretch run. And even though it seems like a stretch, if he can somehow channel Wallace's locker room leadership and understanding of team defense, the Knicks will be ecstatic.
And hey, if it doesn't work out that way, it appears the Knicks are maintaining a contingency plan for the playoffs, per Ian Begley of ESPN:
Ian Begley @IanBegley
League source with knowledge of team's thinking expects the #Knicks to keep Rasheed Wallace on the roster for the rest of the season.2013-2-27 18:49:18
The pressure on Martin shouldn't be as substantial as it is. After all, he's replacing a 38-year-old forward who played just 20 games. But with the Knicks logging a 16-15 record since Wallace went down a couple of months ago, it's clear that the team is missing something.
And if Martin can't provide a substitute during the final weeks of the regular season, New York might just have the real deal back in time for the playoffs.