Sunday, December 21, 2008

Note to DeShawn Stevenson: Stop shooting

The Wizards are 4-20 right now, and they have the worst record in the Eastern Conference. It's pretty hard to believe that -- only four wins.

Yet the Wizards still play hard but find ways to lose winnable games. Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler have both been their usual selves; they both can score plenty of points and rebound, but neither can be called a defensive stopper by any means. Andray Blatche is actually playing better since Eddie Jordan got fired, and young guys like JaVale McGee, Dominic McGuire, and Nick Young have all shown glimpses of how they can significantly contribute down the road. And even though no one knows how good he can be, Javaris Crittenton could eventually turn into a serviceable young point guard to spell Arenas when/if he ever comes back. Hopefully Crittenton has a chance to play more as he becomes comfortable with the offensive and defensive schemes.

Mainly, Tapscott has done one thing well as interim head coach: play Blatche more. Blatche, who has now played more than 30 minutes four games in a row and started the last three, is averaging more minutes per game (23.7 to 16.9) and more points per game (11.5 to 6.7) in the 13 games under Tapscott. He's far from consistent, but Blatche actually appears to be improving each time he steps on the floor. More importantly, the Wizards have played better with Blatche in the game; he's the only player who plays consistent minutes with a positive +/- number at +14.

Unfortunately, Tapscott refuses to stop playing DeShawn Stevenson so many minutes. Stevenson is shooting 32.0 percent from the field and 28.6 percent from three-point range, yet he plays 29.7 minutes per game and also starts every game. Consider this: Out of 44 shooting guards who have enough three-point attempts to qualify, Stevenson is ranked 42nd. If he was just shooting a few a game, it wouldn't be a big deal; instead, of those same 44 players, Stevenson ranks 10th in three-pointers taken per game (4.7). So not only is he shooting a horrible percentage, but he also refuses to stop chucking them up. (Here's an idea: Remove hand from face -- then shoot.)

I'm not trying to blame Stevenson for the Wizards' 4-20 start by any means. Right now, they're just a bad team. But Stevenson shouldn't be playing more minutes than Nick Young, who is averaging more points (9.8) and a better field goal percentage (43.1) in 8.3 fewer minutes per game. Young isn't a good defensive player, but Stevenson isn't exactly Ron Artest either. When was the last time you watched a game and said, "Man, Stevenson is really locking his man down!" Probably never.

Watching Stevenson brick a bunch of shots on a four-win team isn't exactly thrilling. At least giving Young, McGuire, and McGee more minutes would give Wizards fans something to get excited about.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Now that I have a job...

I'll be posting fewer entries. I'm still going to try to post a few during the weekend if possible, but they probably won't be very long. Again, it all depends on how much time I have or how bad the Redskins/Wizards/Orioles perform in the future.

Thanks to everyone/anyone who's been reading what I write. It's very much appreciated.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Portis is not pleased

Remember when the Redskins were 6-2 halfway through the season? Remember when Clinton Portis was one of the frontrunners for league MVP?

Those days sure seem like a long time ago.

Following a Week 8 win at Detroit, the Redskins have dropped four of five games to fall to 7-6. Washington will need to win its last three games over the Bengals, Eagles, and 49ers to have a chance to make the playoffs, and even then a wild card spot may not be guaranteed.

To make matters worse, head coach Jim Zorn apparently has issues with Portis's lack of practice time during the last few weeks, which allegedly resulted in Portis's benching in the second half of the Redskins' loss against the Ravens on Sunday.

Portis, who was interviewed today on the John Thompson show, obviously wasn't happy with the situation. He also had no problem voicing his frustration.

"If they need to cut ties with me, cut ties with me," he said. "It is what it is, bro."

Later in the interview, Portis added, "Maybe I'm the problem. Maybe I should go on IR."

He even managed to drop an S-bomb during the live show, which caught Thompson off guard.

I don't understand what Zorn is trying to do with Portis. Is he trying to send some kind of message or something? The problem can't really be the lack of practice time because then other players like London Fletcher and Chris Samuels would also have been benched against the Ravens. And if missing practice last week was such a big deal, why did Portis even play in the first half?

It's bad enough that the Redskins have looked so terrible (mainly on offense) these last several weeks; now the team's best player is under attack even though he's one of the hardest working guys on the team.

I've never heard of a situation off the field where Portis is missing meetings, showing up late, or not being prepared for game day. Whatever is going on, it doesn't sound like it's going to end well.

(For more, check out the D.C. Sports Bog.)

Friday, December 5, 2008

Ravens present challenges for Redskins

It pains me to say this, but to be honest, at 8-4, the Baltimore Ravens are probably not talked about as much as they should be.

