Wizards ’10-11 Preview
30 teams in 30 days.
by Charles Peach / @Charles_Peach
As fast as things unraveled for the Wizards the past year, the turnaround is materializing even quicker. Last season began with realistic hopes of the team’s Big Three – Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison, and Caron Butler – getting the Wiz back to the Playoffs but was derailed by a series of saddening and bizarre events.
First, beloved owner Abe Pollin passed away in November. Then, in December, Arenas brought firearms into the Verizon Center and tried to play it off casually, which earned him a suspension for the remainder of the season and a month in a halfway house. Staring another loss-heavy record in the face at the February trade deadline, GM Ernie Grunfeld dealt Jamison and Butler to the Cavaliers and Mavericks, respectively. The Wizards finished the ‘09-10 campaign with a 26-56 record.
In April, the Pollin family reached a deal to sell the team to Ted Leonsis, a passionate, innovative, and unusually accessible owner. Leonsis believes in rebuilding through the Draft as he has demonstrated as owner of the NHL’s Washington Capitals since 1999. He survived a plane crash in 1983, and since then he’s been busy checking things off his life’s to-do list. Among the few unchecked items, is “Win a world championship.” You can keep up with the multi-dimensional businessman on his personal blog, Ted’s Take.
Leonsis’ investment promptly became more valuable when, with only a 10.3 percent chance of winning the grand prize at the NBA Draft Lottery in May, the Wizards hit it big. Finally! Some positive news! Mr. Pollin’s wife, Irene, was in Secaucus, NJ to accept the rights to draft John Wall and what appears to be just the thing to spark the franchise’s rebuilding process.
Grunfeld is enthused to be moving in a different direction and to be assisting in the execution of Leonsis’ plan. “In 20, 21 years that I’ve been a general manager, this is one of the most anticipated seasons I’ve had,” Grunfeld told The Washington Post’s Michael Lee. “It’s a fresh start. This is more exciting, because this is the beginning of a new era. We’ve made no secret of the fact that we’re rebuilding.”
So, the Wizards have a very special Wall to begin their rebuilding. All other pieces will be made to support the Wall. There are a lot of fresh, malleable pieces that look like they should compliment the Wall nicely. There is just this one piece from the old building that doesn’t appear to be a great fit in the new one. It’s a really expensive Hibachi… OK, I better stop.
Seriously though, on paper and in our minds we can envision this working, the super-talented Arenas sitting out on the wing and stroking threes after the kick-out from Wall. We can even see it being really successful. Is that logical though? Can the 10-year veteran with a huge ego really change his style that much and defer to a rookie? Some believe Gil is ready to adjust and do whatever is asked of him. But, how long will it be until his ego speaks up and says, “I’m the man!” At first glance, you might think that the stats he averaged in 32 games last season were nice; 22.6 points, 7.2 assists, and 4.2 rebounds. Then you look a little closer – 3.7 turnovers, 41 percent field goal shooting, and 5.7 attempted threes on which he only connected 34.8 percent of the time. Most importantly, only 11 of those 32 games were wins. He dominated the ball last year. He dribbled that thing ‘til it was soft as a pillow. (More on this later, let’s get to the rest of the squad.)
The frontcourt features Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee, who each signed contract extensions on September 24. After Jamison was traded, Blatche became the focal point of the offense and averaged 20.8 points and 8.2 rebounds in 36 starts. He has always had maturity issues, which came to the surface once again in a clash with Coach Flip Saunders in March. Saunders pulled him out of a game for reportedly not getting back on defense, and wouldn’t go back in the game when called upon. He can be a special player if he keeps his head straight and becomes more receptive to coaching.
McGee is a shot-blocking and oop-catching center. He doesn’t have much else to offer outside of those skills but he can move his 7-1 frame up and down the court swiftly. During the Las Vegas Summer League he was on the receiving end of a number of Wall’s alley-oops. (He also broke this out on a fast break.) He was invited to train with Team USA this summer and, although he didn’t survive the cut, he certainly must have benefitted from playing alongside such elite talent and being instructed by Coach Krzyzewski.
