Cal men’s basketball alumnus Tyrone Wallace’s career in the NBA has, in a way, gone in reverse. As a rookie, Wallace got big minutes and posted impressive numbers. As a sophomore, he had few opportunities to showcase his worth. Now, as a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Wallace may have another opportunity to prove he belongs in the league.
Back to the bench
Injuries provided Wallace with the opportunity to play major minutes as a rookie in 2017-18. Patrick Beverley, the Clippers’ opening night starting point guard, had season-ending surgery on his right knee in November 2017. Austin Rivers suffered a right ankle injury and missed 18 games from Dec. 31, 2017 to Feb. 5, 2018. Avery Bradley only played six games after being traded to the Clippers before missing the remainder of the season with injury. When Miloš Teodosić suffered a right foot injury on Jan. 4, 2018, Wallace was promoted to the big club from the G-League.
Wallace took that opportunity and sneakily became one of the more productive rookies of that year, averaging 9.7 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 30 games. Among the rookies who played full seasons, only Ben Simmons, Donovan Mitchell, Dennis Smith Jr. and Lonzo Ball averaged nine points, three rebounds and two assists.
If injuries paved the path for Wallace to play, health was responsible for bumping him out of the rotation. By opening night of the 2018-19 season, Beverley and Bradley were back in the starting lineup; Lou Williams was back to assume the reins of sixth man; and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the 11th pick in the 2018 NBA draft, was instantly given big minutes.
Los Angeles’ roster may have undergone several changes as the season went along — Bradley was traded and Landry Shamet and Garrett Temple were acquired — but the Clippers’ guard rotation seldom featured Wallace. By the end of the season, Los Angeles’ guard rotation primarily featured Gilgeous-Alexander, Shamet, Beverley, Williams and Temple. For a Clippers team that shocked the league and made the playoffs in the rugged Western Conference, Wallace had to accept the role of an 11th or 12th man.
After an inaugural season in which he was among the more productive rookies, Wallace ended his second year putting up 3.5 points, 1.6 rebounds and 0.7 assists.
Glimmers of hope
From a roster construction standpoint, the Clippers may have been the worst fit for Wallace, for what the Clippers lacked in a superstar, they had in depth.
This isn’t to say Wallace’s playing time was completely nonexistent. Wallace may not have received the ample playing time that’s typically afforded rookies after a successful first season, but amidst the likely frustrations, he teased his talents.
Wallace’s numbers took a significant dive from year one to year two, but with his minutes dropping from 28.4 as a rookie to 10.1 as a sophomore, there was no way he would be able to match his production sans going full “NBA 2K” MyCareer mode. So, let’s look at what he was able to do when given a decent amount of playing time.
Last season, Wallace appeared in 31 games in which he played at least 10 minutes. In those contests, Wallace averaged 5.6 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.2 assists in roughly 15 minutes, a similar rate of productivity to that of his rookie season.
Wallace didn’t have too many games that jump off the page because of how few minutes he often played — he had only two double-digit scoring games last season opposed to 15 his rookie year — but the guard had productive games here and there. His most notable game of the year came against the eventual champion Toronto Raptors, when he posted season-highs of 15 points, six assists and two blocks, along with four rebounds.
Adventure is out there!
July 5, 2019 will be a day that few basketball aficionados will forget anytime soon. Around 11:30 p.m. PST, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski dropped the news that the Clippers would be signing Kawhi Leonard and trading for Paul George in exchange for a treasure trove of assets.
Wallace was a member of the league’s newest superteam for only a couple hours before being waived by the Clippers the following morning. He would not be without a home for too long as the Minnesota Timberwolves claimed him on July 8.
Opposed to the Clippers, the Timberwolves do not boast the same surplus of depth at guard and Wallace may have an opportunity to earn steady minutes.
With Derrick Rose and Tyus Jones choosing to sign with the Detroit Pistons and Memphis Grizzlies, respectively, the Timberwolves’ current rotation is up in the air, primarily featuring veteran Jeff Teague, 2018 first-round pick Josh Okogie, the No. 6 pick in the 2019 NBA draft Jarrett Culver, Shabazz Napier, Treveon Graham and Jaylen Nowell.
Unlike with the Clippers, this rotation is likely not set in stone. Okogie, Culver and Nowell are all young. Napier and Graham have gotten decent playing time before, but shouldn’t be considered locks. It may not be the perfect situation, but there could very well be a scenario in which Wallace finally gets his big break, one that could translate into a big payday.