Ben Wallace Giving Detroit Pistons Great Minutes, but Too Many

Greg Eno@@GregEnoSenior Analyst INovember 11, 2009

AUBURN HILLS, MI - MAY 17:  Ben Wallace #3 of the Detroit Pistons reacts after missing the first of two free throws late in game five of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Cleveland Cavaliers during the 2006 NBA Playoffs at the Palace of Aubrun Hills on May 17, 2006 in Auburn Hills, Michigan. The Cavs defeated the Pistons 86-84 and lead the series 3-2.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Ben Wallace is a 35-year-old NBA big man who is playing like he’s 25. For now.

There’s been a lot of ballyhoo over Wallace, who the Pistons snatched from the jaws of retirement last summer and signed for a league pittance.

The signing was decried, but not by me. But that’s because I figured Wallace could come off the bench when some energy was needed, maybe block a couple of shots, grab a few rebounds, and then sit back down, his night done after 10, 15 minutes.

I had no delusions of grandeur about him. No idea that he’d even be considered for a starting position, let alone be granted one.

But my blessing of the signing came with a caveat.

When a guy is publicly talking about retirement, when he’s already in that “mode,” be careful, because you have no idea when those feelings might suddenly reappear.

Wallace spoke openly after last season, which ended with him as a non-factor with the Cleveland Cavaliers, about hanging up the sneakers. Injuries had frustrated him, as did his time in Chicago, which never met anyone’s expectations—Wallace’s or the Bulls’—after he signed his big free agent contract in July 2006.

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But he wanted to give it one more shot, and the idea of doing that in Detroit intrigued him, as it did the Pistons. So I figured, why not?

Now, after seven games, Wallace is being heralded as “the old” Ben Wallace. Not “an old” Ben Wallace. There’s a difference.

I think it’s terrific that Wallace is giving the team far more than it had ever dreamed when training camp began. He’s back to being Windex personified. He’s disrupting shots and blocking some of them. He’s providing sage defensive advice to the team’s kids. He’s almost, dare I say, a coach on the floor that way.

But he’s playing way too many minutes for my comfort. Not that anyone bothered to ask me.

The NBA season is an 82-game marathon. And Wallace has sprinted from the start, racing out to a big lead.

But refer back to the opening paragraph, please. Ben Wallace is 35-years-old.

Pistons president Joe Dumars subscribes to a theory which has merit, but still makes me shudder at the number of minutes Wallace is logging so far—well over 30 per night, and sometimes close to 40.

The theory says that big men can last longer in the NBA, can play well into their 30s, because they don’t run up and down the court, as a rule, at the same speed as the smaller guys, i.e. the guards. OK.

But 35 is 35. And Wallace is more active than most big men.

Not to be Chicken Little, but let’s see where Wallace’s production is at come February, if he’s still playing 30+ minutes per game. Then, let’s see if he has anything left for a playoff run a couple months after that.

The Pistons’ frontcourt rotation, however, is probably not the same now as it will be down the line. New coach John Kuester still has to see what he truly has. And, in his defense, it’s hard to yank Wallace off the floor when he’s playing the way he is.

“Ben sets the tone for us defensively,” Kuester told reporters recently.

Yes, he does. For now.

And about that retirement thing. Wallace says basketball is fun again, because he’s healthy. Point taken. But what if something becomes the matter with him again this winter? He’s already been in retirement mode once this year.

Food for thought, but it’s unseemly to chew on it now, isn’t it?


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