Tag Archives: JaVale McGee
This is the second and final installment of breaking down Nene and Emeka Okafor, but be sure to check out part one here.
The Washington Wizards, in dire need of a big man to come in and become a force in the middle, traded for Emeka Okafor during the offseason in hopes that he would become that player. While offensively Okafor is going to make only a marginal difference, on defense is where his reputation in the NBA has been carved out. Nene, on the other hand, will for certain make a difference on offense, it’s still unclear what his defensive impact really is. Since we already covered their offensive abilities in part one, we’ll take a look at their defensive skills in part two.
In terms of rebounding ability:
Even though these two big men are similar in physical stature, not all bulky bodies are able to rebound equally. Okafor and Nene are miles apart in their capabilities on the offensive and defensive glass. We’ll start by discussing Okafor, because his accomplishments are worth noting. In Emeka Okafor, the Washington Wizards finally have a big man who likes to get on the boards. Gone is JaVale McGee, and in is a guy who, among active players, ranks behind only Dwight Howard, Tim Duncan, and Kevin Garnett in rebounds per game at 10.1. In that order. Rebounds per game obviously aren’t a catch-all stat, but if the saying “Birds of a feather, flock together” holds any weight in basketball, we can see exactly what Washington is about to get.
What makes Emeka such a good rebounder is his knack for being very active on the offensive end. Six of his eight seasons in the NBA thus far, Okafor has been in the top 10 in offensive rebounds. The two other seasons where he missed the mark, Okafor was injured the majority of them (including last year). In 2008-2009 with the New Orleans Hornets, Okafor pulled down 275 offensive rebounds, good for second in the NBA. Because he isn’t a blow-you-away athlete, Okafor is a permanent fixture in the low post and tends not to venture too far from his wheelhouse. The end result is that Okafor extends possessions using his big body to force other defenders into less than ideal rebounding areas. Wizards fans are going to be amazed at how cerebral Okafor is when it comes to rebounding. He isn’t quite Kevin Love, but he is leaps and bounds ahead of JaVale McGee in terms of playing the angles.
When it comes to defensive rebounding, Okafor is no slouch, either. His career average of 6.7 is solid (it’s about on rebound shy of Tyson Chandler’s mark) but it doesn’t mean anything without some more context. For example, Okafor also is great in a very telling statistic: Total Rebound Percentage (this calculates the total percentage of available rebounds grabbed while said player is on the court). In TRP, Okafor is right up there with All-Star centers at 18.30. He is eight for his career among active players, behind only guys like Tim Duncan, Marcus Camby, Dwight Howard, Tyson Chandler, and Ben Wallace. In other words? The dude is Windex on the glass.
That rebounding ability is a damn good thing, because his counterpart, Nene, can’t really rebound well at all for a guy his size. Nene’s career TRP is a paltry 13.5, which doesn’t crack the top 75 and puts him in a grouping with a bunch of small forwards and poor rebounding power forwards. Not to bring up a sore subject, but he is actually very similar in TRP to another former Wizard in Andray Blatche (13.8). I bring him into this conversation because Wizards fans can understand better what I’m trying to say when I relate it to something familiar. Andray had the ability to rebound very well, but far too often he did not have that mean streak and true drive for pulling down double digit boards every night. In other words, when he put in effort on the defensive end it was easy; the other times, he was a non-factor. That’s basically Nene’s issue, as he isn’t a big proponent of unforced contact. He is much more finesse, for better or worse, and in this case you take the good with the bad. Nene simply isn’t a good rebounder.
The good news is that his 7 rebounds per game (his career average) may improve with the Wizards a little bit. For large parts of Nene’s career he has played alongside guys who are, in a sense, rebound hogs. Camby, Chris Andersen, and recently Kenneth Fareid all grab boards at an alarmingly high rate, with the last one on that list being compared favorably to Dennis Rodman. There really were not a lot of opportunities to get rebounds with those guys around, but I can promise you that will change with the Wizards! Washington, even with Okafor and great college rebounding guard Bradley Beal at the helm, is not going to top any charts in rebounding. Nene should have more opportunities to get boards, so that number may increase slightly to the point of becoming passable. I say potentially, because in the 11 game sample from last season, Nene really did not do anything different from his typical numbers (he never really does).
In terms of blocking shots:
Nene and Okafor are again different in their abilities to block shots with, you guessed it, Okafor leading the charge on that front. While Nene is not bad, Okafor is significantly better at swatting shots. While neither has the innate ability of JaVale McGee, they both play with far more control and do not actively seek to volley ball spike every shot out of the arena. The end result is that the two should actually be better than just McGee alone will be, which I think will be a good thing for Washington’s defense.
Okafor is one of the better blockers in the game, as he usually finishes in the top 15 every season. For his career, he averages almost two per contest, and that is not likely to change. He is very good at moving away from the post and blocking forwards and centers attempting jump shots from a bit further out. In 2010-2011, of his 128 blocks, 63 of them were on jump shots alone, with another 59 coming from in close. He blocked 3.5% of shots attempted on the court that year, which may not seem that high at first, but when you consider how many possessions there are in the game and how few result in blocks, his number is actually very good.
The bad part about him being so willing to swat is that he racks up fouls a lot. During that same ’10-’11 season, Okafor collected 109 shooting fouls as well, attributable to his big body. I don’t really look at this as being a bad thing, because disruption in the lane and on shooters means he is actually trying hard, but it is something to look into because a center in foul trouble is a worthless center. He is smart enough to not foul out very often, but foul trouble marginalizes his effectiveness on the court (and Okafor doesn’t play oodles of minutes as it is).
Nene, on the other hand, is an average blocker who, for his career, sends back just under one per game. This is not, however, because he isn’t trying. Nene also racks up a lot of fouls attempting to contest shots; in ’10-’11 with the Nuggets, he picked up 110 shooting fouls against 74 blocks. He gets to his man on time, but he doesn’t always succeed in sending the shot back. But Nene is definitely talented at help defense, which entails coming into a play a tad late, and that in turn means he may have to use his body to alter a shot. Hence the fouls.
