Gilbert Arenas’ frustration with what he perceives to be a lack of calls in his favor seemed to culminate on Tuesday night in Toronto. Late in the first quarter, he was given a technical foul by referee Greg Willard for arguing a non-call.
On a drive to the basket, Arenas left his feet for a shot and initiated contact with Toronto’s Amir Johnson. Johnson had his arms straight up, but his body did come into contact with Arenas to the extent that Phil Chenier, Wizards television color-analyst, said he was “incensed” because a foul was not called.
When the whistle wasn’t blown, Arenas circled past the ref on the baseline, clapped his hands together and yelled, “Come on!” This did not warrant a tech. But when Arenas clapped his hands a second time, looking back at the ref and saying something else while running down court, a line was drawn. Willard wouldn’t let Gil continue any further and blew the whistle, adjusting his hands in a perpendicular fashion.
Arenas continued to make impassioned pleas to anyone who would listen. Not as impassioned as Scott Skiles when he was given two technicals and an ejection Wednesday night in the Verizon Center, but it was an issue that continued to be on Arenas’ mind nonetheless, including during the game against the Bucks.
Just past the midway point of the second quarter against Milwaukee, Arenas tried to aggressively attack the basket on three straight offensive possessions. Attempts one and two resulted in blocks by Carlos Delfino and Andrew Bogut. A good case for a foul call could have been made on at least one of those attempts.
On the third straight attempt, Arenas seemed intent on making the refs blow the whistle. The strategy didn’t work. Gilbert was called for an offensive foul against Bogut. He didn’t get a tech this time, but his frustration and pleas to the refs was visible for all to see as Flip Saunders called a 20-second timeout. He also would only end up attempting two free-throws for the game, which came with four minutes left in the third quarter.
So what gives? Is Arenas out of control? Is he not getting a fair shake? Is he trying too hard to initiate contact instead of worrying about simply finishing the shot? Is he being targeted by the refs?
After the Bucks game on Wednesday, I asked Arenas, not specifically about frustration toward the refs, but rather if him not getting calls when he attacks thwarts his aggressiveness.
“They made this new rule, I don’t know what it is … it’s frustrating this season. I used to average about 11 or 12 free-throws a game*, now I can’t even get a call. I feel like they’re profiling me as a player.
I’m creating all the contact, and I’m saying that’s what a scorer is supposed to do, they’re supposed to create the contact when they get into the lane. It’s not double-jeopardy, but if they’re outside the lane, it’s a charge. Now if they’re inside the lane and I get into them, it’s a no call.
So I’m asking, ‘Where do I win at?’ Last game I got so frustrated I had to get a tech. It’s just frustrating because I can’t play my game because I’m “jumping into everybody.”
If two refs say it, that’s fine. But if every ref says it to me, that means before the game you’re consciously thinking, ‘When he goes to the lane, we can’t call it because they’re jumping straight up.’”
Do you feel you need to change your aggressive approach?
“I think they need to change the way they call a game. That’s all it is … am I making basketball plays? If the big man is out of position, if he didn’t work fast enough to get outside that lane, anything in there is a blocking foul. If they get outside, it’s a charging. Now, if you get inside, it’s a ‘no call’ … where the hell this come from?”
So where does Arenas go from here? One moment he says he’s lacking confidence, which resulted in Antawn Jamison and Saunders telling him to be patient and just be himself. Now, frustration with the referees is mounting.
The Wizards can’t complain too much about the results since Jamison implored Arenas to play “his” game. In the last two games, both wins, Arenas has totaled 44 points and 18 assists to only five turnovers. He could, however, improve on 41.5% from the field.
From where I sit, Arenas needs to stop worrying about the refs (at least not more than the standard in-game politicking). Warranted or not, he can’t use a lack of calls as a lingering reason in the back of his head to why some things might not be working. Keep attacking the basket, but do it with scoring in mind, not trying to draw a foul while throwing up whatever attempt that can be mustered.
Arenas is still trying to get a feel for his own game, his new coach, and his teammates … much less a feel for how he will be addressed by referees on aggressive moves to the hoop. Allowing frustration to mount won’t help his play or standing with the whistle-blowers. But just like anything else, and to quote a favorite term of Ernie Grunfeld and Flip Saunders, Arenas achieving an offensive comfort zone is a “process.” Only time will tell if this process will result in success for Agent Zero his team.
*Note: Arenas’ top three seasons (in which he played more than 70 games) of free-throws attempted per game came in ’05-06 (10.0), ’06-07 (9.7) and ’04-05 (8.0). This season, he is averaging 6.6 free-throw attempts per game.