On defense, the Ravens are third in the NFL in points allowed (15.8) and second in total yardage allowed per game (253.3). But that's not really shocking because the Ravens usually have one of the best defenses in the league. What is surprising, though, is that the offense, with rookie quarterback Joe Flacco leading the way, has played well. Overall, the offense ranks 19th in total yardage per game (323.5) but is tied for 11th (with Denver) in total points per game (24.3). Obviously, the Ravens' defense has helped the offense out by scoring five touchdowns off of interception returns and recording three safeties, but the offense still takes advantage of red zone opportunities and is relatively balanced -- 14 rushing touchdowns and 14 receiving touchdowns.

The Ravens also take care of business by soundly defeating weaker opponents. This season, the Ravens have beaten the Bengals (twice), Browns (twice), Dolphins, Raiders, Texans, and Eagles. Of those six teams, only the Dolphins (7-5) and the Eagles (6-5-1) have winning records. Against better competition, the Ravens have struggled a bit, with four losses coming to the Steelers (9-3), Titans (11-1), Colts (8-4), and the Giants (11-1). All four of those teams have been discussed as possible Super Bowl contenders, so even though two of the games were close, the losses were not particularly surprising.

The Redskins, on the other hand, have not been as efficient as the Ravens -- especially on offense. While the Ravens manage to score more points with fewer yards gained, the Redskins gain more yards -- 13th in the NFL (339.1) -- and score fewer points (17.3, 28th). The Redskins have nine rushing touchdowns and 11 receiving touchdowns, but the offense has not been balanced. Simply put, when the Redskins can't run the ball, they struggle mightily.

There's no question that the defense has been what keeps the Redskins in games. The defense is sixth in yardage allowed (283.0) and sixth in points allowed (18.5) while failing to consistently put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The leading pass rusher on the Redskins is Demetric Evans with 3.5 sacks; Andre Carter is right behind him with 3.0 sacks. Highly-paid and injury-plagued Jason Taylor has registered only one sack.

Is playing in the NFC East tougher than the AFC North? Yes. But the Redskins have not scored enough points to win against good defenses.

The Redskins' wins this season have come against the Saints, Cardinals, Cowboys, Eagles, Browns, Lions, and Seahawks. Of those teams, the Cardinals (7-5), Cowboys (8-4), and Eagles (6-5-1) are above .500. The Saints are currently 6-6. The one loss that really hurts right now is the one to the 2-10 St. Louis Rams. The offense failed the defense that day by scoring only 17 points against one of the worst defenses in the league, which may have been a sign of concern for how the next several weeks were going to play out.

But no matter how bad the offense has been, the Redskins are still 7-5 and have a chance to make the playoffs. What makes this such a huge game is not just the fact that the Redskins need a win, but that the Ravens need one as well to keep pace with other AFC rivals. The Redskins finish the season against the Ravens, Bengals, Eagles, and 49ers; the Ravens face the Redskins, Steelers, Cowboys, and Jaguars. If the Redskins were to lose this game, they would still be considered at least moderate favorites in the rest of their games. Unfortunately, finishing 10-6 may not guarantee the Redskins a playoff spot.

The Ravens would have to take on the Steelers at home and then travel to Dallas to face the rejuvenated Cowboys. Needless to say, a win in this game would be enormous for both teams.

To me, the key to the game is pretty simple: The Redskins' offensive line has to protect Jason Campbell and give him time to throw, and receivers, veterans and rookies alike, have to get open.

(Note: Campbell has been the focal point of way too much undeserved criticism lately. His numbers aren't spectacular -- 10 TDs, 4 INTs, 63.8 completion percentage, 87.8 QB rating -- but he's taken care of the ball and given the team a chance to win. A few more catches down the field on long throws and things may have turned out differently in various key situations.)

Anyway, back to this matchup. Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts are both banged up, and it's almost impossible to run the ball effectively against the Ravens' front seven (unless you're the Giants). If the Redskins don't move the ball through the air, convert on third downs, score some points, and take advantage of some opportunities, it won't matter how well the defense can hold the Ravens' offense because at some point they will break.

It would be easy to say that if the Redskins' defense can get some pressure on Flacco that some turnovers may follow, but that's the same old story every week. The Ravens have allowed 23 sacks and have 26, while the Redskins have given up 32 sacks while accumulating only 19. The defense isn't likely to add many more this week, but the offensive line has the talent to hold it together.

If Campbell gets time, the Redskins have a chance. If not, it could be a long game.

