Coach: Eddie Jordan
2007-08 Record: 43-39
Pythagorean Record for 07-08: 40-42
Offensive Rating: 109.2 (12th in the league)
Defensive Rating: 109.6 (24th)
Possessions per 48: 89.5 (27th)
Min%: 91.2 (2nd)
|Offensive||48.9 (19th)||.125 (6th)||.289 (9th)||.233 (11th)|
|Defensive||51.3 (26th)||.135 (10th)||.728 (20th)||.217 (13th)|
Roster (Red indicates new acquisition, Blue indicates rookie)
Antawn Jamison never ceases to amaze me. He’s undersized and really doesn’t possess outstanding physical skills, but he’s also been one of the most consistently excellent offensive post players in the league over the last 6-7 years. I think Jamison’s game is often unappreciated because his game isn’t very flashy, but he does the little things and very rarely makes mistakes. Jamison had the second-lowest turnover rate in the league, which is nothing short of amazing for a guy who makes as many plays as he does. He’s also an excellent finisher inside, despite a lack of explosiveness, because he’s crafty and has fantastic touch, even when taking contact (was 11th in the league in And-1s, even on a slow-paced team). He’s also a great complimentary scorer since he’s one of the best cutters in the league, able to create open looks for himself with his movement off the ball. Jamison is going to be 32 this season, so there’s some concern that he might start to decline, but since his game is built more on savvy than athleticism, he should hold up fairly well.
If you watch Andray Blatche when he’s on his game, you wonder how this kid isn’t one of the best young players in the game today. Then you watch him the next night, and he looks like he should be on a D-League roster. Such is the enigma that is Blatche. There’s no denying that he has the skill level and athleticism to be a major contributor in this league, but the question remains whether or not he can gain the consistency and concentration to put it all together. He has ridiculous length and quickness for a guy his size, and he’s a pretty good ball handler and passer. He almost reminds me of a young Lamar Odom when I watch him. With Haywood out, Blatche is going to get plenty of minutes this season. If he can give a consistent effort and avoid the mental mistakes he’s prone to making, he could make a huge impact on Washington’s playoff chances.
Last year was far-and-away the best season of Caron Butler’s career, and there are really no signs that he won’t be able to replicate it. The bigger question is whether or not he can stay on the floor. Butler has never played all 82 games in a season, and missed a whopping 24 games last year. When he is on the floor, Butler has evolved into an effective, though not dominant, primary offensive option. His main weapon is his midrange jumper, which he shoots very effectively even off the bounce, and his release is so quick that he can get it off in most situations. Butler made two big advances to his game last year that really helped offset the loss of Arenas for the year. First of all, he shot a career best 35.7% from behind the arc while also attempting more threes than ever before. The other big difference was his ability to set teammates up. With Arenas out, Butler was called on to initiate the offense more often, and he responded with an increase in his assist rate. The other thing we saw from Butler last year was a much higher level of dedication to defense. He’s always had fantastic defensive tools, but his effort level was spotty at best. He still isn’t a lockdown defender, but if he can maintain his intensity he can be well above-average.
DeShawn Stevenson has a big mouth, and frankly he’s not nearly as good as he thinks he is. He’s gained a reputation as a defensive stopper, which stems from several high-profile matchups with LeBron and the fact that he looks much better in comparison to the rest of Washington’s defenseless squad. He’s a tough man defender, but he doesn’t have the size or length to be an elite level stopper, and he offers little in the way of help defense. He’s a serviceable starter and hits a good percentage on open threes, so he’s basically a poor man’s Bruce Bowen.
Antonio Daniels has proved over the years that he can be a capable backup guard. He doesn’t shoot particularly well and he’s not a pure point guard by any means, but he’s extremely good at drawing contact (about a 2:1 FGA:FTA ratio), and takes care of the ball (3.8 A:T ratio). The problem is that he’s turning 33 and was never really a starter-caliber player anyway. The Wizards are going to call on him to help replace Arenas until he returns, but Daniels has been in a steady decline the last 5 years, and he just came off a season where he averaged the highest minutes per game of his career. Is it just me, or is that tailor-made for disaster?
