Showing posts with label Washington Wizards. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Washington Wizards. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A quick note on John Wall

This is John Wall's third season. Here are his field goal percentages in those years:

2010-11: 40.9
2011-12: 42.3
2012-13: 41.6

But here are his percentages from the free throw line:

2010-11: 76.6
2011-12: 78.9
2012-13: 83.2

Obviously free throws are different than jump shots. There's no one guarding you, you're not jumping, you can take your time, etc. But that's at least a little confusing.

In last night's 95-90 loss to the Kyrie Irving-less Cavaliers, Wall had 27 points (and 14 assists) on 7-15 shooting -- not bad. But he also hit 13 of 14 free throws. Maybe instead of saying things like, "Everywhere is my sweet spot," he should just talk about his progress from the free throw line.


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Bradley Beal, quick learner

Bradley Beal is 19 years old. He's also on the Washington Wizards. And since he's both young and on the Wizards, it's surprising that he's actually getting better -- and fast. Check out his numbers by month:

Month Pts FG% 3pt% Reb Ast
November11.234.132.73.31.6
December13.436.818.43.93.4
January15.144.750.82.82.5
February17.747.850.05.02.4

That's more points per month on better overall shooting. Those five rebounds per game in February are looking pretty good. The dip in assists from December to January/February also coincides with John Wall's return from injury.

Beal is playing well and shooting the ball with confidence. He's not only one of the main reasons why the Wizards are winning, but also why they're so fun to watch right now. And hopefully he stays hungry (not an Andray Blatche kind of hungry).

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Yes, the Wizards are still really bad

Let's look at some Wizards player averages, separated into two groups.

Disappointing: 

Emeka Okafor: 12.5 points, 9.9 rebs, 51.5 FG%, 32 mins (career)
                         7.0 points, 5.7 rebs, 44.5 FG%, 22 mins (2012-13)

Trevor Ariza (currently injured): 9.0 points, 4.9 rebs, 42.8 FG%, 25 mins (career)
                                                 8.1 points, 4.9 rebs, 34.9 FG%, 25 mins (2012-13)

Shaun Livingston: 6.6 points, 2.5 rebs, 3.4 assists, 45.7 FG%, 22 mins (career)
                           3.5 points, 2.0 rebs, 2.2 assists, 35.6 FG%, 18 mins (2012-13)

Chris Singleton: 4.6 points, 3.5 rebs, 37.2 FG%, 21 mins (2011-12/rookie year)
                         5.0 points, 3.9 rebs, 38.5 FG%, 19 mins (2012-13)

Jan Vesely: 4.7 points, 4.4 rebs, 53.7 FG%, 19 mins (2011-12/rookie year)
                  2.1 points, 2.3 rebs, 42.4 FG%, 13 mins (2012-13)

Somewhat better: 

Kevin Seraphin: 6.2 points, 4.1 rebs, 49.6 FG%, 17 mins (career)
                         11.0 points, 5.7 rebs, 47.0 FG%, 24 mins (2012-13)

Cartier Martin: 5.2 points, 2.0 rebs, 0.5 assists, 39.8 FG%, 13 mins (career)
                       7.6 points, 2.7 rebs, 0.4 assists, 42.6 FG%, 18 mins (2012-13)

Jordan Crawford: 13.8 points, 2.8 rebs, 3.2 assists, 39.5 FG%, 26 mins (career)
                            15.0 points, 4.1 rebs, 4.6 assists, 39.7 FG%, 29 mins (2012-13)

Martell Webster: 8.5 points, 3.2 rebs, 41.4 FG%, 23 mins (career)
                          9.1 points, 3.5 rebs, 42.3 FG%, 25 mins (2012-13)

You'll notice that there is no great or awesome category, for obvious reasons.

John Wall is injured and hasn't played yet. Nene is still on a minutes limit (only 21 minutes per game in 12 games), but he's been pretty good. And Trevor Booker and A.J. Price are also currently injured, but neither was playing that well anyway.

It's hard to expect too much from Livingston, who's a replacement for the failed Jannero Pargo experiment. When everyone is healthy, Livingston would either never play or be out of a job. (But I know, this is the Wizards, and everyone is never healthy.) But Okafor and Ariza have been huge disappointments, and every day that goes by that Hornets trade looks worse and worse.

Also, the Wizards' 2011 draft class looks like a disaster. Vesely is a DNP machine and has no offensive game. Singleton shows promise at times, hitting a couple shots and playing decent defense. But his three-point shooting has been abysmal (12.5 percent), and it says something that he's playing fewer minutes this season despite all of the team's injuries. Oh, and Shelvin Mack didn't even make this terrible team and is playing in the D-League.

There's still hope for Seraphin and Crawford, but both can be maddening to watch. Seraphin turns the ball over too much, makes plenty of boneheaded plays, and doesn't get to the free throw line nearly enough for someone who spends most of his time in the paint. And Crawford, who the Wizards have had to rely on for so much, still takes lots of bad shots. His all-around game, though, seems to have improved.

There's a reason the Wizards are 3-20. Sure, injuries have played a factor. But even if everyone on this team was 100 percent healthy, they still wouldn't be THAT much better. There has just been too many bad draft picks and foolish trades made by a general manager who should have been out of a job long ago.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Latest trade is more of the same from Grunfeld

Oh, hey, the Wizards made a trade today, shipping Rashard Lewis and his huge, expiring contract, along with the 46th overall pick, to the Hornets in exchange for Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza. Okafor and Ariza both have two years remaining on their contracts, meaning the Wizards think enough of both guys to want them around and play significant minutes. Okafor is scheduled to make $13.5 million next season and $14.5 million the season after, while Ariza will make $7.3 million and $7.7 million in the same time frame.

I'm not going to go through all of the other salary information and potential roster ramifications -- Mike Prada of Bullets Forever already did a fantastic job of that here -- but the trade boils down to Ernie Grunfeld choosing Okafor and Ariza over other free agents the team could have rolled with instead, either this upcoming year or next. And, even though my initial reaction to the trade was an indifferent one, I now believe that it's a puzzling decision, at best.

If you look at the trade simply, then the deal doesn't look so bad for Washington. Lewis was going to be paid his money and sent packing regardless of where he was traded, so getting two players for nothing is always nice. Also, instead of paying Lewis to walk away next season and getting nothing in return, that money is being used to pay part of Ariza's and Okafor's salaries. Unfortunately, the Wizards sacrificed a lot of cap flexibility, particularly in 2013.

And there's another small problem: Neither player is a major upgrade or adds much to the team. First, let's look at Ariza. Athletic and 6'8, he's a versatile defensive player, which the Wizards don't have a whole lot of on the perimeter. Chris Singleton was supposed to be a lockdown perimeter defender, and he still may develop into one, but he struggled mightily to stick with quicker, more accomplished scorers last season. That's not unusual -- he was a rookie, after all -- but he has a lot of work to do. Ariza is an upgrade in that department. But the skill the Wizards arguably need the most is shooting, which is not one of Ariza's strong suits. He hasn't made more than 46 percent of his shots since 2008-2009, and he's just a 31.7 percent three-point shooter for his career. He's a better scorer than Singleton, but not overly so. Here's Ariza's career shooting stats compared to Singleton's last season (keep in mind, there's a much larger sample for Ariza, who's been in the league since 2004):

Ariza: 43.1 FG% / 31.7 3P% / 67.4 FT%
Singleton: 37.2 FG% / 34.7 3P% / 68.2 FT%

Again, Ariza is easily the better all-around player than Singleton, and he could end up putting up improved numbers with John Wall running the show and creating some easy buckets for him. But Singleton still has time to get better and is still much cheaper since he's on his rookie deal. Singleton will still get minutes, but not as much with the veteran blocking him from starting at small forward. Hopefully Singleton is still able to get the necessary minutes to improve his game.

On to the addition of Okafor, which seems superfluous for a Wizards frontcourt that already includes Nene, Kevin Seraphin, Trevor Booker, and Jan Vesely. At 6'10, 252 pounds, Okafor is similar in size to the 6'11, 250 pound Nene, and he'll help with the team's rebounding and ability to protect the rim. But can they both share the court at the same time? And how are the Wizards going to get playing time for all of Seraphin, Booker, and Vesely? Those three, especially Seraphin, at times showed flashes of improved play, so it seems a bit odd to bring in another guy who's going to play a bunch of minutes. It's possible that this trade is just the first of one or two more that round out the roster a bit, but right now there are huge question marks. Then again, Nene and Okafor have both dealt with nagging injuries in their careers, so it wouldn't be a bad thing to have guys ready behind them if/when they go down. But it was also much easier to defend the Nene trade last season since he's the better player and also still allowed the Wizards to play the youngsters beside him. With Okafor in Washington, there aren't as many minutes to go around.

