Coach: Flip Saunders
2008-09 Record: 19-63
Pythagorean Record for 08-09: 21-61
Offensive Rating: 105.4 (26th in the league)
Defensive Rating: 113.6 (29th)
Possessions per 48: 91.0 (17th)
|Offensive||48.0 (29th)||.132 (16th)||.277 (13th)||.224 (23rd)|
|Defensive||53.3 (30th)||.133 (11th)||.714 (25th)||.227 (13th)|
Roster (Red indicates new acquisition, Blue indicates rookie) Click to enlarge
How often does a guy post the best season of his career at age 32? Not often, and even less often when that player is an undersized post player. However, that’s what happened last year with Antawn Jamison. Nobody noticed, of course, because the Wizards were terrible, but Jamison was even better last season than he was the season before, when he went to the All-Star game. He’s the ultimate “garbage man,” getting tons of points off of cuts and off-ball movement. He might have the ugliest-looking array of post moves out there, with all manner of awkward-looking flips, floaters and reverses, but it’s all kinds of effective. He hit 64.3% of his shots around the rim last year, and only four players had their shot blocked less. He also does a great job of getting his shot off quickly, shooting almost immediately when he catches in the paint, and often catching defenders off-guard. Because he’s able to get off high-quality shots so quickly and often without dribbling, his turnover rate is absurdly low. His career turnover rate is the 5th lowest in NBA history, and he’s had on of the league’s top five lowest turnover rates each of the last 6 seasons. All of that, and I haven’t even mentioned the fact that he’s got a solid perimeter shot to space the floor too. There really aren’t many better offensive players out there than Jamison. Now, he’s not a good defender, and he’s only an average rebounder, but his offensive proficiency more than makes up for that.
We should see a pretty significant change in Caron Butler’s role this year from what we’ve seen in previous seasons. With the return of Arenas and the acquisition of Mike Miller and Randy Foye, Butler should be called upon less to create scoring opportunities for others. Instead, with his offensive load lessened, we should see him focus more on the defensive side of the ball. Butler has the tools to be a good defender, and can be when he puts his mind to it, but with the offensive load he was carrying and the awful record of his team last year, Butler basically just gave up on that end of the court. If Washington wants to be successful this year, they need Butler to return to being a solid defender.
A lot of people underrate how important the loss of Brendan Haywood was last year. As one of the very few players on the team who actually makes a defensive impact, Haywood’s absence was the biggest reason the Wizards were such a bad defensive team. He’s a plus shot-blocker, rebounder, and a solid one-on-one post defender. He’s also not a bad offensive player either, with good enough touch to make use of his size when he catches in the paint. That makes him a useful pick-and-roll option, and even an occasional post-up option when he can get good position. He’s not a tremendously skilled player, but on this team his defense really makes him a standout, and his return to the lineup should improve their defense substantially.
Nick Young reminds me of a young J.R. Smith. Both are athletic shooters who don’t bring much to the table other than scoring, but they’re both very talented pure scorers. I’d be tempted to predict a breakout season for Young in his third year, but the Wizards backcourt is so loaded that he probably won’t get enough minutes.
How JaVale McGee and Andray Blatche develop is going to be crucial for the Wizards, not just for this year, but for their future careers as well. Blatche shows flashes of brilliance that make you think he could be a star. Take, for example, the November game against Golden State when he had 25 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists, 5 blocks and 2 steals in only 29 minutes of play. That’s just a ridiculous line, and it’s a showcase of Blatche’s potential and diverse talents. He’s wildly inconsistent though, and often just doesn’t seem to care. McGee doesn’t have a problem with effort level, he just has a problem with knowing what the heck he’s doing on the court. Like Blatche, he’s a great athlete with tons of potential, but McGee just doesn’t have a very high skill-level. He’s able to score, rebound and block shots simply because of his sheer athleticism, but he’s often lost on the court, especially on defense. Defensively is where both of these guys struggle most, despite their immense tools, and that’s where Washington desperately needs them to improve. Both have the potential to be great defenders with their length and athleticism. McGee, in particular, could be a Chris Andersen type of defensive force. Neither of them understand defensive fundamentals or proper rotations though, so they’re often exposed. If Washington it going to be a contender in the future, it’s going to be because one or both of these guys realize their potential.
X-Factor: Gilbert Arenas – As if it could be anyone else? All the other questions about this team, all the moves they made over the summer, hardly matter if Arenas doesn’t come back strong. He’s missed almost all of the past two years with knee injuries, so obviously there are huge questions about him. Before he got injured though, Arenas was an absolutely brilliant offensive player. A lot of people miss how efficient he is because his field goal percentages aren’t great, but he shoots a ton of threes and gets a ton of free throws, which makes him one of the more efficient high-volume scorers in the game. The cause for concern is that so much of Arenas’s game is predicated on his speed and quickness, and missing two years with knee problems is going to have an effect on that. I’d expect that we’re going to see a slightly less explosive Agent Zero this year, and he probably won’t get to the charity stripe as often. However, I also think we’ll see him play more of a distributor role than he has in the past, because of the increased talent around him. Washington does have better backups for him, so they aren’t going to go 19-63 again if he goes down, but if they want to make any serious noise in the East, they need Arenas to play near his previous superstar level.
I think Washington and Toronto are the most unpredictable teams in the league this season. I can see the Wizards being as good as 4th in the East, but I can also see them collapsing and falling out of the playoffs. They’re going to be a good offensive team, we know that. Even if Arenas isn’t completely healthy, they have enough weapons to score a ton of points. We also know that they’re going to be a bad defensive team, they just are. They’ve been in the bottom ten in the league defensively for the last four seasons, that’s not going to change this year. The questions is, are they going to be just a good offensive team, or are they going to be a great offensive team? Are they going to be a bad defensive team, or are they going to be an abysmal defensive team? If they can be good enough defensively to not be absolute bottom of the league, and if their offense is as explosive as it has the potential to be, then they’re extremely dangerous. If they’re merely good offensively, and they have another defensive train-wreck like last year, then they’ll struggle to make the playoffs. The answers to those questions are going to hang on how much the young big men contribute defensively, and how well Arenas plays. If all goes well, then all that offseason money will have been well spent, and the team could maybe even win a playoff series. If not, well…things are going to get ugly in Washington.