Overall, Nene is not going to wow you with his numbers, but when you consider all the other things he does on the court defensively, the difference between one block and two is not a major difference. If you want an example of this (and this is slightly off topic but has to do with defensive ability so I’m going to throw it in), look no further than Nene’s domination in thievery. For his career, Nene averages 1.2 steals per game, but in ’10-’11, you can see just how effective he can be. That year, when stretched over 48 minutes, Nene averaged almost 1 1/2 steals a game. That doesn’t happen for a big man, really, ever. But Nene has quick, soft, hands which he uses to pickpocket big men who try to back him down or drive on him. So while he cannot block as well as others, he does excel in his own right.
I’m not a huge fan of plus-minus or opponent statistics, because the stats are inherently flawed. It is so dependent on the rest of the team, the caliber of opponent, and whether your team is winning or losing. Plus-minus has less to do with individual performance, and more with pegging guys as “winners.” It’s a bit like a pitcher who has a 1.97 ERA through 4 games, but because of a lack of run support, has gone 0-4 and is considered a loser. Likewise with opponent statistics. Playing against Dwight Howard is not the same as playing against DeAndre Jordan, and so the stats are completely skewed. They give no real indication of how Emeka fared (which is actually very solid). So therefore, I’m not going to get into those statistics.
The conclusions we can draw from all of this? Nene and Okafor have all the trends of great big men tandems. Where Okafor lacks offensive production, Nene is able to pick up the slack. Where Nene is incapable of rebounding, he has Okafor around to do the dirty work. The two work relatively well together, even though they are a bit one dimensional in their abilities. On paper, I think defensively Washington is going to be tough to drive against. Two legitimate, solidly-built big men are an imposing presence to attempt to score on. JaVale’s physique wasn’t scaring anyone, but Nene and Okafor just might. All good news for Washington.
All stats courtesy of 82games.com,Basketball-reference.com, and hoopdata.com
Last night, Washington Post columnist Mike Wise released the full transcript of a 45-minute interview he had earlier this week with Washington Wizards owner Ted Leonsis. There were many interesting tid bits of information in this piece and Ted was extremely candid in his responses to Wise’s questioning addressing coaching hires, the growth of John Wall, new types of technology the Wizards are using and, of course, the amnesty of Andray Blatche. After taking the time to read the interview I have prepared a few thoughts on some of the comments, as well as others pertaining to the Wizards, made by Leonsis.
Additions to the coaching staff:
The addition of Don Newman to the bench as an assistant coach is a major move towards the Wizards going from bottom-feeder to competitive NBA franchise in the eyes of Leonsis. As he put it “Part of the rolling the stone up the hill is changing the culture and going from losing to winning. We have to make the investments in scouting and all the little things – coaching, player development.” Leonsis followed this up by hinting that the Wizards weren’t done adding to the coaching staff noting that there should be more news coming out concerning the hiring of assistant’s to Randy Wittman as well as shooting coaches to help nurture some of our younger players games. One thing that stuck out to me while reading this transcript was how much emphasis Leonsis has placed on giving the investments he has made in our roster everything they need in order to be successful.
Importance of Nene to the team:
Leonsis was very up-front with Wise as to how pleased he has been with the acquisition of Nene. “Nene, he’s a really good player, he’s a really good person and he’s a really good leader. And he is happy to be here. We bonded. That was important.” He goes on to note how great of a job Nene has done in helping mentor the Wizards breakout performer from 2011-2012, Kevin Seraphin, up until this point. As we have all seen by now Seraphin took a major step forward in his development last season once Wittman took the helm, with the type of knowledge of the NBA game that Nene could provide to Seraphin this could be a major benefit to the French National Team member as his professional career continues to evolve.
On the Rashard Lewis trade:
Much like he was with the Gilbert Arenas trade, Leonsis was extremely impressed in Ernie Grunfeld’s ability to deal Rashard Lewis and the $23,ooo per minute played for the Wizards last year for two rotation players in Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza. “We took the second-highest-paid player in the league…and replaced him with two players that will play big minutes who each averaged 10-15 points a game. We were getting 0 from Rashard.” I couldn’t agree with this sentiment more. Even though there are still some people who are not happy with the trade Grunfeld was able to secure the Wizards something for essentially the paper that Rashard Lewis’ max contract was written on. We may not all love Grunfeld’s draft record but if there is something that we can all agree on it is his ability to be a shrewd negotiator when it comes to trades with other franchises.
On the development of John Wall:
Naturally, Ted had a plethora of thoughts on the development of the Wizards franchise player, John Wall, as he heads into year three of his NBA career. Leonsis is of the opinion, which is shared by most fans, that the best has yet to come for Wall and his third season with the Wizards should be the next step in his path to becoming an All-NBA level PG. “John has a lot of upside still in his game. Compare his stats the first two years in the league against the stars guards and point guards in the league — Derrick Rose, Chris Paul, Rondo — he compares favorably with them. So this is an important year for John.”
This is clearly what every Wizards fan hopes is the case. Wall needs to continue to improve upon his game in a major way going into this season in order to solidify himself as one of the leagues premier floor generals. The strong veteran presence he now has surrounding him along with a very impressive draft pick Beal should lend Wall the chance to fully realize the vast potential that is evident in his game. This is the year where all those other guards that Leonsis compared John Wall’s first two seasons to broke up and became the stars that they are today, it’s time for Wall to step up to the plate and be the leader and cornerstone of this franchise that we all believe he can be.
On whether next season is Playoffs or bust:
Leonsis has been quoted on multiple occasions as saying that he does not plan on being back in the NBA Draft Lottery next season. I would venture to say that all Wizards fans want this to be the case come the end of April in 2013. Wise used this quotation to pose the question of whether or not jobs would be on the line were the Wizards to fall short of that goal. “I won’t be happy with our plan if we’re back in the lottery . . . If we just miss making a playoff spot, no, the world is not going to end. If we’re picking third because we have the second-worst record, no, I will not be happy.”