So the Wizards took cap space they were going to have after next season and filled it with two players who don't make the team that much better but who are names that fans have probably heard of. And the two players aren't even great fits for the team. Yes, that seems like a Grunfeld move: wasting cap space for no apparent reason while fitting square pegs into round holes.

Many have speculated that with Ariza now in Washington, the Wizards, with the third pick, will target a shooting guard. Picking Brad Beal or Harrison Barnes, who are both better shooters than nearly every current Wizard, would make a lot of sense even if the Wizards didn't already have Ariza. But shouldn't the Wizards take whichever player they wanted most in the draft anyway? The belief that because Ariza is here that Grunfeld won't take the top player available -- probably a guard (Beal, Barnes) or even another small forward (Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) -- is questionable. And if that is indeed true, Grunfeld should be fired on the spot. Don't be fooled: Hitting on the No. 3 pick is way more important than just about any trade Grunfeld can make this offseason, and adding another talented player to this team is vital.

But Grunfeld really shouldn't still be running the show in Washington, but you knew that already. Fans who were against Ted Leonsis and the Wizards bringing back Grunfeld as the team's general manager were afraid of moves like this. It's looking like they were right.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Ernie Grunfeld and underachieving first-round picks

Unhappy with the Wizards' decision to bring back Ernie Grunfeld? Worried about what they're going to do with the third pick in the upcoming NBA draft? Don't worry, you're not alone.

Looking back at the Wizards' previous eight drafts under Grunfeld's watchful eye (note: the 2003 draft, when the Wizards took Jarvis Hayes with the 10th pick, was handled by Wes Unseld), it's pretty easy to get frustrated. And since I'm a Wizards fan (among other routinely bad teams), I'm already frustrated, so I decided to take a look at the first round of those drafts. You likely remember most of them, but let me refresh your memory:

2004: Traded No. 5 pick (Devin Harris), Christian Laettner, and Jerry Stackhouse to Mavericks for Antawn Jamison.

Verdict: Good move, because of Jamison.

2005: In 2001 the Wizards traded a future first-round pick (ended up being No. 20 in this draft) and Laron Profit for the draft rights to Brendan Haywood.

Verdict: Nice move.

2006: Selected Oleksiy Pecherov (No. 18). Next five players taken: Quincy Douby, Renaldo Balkman, Rajon Rondo, Marcus Williams, Josh Boone.

Verdict: Awful pick. Pecherov was out of the league in three years.

2007: Took Nick Young (No. 16). Next five: Sean Williams, Marco Belinelli, Javaris Crittenton, Jason Smith, Daequan Cook.

Verdict: Decent pick.

2008: Drafted JaVale McGee (No. 18). Next five: J.J. Hickson, Alexis Ajinca, Ryan Anderson, Courtney Lee, Kosta Koufos.

Verdict: Also decent.

2009: Traded No. 5 pick (Ricky Rubio), Etan Thomas, Pecherov, and Darius Songaila for Randy Foye and Mike Miller.

Verdict: Terrible trade.

2010: Picked John Wall (No. 1). Also picked Kevin Seraphin (No. 17) (picked up in the Kirk Hinrich trade) and acquired Trevor Booker (No. 23) (swapping picks with Minnesota). Next five picks taken after Seraphin: Eric Bledsoe, Avery Bradley, James Anderson, Craig Brackins, Eliot Williams.

Verdict: Too early to tell, but looking up.

2011: Selected Jan Vesely (No. 6) and Chris Singleton (No. 18). Five taken after Vesely and Singleton (respectively): Bismack Biyombo, Brandon Knight, Kemba Walker, Jimmer Fredette, Klay Thompson; Tobias Harris, Donatas Motiejunas, Nolan Smith, Kenneth Faried, Nikola Mirotic.

Verdict: Too early to tell.

-----

Yikes. Trading the fifth pick twice? Not really picking and developing anything close to a star player? And Oleksiy Pecherov? Yup, these all happened. Granted, I didn't go back and comment on the makeup of each one of those teams in various years (much of the strategy had to do with finding players to fit alongside Gilbert Arenas, Jamison, and Caron Butler); so yes, the Wizards obviously passed on certain players and positions in various drafts because of needs they had. But that doesn't make passing up good players look any better.

I put a similar list together back in January when the Wizards fired Flip Saunders. I noted that there was (and is) a lot of blame to go around, but basically that new people needed to be put in charge. I don't like quoting myself, but here's what I said at the time:
Because of how horrible this team is, the Wizards will have an excellent chance at a top three pick in the next draft, but I don't have much confidence that Grunfeld will select the right player. And unless better coaches are in place, I also don't believe that player will develop at the level necessary to help turn this team around. I also have little trust that even if he does make a strong pick that he'll be able to surround that player and Wall with the right types of pieces.
I still strongly believe that. And yes, the Wizards did secure a top three pick. Unfortunately, Saunders is still the only guy to go. Grunfeld received a two-year extension, as did Saunders's successor, Randy Wittman. The rest of the coaching staff will remain the same.

But back to Grunfeld's first-rounders: There aren't a whole lot of really high picks in there (he traded two of those potential selections away). And there were some mistakes, but Grunfeld also made a couple of interesting finds -- mainly, Nick Young and JaVale McGee. Unfortunately, neither player really grew up in Washington or improved their games THAT much, and the Wizards parted with both last season.

And, essentially, that's the biggest issue. Grunfeld isn't the best at finding talent, but he's not the worst either. But under his watch, those selections don't get better! (Oddly enough, Grunfeld's best find was probably Andray Blatche in the second round, and he even showed some promise by improving for a handful of seasons in a row. But Grunfeld bought into the hype and gave Blatche an extension through the 2014-2015 season. If your best example of someone improving is Blatche, then you're not doing so well.)

So not only do the Wizards not do a great job of identifying talent, but when they actually do bring talent in, they don't do even a competent job of cultivating it. Did Young and McGee improve? Sure, a little bit. But Young is now just a role player, and McGee may never be anything more if he continues his inconsistent, out-of-control game.

But even John Wall, the consensus top player in the 2010 draft, hasn't taken the step forward that many hoped he would. He'd undoubtedly be more impressive with a better supporting cast and a collection of shooters and hard workers (which Grunfeld and co. seem to finally understand), but his jump shot is still not very good, which limits his explosiveness when defenders consistently play off of him, daring him to chuck up shots. Just take a look at Wall's averages from his first two seasons:

2010-2011: 16.4 points, 4.6 rebounds, 8.3 assists, 41.0% shooting, 3.8 turnovers
2011-2012: 16.3 points, 4.6 rebounds, 8.0 assists, 42.3% shooting, 3.9 turnovers

Those seasons are very similar, and there's nothing wrong with averaging 16/8 with four-plus rebounds. But there is still room for improvement for someone with Wall's tantalizing skills, and he didn't necessarily get better. But he's just 21, so it's silly to worry too much just yet.

Trevor Booker and primarily Kevin Seraphin, who both made noticeable strides from their rookie seasons, may be the best two examples that something in the Wizards' organization may be changing. Or maybe both of them are completely devoted to working hard and getting better, which hasn't been a calling card for many Wizards players the last several years. When Booker is healthy, he's an effective role player, and Seraphin showed down the stretch last year that he can be more than a competent big man -- and also that he can score a bit from the block. The Wizards will be much better for it if that trend continues.

But can Jan Vesely and Chris Singleton take a step forward? And what about whomever Grunfeld chooses with the third pick this year? That player, whether it's Bradley Beal, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Thomas Robinson, or someone else, will need to be a solid player and building block alongside Wall. It's obvious that the Wizards need more talent. But more than that, they need gifted players who are able to keep getting better each season. It's one thing to identify special and unique talent. It's another to properly teach that talent and make sure it develops into something better. No one is saying that's an easy thing to do. But to finally be good again, that's something that must happen.

How does that happen? I don't know. Maybe some combination of hiring better scouts and evaluators, better coaches, better trainers, and better nutritionists, or building better facilities. Something. Almost anything would be better than what the Wizards have been doing. And say what you will about Ted Leonsis and his decision-making, but he seems pretty open to trying different things in order to win:
[...] we will invest in additional coaches and development staff because we believe in taking a strong view of building infrastructure to support our players and our franchise. We have been investing in statistical analytics as well as in-house technology and have made additional investments in scouting.

