Monday, November 10, 2008

Another 0-5 start for the Wizards

For the second consecutive year, the Wizards have started the season with five losses in a row. Last year, the losses came to the Pacers, Celtics, Magic, Nets, and Nuggets; this year, the losses have been to the Nets (2-3), Pistons (4-1), Bucks (3-4), Knicks (4-2), and Magic (4-2). While it’s way too early in the season to take a lot out of opposing teams’ records, the Nets, Bucks, and Knicks, a combined 83-163 last season, all appear to be at least somewhat improved this season. But that’s a completely different angle altogether, and it doesn’t matter who you play; it matters if you win -- and the Wizards haven’t done that yet.

Except for the most recent loss to the Magic, the games have been competitive, and the Wizards could have earned a victory if they made a few more plays in crunch time. Unfortunately, they didn’t and now face the possibility of a horrific 0-6 start when the Jazz (5-1) come to Washington on Wednesday.

Believe it or not, I had the exact same idea for a Wizards write-up as Bullets Forever, a great read by the way, with "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" theme, but they beat me to it. So I’ll just go with some good and bad news; obviously the bad outweighs the good.

Good News:

Nick Young: Young (16.6) is third on the Wizards in scoring behind Butler (20.2) and Jamison (17.6) despite coming off of the bench and playing fewer minutes. Young has been one of the team’s best offensive weapons and is basically taking over Arenas’s role as one of the "Big 3" scorers. Though he doesn’t add much in terms of rebounds, assists, or defense, Young has been limiting his turnovers to 1.4 per game and seems to be better conditioned. Remember, Young is just 23 years old and this is only his second season. He appears to be developing into a very formidable scorer who can give the team a spark at any moment.

JaVale McGee: Yes, it’s extremely early, but McGee is fifth on the Wizards in scoring with 7.5 points per game. Fair or not, McGee is basically doing what every Wizards fan wants Andray Blatche to do: hustling up and down the court, blocking shots, playing hard, throwing down dunks, and showing progress with each court appearance (no pun intended). In a little over 17 minutes per game, McGee is also grabbing 5.8 rebounds and blocking 1 shot. If he keeps it up, he could easily find himself starting at center in the next few games/weeks.

Juan Dixon: To illustrate just how bad the Wizards’ point guard situation is, Dixon, a jump-shooter who isn’t really known for his ball-handling ability, started at the one against the Magic. Dixon, though, has played surprisingly well and has teamed with Young to form the best backcourt combination for the Wizards in the first several games. Dixon is averaging 5.8 points, 4.2 assists, and 2.2 rebounds and has a 10.5 assist-to-turnover ratio. With Antonio Daniels battling a knee injury, Dixon may earn the bulk of the point guard minutes until Daniels is healthy or Arenas returns to action.

Bad News:

Andray Blatche: I mentioned his name before, and his case is very frustrating. Blatche seems to possess all of the physical tools to excel on the court, but he just hasn’t done so. For every solid stretch of play that Blatche has, he seems to have just as many boneheaded plays and careless turnovers. He seems to forget that he’s not a 3-point shooter and often settles for jumpers instead of drawing contact and trying to get to the free-throw line. Haywood’s absence in the lineup should provide Blatche with an outstanding opportunity to play more minutes and prove to Eddie Jordan that he’s improving, but he’s actually averaging 2 minutes fewer per game so far because of his inconsistent play. Make no mistake about it: Blatche still has plenty of games to showcase his talent. It would just be nice for the Wizards if he would do so sooner rather than later. Also, giving up easy baskets to Kwame Brown, of all players, doesn’t exactly help his case.

Defense: As in, the Wizards barely play any defense. The Wizards are currently ranked last (30th) in the NBA in points allowed (108.8) and are tied for 19th in defending 3-pointers (36%). The Wizards also allow 18 assists per game to opposing offenses, the most in the league. Last year, the Wizards gave up 99.2 points per game (12th in the NBA): 9.6 fewer than this season. Haywood’s absence is certainly a big reason for a few more points being given up per game, but that is no excuse for poor defensive rotations and the knack for allowing so many wide open 3-point shooters.

Free throws: The Wizards are 26th in the NBA in free-throw shooting (70.6%). Last year, the Wizards made 78.2% of their free throws, good enough for 5th in the league. Because the Wizards play so many close games, they obvoiusly need to make their free throws; if they had made more, they may have won a game or two by now. Daniels, a career 79.2% from the free-throw line, is shooting 66.7%. Butler, who shot over 90% from the line last year and is a career 85% free-throw shooter, is hitting just 76.5% of his shots from the charity stripe. These free throws percentages need to improve if the Wizards are going to pull out some close games.

Fans’ increased grumblings of Eddie Jordan: I’m a supporter of Jordan, but I fear that if the Wizards continue to play so poorly, he will lose his job. While I don’t think that would be the worst decision in the world, I also don’t think he’s responsible for the awful start.

I do, however, blame Jordan for the loss to the Bucks; he failed to play his best lineup that night (Dixon, Young, Butler, Jamison, Blatche/McGee) down the stretch and instead went with Daniels, Stevenson, Butler, Jamison, and Songaila. Leading 89-76 with 7:16 left in the game, Jordan substituted Daniels and Stevenson into the game for Young and Dixon. While the Wizards had several opportunities to make shots and get stops, they didn’t and the game was tied at the 1:15 mark. The Wizards then went on to lose in overtime. After that game, Jordan played Dixon 28 minutes against the Knicks and 23 minutes against the Magic, and Young received 30 minutes in both games, so Jordan is showing some flexibility as he searches for some kind of answer to get the Wizards a win. Then again, with Arenas and Haywood out for a while, he doesn’t have many options to turn to. Unless, of course, you think Oleksiy Pecherov is the answer.

Next 5 games:

11/12 Utah
11/14 at Miami
11/18 Miami
11/19 at Atlanta
11/21 Houston

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