Leonsis clearly wants to see marked improvement from his franchise as they move into the third, and according to Leonsis and Grunfeld, final year of the “rebuild”. Should the Wizards lay an egg next season and once again finish towards the bottom of the NBA I would have to imagine there will be some wholesale changes going on throughout different levels of the franchise. I am not going to be the ignorant fan whose expectations are so lofty that the team will potentially fall short of said goals. The Wizards will without a doubt be a better, more competitive team than they were last season. Will that translate into being one of the top eight teams in the Eastern Conference? I am not sure, but with the addition made at the trade deadline last year and the moves Grunfeld has completed in the off-season thus far there is reason for hope that the Wizards will once again return to playing competitive, winning basketball.
On new technologies utilized in scouting and developing talent:
This was news to me, apparently the Wizards have made some large investments in the technological side of the franchise. One proponent of this is a man by the name of Joe Sill and according to Leonsis, Sill has quite the impressive resume. “Joe presents on occasion at that stats thing at MIT. Double-math PHd. He’s almost like a technical trader on Wall St. I can pick a company you should invest in. He’ll never meet the CEO, but he knows from the numbers which ones to pick.” Must be nice right? This isn’t to say that the Wizards are attempting to become the “Moneyball” Oakland A’s but as Leonsis later mentions, “there is a big, big role in informing some decisions.”
Just to throw out a couple of particulars that Leonsis used to help prove this point; The Wizards defensive rebounding totals went up “dramatically” when Nene was acquired for Javale McGee, specifically the amount of rebounds that Wizards guards were reeling in. “ If your forwards are pushing their men out, that’s not a stat. That’s something you follow. That means the guards have the opportunity to get the rebounds and initiate their own break.” Hard to argue with that point at all.
Also worth noting, the Wizards are one of the few teams in the NBA that have installed HD super heat-seeking missile cameras. Yes, that’s right, we are using heat-seeking missile cameras to track our players while on the court. According to Leonsis, “This thing creates real-time heat maps. Literally you can get down to the pixels on the floor. Where are the shots being taken, where are the shots being made, where are the picks being made. It does interesting things like, how many dribbles on a fast break does your guard hold the ball before he dishes off, and was their a good shot made versus other guards in the league.” This kind of asset will go an extremely long way when it comes to player development, especially when utilized it practice sessions.
The ability to tell a guard that by dribbling two less times before making a pass that he would be 70% more likely to convert said opportunity is a fantastic teaching tool. It shouldn’t be overly surprising that a man who made the majority of his riches with AOL would be well ahead of the curve when it comes to the use of different technologies and how they can be used as teaching mechanisms in sports. I couldn’t agree with Leonsis more when he says, “Bringing in these analytics, bringing in high IQ, good people it’s all a part of trying to change a losing culture to a winning culture,” and a winning culture is what we need to re-establish here in the district.
On retaining Randy Wittman as head coach:
Wise plugged away at Leonsis’ decision to retain GM Ernie Grunfeld as well as head coach Randy Wittman with the Wizards organization. In response, Leonsis mentioned how he handled the exit interviews with all of the Wizards players and one of the questions he asked each and every Wizards player was their thoughts on how Wittman had done as their head coach. Leonsis noted that before he could even pose the question to Nene he was met with an extremely positive endorsement of Wittman. “Before I could ask the question, Nene was, ‘I played for a lot of coaches in the league. This is a really good coach. I really like how he treated me. I really like he taught the team. I think he works really good. I like him. I trust him. He’s authentic.’”
John Wall shared similar sentiments with Leonsis when it was time for his exit interview. “Then John Wall came in and said, ‘I know you want to bring a big-name coach in. I think you have a coach who can help me. I think the coach is doing a great job. So please keep Randy.’” Yet another endorsement from one of the teams marquee players.
Finally, Leonsis noted how Kevin Seraphin reacted to the question about Wittman during his exit interview. “Hey, he believed in me. He let me play. He developed my game. He yells at me. I like when he yells at me. Because he’s right when he yells at me.”
Needless to say, Randy Wittman had left a mark on this roster during his time as the Wizards interim head coach. These types of endorsements from the teams core players surely made the decision to retain Wittman as the Wizards permanent head coach an easy one for Leonsis and Grunfeld.
On the amnesty of Andray Blatche:
The obvious elephant in the room would center around none other than the decision to use the amnesty clause on Andray Blatche. Despite Leonsis’ belief that people deserve second and third chances in life this was a business decision that quite frankly had to be made. There were worries over where Blatche fit in with the lineup as it was currently constructed as well as the fact that he was the final holdover from the Gilbert Arenas era Wizards.
Wise pressed forward by asking Leonsis how he felt now about the extension that was given to Blatche in 2010 when compared to his quotes from two years ago where he repeatedly said how he felt signing Blatche to an extension was a great idea. Leonsis, resigned to the fact that the deal was a mistake had the following reply; “Yes — we made a mistake — although the NBA has had close to $250 million of amnestied players to date — sometimes you get a chance to take a mulligan under the new rules and that is what we did.”
Leonsis, however, was quick to not place the blame squarely on Blatche’s shoulders,”We are all in it together — so we are all to blame. Buck has to stop with me though as owner.” He went on to state how appreciative he was of Blatche’s apology to the fans and wished him nothing but the best as his career goes on. He did state that the decision to cut Blatche loose with a check for $23 million wasn’t particularly hard as “It was in best interest of franchise.”
All in all this was an extremely impressive interview by Mike Wise and major props need to be given to him for securing the time with Leonsis to ask all of these questions. After reading through this transcript, and sleeping on all the information taken in, I am even more excited for this upcoming season of Wizards basketball than I was before and that in and of itself is nothing short of a miracle as I am quite the WizKids fanatic.
Well, it finally happened. Andray Blatche is gone from the Wizards forever and with his exit, according to Ted Leonsis, comes a sign that the rebuild is over. Your longest tenured Wizards are now John Wall, Kevin Seraphin and Trevor Booker, let that sink in for a second. The “Big Three” era Wizards that we knew and sometimes loved, led by Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison are a distant memory as we have turned the collective page as a franchise.
