Questioning Antawn Jamison
Jamison is the current patriarchal cornerstone of the franchise. This year’s team MVP? Unquestionably. He possesses the never-quit attitude that should be infecting the locker room via leadership by example … Jamison is quite the opposite of past clubhouse cancers, like Christian Laettner.
But sometimes, everyone needs to be questioned, Jamison being no exception.
2) Will Antawn be flexible in his future role with the team?
Jamison’s struggles on defense are no secret. He has aging lateral movement, and as discovered this year, he’s not an adequate substitute for Brendan Haywood‘s post defensive communication. Are we to just accept Jamison’s “unique” scoring ability, rebounding numbers, and minimal turnovers as big pluses? Or should Flip Saunders seek improved defense out of the starting lineup?
Gilbert Arenas said on Washington Post Live that he wouldn’t mind going to a big lineup, suggesting getting a four, putting Jamison at three and Caron Butler at two. A tall lineup would have some usefulness in the rebounding department. However, the problem with keeping Jamison as a starter is that he’d likely have to guard the opposing team’s wing. I’d rather not go through the pain of watching that, even if the matchup zone hides individual defensive inefficiencies. A poor defender in a mismatch can still be exploited time and time again.
I’ve come to Jamison’s defense before, saying he’d “take one for the team” for a chance at winning … just as he did when he won the 6th Man Award in Dallas . I couldn’t be wrong, could I?
On Washington Post Live, Eddie Jordan rapped about a situation back in 2006. With Haywood already out of practice nursing an injury and Jamison going down briefly during, Jordan instituted a lineup of Arenas, Butler, Jared Jeffries, Michael Ruffin and Calvin Booth. The coach liked how they jived defensively. “It really got me going,” said Jordan at the time, going with the lineup for the next game regardless of the heath of Haywood and Jamison (both were cleared to play).
Lo and behold, the Wiz won their next two, without Haywood and Jamison starting, by playing *gasp* defense. Going into a January 13th game against the Hawks in D.C., the Wizards were 13-19, scoring 100.3 points per game, but giving up an average of 102, and allowing opponents to shoot 46.4% from the field. The Wiz were also getting out-rebounded by averages of 44.6 to 41.5 in those first 32 games of ’05-06.
Against Atlanta, Wizards held the Hawks to 72 points and 39.4% FGs, out-rebounding them by a whopping 52-31 margin as well. Jamison came off the bench to play 28+ minutes with 13 points and 7 boards. Haywood got 10 and six in 17+ minutes as a sub. Otherwise, the Wizards’ scoring was balanced on their way to 103 points; Arenas only had nine and Butler 14.
The Hawks (9-23 at the time) were no world-beaters, but holding them below their 97.2 ppg average on the year to only 72 points was certainly an accomplishment.
Afterwards, Haywood was pouty because he claimed to not know about his benching until just 20 minutes beforehand. Jamison towed the company line in being happy about the win, but still said, “I don’t see myself as a guy coming off the bench.”
Jordan went with same the lineup two nights later on the road in Indiana, the Pacers entering the game with a 19-14 record. Holding Jermaine O’Neal, Stephen Jackson, Danny Granger & Co. to 85 points on 45.3% from the field wasn’t too far off Indy’s regular season numbers. But holding the Pacers to five rebounds below their season average, besting them 41-37, was key. Arenas and Butler were responsible for a bulk of the scoring load, combining for 61 of the Wizards’ 91 points. Jamison didn’t score in 13+ minutes off the bench and Haywood netted five points in just under 20 minutes.
In the 32 games leading up to Eddie’s adjusted lineup, the Wizards only held opponents to 37 boards or less three times, and allowed less than 85 points just three times.
Still unhappy, Jamison elected to bitch and complain behind closed doors, while Haywood showed his ill will of emotions on the bench. The two were back in the starting lineup the next night in Atlanta, where the Wizards beat the Hawks for the second time in three games.
According to Jordan, Jamison gave him an “I told you so!” after hitting a 7-foot jumper with 18 seconds left in regulation, tying the game at 99 and sending it to OT. The Wiz outscored Atlanta 15-7 in OT, making the final 114-106.
What Jamison failed recognize was that his team had just given up 106 points on 45.5% shooting to a Hawks team they held to 72 points on 39.4%FGs just three nights before. The Wizards also got out-rebounded by seven, 45-38, when they previously killed Atlanta on the boards with a +21.
It’s a coach’s prerogative to try new things/send a message, especially when he sees defensive efforts falling short of reasonable expectations, reflected by the Wizards’ record at the time. But alas, it’s the NBA, and the presence of enhanced player’s rights over those of the coach are why so many college basketball aficionados are turned off by the pro game.
What was Eddie Jordan to do? Perhaps his message about defense did work as the Wizards cut opponent scoring from 102 ppg in 32 games before the ATL-Indy lineup change to 99.2 ppg in 48 games after.
But all that was back when Jamison was a spry 29 years old; AJ turns 33 in June. And while there haven’t been many signs of Jamison falling off statistically, his defense sure as hell isn’t getting any better.
What happens in the dream scenario I’ve been touting of taking Chris Bosh off the Raptors’ hands for Blatche, the expiring contracts of Etan Thomas and Mike James, along with the #2 pick, and perhaps a future 1st rounder as well? (this scenario will surely be covered in the future, just go w
ith it for now).
With the big combo of Bosh and Haywood, the Wiz could play tighter on the perimeter, cutting down on wide open three point attempts they love to give up. Maybe you’re willing to look past the defensive inefficiencies from Jamison playing the three, but think about the atrocious combo of Arenas and Butler trying to contain the opponent’s one and two. Not to mention Caron doesn’t even like playing the two, but maybe that changes in Flip’s offense.
Simply put, the Wizards need a better perimeter defender in the starting lineup and dependable scoring off the bench. New coach … no one’s spot is safe? Wonder if in his “player’s coach” capacity, Flip Saunders has been promising starting jobs to people.
One possible scenario: start Arenas at a guard, have an open competition between DeShawn Stevenson (I’ll attribute DeShawn’s poor play this year to back/hamstring injuries and will assume that the Wiz will get something resembling his former self from the previous couple of seasons — I know, a huge assumption to make) and Dom McGuire at the two, fill in Caron Butler at the three, Haywood at the five, and either Jamison or veteran four with experience/defense at next, the latter obviously being more ideal.
Imagine a bench of Crittenton, Young, McGuire, Jamison and Songaila/McGee … sounds like a promising, if not slightly young. The Wizards would need another veteran point/combo/three point shooter (Roger Mason, Jr. would be ideal, wouldn’t he?). But it’s way too early to delve into the questions when the probability of roster adjustment is high and unknown.
Improved defense is a must. What the Wizards, and Saunders, need to know is if Jamison is able to swallow his pride, suppress any hubris, and come off the bench. If the team wants to win, and no one is immune to sacrifice, then the Gentlemen Jamison should be willing to hold the door for someone else.
[photo 1 source: flickr/wizardsdotcom]
[photo 2 source: flickr/Keith Allison]