In the long term I want to build a new practice facility for the Wizards, much like that fabulous facility the Capitals have with Kettler Capitals Iceplex, which is one-of-a-kind and first class for our players, fans and the community. The Wizards deserve that as do the Wizards fans. We are changing and adding and investing every season.
All of those presumed changes sound great. But Leonsis does talk (and blog) a lot, and some of that just seems like lip service. Regardless, the Wizards need to try something new, and it's important for Leonsis and the front office to be open-minded about fresh ideas.

Unfortunately, one of those things wasn't hiring someone new and presumably superior to oversee the whole operation. Grunfeld's had his chance. Players are chiefly responsible for their own development, but their organizations also play a huge role in that. And obviously, the only thing the Wizards have developed is a pattern of not having their first-round picks demonstrate much growth at all. So if the No. 3 pick in the draft is disappointing in a couple years, don't be surprised.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Ernie Grunfeld keeps his job, for some reason

As reported by Michael Lee of The Washington Post, Ernie Grunfeld will remain with the Wizards for at least one more season. It had been widely, and reasonably, speculated that Grunfeld would lose his job and that Ted Leonsis would go in a different direction, but that is not the case.

I'm on the replace Grunfeld bandwagon -- and so are 52 percent of people who voted on the poll in Lee's article (they are "strongly opposed to Grunfeld's return"). I've already presented most of my thoughts on Grunfeld in previous articles, but this should speak for itself. Grunfeld was hired in June 2003; here are the Wizards' regular season records under his watch:

2003-04: 25-57
2004-05: 45-37
2005-06: 42-40
2006-07: 41-41
2007-08: 43-39
2008-09: 19-63
2009-10: 26-56
2010-11: 23-59
2011-12: 18-46 (2 games remaining)

That's not good enough. Are those the results of someone who a team really wants to have around for nearly a decade? I don't think so.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Reactions to the McGee/Nene/Young three-team trade

When all hope was lost that Ernie Grunfeld wouldn't be able to pull off any sort of deal at the NBA trade deadline, David Aldridge of TNT casually said the following at 3:31:
That was quickly followed by this tweet from Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski two minutes later:
Soon after, we learned the details of the three-team trade involving the Wizards, Nuggets, and Clippers: The Wizards got Nene, Brian Cook, and a 2015 second-round pick; the Nuggets acquired JaVale McGee and Ronny Turiaf; and the Clippers ended up with Nick Young.

Similarly to how Redskins fans cheered when distractions Donovan McNabb and Albert Haynesworth were traded away, Wizards fans seem to be in agreement that some combination of McGee, Young, and Blatche (or all three) had to be shipped out of town. McGee and Young are now gone, and Blatche likely only has the rest of this season in Washington until the team amnesties him. (There's no way another team takes on his contract; Grunfeld presumably tried his best to sucker another team into doing just that.)

McGee and Young both had their share of positive moments on the court, occasionally showing that they belonged and that they were getting it. Really, though, they weren't, and it was increasingly evident that even if they ever did, it wasn't going to be with the Wizards. Above all else, they'll be remembered for doing goofy and embarrassing things on and off the court. Neither ever got in any trouble off the court like Blatche, but while certainly entertaining they were sporadically effective. And that's not exactly a recipe for winning basketball.

Besides the culture shock of losing two of the oddest characters in the league, the other important factor of this trade is Nene's contract. In December, the Nuggets re-signed Nene for five years and about $67 million. After this season, he will make $13 million in each of the next four seasons. That's a total of $52 million. Nene has also missed 15 games this season and has dealt with various injuries in his career, including suffering a serious knee injury (torn ACL) in 2005. And at 29, he also may be on the downside of his career. Still, as long as he's somewhat healthy and is able to play most of the time, Nene presents a significant upgrade.

I'm mostly on board with the trade, though Nene's injury concerns don't exactly inspire confidence -- especially considering how eager the Nuggets were to part ways with him and his newly signed contract.

So what do some other NBA writers/analysts think of the Wizards' haul?

"It's a safe move, losing two players of unquestionably bad influence to take on one of the game's more well-rounded players; and though we don't envy Nene having to leave the only team he's known in a decade of NBA basketball to take to a lottery-ready Wizards team, he should be able to make the switch with ease. Washington has plenty of options, both in the open market or trade market, moving forward." -- Kelly Dwyer

"As for Nene’s present, the Wizards have acquired the same solid two-way big man in place of two the players most responsible for poisoning the atmosphere around John Wall — the only must-keep player on the team. And Washington’s cap sheet was so clean going forward that adding Nene’s major deal doesn’t do much damage. If the Wizards use the amnesty provision on Andray Blatche, that would leave Wall and Nene as the only two players with guaranteed money on the books for the 2013-14 season, giving Washington huge potential cap room next summer. And if they amnesty Blatche and buy out Rashard Lewis before next season, the Wizards can get all the way down to about $46 million in salary charges this coming summer, leaving them with about $12 million in cap space to sign a solid veteran or two." -- Zach Lowe

"The Wizards were unsure McGee would stop goaltending when the ball was on an obvious downward arc. They were tired of waiting for him to routinely grab a meaningful defensive rebound instead of gloating over a meaningless triple-double. They were tired of his mother, Pamela McGee, berating their coaches from her seat behind the basket near the Wizards bench at Verizon Center. For all McGee’s shot-blocking prowess and catch-and-slam forays above the rim, the Wizards were really worried he might never eliminate the brain freezes that manifested themselves in some of the most no, he didn’t bloopers that played on national cable shows." -- Mike Wise

"I like bringing in Nene for this reason — it’s about changing the culture. Denver fans will tell you that Nene didn’t play through pain and was not tough, but he’s not a headcase like JaVale McGee. They had to make locker room changes and guys like Nick Young are out. They are not a lot better on the court, but they are making changes that can start to take them down that path. [Trade Deadline] Grade: B-." -- Kurt Helin

"The Wizards couldn’t find any takers for Andray Blatche, but will look to move him near the draft, according to a league source. And if the team is unable to deal Blatche this summer, the Wizards also have the amnesty provision at their disposal, which would allow them to waive him and have his salary removed from the cap." -- Michael Lee

"The answer: not all that much. Essentially, the Wizards decided they'd rather pick up the four years and $52 million left on Nene's deal than give a comparable contract to McGee. At the end of the day, if the Wizards use the amnesty clause on Andray Blatche and buy out Rashard Lewis for $13 million, the Wizards' total team salary will be just over $41 million. Add in about $4-5 million for the salaries of their first-round pick, and the Wizards will probably have about $12-13 million in cap space. That's not enough to chase a maximum player, but it is enough to get some pieces. And they should get some pieces. You don't trade for someone like Nene, then pass on free agency." -- Mike Prada

"I can be convinced to like this trade, but I was more of a proponent of getting rid of Blatche and Young, but trying to keep McGee. JaVale does things that you just can’t teach (although, McGee has, in other ways, certainly demonstrated that he’s un-teachable). Big picture: this trade is contingent on two things: Nene’s health and the Wizards’ ability to wisely play the free-agent market this summer—can’t say the franchise has instilled the confidence to prevail in either of those areas." -- Kyle Weidie

"McGee gets to go from being the poster boy of futility in Washington, to a role player on a playoff contender. Winning can bring the best out of players. It's tough to go out and do things when you're playing on a team like the Wizards. But get in a place where your bonehead play might end up costing you home court advantage or a playoff game and you'd be amazed at how knuckleheaded players play. McGee gets to play in a situation where he means something, and that could bring out the best in him. Finally." -- Royce Young

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Hey everyone, your booing is affecting Andray Blatche

In last night's 120-100 loss to the Warriors, the Wizards were unprepared from the very beginning and were outscored in the first quarter by 17, 41-24. They never recovered. As you'd expect, the Wizards' defense was particularly awful, allowing open shot after open shot. As a team, the Warriors shot over 54 percent, and they knocked down 15 of 23 three-pointers. That's undoubtedly some impressive shooting, but again, only a bad defensive squad allows that to happen.

In his second game back after sitting out the entire month of February with a calf injury, Andray Blatche played 13 minutes and finished with four points (2-6 shooting) and four rebounds. He and Shelvin Mack also had a game-low +/- of -20.