These Wizards, when compared to the Wizards or yore, are constructed quite differently. Before we were led by a volume shooting combo guard whose personality off the court sometimes outshined the things he did on the court whereas these Wizards follow the lead of a young, hungry point guard yearning for the same type of professional success that he has enjoyed at every other stop in his basketball career. John Wall seems like a much better, and more willing, leader of this franchise going forward than Arenas would’ve ever been.
Is this a fair comparison when you get down to the nitty-gritty of things? Probably not. There just seem to be less things in the peripheral distracting the team from the task at hand (winning basketball games) for Wall than there was for Arenas. Wall’s maturity level far surpasses that of his one-time, albeit shortlived, back court mate and that is something that resonates with the rest of the team on the floor as well as in the locker room.
The Wizards needed to completely clean house and hit the reset button on this franchise and that is exactly what they did. By dumping the “Three Stooges”, Nick “Swaggy P” Young, Javale “Pierre” McGee and Andray “7-Day Dray” Blatche from the roster the Wizards eliminated the “Knucklehead” element from the locker room all together. Horrible self-imposed nicknames aside, this was imperative for the rebuild and subsequent “rebirth” of this franchise to occur.
The question, however, still looms…Where do the Wizards go from here?
The Wizards are essentially locked into this roster as it is currently constructed through the 2013-2014 season. The additions of Nene, Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor solidified our front court but at the same time ate up the majority of our salary cap space. It is a give and take type of scenario as the large contracts of these three hinder our flexibility with regard to free agency but they do serve as positive role models for our extremely young roster to look towards in learning the right way to be a professional.
As long as their respective bodies hold up (both Nene and Okafor have had major knee problems in their careers) they are going to be positives for this franchise on and off the court. What I hope is that their on the court productivity matches what they bring to the table in helping mold our young core of players (Wall, Beal and Seraphin) into what it takes to be a winner. The frontcourt has without a doubt gone from a question mark to a strength, at least on paper.
The most pressing need for the Wizards as we head into the 2012-2013 regular season has to be shoring up the back up PG position. We need to find someone who can competently spell John Wall when he is out of the game and I am not convinced that player is currently on this roster. Shelvin Mack simply did not look good in Las Vegas, whether he was pressing or not the results weren’t on par with what many Wizards fans wanted to see.
What options do the Wizards have to fill this role going forward? Earlier in free agency we had been linked to John Lucas III as a possible addition, however multiple outlets are now reporting that Lucas III is close to agreeing to a contract with the Toronto Raptors. This might not necessarily be a bad thing as I was not convinced that Lucas’ style of play would be the best fit for this team. Lucas had a coming out party against the Wizards last season going off for 25 points 8 rebounds and 8 assists while filling in for Derrick Rose. These numbers sound all well and good but when you note that Lucas took 28 shots to get to those 25 points it isn’t as impressive a feat. Add in that Lucas is a career 34% shooter from three-point range and you have another reason as to why I am not sold on him as the best option for the Wizards.
As the days bore on, the market for a veteran back up PG dwindles. Since it appears as if Lucas III is not in the cards for the Wizards, I would suggest looking towards a player like A.J. Price, most recently with the Indiana Pacers. The Pacers renounced Price’s rights on July 8th making him an unrestricted free agent. The Indiana Pacers blog on the SB Nation network referred to Price as “their security blanket point guard and a locker room favorite,”. Price, who starred at UConn prior to being a second round pick by the Pacers in 2009, seems like the perfect fit to run this offense when Wall is getting a breather or gets into foul trouble. While he was mainly a utility player for the Pacers during his stint in Indianapolis he has shown, when given the opportunity to get rotation minutes, that he is a more than capable point guard for an NBA team averaging 6 PPG and a shade under 3 APG during a 16 game stretch this year where he averaged 18 minutes per game.
Another point of contention as the offseason continues is how hard the Wizards choose to pursue Courtney Lee. Lee, who had his rights renounced by the Houston Rockets today, is now an unrestricted free agent. While it is possible that Lee re-signs with Houston for a lesser amount I would have to think this is a sign that he is not in the Rockets long-term plans. The Rockets did retain his Bird Rights however, meaning that a sign and trade with another team is a legitimate option for Houston. As I was mowing my way through my Twitter timeline this morning I saw that Mike Prada, of SB Nation and BulletsForever.com, had floated the idea of a sign and trade where the Wizards send Jordan Crawford to Houston for Courtney Lee. This is obviously just a hypothetical but it is one I could absolutely get behind…that is if Houston would be willing to make that kind of deal. As much as I enjoy Jordan Crawford, I believe that we have seen the best he can deliver already.
It would behoove the Wizards much more to make an attempt at landing Courtney Lee and starting him alongside John Wall that way we could ease Bradley Beal into the NBA. Beal was quoted as saying that the transition to the speed of the college game took a while for him to become acclimated to; you would have to assume he will face the same sort of transition going from the SEC to the NBA. I am fully behind going after Courtney Lee whether it is through a sign and trade or offering him a contract as a free agent for this reason. The future of this franchise is John Wall and Bradley Beal, so if we can do anything to help nurture Beal along until he is ready to be “The guy” next to Wall than it would be in our best interests to do just that.
Compared to where this franchise stood going into the 2011-2012 lockout shortened season it is safe to say that Wizards fans feel much better about this roster than they do about the one we lined up against the, then, New Jersey Nets last December. The young guys have one more year of experience, the knuckleheads with awful nicknames have been cast out of town and we have brought in proven veterans to take their place. These Wizards aren’t the same as the Arenas/Butler/Jamison days and that is a good thing. That team had its flaws and peaked where they should have, with early playoff exits. It is a new era for basketball in the district and while we may not know exactly where our Wizards will go from here, I know I am extremely excited to be along for the ride.
