[via Richmond, VA]
Everyone’s heard past talk from Andray Blatche about improving with results showing very little. Last Wednesday on Bullets Forever, Mike Prada reported that the 2009 development of Blatche was “so far so good.” Through training camp this weekend, Blatche has continued to display glimmers of hope that this season will finally be his.
In Sunday’s Washington Post, Michael Lee related a story about a Saturday scrimmage battle between Antawn Jamison and a defending Andray Blatche:
Coach Flip Saunders hopped up, chased down Andray Blatche and gave him a high-five. DeShawn Stevenson patted Blatche on the back, and several of the Washington Wizards’ players and coaches hooted and applauded. Blatche hadn’t completed a nifty fast-break dunk or finger roll; he simply wouldn’t give Antawn Jamison any room to get off a shot in the low block. The swarming help defense behind Blatche wouldn’t give Jamison a passing lane, which allowed Blatche to later slap away the ball.
During that scrimmage, it appeared Blatche wanted to prove himself a little bit more in going against Jamison, who, as a veteran locker room leader, has probably come down the hardest on Andray in the past. Blatche was almost muscling up on Jamison, fighting him for post position, like he stole something from him.
Communication, especially from the likes of Blatche, will play a main role, if not the leading role, in team defensive improvement. There’s a piece about defensive communication being the key posted on Wizards Insider, and I’ll have more to come in the future.
On Sunday, I asked Blatche about his own defensive communication and if he’s becoming more comfortable speaking out in that regard. He said:
“Man, I got this big mouth piece in my mouth (and braces), and it’s hard for me to speak out on that. But, our defensive philosophy is going to be good this year. We’re trying to give up no middle drives. The bigs are going to help the guards a lot more. Rotations are going to be easier. Just no layups. I’m not going to allow layups and get every rebound I can.”
When I followed up and asked about learning defensive communication from Brendan Haywood, Blatche continued:
“Definitely. Brendan makes the job easier for all bigs and all guards on the court because he talks. He knows the game very well and just being out there with him makes it so much easier. I’ve been here for four years, so I’ve picked up on some of the things he does.”
Going off his words, it’s hard to gauge just how much Blatche is trying to communicate, but the results are starting to show up on the court. At one point during situational scrimmages on Sunday, with the clock running down, he came up with a big steal to secure the win for his black squad that included Mike James, Gilbert Arenas, Nick Young and Caron Butler going against a white squad of Randy Foye, Dominic McGuire, Mike Miller, Antawn Jamison and Paul Davis, who is called ‘Paul Wall’ by some of the players and ‘Paul Songaila’ by some of the press corps.
It was clear that Blatche was aware of the opposing offensive movement aside from that of his man. He was able to anticipate the next pass and snag it out of the air with both hands.
But defense isn’t the only area where Blatche is showing improvement. During Saturday’s scrimmaging, the guy was softly touching right-handed baby hooks through the twine. With so much of his concentration seemingly focused on getting his jumper consistent, Andray could really be dangerous if he develops a couple unstoppable moves in the paint.
On Sunday, his black squad was down 90-88 with less than seven seconds left in another one of the situation scrimmage segments. Arenas came off a screen to catch the ball at the top of the key off the out of bounds play. At that point, with the 6’4″ Randy Foye on him, flashes of the old Gil pulling up from deep for a potential game winner entered my mind.
Instead, Arenas gave Foye a hesitation move and drove left to the basket. With perfect timing, Blatche rolled to make himself available on the right block. Using a wide stance and balance to keep his defender behind him, Blatche received the pass and went directly to the rim for the finish. He didn’t make the shot, but earned himself a trip to the free-throw line as time expired. (Hopefully, finishing strong and getting an ‘And1′ will come in time).
Alone at the charity stripe, with a contingent of hecklers led by Jamison and Stevenson behind him, Andray calmly nailed the first free-throw. The second one bounced off the back of the rim and high into the air before finding its way through the net. Everyone got a kick out of Andray’s tension filled movement, with players on both sides releasing some ‘Ohh!’s when the second FT went down, tying the game.
Saunders sees Blatche as being able to fill in for either Haywood or Jamison at the four or five spot. With minimal depth in the Wizards’ front court, there’s little room for error. Complete success this season will depend on Andray’s emergence more than ever.
If Blatche is looking for reasons to backup his talk, motivation from his mom, the battle to be apart of Saunders’ eight-man rotation, and simply wanting to contribute significant minutes to a winning team seem to be pretty convincing factors. Let’s hope that they are.