I’m not sold on Nick Young doing anything this year. At best, he’ll be a decent scorer off the bench. The problem right now is that he offers little-to-no value outside of the scoring column, and he’s not a very efficient scorer either. He doesn’t rebound, he doesn’t distribute the ball, he’s not a good defender, and he turns the ball over far too much. Because of that, he’s not a very productive player despite the fact that he can obviously shoot the lights out.
X-Factor: Gilbert Arenas – Look, you can talk all you want about how “the team gelled without Arenas”, and that he’s too selfish, and he’s not a pure point guard, etc. Here’s the deal, when Arenas is healthy he’s one of the league’s elite scorers. There’s a reason the Wizards went from the 3rd best offensive team in the league in 06-07 to the 12th best last year, despite the fact that nearly every other player on the team had a career year. The general impression of Arenas is that he’s a high-volume, low-efficiency scorer in the Allen Iverson mold, and a cursory look at his shooting percentages seem to side with that, but that’s not the whole story. When healthy, Agent Zero is unguardable one-on-one because he’s blisteringly quick with the ball in his hands. He practically lives on the free throw line since no one can stay in front of him and he’s so good at drawing contact. When he’s not earning free points at the stripe, Arenas is shooting a lot of three-pointers, nearly half his shot attempts come from deep, and since he hits about 35-36% that’s not a bad option. Much like I mentioned with Chauncey Billups, free throws and three-pointers are the most efficient shots in the game, and Arenas excels in both areas. Now the question is whether or not Arenas can fully recover from the knee programs that have kept him sidelined. If he comes back strong and the rest of the Wizards can build on their strong years last year, this team can be a playoff team and a tough out. If Gilbert comes back having lost a step but still demanding the ball, this team is going to struggle mightily.
It was a very odd year in Washington last year. When your two best players miss a combined 93 games, you’re not supposed to win 43 games. With Arenas out, the team’s philosophy changed drastically, and they didn’t look much like the run-and-gun Wizards from past seasons. In fact, Washington went from being the league’s 5th fastest team in 06-07 to being 4th slowest last year. Perhaps because of the pace change, perhaps because of Arenas’ absence, and perhaps for no real discernable reason at all, basically every player on the roster had the best year of their career last year. Butler, Jamison, Haywood, Blatche, Stevenson and Roger Mason (now with the Spurs) all had career years. That improvement from everybody else helped offset the loss of Arenas, and a renewed commitment to defense made up the rest. While their defense wasn’t great by any stretch of the imagination (they were 24th in the league), it was still better than the pathetically bad defensive efforts they’ve been putting up for the past few years. The Wizards certainly weren’t an eastern powerhouse, but they did better than anyone expected once they lost their best player for the year.
There are two ways this season could go. There’s a chance that the absence of Arenas and Haywood will force other guys to step up and fill the void, much like what happened last year. If that happens and Arenas can come back strong (Haywood will probably be out for the whole regular season), they could be a very dangerous team. Of course, the other way things could go is the season could go downhill quickly without the team’s best player and best post defender, and they never recover. I had them predicted to finish a tentative 7th before the Haywood injury. Now, I’m a lot less sure about that. They have a chance to make the playoffs, and every other team in contention for those last two playoff spots certainly has flaws, but the margin of error is razor thin. If they want to make it a 5th straight season in the playoffs, Washington is going to have to be a top 10 offensive team again.
xphoenix87 is a Contributing Writer for BallerBlogger.com. His passion for blogging is matched only by his passion for…well, actually a lot of things. We’ll just skip that and move on. He’s writing season previews for all 30 NBA teams. Check back in tomorrow for Golden State’s preview.