UPDATE: Apparently the Celtics front office and I had the same idea. According to Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports the Celtics have acquired Courtney Lee via trade.
With the NBA trade deadline falling in March for the first time, hoop’s fans everywhere have been enjoying a month full of intrigue and chaos from the professionals (who ever cares about the NBA in March? Thanks NBA Lockout!) and of course Madness with the collegians. It’s been a month to remember, with enough story lines to keep even the most apathetic person interested. The NBA trade deadline has always been one of my favorite times of year because it allows fans of even the lousiest teams to experience a luxury normally only afforded to the followers of the elite: hope. Being a die-hard Wizards fan, hope is normally all we got this time a year. Hope that a move can be made that points us in the right direction, a sign of good things to come. Even the contenders are more hopeful at the deadline, waiting for the one last piece that pushes them over the top. At the end of the day, every fan out there is just looking for their team to get better. Everyone wants to root for a winner, but most don’t know what it takes for a team to get there. Even the professionals, more often than not, have no clue what it takes to be build a good team (I’m looking at you, Ernie). So what’s it take to be great? I thought you’d never ask.
To be a great team, you are going to need to start with two things: talent and good coaching. Without these, you are at an extreme competitive disadvantage. You don’t have to have the star power of the Heatles (although it sure makes things easier), and you don’t need the Zen Master on the bench, but you must be talented and well-coached to win. This seems pretty self explanatory right? Still, far too often fan bases wonder why they are stuck in basketball purgatory. If you’re trotting out inferior talent, expect an inferior product. However, talent is not everything. Talent increases expectations surely, but expectations don’t win games. To be a winning team, much more than talent and good coaching is needed, but this is where it must start.
Above all else, getting players to work as a cohesive unit is the key to becoming a winning team. No one would argue that the Heat weren’t the most talented team in the NBA last season, yet they fell short of their ultimate goals and experienced numerous rough patches throughout the year. Getting a team to mesh together, to find the elusive team “chemistry”, this is what dictates ultimate success. Chemistry makes the whole greater than the sum of the parts. Greater team chemistry is what allows for ”David to slay Goliath”. Tell tale signs of great chemistry include willingness to make the extra pass, genuine happiness when a teammate makes a play, quick rotations defensively, and constant communication. Obviously, chemistry is not something that is achieved overnight. It is a process; something that is built during every film session, each wind sprint, and it cannot be faked.
An over-looked consideration when it comes to building team chemistry is the role of the head coach. One way a coach can really make a difference is through the establishment of clearly defined roles. Ever hear grumblings that players “don’t feel comfortable with the rotation”? This is a clear indication that the coach is not doing his part in building team chemistry. By defining roles, and demanding players accept their role, a coach sets a team up for success. When players know what’s expected of them, and can get consistency in their minutes, morale will be higher and performance better. Clearly defining roles also prevents as much player dissension as possible. If a guy is the team’s go-to-scorer, and is jacking up shot after shot, teammates will be expecting that type of play from their star if a coach is stressing in each and every team meeting the importance of that player looking to score. On the flip-side, when a team’s most important rebounder isn’t hitting the boards and is benched because of it, the player is going to know why, and won’t have much to complain about. This defined structure helps manage the egos by setting strict guidelines and expectations of play, and creating accountability if said guidelines are not met.
Once roles are clearly defined, the process to get everyone to “buy-in” is the next step to being a successful team. Getting everyone to accept their roles, and play for the team above themselves, is part of this buy-in process. Fostering an atmosphere of collective responsibility and accountability will go a long way toward ensuring everyone stays on the same page. When everyone is committed to the team, that team will play harder for one another. When a team’s willing to leave it on the floor for the people it rides into battle with, it will be able to achieve greater success than if there are any other personal goals in mind. This level of commitment can only be accomplished if there is a true trust amongst the players and coaching staff. Developing the trust is key, but if it does not extend all the way through the entire team it means little. As they say, one bad apple can spoil the whole bunch. It is essential that each and every player on the team is totally committed and have their goals aligned with the greater good.
Another essential element in developing team chemistry is the emergence of a true team leader. The team leader plays the important role of middle man between the coaching staff and the players. Players get sick of listening to their coach’s voice, and orders, but will be much more hesitant to turn a deaf ear to one of their peers. A leader must keep the pulse of the team, as he is the one responsible for keeping the team together. He is the member of the team that can ensure that everyone has bought into the team concept, and challenges a teammate if they step out of line, threatening to upset team chemistry. A leader is the one who steps up when the going gets tough, and makes the play necessary to win. Without a true leader, a team is missing one of the most essential elements for success.
There are many schemes and styles offensively, and depending upon who you ask man-to-man or zone defensive would be preferable, but these are just small details in determining team success. Obviously talent will play a large role in the type of success you can expect as a fan, but it’s not everything. Team chemistry is the essential element for a great team. Great chemistry will dictate great effort, and great effort produces great results. With our beloved Wizards having made a drastic move at the deadline, we as fans will be looking at the tangible evidence to decide if the trade was successful. Will Nene produce better statistically than Javale? Will his addition result in more wins? But rather it is the intangible elements we need to examine before passing judgment. I will be interested to see how the team comes together over these next few weeks, if there’s more of a willingness to make the extra pass and a genuine excitement to play Wizard’s basketball now that we’ve shipped some knuckle heads out West. If we see some improved team chemistry the rest of the way, regardless if Nene is able to stay healthy throughout the duration of that long contract, than we can say this year’s trade deadline passed with the Wizards experiencing something even more precious than hope for this time of year: success.
Thursday, March 29
@ 7:00 pm Washington Wizards (11-38) vs Indiana Pacers (29-20)
PG: John Wall vs Darren Collison
SG: Jordan Crawford vs Paul George
SF: Chris Singleton vs Danny Granger
PF: Kevin Seraphin vs David West
C: Nene vs Roy Hibbert
Why you should watch: The Pacers are a beatable team
Anyone who saw the last game against the Pacers can agree with me that the 85-83 loss was a load of malarkey. The game featured the Wizards losing a 22 point advantage in the fourth, and essentially doing an Undertaker Choke Slam on themselves. The entire game was a testament to how much length can kill in the NBA. The Pacers two forwards, Danny Granger and David West, each went for 16 and 13 points, respectively. Roy Hibbert, their 7’2 centerpiece, managed to stay on the court and drop 19 and 9 rebounds on the Wizards. They clogged the paint up in the fourth quarter, and since jump shooting isn’t the Wizards forte, the lead was gone.