During the game, Blatche was basically booed every time he touched the ball, and it's been that way for a large chunk of the season. Like several other Wizards, he's not playing well at all, and as you'd expect, the fans' constant booing is getting to him:
"It's tough when you're at home and people that are supposed to have your back don't have your back," he said. "Instead of encouraging you to get better, they actually push you down and make you worse. In the long run, it's not only hurting me, it's hurting my teammates."

"That's what I feel most upset about because I can't help out and perform for my teammates, because I'm letting the crowd get into my head and making me second-guess, not let me be the player that I am," he added. "It's very frustrating. Hopefully, I'm just trying to fight to overcome it."
Blatche has become the scapegoat for this underachieving, terrible team. JaVale McGee and Nick Young receive their fair share of blame for spotty, underwhelming play, but Blatche is this team's second-highest paid player and still has three years and more than $23 million left on his contract. Blatche's deal isn't horrible, necessarily, but he's supposed to be contributing much more than he is and is supposed to be a team leader. Neither has happened, and fans are tired of Blatche's presence on this team. Remember, this is the same guy who complained after the very first game this season that he wasn't getting the ball in the paint more. And it's not like there's anything about Blatche that makes you think he's some kind of efficient low-post threat.

Right or wrong, Blatche will keep getting booed. He's an honest guy and has some redeeming qualities, but he's just not getting it done on the court. In a perfect world no one would get booed, but admitting that it is affecting his game and leading to him "second-guessing" while on the court is only going to make fans boo louder. The only way to make the boos stop is to start playing well, but there's a bigger chance that Blatche is traded or amnestied in the near future than fans cutting him some slack.

There's a very small chance that Blatche is on the team next year, and the same can be said for Nick Young. McGee may end up on the trading block, but I'd still be mildly surprised if he's not on the team next year. But if McGee is still around and Blatche is gone, he better prepare for the boo birds to be focused on him if he's not playing well and is still making bone-headed plays.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Notes from the Wizards' 124-109 win over the Blazers

I didn't have a chance to watch the Wizards' game last night, so I was pleasantly surprised to check the score this morning and see that not only did they beat the Blazers, but they scored a whopping 124 points. That's pretty remarkable for such a bad offensive team.

Here are some interesting box score notes from the team's seventh win:

- Nick Young scored a game-high 35 points and shot an insane 7-8 from three-point range. Overall, he made 12 of 17 shots and committed just one turnover in 40 minutes. He also didn't have an assist, but, you know, whatever.

- John Wall played 41 minutes and had 29 points on 10-14 shooting. He had 5 turnovers but also dished out nine assists, had two blocks, made eight of nine free throws, and even made a three.

- Overall, the Wizards shot 60 percent from the field and outrebounded the Blazers 43-31.

- As a team, the Wiz were 9-17 on three-pointers. Without Young's threes, the Wizards shot 2-9 from long range.

- Every Wizards player had a positive +/- differential. Jordan Crawford led the way with +24. In 30 minutes, Crawford had 21 points on 9-16 shooting and chipped in four assists, three steals, and two rebounds.

- JaVale McGee added 18 points (7-13 shooting) and 11 rebounds. He also didn't commit a turnover!

- Other notable efforts: Trevor Booker had six points and six rebounds, and Jan Vesely grabbed nine rebounds and also had three assists and two blocks.

Not bad at all. Also worth mentioning: Since 1985-1986, the Wizards have shot over 60 percent and scored at least 124 points just seven other times. The most recent game came in 1993 against the Warriors. So, yeah, it's been a while.


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

After firing Flip, Wiz still need massive organizational overhaul

The Wizards dismissed head coach Flip Saunders yesterday, making him the first person to lose his job after the team's dreadful 2-15 start to the season. Randy Wittman takes over, which is not an upgrade. Wittman is no coaching medicine man -- far from it. Fans won't be happy with him if he continuously plays Rashard Lewis and Andray Blatche 35 minutes a night and keeps Chris Singleton, Trevor Booker, Jan Vesely, and Shelvin Mack tethered to the bench. Hopefully Blatche and Lewis see reduced minutes, but that won't happen. Look how many games it took for Mack to receive backup point guard minutes. Regardless, there's not much of a chance that Wittman sticks around after the season.

I don't think there's a single person out there who thinks this whole mess is simply Saunders's fault. He's certainly no one's top choice to lead a bunch of young players and is much better coaching a veteran-laden team, but he still deserves some blame. Everyone involved with this debacle does. The Wizards are a team without a direction. They're rudderless. Under general manager Ernie Grunfeld, things could not get much worse than they are now.

The Wizards have lost three times to the aging, 7-9 Celtics, with the most recent loss against Boston coming when the Celtics were without Rajon Rondo for the entire game and Ray Allen (left with an ankle injury) in the second half. Within the last month, the Wizards have lost to the T'Wolves by 21, scored just 64 points and lost by 14 against a Bulls team playing without Derrick Rose, dropped a game by four to a Nuggets team playing without Nene Hilario, and have been dismantled three times by the Sixers by a combined 64 points.

Have you looked at the Wizards roster lately? The Wizards have one really good player: John Wall. His current game is not without flaws, but this post is not about picking apart Wall's game. He has things he needs to work on, no doubt; but if Wall played on a different team and was surrounded by more talent, not only would his numbers be much better, but that team would have several more wins. If Wall were even just playing with mediocre players who worked hard, this team would probably be better. Instead, there's a lot of average-to-good players who think they're better than they are, and that unselfish play has been one of the most disappointing and hard-to-watch characteristics of this team.

The next best player on the roster is probably JaVale McGee. Then there's some combination of Blatche, Nick Young, Jordan Crawford, Lewis, Singleton, and Booker. Mack and Vesely seem like useful young players, and they've been seeing more minutes the last few games. Singleton and Booker may be the two players who demonstrate the most hustle and toughness on the team, and they should unquestionably be receiving consistent minutes. But they are also flawed players and will never be stars. They can be serviceable role players, sure, but that's probably their ceiling.

The Wizards could use a superstar, or even a star, to play alongside Wall. I don't know if Wall can ever be the best player on a great, or even really good, team, but he needs some help. And that group of players after Wall and McGee is really where the problem lies. (Some also think McGee is a problem, and that may be true as well.) And that's mostly Grunfeld's fault. Grunfeld has failed repeatedly in the draft to hit on several players, many of them raw, athletic types.

Grunfeld was hired in June 2003. He's made a few shrewd trades and signings -- piecing Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison, and Caron Butler together, most notably -- but he has not done a good job when it comes to drafting players. Let's take a look.

2003: Jarvis Hayes (10th), Steve Blake (38th). The Blake pick was nice; the Hayes pick was not. Notable players taken in the first round after Hayes: Nick Collison, Luke Ridnour, David West, Boris Diaw, Travis Outlaw, Carlos Delfino, Kendrick Perkins, and Josh Howard.

2004: Devin Harris (5th), Peter John Ramos (33rd). Shipped Harris, Jerry Stackhouse, and Christian Laettner to the Mavericks for Jamison. Defensible move. Notable players taken after "Party John": Chris Duhon and Trevor Ariza.

2005: Andray Blatche (49th). Arguably Grunfeld's best pick. Arguably also Grunfeld's worst pick, because fans have to watch Andray Blatche. The Wizards had no first-round pick after trading that pick and Laron Profit to the Magic for Brendan Haywood. The pick ended up being 20th overall.

2006: Oleksiy Pecherov (18th), Vladimir Veremeenko (48th). Maybe Grunfeld's worst draft. Notable players taken after Pecherov in the first round: Rajon Rondo, Kyle Lowry, Shannon Brown, and Jordan Farmar.

2007: Nick Young (16th), Dominic McGuire (47th). Notable players taken after Young in the first round: Marco Belinelli, Daequan Cook, Jared Dudley, Wilson Chandler, Rudy Fernandez, Aaron Brooks, Arron Afflalo, and Tiago Splitter.

2008: JaVale McGee (18th), Bill Walker (47th). Walker was traded to the Celtics for cash considerations. Notable players taken after McGee in the first round: J.J. Hickson, Ryan Anderson, Serge Ibaka, Nicolas Batum, George Hill, and Darrell Arthur.

2009: Jermaine Taylor (32nd). The Wizards traded the fifth pick (which turned into Ricky Rubio), Etan Thomas, Darius Songaila, and Oleksiy Pecherov for Randy Foye and Mike Miller. At the time, the Wizards were risking everything on the big three working out. It did not, and it looks really, really bad now. Oh, and the Wizards again traded away a player (Taylor) for cash. So in 2009, the Wizards ended up with zero drafted players.

