Washington Wizards: 4 Questions for the 2011-12 NBA Season
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Point guard John Wall has shown occasional flashes of brilliance but still needs to make significant improvements to his game before he can pencil his name on the list of top NBA point guards.
Shooting guard Nick Young has, at times, displayed a strong ability to score the basketball, but he too has lacked consistency.
And the Wizards front court still leaves a lot to be desired. The team lacks a low-post scoring threat, and players like Andre Blatche and Javale McGee, while physically talented, are so prone to mental mistakes on the defensive end that opposing front court players consistently take advantage of them.
Add to that mix a young rookie from the Czech Republic and a second-tier shooting guard who is delusional enough to believe he can be better than Michael Jordan, and you have a roster that may rank worst in the league in terms of collective talent.
The shortened 2011-12 NBA season promises to be a painful one for the Wizards. Here are four questions facing the franchise.
Can John Wall Become a Superstar?
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The formula for NBA success is a rather simple one—land one of the game's top 10 players and put competent role-players around him.
The second part of that equation is actually the easier part—general managers from Houston to Utah to Portland have demonstrated that it is possible to regularly fill a roster with solid role-players.
The tricky part is signing a top 10 player because, as the number suggests, only 10 actually exist.
When the Wizards drafted John Wall with the first overall pick of the 2010 draft, analysts believed Washington had finally filled the superstar void left by the oft-injured and consequently over-the-hill Gilbert Arenas.
I remain unconvinced that Wall can/will morph into a true top 10 player.
Wall has all the physical gifts needed for NBA success. He's tall for his position, fast in the open court and has very long arms (an important physical characteristic that often goes overlooked).
But Wall's game remains horrendously unpolished. All of the NBA's current top 10 players—Chris Paul, Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose—are highly skilled basketball players in addition to being great athletes.*
They possess the fundamental skills youth league coaches preach about to the thousands of young players who one day hope to see their names on an NBA lineup card.
Wall does not possess these skills. His jump shot is slow and inconsistent, his passes are soft and sometimes imprecise and, most importantly, his ball-handling skills are far behind those of his peers.
When any of those aforementioned point guards attack a defense, the ball seems like a natural extension of their bodies, and it integrates perfectly with their movements. They cross over, juke and then attack the basket amid a flurry of controlled dribbles.
Wall cannot do this. He dribbles high and away from his body.
When he looks to penetrate, it always seems like his mind knows where he wants to go and that his legs have the ability to take him there, but it often takes him a quarter of a second longer than it should because he can't dribble as quickly and as competently as he needs to.
I am well aware that at times Wall will execute a fantastic crossover dribble and that in the open court his sheer speed allows him to blow by defenders.
But more often than not, his subpar ball-handling hinders him.
Last season—especially in fourth quarters—Wall would often bring the ball across half-court and immediately pass it to Nick Young or Jordan Crawford so that they could run the offense.
I distinctly remember one game in December against the Miami Heat in which Wall essentially became a spectator—he stood behind the three-point line off to one side while his teammates executed Flip Saunders' game plan.
His inability to penetrate the stingy Miami defense made him a liability in half-court sets.
That scenario would never happen to teams led by Paul, Rose or Nash, and I doubt such a shortcoming will plague Kyrie Irving during his rookie campaign.
If Wall can improve his ball-handling and shooting, he will become much more of an offensive threat and could easily morph into a true top 10 player. But to do that, he'll have to spend his offseasons doing more than just talking trash to collegiate players who are below his talent level.
*Dwight Howard is the one exception. His game remains unpolished, but he is such a freak of nature that it doesn't matter.
When Will the Wizards Cut Jordan Crawford?
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Anybody who plays pickup basketball knows that at every court, there is always one regular who is an absolute ball hog.
This person will stand at the three-point line and scream "I'm open" or "Swing the ball" or "Pass the rock" no matter what the circumstance.
You might be shooting an uncontested layup and this person will be screaming at you to give him the ball.
Jordan Crawford is the NBA version of this player.
When he retires, or more likely when the day comes when no NBA team is willing to offer him a contract, I fully expect Crawford to find the court nearest to his home and assume the role of de facto gunner-in-chief.
Crawford never sees a shot he doesn't like and can barely mask his disappointment when a possession ends without him shooting the ball.
Here are his scoring stats from the 2011 preseason: 9-of-31 for 24 points. Ridiculous.
The fact that he believes he can be better than Michael Jordan reflects poorly on him and makes the franchise seem like a bigger joke than it already is.
I'm unconvinced that Nick Young should be the team's shooting guard for years to come, but he is a better option than Crawford and should start over the diminutive gunner.
When Will Ted Leonsis Fire Ernie Grunfeld?
Ernie Grunfeld has devolved into a joke of a general manager.
Don't believe me? Read this exchange between Bill Simmons and Chad Ford from a June 2011 B.S. Report Podcast in which they discuss the possibility of Washington trading Javale McGee and the No. 6 pick in the 2011 draft in return for the No. 2 pick and the chance to draft Arizona's Derrick WIlliams.
Bill Simmons: How 'bout this: Javale McGee and the No. 6 pick (for the No. 2 pick)?
Chad Ford: Nope. Washington won't do it.
Bill Simmons: Well they're crazy.
Chad Ford: Washington won't do it.
Bill Simmons: Well then Washington's dumb.
Chad Ford: Okay. So we've established that.
When Grunfeld came to Washington in 2003 he made the very savvy move of signing Gilbert Arenas, who at the time was not getting recognition for his exceptional talents.
Arenas turned into one of the league's 10 best players, making Grunfeld look like the savior of a franchise reeling from the Michael Jordan fiasco and Kwame Brown bust, and fans settled in for what they thought would be years of savvy front-office moves.
That facade crumbled faster than anyone could have anticipated. Grunfeld has done nothing to improve his team in recent years.
He has drafted poorly, signed players who were past their primes to big contracts and failed to acquire good free agents.
The fact that he passed on the opportunity to unload Javale McGee and obtain the rights to draft Derrick Williams, a potentially explosive power forward who could become a poor man's Blake Griffin, is a fireable offense in and of itself.
Since Ted Leonsis became the owner, there has been lots of talk that he can and will bring needed change to the organization.
Changing the logos was a good start. Firing Grunfeld is the next logical step.
Will Flip Saunders Last the Entire Season?
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Flip Saunders was brought to Washington to help what used to be the Big Three—Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler—reach the next level.
Instead, he saw Arenas go down to injuries and guns in the locker room and watched ownership trade Jamison and Butler.
He now presides over a group of players who act as if they are better than they are—I'm talking to you Andre Blatche and Javale McGee.
Saunders is a solid coach who has led good teams in the past, and while I don't see Wizards management firing him, I would not be surprised if he chooses to walk rather than finish out the season.