I don’t expect that to happen again, and it’s because I like to look at the positives. The Wizards held Indiana to 41% shooting overall, and 22% from beyond the arc. Anytime the Wizards play that staunch of defense, it’s clear that they have a chance to win the game. If Washington can remain feisty on defense as they have shown the past 4 games (despite all losses), this game is going to be decided in the final possessions. As long as Jordan Crawford can manage to keep his hotness going, and not get frustrated by Paul George’s length, I look for him to carry the backcourt. Wall hasn’t been playing well lately, and he isn’t going to get much room to drive to the rack. If he can force Hibbert into early foul trouble, the Wizards may have a much better success rate.
Underlying Storyline: Finishing the Game
If you think Miami and LeBron James struggle during last second situations, you should see the charade the Wizards have put on the last few games. It’s incredibly how sloppy things become during the final possessions of the game. First it was against Indiana where Wall managed to dribble out the clock en route to making a game winning bucket, then it was a 3-point loss to Atlanta, and don’t get me started on the Detroit Pistons loss. Washington, by all accounts, should be 3 wins richer right now. Instead, a series of miscues has led the Wizards into a 4 game losing streak and likely down in spirit. It’s inexcusable, and tonight would be a lovely night to start a different trend instead of late faltering.
Someone has to step up and make the stop, or a play needs to be drawn to ensure that the Wizards don’t get DAGGERRRRRED. The last seconds shots have to be made; it’s what players dream of making their entire lives but when the chance arises, they flounder. The onus falls on the superstar in Wall, and Randy Wittman for his lack of design. It’s as simple as that.
Prediction: It’s a home game for the Wizards, coming off of 3 days rest. Washington is exactly one game better at home than away, which isn’t something to be proud of, honestly. But it also means they can lose or win anywhere regardless of venue. The Pacers will still be reeling off a loss against a blowout loss to New Jersey last night 100-84. Wizards pick up a close win 99-97
Saturday, March 24
@ 7:00 pm Washington Wizards (11-35) vs Atlanta Hawks (28-20)
PG: John Wall vs Jeff Teague
SG: Jordan Crawford vs Kirk Hinrich
SF: Chris Singleton vs Joe Johnson
PF: Trevor Booker vs Josh Smith
C: Nene vs Jason Collins
Why you should watch: Nene faces the Hawks again
The last time I wrote a preview for this game, I assumed Nene would be playing. He didn’t, and that fact (much to my chagrin) rendered my entire piece moot. That being said, this time around Nene will definitely play, and I’m absolutely confident that he’s going to play well.
Against the Pacers front line of big men, Nene faced a bit of a regression. Roy Hibbert and David West caused him some serious trouble, and he finished the game with 6 points, five rebounds, and three turnovers. Whether it was their height or just an off night, Nene was unable to save the Wizards from giving up a 20 point lead they had at halftime. The Hawks front has two guys, Josh Smith and Zaza Pachulia, who aren’t nearly as talented. Josh Smith is a freak athlete who has a propensity to shoot one too many jumpers that never go in, and Zaza is a chippy Georgian (the country, not the state) that relies on craftiness and gritty play to disrupt his opponent.
For his career, Nene has played the Hawks 10 times and averages 12.3 points and 5.7 rebounds per contest. That’s not exactly All-Star caliber play, but hear me out. Most of those games Nene was playing against Al Horford, Atlanta’s currently injured star center. Zaza is, to be blunt, not even remotely close to the same caliber of defender as Horford. Nene is going to chew him up down low, as he happens to have a significant athletic advantage over him. One thing to look out for, however, is if the Hawks decide to try Josh Smith out in defending Nene. If that’s the case, it’s not going to be good for the Wizards; a knock on Nene is his unwillingness to establish his presence in the post, and Josh Smith is powerful enough to deny him quality position altogether.
Underlying Storyline: John Wall and the Wizards Redemption
We all saw John Wall dribble out the clock against the Pacers, and effectively lose the game for the Wizards. He probably grimaced over that for the past two days and is brewing a stew of aggression. I’m assuming Wall is going to be absolutely en fuego against Jeff Teague and Kirk Hinrich, who aren’t much more than traffic cones for him to weave in and out of. Despite averaging about 18 points and 8 assists against the Hawks in six previous meetings, all those meetings have ended in one thing: a loss. In fact, in 14 of the last 15 meetings, the end result has been a loss. I think Wall is going to change that trend tonight, and break through the barrier.
Prediction: Atlanta is pretty darn good, but the Wizards have been playing better and there is no way they lose 14 straight against the Hawks. The bench is going to play a key role in helping the Wizards to a big victory 100-97
Update: Want to thank one of our readers for bringing to our attention that Zaza Pachulia is out of tonight’s game. Jason Collins will presumably be starting in his place. Certainly helps the Wiz Kids chances at a victory against a division foe tonight.
Second Update: Zaza Pachulia is playing but the Wiz Kids are still primed for a victory in this bloggers opinion. Bohlin’s prediction; Wizards: 103 Hawks: 95.
Thursday, March 22
@ 7:00 pm Washington Wizards (26-18) vs Indiana Pacers (11-34)
PG: John Wall vs Darren Collison
SG: Jordan Crawford vs Paul George
SF: Chris Singleton vs Danny Granger
PF: Trevor Booker vs David West
C: Nene Hilario vs Roy Hibbert
Why you should watch: (Ne)new look Wizards against a playoff team
The Wizards looked downright dominant against the New Jersey Nets on Wednesday with Nene leading the charge, giving the Wizards a reason to be happy. The Indiana Pacers, however, are nothing like the Nets. They’re a sleeper team in the East; chocked full of talent, waiting to explode on a playoff team. They haven’t really played that well during the month of March, having won only 4 of the 10 games they’ve played this month. But don’t be fooled; the Pacers are still a major force in the Eastern Conference. Four of the six games they’ve lost this month have come against teams with winning records (the other being back to back losses against the Knicks).