The Wiz acquired Yi Jianlian, the versatile, oft-injured 7-footer via trade with the Nets. He hasn’t played more than 66 games in any of his three seasons and finished the FIBA World Championships a bit sore as well. He tallied 20.2 points and 10.2 rebounds per game for China during this summer’s tournament. If he’s able to stay on the court, the Wiz will get a promising 22-year-old player with an improving skill set. He needs to be more efficient on offense. For his size, he’s expected to be better than his lifetime 40.2 percent field goal shooting. Last season with the Nets he averaged 12 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 1 block per game. The Wiz sent Quinton Ross to New Jersey in the deal that was essentially a salary dump for the Nets who were attempting to land one of the headlining free agents last summer. It’s rumored that when the Wiz go with a big lineup he will see some time at small forward, which might be his most natural position.
Josh Howard is the only player left from the trade that sent longtime Wizards Butler, Brendan Haywood, and DeShawn Stevenson to Dallas. In another cruel example of the team’s rotten luck last season, Howard tore his ACL in just his fourth game with the Wizards. He won’t be available until December, by most accounts. The oldest player on the roster, at 30, Howard is the squad’s wild card. He made the All-Star team in ‘06-07 and followed that with a career-high 19.9 points per game in ‘07-08.
Al Thornton came to Washington midway through last season in the Jamison deal. This will be his fourth year in the League and his first full season playing for a team not named the Clippers. He’s often characterized by his erratic play, so if he can become more consistent he should be able to hold a starting position until Howard returns.
The Wiz also picked up point guard Kirk Hinrich from the Bulls who will be a very sturdy backup to Wall. The Chicago Bulls all-time leader in three-pointers, ‘Captain Kirk’ will also provide feistiness on defense.
Kevin Seraphin was acquired in the Hinrich deal with Chicago. The rookie was the 17th overall pick in this year’s Draft. It’s become popular to say he is similar to Nene, but he’s got a long way to go before fulfilling that comparison. The French native, who just switched from soccer to basketball at age 15, has an imposing frame at 6-9, 250 pounds. He is your classic “high-upside” draft pick.
A more refined rookie on the Wizards roster is Trevor Booker, the lefty out of Clemson. He’s an undersized power forward but is strong and has a nice touch. He’ll be ready to step right into an important role off of the bench.
Prediction: Saunders barely has any continuity from year one to year two, so he’s dealing with a lot of fresh faces. The Wizards will struggle to find rhythm and consistency. It will take a while for them to find an identity. As they rely more and more on Arenas to carry them offensively, the development of the younger players will suffer. Running the offense through Wall is the way the Wizards should play this year. Let him get the ball inside to Blatche in the post and toss up some oops to McGee rolling to the basket. Have him penetrate and kick it out to shooters like Arenas, Hinrich, Howard, Yi, and Nick Young. The problem is, this style will take time to develop and won’t result in many victories. Once frustration sets in from all the losing, Arenas will win them some games with outstanding individual efforts. The wins will feel good in the short term, but won’t contribute much to the learning process of the young players. If the team can commit to pushing the tempo and sharing the ball on offense, as well as using their length and athleticism on defense to clog passing lanes and block shots, they will compete. If they get complacent by taking turns isolating, they’ll be right back in the lottery. At times, I think they will find the right chemistry, but in the end I think they’ll rely too much on Arenas to make plays. He is a great scorer but he’s not dynamic enough to carry these youngsters to the Playoffs. 35-47.
Regardless of wins and losses, this team will be fun to watch. Wall provides phenomenal athleticism and speed with the right amount of charisma to bring the fans out to the Verizon Center. Wizards fans still love to get behind Arenas who has a flair for the dramatic and makes sensational plays, as people may forget after he missed most of the last three seasons.
- David Stern advised Gilbert Arenas and the Wizards organization to keep quiet on last year’s gun incident.
- The Wizards kicked off training camp at George Mason University at 12:01 am on September 28th.
- In a puzzling marketing move, Grunfeld informed reporters of the team’s plan to change the uniforms back to red, white, and blue. But this won’t happen until next season. Wouldn’t it be best to announce this at season’s end? Do you really want your consumers to know that all of this year’s merchandise will be outdated within a year?
Previous Season Previews can be found in the archive.