2010: John Wall (1st). After a flurry of moves, the Wizards also ended up with Kevin Seraphin (17th), Trevor Booker (23rd), and Hamady N'Diaye (56th). Wall is obviously the real prize; Booker seems solid, too. But here are other notable players in the first round picked after Seraphin: Eric Bledsoe (would've made little sense with Wall), Jordan Crawford (current Wizard), and Greivis Vásquez. It's still early, but overall 2010 doesn't seem like a very deep draft class.

2011: Jan Vesely (6th), Chris Singleton (18th), Shelvin Mack (34th). Too early to tell, but this class does have some promise.

There are way too many missed opportunities in those drafts. Of course, it's too easy to look back and see how badly Grunfeld messed up on various picks. All general managers have made bad picks, or at least picks they wish they could go back and change. Hindsight is 20/20, and all that.

It's possible that many of the drafted players who didn't pan out just weren't that good to begin with. But it's also worth looking at Mike Wise's JaVale/Pamela McGee article a little closer. Ignoring all of the "mother protecting her son" stuff, Wizards fans should notice an underlying problem: The Wizards are terrible at developing talent. Who is the best player the Wizards have developed in the last decade? Bullets Forever's Jake Whitacre said a few days ago that it might be Blatche, and he's probably right. How sad is that?

Why aren't the Wizards more open to doing all they can to develop their players? Couldn't they have brought in different coaches or more efficient specialists? Players like McGee seem willing to learn and improve. Every Wizards player may not be like that, but the fact remains that players don't come to Washington and get that much better. And that's an organizational failure.

Just like the organization, the players deserve their fair share of the blame as well. How often have fans complained this season (and previous seasons) about Blatche, Young, McGee, and Crawford? Are all of those guys doing everything in their power to improve their games? At times, it seems like those four only care about their numbers and are willing to sacrifice wins in order to get buckets. That just can't happen.

Regarding the future of this team, lots of questions remain, including: Has Grunfeld done enough to stick around? Has he given his coaches enough talent to win basketball games? Has he kept improving the overall depth of Wizards' rosters? No, he hasn't.

Because of how horrible this team is, the Wizards will have an excellent chance at a top three pick in the next draft, but I don't have much confidence that Grunfeld will select the right player. And unless better coaches are in place, I also don't believe that player will develop at the level necessary to help turn this team around. I also have little trust that even if he does make a strong pick that he'll be able to surround that player and Wall with the right types of pieces.

Grunfeld has used up all of his excuses. He has been around for nearly a decade, and look where the Wizards are now. He's more responsible for this debacle than Saunders ever was, and it's time for Ted Leonsis to clean house and start in a different direction.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Wiz topple Thunder, which everyone totally expected

Heading into last night's lopsided matchup, the Thunder, at 12-2, had only one more loss than the 1-12 Wizards had wins. So of course the Wizards would battle throughout and eventually pull out a tough 105-102 win in front of a home crowd looking for any reason to stand and cheer.

John Wall and Nick Young, who both shot 6-17 from the field, shouldered the scoring load, posting 25 and 24 points, respectively. Wall added eight assists, seven rebounds, and made 13 of 14 free throws. He also committed just three turnovers in a game-high 45 minutes. And Young, who had just two points in the first half, scored 22 points in the final two quarters, including five (of 10) three-pointers. He also didn't turn the ball over in 34 minutes.

I was especially impressed by Wall, who played six more minutes than any other player. He wasn't as good this game as he was against the Rockets, when he put up 38-6-8 with four steals, but he seemed under control and set his teammates up with good shots. It helped that Young actually started making shots in the second half, but again, Wall kept finding him. In his last two games, Wall has made 25 of 30 free throws, which is also a good sign. He still has a lot of work to do on his jump shot, but that doesn't mean the rest of what he does on the floor -- which is a ton for this team -- means nothing. And his shooting will improve.

Jordan Crawford chipped in 18 points off the bench on 4-10 shooting, adding six rebounds, two assists, and a steal. He did turn the ball over three times, but he also frequently passed the ball and wasn't routinely calling his own number out there, which is a positive for him.

The Thunder shot nearly 10 percent better than the Wizards from the field (48.1-38.4), but the Wizards made seven more free throws (shooting an impressive 43 for the game), grabbed nine more rebounds (52-43), and dished out three more assists while committing four fewer turnovers. The Wizards also nailed four more threes, which was particularly surprising.

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combined for 69 points, but the Wizards actually made them work for them (at times). Those two combined to hit 25 of 50 shots, but they also made just 2 of 12 three-pointers (including Durant making just 2 of 10). Durant also had seven turnovers, while Westbrook had three.

Keeping things close and only down 82-81 with 8:33 left in the game, the Wizards went with a Wall-Crawford-Young-Jan Vesely-JaVale McGee lineup. When Andray Blatche entered the game for Vesely six minutes later, the Wizards were up five points and made just enough free throws to hold the Thunder off. The length of Vesely and McGee bothered the Thunder, and they tipped several passes. McGee grabbed 11 rebounds (adding two steals and a block), and during the game he repeatedly tried to bat rebounds back to his teammates. His strategy didn't always work; occasionally his batted rebounds ended up in the hands of a Thunder player, which inadvertently started their fast break. But in the fourth quarter, McGee opted to use two hands and actually grabbed the ball more. You have to wonder if the coaches talked to him about changing his volleyball tactics at some point in the second half.

Vesely was also particularly active (mostly on the defensive end), finishing with six points, three rebounds, a steal, and a block in 19 minutes. He had two turnovers, but he also shot 3-6 from the field. I'm pretty sure that all of his shots came right at the rim, which is exactly where Vesely should be shooting from (just like McGee and Trevor Booker). No jumpers, fellas.

For Wizards fans out there who feel good about this game: Guess what, you should. I certainly enjoyed the win. Real fans know it probably doesn't mean a whole lot, particularly because for as nice as that win was, the Wizards are still 2-12. But any positives this season should be relished. And it also doesn't hurt when the team's younger players perform well under pressure. It's all about building and improving, or something along those lines. It's probably about pixels, too, I guess. Right Ted?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Maybe the Wizards were supposed to be bad, but not THIS bad

Like most Wizards fans, I assume, I thought the Wizards would be somewhat improved this season, but overall still a bad team. Unfortunately, they've skipped the "somewhat improved" part entirely. At 0-8, the Wizards have been competitive at times, but far more often they've been a team that plays selfish, uninspired basketball, and that most recently resulted in a 93-72 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

In his latest Washington Post column, Mike Wise notes just how flawed this team is:
Some of the Wizards’ problems are obvious: Second-year point guard John Wall, the team’s main reason for hope, is off to a brutal start; Blatche, McGee and other key players rarely make good decisions in the fourth quarter; and the team’s overall talent pool is very shallow.

Others are utterly unfixable. The players with the most heart — Trevor Booker and Chris Singleton among them — don’t have enough skill. The players with the most skill — Blatche, McGee and Nick Young — don’t have enough heart. And the wizened veterans such as Evans, Roger Mason Jr. and Rashard Lewis are almost caught in a culture war between their scrappy teammates who care and their more talented teammates who remain clueless.
I'm not sure it's quite that simple, but it's a good place to start. Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee are two of this team's biggest scapegoats. And there's no question that John Wall has struggled, particularly when it comes to shooting the ball and trusting his teammates when things start going south.

I've been one of the many advocating more playing time for the rookie Singleton and second-year forward Booker, and they should be receiving heavy minutes every game. But that won't change the fact that Singleton's offensive upside is a guy who can knock down open threes, or that Booker can't really hit any shots outside of the paint (it's really a shame that Booker is 6'8 instead of 6'11 or 7'0). That doesn't mean they don't bring something to the table -- they obviously hustle and play more defense than most of the players on the roster -- but neither will transform into the star player the Wizards desperately need. Hopefully Wall becomes that star, but right now that's not the case.

(Random thought: Would any Wizards fans complain about the following starting lineup?

John Wall
Nick Young
Chris Singleton
Trevor Booker
JaVale McGee

That's obviously not the most efficient offensive group, but it's an extremely fast lineup that can go up and down the floor in a hurry. What's so special about a guy like Blatche where he's guaranteed to start and receive consistent minutes every game? He complained early in the season about not getting the ball in the post, yet every time he gets the ball now, he's nowhere near the basket. He's also content to launch jumpers that the defense has no problem letting him take.