The Pacers feature three All-Star caliber players in center Roy Hibbert (Hoyas what up!), small forward Danny Granger, and power forward David West. They also recently acquired a fantastic sixth man from Toronto in Leandro Barbosa. In Hibbert, they have a legitimate 7’2 giant who takes up space and plays effectively on offense while not shooting too much. Nene is going to have his hands full, as Hibbert and David West combine to form a formidable front-line. He already played the Pacers with the Nuggets earlier this season, and the results weren’t encouraging; West and Hibbert combined for 34 points. Kevin Seraphin and Trevor Booker, assuming they match up with West, are going to have to play staunch defense and ensure he doesn’t establish himself down low. At the same time, West has a deadly K.G.-esque shot from the top of the key, so he’s a tough guy to cover.
That’s saying nothing about Danny Granger. Although his numbers are definitely down this year (not even shooting 40% from the field), Granger is still more than capable of dropping a 25-point or 30-point game any time. He’s not the most athletic player ever, but he’s crafty and knows how to read the defense well.
Underlying Storyline: Two wins in a row!
Nothing would signal a new era like a two game winning streak that can be directly attributable to Nene. The Pacers are the only team in the NBA the Wizards haven’t played yet, so there’s no comparable reason to assume they can’t beat the Pacers. The Wizards have held their opponents to under 100 points in 4 of the past 5 games, and their losses haven’t been terrible. Even Jeff Van Gundy mentioned during the Lakers-Dallas game that the Wizards national television ban had been revoked! I look to JVG for sanity amongst the masses, so I’d encourage you to do the same. The Wizards are becoming known not because of JaVale highlights, but because of better basketball (there IS a difference between good and bad publicity). Here’s to hoping that they can manage to continue that.
Prediction: The Pacers looked good against Nick Young and the Clippers, beating them soundly Tuesday night 102-89. The Wizards are going to play their hearts out, but I’m not sure it’s going to be enough to beat a team this good. 105-95 Pacers
Friday, March 16
@ 7:30 pm Washington Wizards (8-29) vs Los Angeles Lakers (23-15)
PG: John Wall vs Jeff Teague
SG: Jordan Crawford vs Joe Johnson
SF: Chris Singleton vs Marvin Williams
PF: Trevor Booker vs Josh Smith
C: Kevin Seraphin vs Zaza Pachulia
Why you should watch: Nene vs. The Hawks Part II, Different Team.
While I have been critical of the deadline acquisition of Nene, I am not without hope that he can help the Wizards grow into a better team right now. Having only been with the squad for a day, it’s unlikely that he is going to see heavy minutes. Nonetheless, Nene against Pachulia is going to be a great matchup. Why? Because Pachulia just missed a game winner in overtime against Denver three days ago! Nene’s abilities were on full display against Pachulia during that matchup, as he finished with 22 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 blocks. If there is one thing Nene trounces JaVale in, it’s his ability to dish the rock; he may already be the second best passer on our team after John Wall. In Denver, he did a solid job of kicking the ball out to open shooters, and it’s likely that Roger Mason and Jordan Crawford may benefit from this addition the most.
Nene is an absolute hulk, and the short term benefits are going to be seen immediately. His pick-and-roll game with John Wall could become the staple of this team’s offensive game. He managed it well with Ty Lawson in Denver, and it’s likely that we’re going to see a lot of that tonight. One thing to look out for is his rebounding. In his last game against Atlanta, Zaza out rebounded him 13-6, and the Wizards aren’t good enough to afford that.
Underlying Storyline: Two road wins in a row!
While it’s rare that the Wizards win a game, it’s even more rare that the Wizards win on the road. Even rarer still, is when the Wiz kids win a game, on the road, for the second consecutive time. It’s the white rhino of occurrences, and it’s entirely possible tonight against the Atlanta Hawks. The Wizards could work some magic tonight, as the Hawks have dropped 4 of their last 5 games including a drubbing at the hands of the Clippers 96-82. Atlanta is notorious for playing down to their competition, and though they’re more talented than the Wizards on paper, will likely do that again. I say this despite the Hawks having annihilated the Wizards way back in December 101-83. That was then, and this is now. The Hawks are without their starting center in Al Horford, and John Wall has been very good for the Wizards (as opposed to his rough start to the season) lately. Nene is also going to be an added boost to the front court offense.
Prediction: The Wizards pull of a rare win against the Hawks to go on a two-game winning streak, ushering in the Wall-Nene era. The Hawks are struggling, and Washington has played very well lately. 101-98 Washington
It’s a damn shame that the trade deadline wasn’t held on February 24th, as it was last year. Instead, when March 15th came, it took until 3 PM for Wizards fans to realize that GM Ernie Grunfeld had come down with a bad case of March Madness. It’s the only answer I can posit that would explain the trade of Nick Young and JaVale McGee for Nene Hilario and a couple Taco Bell Crunchwrap Supremes.
As soon as I heard the news, I made a groan similar to the ones I made when JaVale would run the wrong way down the court, or trip over his feet whilst breathing. Not because I didn’t want to trade the pair in the first place, but because this franchise was yet again “Grunfelted.”
What is Grunfelted, you might ask? Well, it’s an adjective used to describe one of the many ways in which our GM manages to get the Wizards into precarious situations that will inevitably cripple them in the near future. It’s a combination of his name along with felted — a poker term signifying that one has lost all their chips and is down to the felt of the table.
