Can Drew Gooden Get Career Back on Track While Pushing Wizards to NBA Playoffs?

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Can Drew Gooden Get Career Back on Track While Pushing Wizards to NBA Playoffs?
Ned Dishman/Getty Images

If Drew Gooden keeps this up, the Washington Wizards will head into the playoffs better equipped to do serious damage than they've ever been.

"This," of course, refers to the late-career renaissance the veteran big man has been enjoying since signing a 10-day contract with the Wizards on Feb. 26. Gooden has averaged 8.1 points and 4.6 rebounds in 14.6 minutes per game—modest contributions by typical standards, but ones the Wizards desperately needed after Nene hit the sidelines with a sprained knee ligament.

The 12-year vet's surprising production comes after a lengthy absence from the NBA. Since leaving the Milwaukee Bucks last July, Gooden couldn't find work anywhere. Based on how he's played since returning, it's hard to fathom why it took so long for him to make it back into the league.

Everybody loves a redemption story, but Gooden and the Wizards have more practical concerns at the moment. Washington needs to know how much its new addition can help when the games really start to count. And Gooden is out to prove he shouldn't be out of a job again next year.

Before determining how big of an impact Gooden's play will have on his (and his team's) future, it's worth addressing what he's done to this point.

 

The Numbers

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Washington has played to a net rating of plus-1.4 points per 100 possessions with Gooden on the court this season, per NBA.com. And perhaps more importantly, it has gone 5-3 in the eight games since he joined the club. With such a small sample of data to work with, it's difficult to put much stock in the statistics from this season.

But all we have to do to verify Gooden's positive impact is look back at his past production. There, we find that his career has been marked by consistently solid scoring and rebounding totals, as well as a generally positive overall impact.

For his career, Gooden averages 15.8 points and 10.1 rebounds per 36 minutes. His overall offensive rating is 105, per Basketball-Reference.com, which, when measured against his career defensive rating of 104 reveals a player with a legacy of net-positive play.

Gooden isn't a star by any stretch, but he's got more than a decade of data saying he's a statistical plus.

 

The Raves

The numbers show Gooden to be a helpful player, but his teammates are a bit more enthusiastic in their praise for what he's brought the Wizards this season.

"I’ve been trying to get him for a minute,” John Wall told Michael Lee of the Washington Post. “He can play. He’s a veteran. He’s going to fight, play the right way, not the wrong way. He just plays hard, he can pick and pop and he knows how to guard the five position and then they can’t guard him on the other end.”

Gooden is as big a fan of his own work as anyone:

Head coach Randy Wittman marveled at the way his newest addition went from the proverbial NBA unemployment line to rotation minutes without missing a beat, per Lee:

"It’s hard considering you haven’t played all year, but obviously, he’s showing he was doing something rather than just sitting on the couch. That’s a credit to him. Because he’s gotten his legs under him pretty quickly.”

And even Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, apparently a pal from Gooden's Milwaukee days, is all in on the big man's resurgence in Washington. Rodgers tweeted this after Gooden broke out for 21 points against the Brooklyn Nets on March 15:

Right now, everyone's loving the Drew Gooden Experience, which is why the Wiz are ready to keep him around for the rest of the season. That's a decision Gooden is very happy about, according to CSN Washington's J. Michael:

Two things about Drew Gooden, one obvious and the other maybe not as much: First, when his second 10-day contract expires March 18, he'll be retained for the rest of the season by the Wizards which is already a forgone conclusion, CSN Washington has confirmed. Secondly, the 6-10 forward-center -- a career 23% shooter from the three-point line -- is showing signs that he can stretch to the floor.

And that, folks, is what we in the industry call a segue—one that leads us into the aspect of Gooden's game that matters most for both his future, and Washington's: He's expanding his range.

 

The Key

Always a useful mid-range sniper, Gooden has been stepping back a bit this season. According to Michael, that's a development that might stick. Gooden said:

I didn't take it seriously enough in my younger years, yet alone I wasn't allowed to shoot threes. A lot of those shots, I was putting myself on the line of getting taken out if I didn't make it. It happened in the last couple of years with (then-Milwaukee Bucks coach) Scott Skiles when he let me, he wanted me to shoot threes, encouraged me to shoot threes. That's where it began. I continued to work, put a lot of time in the gym and its started to pay off.

For bigs who aren't skilled post scorers or elite rim protectors, the ability to stretch the floor is a must. And in today's NBA, it takes a three-point shot to do that.

We can't get too fired up over Gooden's long-distance prowess just yet. He's made three of his six three-point attempts so far this year, but he's also knocking down long twos at a high-efficiency clip, per NBA.com:

NBA.com

So if you're looking for a reason to believe Gooden has what it takes to make an impact on Washington's postseason fate, his burgeoning three-point prowess is what you're after.

The standings in the East are still too jumbled to make solid predictions, but Washington is ticketed for a tough first-round matchup with the Chicago Bulls, Toronto Raptors or Brooklyn Nets. From there the road gets no easier, as either the Indiana Pacers or Miami Heat will be waiting in the second round.

Maybe Gooden will be useful in dragging opposing bigs like Joakim Noah or Roy Hibbert away from the basket. And perhaps he'll offer the Wizards a chance to attack the Miami Heat on similar small-ball footing.

Then again, if Nene is at full strength by the final week of the regular season (which he might very well be), Gooden's minutes and opportunities could quickly diminish.

At the very least, though, he gives Washington a new-age frontcourt weapon, which is an odd thing to say about a guy with 12 years of experience.

 

In the End

Rob Carr/Getty Images

Gooden has already done a lot to help the Wizards, but he's done even more for himself. Teams around the league saw his statistical decline last season and assumed he was nearing the end of his NBA road. But it seems Gooden's 3.3 points and 1.9 rebounds in just 16 games for the Bucks had more to do with the environment in Milwaukee than any dip in ability.

He's young enough to contribute physically, and he has the mental advantage of experience in just about every system the league has to offer. I guess that's one of the perks of suiting up for 10 different teams.

Gooden's future seems much more secure now. Plenty of teams will be after him whenever the Wizards bow out of the postseason.

And as far as best-case scenarios go for this season, remember how much Chris Andersen, another 10-day signee who carved out a big role and impacted the Heat's run last year. The Wizards aren't the Heat, but Gooden's presence could be nearly as meaningful as Andersen's was.

At worst, Gooden has already done enough to tack on another few years to the end of his career.

Not bad for a guy who was supposed to be washed up.

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