Oh, and the Jordan Crawford experiment at point guard has to end. It's unbearable.)

Anyway, here's Wise's big finish:
Give Leonsis credit for transparency: He told us there would be seasons like these. That’s the sad truth that is starting to sink in with each embarrassing loss: This season’s Wizards were supposed to be almost painful to watch.

So as the losses pile up — and with 14 games in the next 22 days, surely they will — and the sentiment that someone must pay grows, consider: This was part of a plan.

That’s why Saunders and Grunfeld and especially Leonsis must stay and endure the pain with the rest of us: to ostensibly see how awfully bad it can be before there’s any hope of it getting good.
Sorry, but I'm not on board with that. This was the season in which the Wizards were supposed to be the worst team in the league? In Wall's second season, playing with guys that Grunfeld either drafted or acquired to make up the core of this team? Certainly that doesn't include Rashard Lewis, who was brought in just so Gilbert Arenas and his massive contract could be shipped out of town. But Blatche, McGee, Jordan Crawford, Young, and Kevin Seraphin all receive a ton of minutes, and they're the players that fans wouldn't mind seeing depart in the near future. Some fans are already starting to give up on Wall, which is unfortunate. (And many have already given up on Jan Vesely, who's played one game.)

I blame Grunfeld much more than Saunders. Saunders isn't the desired coach to lead a bad, young, rebuilding team. The offense is terrible, though that's mostly because the Wizards don't have many shooters and that they don't share the basketball. But Grunfeld is the architect of this team, and he's failed miserably. I won't go through all of the terrible trades and draft picks, but there are many of them. He's made several solid moves as well, sure. But this Wizards team may end up historically bad, and I don't trust Grunfeld to continue this rebuilding process. Why should anyone?

I'm also tired of Leonsis telling fans to be patient. We've been patient. Look at this team's record the last few years:

'08-'09: 19-63
'09-'10: 26-56
'10-'11: 23-59

Would he rather have no one care, or no one show up at games, or no one argue that changes need to be made? And maybe if stomaching lots of losses was the only awful thing, fans would be somewhat more inclined to go along with whatever plan the team is using. But this team is also routinely embarrassing off the court, and there doesn't seem to be much punishment for certain insubordinate acts.

I don't need Leonsis to hop on to his blog after each of the team's awful performances to tell fans to relax and to think of how wonderful everything will be in the future. A team's progress takes place on the court, and that's something Leonsis can't hide from fans. And right now, things aren't working.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Roger Mason Jr. ruled ineligible; Wizards fall to 0-3

Because of the teams that I cheer for, I've been forced to say this many times: It's one thing to just be bad. But as usual, the Wizards upped the ante and put together an awful performance both on and off the court yesterday. First, the embarrassing: For some reason, Roger Mason Jr.'s name was left off the Wizards' active roster, so when he was allowed (for some reason) to enter the game in the first quarter, ridiculousness ensued. Here's a more detailed description by The Washington Post's Michael Lee:
The Wizards’ public relations staff circled every name on the list except Jan Vesely and Maurice Evans without noticing the mistake and [Flip] Saunders signed off on a sheet that had only 12 active players instead of the possible 13.

“It’s my fault,” Saunders said. “The league sends us the list and what we do is circle the guys that are active and for some reason on our list, Roger wasn’t on it and I didn’t notice it. So, I take responsibility for that. I guess the only fortunate thing is, it wasn’t a situation that cost us down the stretch.”

The situation was exacerbated when Mason went to the scorers’ table and was allowed to check in for Jordan Crawford, who had just picked up his second foul with 3 minutes 27 seconds left in the first period. Saunders said before the game that he had planned to give the veteran Mason more playing time after he received just eight minutes in the first two games. “I thought he would’ve given us some help,” Saunders said.

Mason quickly hit a turnaround jumper but Rashard Lewis (14 points) was credited with the basket, which brought the Wizards within 24-18. After a timeout, Mason was set to reenter the game when referee Danny Crawford informed him that he should not have been allowed to play.
It's hard to believe that this could happen to a professional team, but yes, it did. As for the actual game, the Wizards allowed 65 first-half points and didn't play any defense until the second half. They did outscore the Bucks 26-13 in the third quarter, but they were again outplayed in the final frame and lost 102-81.

So, to recap, the Wizards have not only lost all three of their games, but they have yet to produce a drama-free performance either. After game one, Andray Blatche complained about wanting the ball in the paint more. During game two, John Wall yelled at Flip Saunders to take an unspecified Wizards player out of the game. And now Wizards fans will one day have the opportunity to tell their grandchildren about experiencing the Mason fiasco.

By the way, it's sort of amusing to think that Mason's presence could have somehow changed the course of the game for the Wizards, which Steve Buckhantz and Phil Chenier were discussing at one point. Then again, I'll give Buck and Phil a pass, mostly because they're one of the few reasons to tune in and watch. If the Wizards had horrible, or even mediocre, announcers, I don't think I could stomach many of their games.

So let's add this bizarre incident to a long list of perplexing moments involving the Wizards. Over at Bullets Forever, Sean Fagan does a terrific job accessing the damage:
I don't want to sugarcoat this at all. These type of boneheaded mistakes make the organization look like a minor league franchise. We can't spell the names on our jerseys right, we misdiagnose injuries, and now we can't even register our players. This has gone beyond a simple "oops" and well into the realm of incompetency. The Wizards PR department can fall on the sword all they want, this is still a failure on the part of Flip.
I'm generally not a fan of using "we" when referring to teams I root for, but in this case I don't really have a problem with it. Why? Because mistakes like this are also embarrassing for fans. It's one thing to discuss why the Wizards are bad on the court, or why John Wall isn't playing that well, or why Blatche isn't that good. But these completely avoidable off-the-court mistakes? They have to stop.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

All you need to know about Andray Blatche

Andray Blatche is a puzzling individual. He's talented and will have flashes of inspired play on the court, but then he'll say something outlandish off of it or spar with his coaches during a practice or a game. His most recent embarrassing moment came after the Wizards' season-opening loss to the Nets. Blatche wasn't happy with his role in the Wizards' offense, saying:
“You can’t keep having me pick and pop and shooting jumpshots. Gimme the ball in the paint. That’s where I’m most effiective at. I’ve been saying that since training camp. I need the ball in the paint. I don’t wand to be the pick-and-pop guy I used to be because it’s not working for me.”
Blatche refused to back down from critics, writing on Twitter yesterday afternoon: "Every body need to shut up I didn't call out my coach or team mates I said I had a bad game need it n the post instead of jump shots."

If Blatche had talked privately with Flip Saunders instead of going public with his complaints after the first game of the season, that would have been one thing. But he didn't, and here we are yet again discussing another controversial incident involving Blatche.

So Blatche wants to be a back-to-the-basket player now. That's interesting, because about a year ago, he called into Mike Wise's radio show and said the following:
"If anybody watched me grow into this team and into this league, they'd know that I've never been a back-to-the-basket, bang-bang down player. I'm more of a face-up and a finesse player. That's who I am. I can't force myself to be a different player that I'm not."
It sure sounds like Blatche is forcing himself to be a different player now. So Blatche may be a hypocrite. Or  maybe he was just frustrated after a not-so-good performance against the Nets. Either way, publicly complaining about his role and creating off-the-court drama are not things that a player entering his seventh season in the league should be doing.

Why does Blatche have to be either a pick-and-pop player or a back-to-the-basket scorer? Can't he be both? Does he realize that's a possibility? It sounds like his main beef is with the plays the Wizards ran in the first game, but those are also concerns that will work themselves out if Blatche plays effectively on the court. John Wall can create enough offensively to get Blatche open shots. It's his job to knock them down. If he's not good enough to make those open shots, or efficient enough with his back to the basket to get buckets consistently, then he probably shouldn't be on the court anyway. And if the Wizards and Saunders do oblige and get Blatche more opportunities in the paint, how long will it take before he wishes to be back outside the paint shooting jumpers instead?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Games notes from the Wizards' season-opening loss

The first regular season game after a lockout-reduced preseason is probably going to be sloppy (especially when the Wizards and Nets are involved). This game didn't disappoint. Unfortunately, after building an early lead -- at one point the Wizards were ahead by 21 -- Washington crumbled in the second half and fell to the Nets, 90-84. I missed most of the first quarter, but here are some of my observations from the rest of the game:

- Not John Wall's best game: 13 points (3-13 shooting), 8 rebounds, 6 assists. He added two steals and a block, but he also committed four turnovers and missed six free throws (7-13). He drove to the basket frequently, but he was also out of control on many of them and didn't get calls on several wild shots and layup attempts. The Wizards won't win many games with Wall playing that poorly. Still, it was only the first game, so there's plenty of time to improve.

