Perhaps the Wizards had enough leftover talent on their roster to survive the losses of Gilbert Arenas and Brendan HaywoodAfter Washington’s 114-108 home loss to the New Look Knicks, all the talent in the world can’t save them. They simply play no defense whatsoever.
What defense? The only player on the team who takes any pride in his defense is Caron Butler, and even he was late on a handful of baseline rotations.
Etan Thomas was bullied by Zach Randolph in the post, and couldn’t step out on Fat Zach’s perimeter jumpers. Even when Thomas made a good defensive play—stripping a Randolph attempt on the way up—he’d follow it up by not attacking Randolph after he gained possession. In short, Thomas isn’t strong enough, quick enough, or hungry enough to defend the talented post scorers in the NBA.
The rest of the frontcourt defenders were even worse. Andray Blatche doesn’t play defense until he smells a blocked shot. And while Javale McGee has explosive speed, leaping ability, and athleticism, he’s extremely raw, unrefined, has poor hands, and is being given a hands-on apprenticeship he probably isn’t ready for.
The biggest culprit for Washington’s porous defense was Antawn Jamison. Unable to throw his hand up on the perimeter, unable to slide his feet, unwilling to fight through screens, Jamison was torched by whoever attacked him, usually Wilson Chandler.
Nick Young made several athletic blocks, including sending a Jamal Crawford transition jumper back into his face. But Young doesn’t get low enough allowing opponents to drive by him, and he still makes mistakes—like fouling Jamal Crawford on a last minute made jumper that essentially sealed the Knicks’ win.
The guards went under nearly every screen the Knicks employed, allowing the visitors to jack away threes from the perimeter. Still, because of Washington’s overreacting on penetration, and some snappy Knicks passing, the blue and orange were able to find even better three-point looks. That’s why the Knicks shot 32 threes, making 12 of them.
Even though the Knicks were bombing away from the outlands, Washington’s defenders sagged too far off to contest potential penetrations. That means the players don’t trust their first steps in defending explosive offensive moves. Closeouts were also soft and timid, another indicator of a lack of defensive trust.
The most damning indicator of Washington’s porous defense was the Knicks’ exceptional assist total: 36 assists on 46 made baskets. In fact, Washington’s best defense was to hack the Knicks—they only converted nine of their 19 free throw attempts.
The truth is, Washington’s only legitimate defenders are Butler, and occasionally DeShawn Stevenson. The youngsters have talent, but for the most part, they lack the experience/maturity to know how to do the right thing at the right time.
While Washington’s defense was abominable, their offense was good enough to keep them in the game.
With Butler accepting a go-to role, the Wizards were able to score in bushels. Butler showed the uncanny ability to read the Knicks’ defense and exploit what it was giving him. For the most part, he looked to catch and shoot from the baseline or the wing, or he looked to catch the ball, lull his defender to sleep, and then rise over him to nail a jumper. However, when he read the defense closing out on him hard, he was able to put his head down and get straight to the rim.
His handle wasn’t good enough where he could crossover, or change direction, and then make a perfect pass, but when he saw defenders converging and glimpsed an open man, the pass would get to him. Add in seven rebounds to go with his scoring and passing, and it’s clear to see that Butler is easily the Wizards most complete, and best player.
Jamsion (11-21 FG, 0-0 FT, 2-7 3FG, 2 AST, 24 PTS) hit a number of his awkward, if not effective, quasi-hooks, flippers, runners, pushers, and turnarounds to the tune of 24 points. As usual, he attacked the glass with energy. As usual, he shied away from contact with the ball (no trips to the line). And as usual, he launched too many long jumpers. Since Jamison isn’t aggressive with his back to the basket, and is really an oversized small forward, the Wizards weren’t able to post any of their big men.
Thomas tried to post, but missed two of his three opportunities with his back to the basket. McGee was able to run, jump, and knock down a free throw line jumper, but he doesn’t have any post skills.
Blatche, too, is little more than an oversized small forward scoring with his athleticism and his ability to take the ball to the rim. When he tried to post up in the fourth quarter, he unleashed a ridiculous over-the-shoulder pass which was intercepted, and then didn’t recognize a double team leading to him panicking and forcing a pass into traffic.
Despite his athletic skills, Blatche is too immature to be a winning player.
In fact, a Stevenson mid-post turnaround, and several occurrences of Nick Young torching Nate Robinson, provided Washington’s only post offense.
Antonio Daniels generally made good decisions, and cut well without the ball. Juan Dixon was able to shoot, scoot, drive, and dish to the tune of five points, eight rebounds, and 11 assists. The Wizards can provide enough of an offense from those two point guards to compenate for Arenas’ absence.
Young (7-12 FG) was strong, confident, athletic, and flashed a nice shooting stroke. He definitely has a future in the league, and can provide spurts of offense in the here and now.
While it didn’t quite match the Knicks’ prodigious ratio, the Wiz assisted on 27 of their 46 baskets, and shot 51.7%. Those are certainly quality numbers.
Those numbers, the wonderful talents of Caron Butler, the emergence of Nick Young, the ability of Antonio Daniels to execute Washington’s misdirection offense lead one to believe that the absence of Gilbert Arenas is hardly the problem.
Instead, for the Wizards to remain competitive they’ll need:
- A center who can defend the post, take up space, and provide any kind of offense near the shadow of the basket. Limited as he is, losing Brendan Haywood is an important loss, and his absence exacerbates Washington’s lack of toughness.
- Trips to detention for Blatche for ever unnecessary mistake he commits.
- Javale McGee to slow down his body and speed up his learning curve.
- Wider screen-setters to make Washington’s offense more efficient. A wide-bodied center should also fill that need.
- Another ace defender so Caron Butler doesn’t have to be Batman and Superman rolled into one.
- A true power forward to replace Jamison.
Or the Wizards can put their eggs in Gilbert Arenas’ basket and expect another fun-filled season punctuated by a first round defeat to the Cavs.