Wizards have a few bright spots

There aren't many positive things to look at when a team is 3-13 like the Wizards are, but the team has actually shown signs of improvement over the last few weeks -- even if it's only brought wins over the Warriors and Nets. Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler are both producing; Jamison (20.9 points, 9.3 rebounds) is putting up solid numbers and shooting 49.8 percent from the field, and Butler (21.3 points, 6.6 rebounds, 4.2 assists) is scoring a point better per game through 16 games this season. But both Jamison and Butler are expected to produce, so that's really no surprise.

The biggest surprise, though, has been rookie JaVale McGee. Many figured McGee was either a poor pick by the Wizards or at least a project who would take a few years to develop. Instead, McGee supplanted Etan Thomas in the starting lineup after only a handful of games and hasn't looked back. By no means is McGee done improving, but he's given the Wizards a lot more than just about anyone expected.

Out of all rookies, McGee currently ranks 19th in minutes per game (19.4), 15th in points (8.1), 16th in field goal percentage (48.6), ninth in rebounding (5.2), and fourth in blocks (1.2) -- not bad for a guy who many thought would sit the bench for the entire season.

Besides McGee's hustle and energy, the best thing about him is that he obviously has so much room to improve. Most of his buckets right now come off of alley oops or dunks on fast breaks. Wizards' fans can only imagine what will happen when he starts to develop both his offensive and defensive games. McGee, who turns 21 in January, could be the center the Wizards need to compliment Haywood when he returns.

Four other young players on the Wizards have also shown their potential: Nick Young (23), Andray Blatche (22), Dominic McGuire (23), and Dee Brown (24).

Young, in his second season, is scoring 11.8 points per game, 4.3 more than last season, and he's shooting 46.7 percent from the field. Out of all NBA Sophomores, Young ranks eighth in points and 14th in efficiency. Even though he comes off of the bench, Young is third on the Wizards in scoring. If DeShawn Stevenson continues to shoot 32.9 percent from the field, Young's minutes should increase, especially in crunch time.

This season, which happens to be Blatche's fourth, may be the one where Blatche finally starts to realize his role in the league. His numbers so far this season aren't really better than last year's -- 8.0 points per game compared to 7.5 last season -- but he's also playing about three fewer minutes per game. McGee's emergence has taken some of those minutes away from Blatche, but so has Blatche's own failure to significantly improve his conditioning.

Just by watching Wizards' games, fans can see that Blatche has been hustling a bit more and taking better shots. He still settles for his jumper a little too often and usually commits one boneheaded turnover per game, but his +/- number of +15 is third-best on the team.

McGuire and Brown have also performed well. McGuire, who is arguably the team's best defensive player besides Haywood, averages only 10 minutes per game, but his presence is usually felt through his perimeter defense and rebounding ability. McGuire will never be a scorer in the NBA, but he can be someone used to give Butler the occasional breather and to help get key stops late in games or at the end of quarters, which the Wizards struggle doing. And Brown, who was forced into the starting point guard role because of the poor play of Juan Dixon and an injury to Antonio Daniels, has looked much more comfortable over the last few games. Averaging 2.4 points, 2.1 assists, and 1.9 rebounds in 14.9 minutes per game, Brown isn't going to scare anyone offensively. But he has caused some turnovers with his defense and given the Wizards a few baskets on fast break situations.

As much as I admire Daniels (4.8 points, 3.6 assists, 1.7 rebounds, 22 minutes) and his leadership on the floor, if he's not healthy or able to keep point guards in front of him on defense, Brown may be the best option for backup point guard whenever Gilbert Arenas returns to the lineup this season.

One more thing: I'm tired of seeing the veterans get priority over the younger players in the fourth quarter. While Arenas was out last year, playing Daniels and Stevenson together in the backcourt in crunch time was fine because they both played defense and helped get a few stops. Now, neither is really playing much defense, and the team is suffering. A key example was the team's last game against Portland. Brown had a solid first half, but he barely played at all in the second half while Daniels was getting torched on key plays by Steve Blake, a pass-first point guard. For some reason, Brown, who finished the game with a +3 differential, played four fewer minutes than Daniels, who finished -14 from the game. The Wizards are -52 for the season in the first quarter and -30 in the fourth quarter, and a big reason for that is the poor play by Stevenson. It's not surprising that not only are the Wizards +23 in the second quarter when more substitutions are made, but also that the Wizards played possibly their most complete game of the season against New Jersey on Tuesday when Stevenson was actually making his open threes -- imagine that.

I guess I just can't understand how or why Stevenson gets 29 minutes per game.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Derrick Rose is mean

Just a nasty move. The announcers are kind of lame in the video but still -- I feel bad for Andre Miller after watching it.