- Chris Singleton, after just one game, already looks like the team's best perimeter defender. At 6'8, he has the size to defend power forwards, and he's also athletic enough to frustrate guards. The Wizards unleashed him on Williams a few times, and Singleton did a pretty good job sticking with him, moving his feet and staying in front of the shifty point guard. He's going to get plenty of minutes regardless, but if he's able to improve his shooting enough (3 points, 1-3 from the field), he's going to be a very valuable role player.

- Nick Young had the best offensive night for the Wizards. Young, who had an injury scare (left foot) in the third quarter that required him to be lifted into the locker room, later returned in the fourth quarter and seemed to be moving around just fine. In 18 minutes off the bench, he had 16 points on 6-9 shooting, and he made all four of his free throws. I kind of like him in that bench-scoring role.

- No starter for the Wizards played all that well. Jordan Crawford had 15 points and four rebounds; Andray Blatche had 11 points and eight rebounds; and JaVale McGee added 11 points and six rebounds. Rashard Lewis chipped in nine points and two rebounds. But none of them were efficient from the field. Crawford needed 12 shots to get his points, and McGee and Blatche combined to make just 10 of their 24 shots.

- The Wizards frountcourt was outplayed by Kris Humphries (21 points, 16 rebounds), Damion James (6 points, 14 rebounds), and Johan Petro (11 points, 5 rebounds). Yes, really. The Wizards were also outrebounded by 20 (58-38) and allowed 19 offensive rebounds. That was a major problem.

- Trevor Booker only played nine minutes and wasn't much of a factor. Ronny Turiaf played 20 minutes and had a very Turiaf-like game: 2 points, 5 rebounds, 1 steal, 2 blocks, 3 turnovers, 4 fouls. Because Turiaf plays pretty good defense, he's going to see consistent minutes off the bench all season. It's too early to complain about the distribution of minutes after one game, but hopefully Booker receives more playing time as well.

- The Wizards only took eight three-pointers and only hit one of them. The Wizards don't have many solid three-point shooters, but making just one is obviously terrible.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Wizards close to acquiring Turiaf from Knicks

The Wizards appear to be on the verge of trading for veteran power forward/center Ronny Turiaf from the Knicks. The move, which is basically a salary dump, will give the Wizards an experienced big man on a team with several young front court players, such as Andray Blatche, JaVale McGee, Trevor Booker, Chris Singleton, and Kevin Seraphin.

The Wizards may also receive cash in the deal, and they probably won't be sending any players back to the Knicks (so who knows exactly what Washington is giving up).

Turiaf, who turns 29 in January, has averaged 5.3 points and 3.8 rebounds per game in six NBA seasons. He's also averaged 1.5 assists and 1.4 blocks per game. Turiaf is not much of a scorer; he's more of a hustle/high-energy guy who will rebound and play defense. So, he presents something off the bench that the Wizards haven't had much of for a while.

That doesn't mean he's a great player (he's not) or that he's going to see huge minutes (he shouldn't, especially if that means cutting into the minutes of Booker and Singleton). But since he'll defend and rebound, he may end up replacing McGee and Blatche more than a few times during this lockout-shortened season. And considering how compact this season will be, it's not a bad idea to have lots of depth.

Another positive: Turiaf will make a little over $4 million this season ($4.36 million according to ShamSports), but he's also in the last year of his deal. And since the Wizards still need to spend some money to reach the new salary cap floor, it's not a bad idea to acquire someone in the last year of his contract. If you subscribe to the sort of theory that a guy in the last year of his contract plays harder so that he sets himself up with a new deal afterwards, well, then that's another bonus of this trade. Regardless, it makes sense.

One more thing: Turiaf tends to get a little animated during games, so hopefully he provides a few of these moments for the Wizards:

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

So maybe G-Wiz and G-Man aren't so bad

"Wizards" is far from a respected team name among the D.C. basketball faithful. Most would welcome a name change back to the Bullets, but that's probably not going to happen anytime soon, or ever. Wizards is far from a perfect name, but then again, I'm sure most would agree that it is much better than Sea Dogs.

Since most people don't like the Wizards name, they likely aren't fond of the Wizards mascots, G-Wiz and G-Man, either. It's hard to fault them for that; they both look rather goofy, particularly the good-natured G-Wiz.

But let's step back for a moment and realize that things could be much worse than Wizards, G-Wiz, and G-Man. Want proof? Just take a look at the Sixers' new proposed mascot choices. Here's a description of the choices, courtesy of CSNPhilly.com:
The Sixers unveiled their new choices for mascot on Monday and the trio features cartoonish versions of Ben Franklin (Big Ben), a dog (B. Franklin Dogg) and a moose (Phil E. Moose). Yes, a moose in Philadelphia. All three of the characters sport Sixers attire with B. Franklin Dogg even donning a Liberty Bell shaped hat with a 76ers logo.
So, yes, while 76ers/Sixers is a much better team name than the Wizards, I'm confident that Wizards fans would much rather deal with G-Wiz and G-Man than something named B. Franklin Dogg.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Lots of people like the Wizards' draft

I wasn't quite sure what to expect from Ernie Grunfeld and the Wizards in the NBA Draft. Over the past few weeks, reports surfaced that the Wizards were enamored with Jan Vesely, the talented, 21-year-old forward from the Czech Republic. But the Wizards were also exploring trade options, including possibly moving up in the draft to select other skilled big men, such as Derrick Williams or Enes Kanter. But in the end, the Wizards held onto all three of their draft selections, and by many accounts, used them wisely.

With the Wizards' first choice at No. 6, Vesely was indeed the selection. So maybe the Wizards tipped their hand a little early, but Grunfeld seemed very happy to get a guy they've been targeting for a while.

At No. 18, the Wizards selected another versatile forward: Chris Singleton out of Florida State. Singleton, also 21 years old, is considered by manner to be the best defensive player in the draft. According to a few reports, the Wizards were apparently considering taking Singleton at the sixth spot, so Grunfeld had to be ecstatic when Singleton was still available 12 spots later.

With their last pick, the 34th overall selection in the second round, the Wizards selected 22-year-old Shelvin Mack, a guard out of Butler. At 6-3, he's listed as a point guard and will probably get a chance to be the primary backup to John Wall, but he's also considered to be a combo guard who can create his own shot and knock down threes. The Mack selection, like the other two, also fills a team need.

I'm not a talent evaluator or a scout, and I haven't seen more than a few YouTube clips of Vesely. But even though I was skeptical of the Wizards selecting him before the draft, I do like the pick a little more afterwards considering the next two picks the Wizards made. The rebuilding goal, according to Grunfeld and Ted Leonsis, is to build around John Wall and keep bringing in younger, more talented players. Hopefully some pieces from this draft end up being significant building blocks to accomplish that plan.

Here's what other scribes around the NBA blogosphere think about the Wizards' draft (many including draft grades):

- "Washington Wizards (23-59): Three quality picks, Jan Vesley will surprise, Chris Singleton will defend and Sheldon Mack will scrap. Grade: A-" [Kurt Helin, Pro Basketball Talk]

- "[Listed under the Winners column:] Washington Wizards: The Wizards very quietly had a terrific draft. First Jan Vesely was available, who fits a need for them at slashing forward. With his athleticism and aggression, he makes a perfect partner to run the break with John Wall. Then, miraculously, Chris Singleton tumbled all the way down to No.18 where the Wizards jumped all over him. Singleton is a lottery talent that fell out of the top 14. He gives the Wizards the ability to move Andray Blatche if they can find a taker for his contract. He can rebound and defend exceptionally well. Singleton's length and athleticism, combined with a chip on his shoulder from dropping, makes him a great pick for the Wizards. Shelvin Mack in the second round was a great value pick for backup point guard." [Matt Moore, Eye on Basketball]

- "Grade: A+ Vesely fawning aside, this was a terrific draft. Vesely will be must-watch TV for those of us who dread pulling up Wizards games on a Tuesday at 7 at night, Singleton is a needed lockdown defender who might allow Flip Saunders to bust out his zone defense once again, and I don't understand why other teams underrated Shelvin Mack. This isn't an area where I want to be proven wrong. No boffo names, but Washington did well to surround John Wall with some eager types who couldn't be bothered with the team's recent history. Well done." [Kelly Dwyer, Ball Don't Lie]

- "Well, we know at least this much about Vesely — he has great taste in women! That stuff aside, Vesely will be a great finisher and running mate for John Wall. Singleton is considered the best defender in the draft and is a great piece for this young team. Mack could be a solid back-up and the team should be considered on the come up. Grade: A" [Dennis Velasco, The Basketball Jones]

- "Synopsis: The only two above-average players on the Wizards each got something to love on draft night. Point guard John Wall picked up a brilliant running mate in Vesely, a flyer who will no doubt find himself on the business end of a number of open court alley-oops. JaVale McGee, the team's quixotic center, found a partner in defensive crime in Singleton.

