At their highest level of success the Pistons relied on their defense to carry them, and at the centerpiece of that stalwart defense was center Ben Wallace. Unfortunately for Detroit, Ben Wallace recently agreed to a 4 year deal with divisional rival Chicago. The move struck a serious blow to the Pistons as 4 time defensive players of the year don’t come along that easily. The team attempted to minimize the damage by signing center Nazr Mohammed. The ex-Spur, ex-Knick, ex-Hawk, ex-Sixer will try to replace the rebounding void left by Ben, and add a scoring punch that Wallace never had. However Nazr’s not nearly the defender that Ben is, nor does his scoring make up the difference. Like their name implies, Detroit’s success relied on each Piston firing at an above average level, and without their defensive keystone they aren’t likely to sustain their high level of play.
Last year the Chicago Bulls finished 6th in the NBA on defense so Wallace doesn’t address a big need for them. However it doesn’t mean that the signing won’t make them better. One way Big Ben can help the Bulls is to make them the best defensive team in the league. There were 6 teams within 1 point per 100 possessions defensively of the Bulls (from the #3 Nets to the #8 Clippers). So while the Bulls were above average, there were a lot of teams that were comparable defensively. The difference between the #1 Spurs and #6 Bulls is the same difference between the #6 Bulls and the #17 Warriors. Using the pythagorean formula for expected wins, the Bulls would go from a 43 win team to a 54 win team by becoming an elite defensive team like the Spurs.
Wallace’s addition also allows the Bulls to move their other centers for more scoring punch. Both Tyson Chandler and the newly drafted Tyrus Thomas have the same strengths and weaknesses as Big Ben: strong at defense and rebounding, weak on offense. It doesn’t make sense for the Bulls to keep all 3, and with the dearth of centers around the league they should be able to move one of them with ease. Rumors are already circulating the mill about the Bulls moving Thomas to Minnesota for Garnett, and Chandler being swapped for the usual suspects (PJ Brown, Al Harrington, etc.) If the Bulls can nab a strong post player or an unhappy superstar they might become favorites in a strong Central division.
On the other hand, the biggest winners in the Ben Wallace sweepstakes could be the Cleveland Cavaliers. During the regular season the Cavs finished second in their division behind the Pistons, and Cleveland’s postseason was ended in the second round of the playoffs by Detroit. LeBron James is already playing MVP caliber ball, and if Ilgauskas and Hughes stay healthy for the year (and maybe with a little off-season tweaking) dismantling the Pistons could be just the thing they need to reach the Conference Finals.