The word finds its origins way back in 2008, when Ernie decided to hand a max-contract of $111 million over 6 years to resident star Gilbert Arenas. The man formerly known as ‘Hibachi’ leapt at that deal, considering he had only played 8 games the previous season and the only other GM dumb enough to offer such a thing was in Golden State. The Warriors offered 5 years and $100 million, but Ernie, not to be outdone, threw out a salary cap-crippling $124 million offer. Arenas eventually whittled it down to $111 mil so the Wiz could afford to sign other players (but more than likely because he knew his knee was a train wreck). Jamison also signed a deal that would pay him $15 million when he turned 35. We all know how these deals turned out. Grunfelted.
Of course, Grunfelted isn’t just a one “coarse” meal. Oh no, with Ernie you get dessert as well. Let’s take out our crystal ball and gaze to June 24th of ’09, where Mr. Grunfeld struck again. Facing an aging “Big Three” of Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler, and ‘ol Gilbert Arenas that had yet to remain healthy enough to make it past the second round of the playoffs, Sherriff Grunfeld saddled up and came to the rescue. Wait, maybe I have that wrong. Grunfeld actually just ponied up the Wizards future by offering the Timberwolves the #5 pick in the NBA draft (which ended up being Spanish sensation Ricky Rubio) in exchange for *groan* Mike Miller and Randy Foye. Miller was just coming off career lows in Minnesota, whereas Foye was the guy who the Timberwolves traded Brandon (an All-Star) for. Apparently, win now to Ernie meant 26-56 en route to a last place division finish. Grunfelted.
Ernie, however, is much like the Simpsons in that he’s not stopping after just one episode. No, the pilot would not suffice. Seeing the “promise” in young forward Andray Blatche, who threw up career numbers after trading the core of the “Big Three” away, Grunfeld decided to extend his contract using a rare collective bargaining agreement clause. Andray was handed a 5-year, $35 million contract for doing what? Leading the same, previously mentioned 26-win Wizards squad? Averaging a paltry 14 points per contest on 12 shots? Whatever, Ernie shoots from the hip. Unfortunately for fans, the inaccuracy of that method of fire results in the franchise getting shot in the foot, repeatedly, from within. Since then, All-Day ‘Dray has been a malcontent, injury-prone, and lazy disappointment. A player who, despite being shopped around to every team at the deadline, could not even be given away. Grunfelted.
Which leads us to the most recent (and if Wizards history tells us anything, not likely his last) episode of Ernie. JaVale McGee might have been a knucklehead, but at least he was a cheap, young, knucklehead who would have been off of our hands in less than a year. Instead, our buddy Grunfeld decided to do a center swap for Nene Hilario. Nene, who just this off season signed a 5 year, $67 million contract with the Denver Nuggets, apparently didn’t mean much to them. They actively tried to ship him at the start of the season to the Sacramento Kings, only to be rebuffed. Keep in mind that he just signed that huge deal.
Nene isn’t a bad player; or rather, he wasn’t bad last year. This year, on the other hand, Nene is a year older (he’s 29) and a little more injury prone. He had missed 15 games for the Nuggets already, and his averages were down across the board. Statistically Nene is the worst rebounding center in the NBA, grabbing 7.4 per game. Despite being 6’11 on a nice spring day, Nene has only been able to block just a shade under a shot per game. Again, Nene is 29 and has only had one completely healthy season. Centers don’t get better with age, especially ones that rely on their athleticism. So I guess Ernie thinks it’s okay that part of John Wall’s future core involves an aging big man who might not be serviceable when Wall is at his best. Bet that contract will be around, though.
I wish I could say that Ernie was spot on. I wish I could say that Nene is a humongous beast of a man that sets fantastic picks which will serve well for John Wall in the future. I wish I could say that the contract is not a big deal, and that the Wizards won this trade by getting rid of some boneheaded individuals who played me-first basketball in JaVale and Nick. I wish I could say that the Wizards future is brighter now than it was yetserday. I wish I could say that I didn’t I feel like I just got Grunfelted again.
The trading of JaVale McGee and Nick Young may have already started doing the Washington Wizards some good.
The Wizards were down a starting center in McGee and their sixth man in Young, yet still put the wood on the New Orleans Hornets in a 99-89 victory. Thanks largely in part to a spectacular performance by John Wall, Washington (10-32) did what they do best: Run. The Hornets simply couldn’t keep up.
The Wizards had the transition game going, as they managed 20 fast break points. Wall led the charge by posting his 9th double-double of the season, finishing with 26 points and 12 assists. Last year’s #1 draft pick showed off why he was untouchable at the trade deadline; his combined speed mixed with his court vision can be practically unstoppable. At one point during the fourth quarter, Wall stole the ball and blew past the defense in transition to find a wide open Roger Mason for 3.
Mason, a sharpshooting D.C. native, had the stroke going tonight. He finished the game with 19 points, hitting 4-of-6 three point field goals and playing the role normally attributed to Nick Young very well.
Wall and Mason weren’t the only ones who had hot hands; four of the five Wizards starters scored in double figures. Kevin Seraphin, starting in place of the traded McGee, managed a near double-double with 12 points and 9 boards despite early foul trouble. Trevor Booker and Jordan Crawford had 17 and 14 points, respectively.
The New Orleans Hornets weren’t necessarily playing badly, they simply couldn’t keep up.
They also had four of five starters in double figures, headed by center Chris Kaman with 20 points. Kaman, coming to New Orleans via the Clippers deal of Chris Paul, and fellow big man rookie Gustavo Ayon had their way with Seraphin and Booker. Ayon chipped in 16 points and 9 boards. The Hornets moved the ball very well despite the staunch Wizards defense, putting up more assists (22) than the Wizards (20) as well as turning it over fewer times (12 to 14).
Former Maryland star Greivis Vasquez also had a solid game off the bench, posting 10 points and six assists. It was the second time playing Washington, except this time it was in a different jersey. Vasquez previously played the Wizards last year with the Memphis Grizzlies, but was sparingly used.
With the win, the Charlotte Bobcats are the only team in the NBA without 10 wins.
The Wizards continue their road trip Friday, heading back to the east coast to take on the Atlanta Hawks.