Of course, these two guys play the same position. But Washington can very easily push either one to power forward for stretches (and maybe over the long-term) given McGee's weakside defense. Individually, Vesely has to develop his jumper quite a bit to avoid becoming a problem in the halfcourt, and Singleton has to be a legit threat from the NBA arc.

Picking up Mack is a wash -- he won't likely be anything spectacular, but you could do worse. Grade: A." [Tom Ziller, SB Nation]

- "[Posted under the "Who won the draft?" column:] Chris Palmer, ESPN The Magazine: The Wizards got Jan Vesely and Chris Singleton, two guys who can contribute right away and help turn the franchise around. Vesely has some serious swag to go with his leaping ability. Singleton gives them toughness and could emerge as a quality pro defender. It's a great way to follow up taking John Wall at No. 1 in last year's draft." [ESPN 5-on-5]

- "[Grade: A+] As I mentioned earlier, John Wall can't do it alone. The Wizards won the same amount of games without him in the 2009-10 campaign as they did with him last season (23), but now comes the fun part. In grabbing the athletic, exciting small forward in Jan Vesely (No. 6), they now have a get-up-and-go talent to run the break with their franchise centerpiece. Vesely has been the apple of the Wizards' eye for quite some time and that's precisely why. In Singleton (No. 18), they get a lockdown defender player who claims he can guard all five positions. Shelvin Mack (No. 34) is a nice pickup at the point as well, as Washington's only backup for Wall before the draft was journeyman Mustafa Shakur." [Sam Amick, SI.com]

Sebastian Pruiti also wrote up a solid scouting report yesterday on Vesely -- it's definitely worth checking out.

For more draft coverage and Wizards coverage in general, check out Bullets Forever and Truth About It, as always.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Wizards lose to Heat by 16, are far from embarrassing

I'm always going to be a Wizards fan, but there hasn't been much to cheer about lately. Sure, the Wizards beat the Jazz on Monday -- wins are always good -- but that came after a four-game losing streak, and a six-game losing streak before that. You get the idea. Going into last night's game, the Wizards were 18-55, everyone keeps getting hurt (most recently Trevor Booker, who's fun to watch), and at this point the Wizards and other losing teams are basically jockeying for position in the upcoming NBA Draft.

But something about the team's effort last night against the Heat (a 123-107 loss) made me proud. Maybe it's that the Wizards are without the following players: Nick Young, Rashard Lewis, Josh Howard, and Booker. (Andray Blatche returned from an injury last night.) Maybe it's that Othyus Jeffers (who, with 15 points and eight rebounds, had a solid game) played 29 minutes and Cartier Martin played 18. But no, that's only part of it.

Early in the second quarter, John Wall and Zydrunas Ilgauskas got into a little skirmish. Ilgauskas had the ball and Wall was swiping at it, going for a steal. Ilgauskas, trying to fend off Wall (or something), ended up elbowing Wall twice, which obviously didn't make the rookie too happy. Understandably, Wall took exception -- after all, who likes being elbowed in the head? -- and threw a forearm into Ilgauskas's midsection. Watch the play for yourself:



As Wall and Ilgauskas argued and nearly squared off, the coaches ran onto the court to separate the players. Trying to protect Wall, JaVale McGee rushed in and shoved Ilgauskas, and Juwan Howard came to Ilgauskas's defense and went after McGee. Howard also had some words for Flip Saunders as he was on his way to break up the scuffle.

Wall and Ilgauskas received flagrant twos and were ejected for their actions. Howard received only a technical foul, but he was also ejected for basically looking to fight. McGee was given a technical foul but was allowed to stay in the game. (It's also worth noting that Ilgauskas was "offering fans a double-bird salute on his way to the locker room.")

Regardless of how poorly the Wizards have played this season, Wall and McGee refused to back down from Ilgauskas and the all-mighty Heat. Without Wall, the Wizards lost their best player for the rest of the game, yet they all continued to battle. Jordan Crawford took control of the offense, and it almost seemed like he made it his mission to keep the Wizards in the game. He ended up with 39 points on 12-24 shooting, also making all 10 of his free throws. He ended up with only four assists -- he loves to shoot and was hoisting up plenty of shots in the game already -- but in his crafty style, he was still driving to the basket on occasion with relative ease and was setting up his teammates with pretty good shots when he felt the need to do so. But yeah, in terms of a shooting conscience, he's similar to Nick Young (which isn't a revelation).

After a Crawford three-pointer cut the deficit to one (91-90) with 9:27 to go in the fourth quarter, the Heat finally started to pull away. At the end, accounting for both LeBron James and Dwyane Wade proved to be too difficult.

In most cases, moral victories don't mean a whole lot. They're usually just a way for a losing team to take something positive away from a loss. But in this situation, the severely short-handed Wizards took on one of the most talented teams in the league, played without their best player from the second quarter on, and stayed right with the Heat for a majority of the game. The Wizards need to get more talented; no one would question that. But the way the team played and refused to let the Heat walk all over them after Wall departed, when it could have easily happened -- that's something this franchise can build on.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Jordan Crawford vs. Nick Young

In Atlanta, Jordan Crawford wasn't getting consistent minutes (he's a rookie, after all), but that has changed in Washington. Crawford has gone from averaging 10 minutes in 16 games with the Hawks to over 22 minutes in 10 games with the short-handed Wizards. If Nick Young and some others were healthy, Crawford may not be playing quite as much, but that hardly matters since someone on the Wizards always seems to be hurt. Also, it's not the worst thing to see Crawford and some of the other youngsters getting minutes (even if the team is getting routinely destroyed by much better teams).

According to ShamSports, Young has a qualifying offer next season of about $3.7 million. He's likely going to want an extension, though, and if so he'll be looking for a raise. I'm not sure how much money Young would command on the open market, but he'd surely be looking at a bit more than $4 million, at least. The Wizards may want to keep him around, especially since he took a leap this season to scoring 17.7 points a night on 32 minutes per game.

The Wizards drafted Young in the 2007, which is another reason that they'd like to keep him around. They drafted him, he's gotten better, and it would be a shame to let him get away and start playing even better for another team. Still, it would be foolish to overpay for a player like Young, no matter the step forward he's taken this season. Yes, he has been more efficient on offense, but he's certainly not a well-rounded player. His defense has improved in his four years in the league, but he's not a shutdown defender by any means and has his fair share of lapses on the defensive end. He's also not very adept at passing the ball, averaging just 1.2 assists (and 1.4 turnovers). There's no question that Young is a scorer first (and second, and third, etc.).

Crawford, meanwhile, is nearly three years younger than Young and is still under team control for the next few seasons. He's obviously a raw talent, and no one knows exactly what he can do yet, but he has been OK -- at least just as good, or better, than what fans expected when he came from Atlanta. In his 10 games with Washington, Crawford is averaging 11.0 points, 1.9 rebounds, and 2.2 assists per game. He's also shooting just 39.3 percent from the field. He definitely has Nick Young-ish qualities on offense, particularly when it comes to dribbling too much, taking bad shots, and not passing the ball a whole lot. Still, he has shown a knack for getting after it on the defensive end (1.4 steals per game), and it would be difficult to debate his hustle on the court.

I like Nick Young. He's not only one of the best players on the Wizards right now, but he's probably the most entertaining personality of the group as well. But when it comes to overpaying for young, team-drafted talent, the Wizards may have learned their lesson with Andray Blatche. Young may return after this season, particularly since the Wizards will have some money to work with. But it wouldn't make a whole lot of sense to commit a bunch of money to Young with a player like Crawford now on the roster. I'm not saying that Crawford can be better than Young in a few years, but the chance exists. And the last thing the Wizards should be doing is handing out long-term deals to slightly better-than-average players.