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The underrated Ben Wallace and recognition the 2014 Spurs should, but won’t, take from the 2004 Pistons

Me at the Detroit Free Press:

contrary to what many believe, the ’04 Pistons were not a superstar-less team.

Ben Wallace was a superstar.

Certainly not in recognition, but absolutely in production. It’s a shame too few realize it.

For a two-year stretch around the title, I would have taken Wallace right behind Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett. The tier Wallace fit into included three other players, all of whom carry more name recognition but had serious flaws at the time.

Shaquille O’Neal lacked motivation and focus, and his weight exacerbated those issues. Kobe Bryant was struggling to learn how to dominate with Shaq in the way. (Later, Kobe would learn that the key was forcing out Shaq.) Dirk Nowitzki could fill a stat sheet, but he hadn’t yet developed the all-around gamethat eventually would lead the Dallas Mavericks to the title.

Wallace’s peak was shorter than theirs, and at other times, they reached levels he never did. But for a short period, Wallace was just as valuable on the court as Shaq, Kobe and Nowitzki.

Defensively, Wallace earned most of his respect, but it was never enough.

He used to guard all five opponents. On single possessions!

That type of versatility is viewed more favorably now that positionless basketball has become more popular. But it was just as important then, though few realized it.

Even offensively, Wallace remains underrated. Sure, he couldn’t shoot, especially free throws. But he could offensively rebound and set screens with the best of them. He also passed deftly for his size and finished around the rim well enough to keep defenses honest.

I’m not arguing that Wallace was an offensive whiz, just underrated on that end. Paired with his historically great defense, that’s enough to put him among the NBA’s elite players in and around 2004.

The San Antonio Spurs — with their deep bench, versatile offense and flexible defense — are more balanced than any team I’ve seen, including the 2004 Pistons.

Duncan’s best years are behind them, and though he’s still very good, his production no longer reaches superstar levels. Neither does Tony Parker’s nor any other San Antonio player’s

If the Spurs, up 3-1 in the NBA Finals, win the title, they should be remembered as the true superstarless team.

Of course, they won’t be. And nothing will change the perception of the 2004 Pistons.

In some respects, it’s better that way.

Even at his best, Ben Wallace was a superstar only on the court. Because he scored so little and dominated in such subtle ways, he never rose in national prominence commensurate with his production.

With Wallace leading them, those Pistons evoked so many qualities of Detroit — underrated, tough, persistent.

And misunderstood.

Tags: Ben Wallace Dirk Nowitzki Kevin Garnett Kobe Bryant Shaquille O'Neal Tim Duncan

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