The story of Andray Blatche has become lost in this absolute mess of a season for the Washington Wizards. Blatche wasn’t exactly “the” headliner coming out of the summer and into training camp, the knee of Gilbert Arenas was. Still, Andray was seen as very key to hope for success this year.
Some have called Blatche a ’20-10 waiting to happen’, but he has only proven to be a frustratingly perpetual unknown. With this being his fifth year since drafted, questions wondering if Blatche would finally mix maturity and focus with his amazing skills and athleticism were getting national attention.
From becoming ‘Seven Day Dray’, to switching jersey numbers, to discussing improved working conditions under Flip Saunders (as opposed to Eddie Jordan), to late night practice sessions with Sam Cassell, to talking about being more consistent, to even getting inspiration from his mom, Blatche has displayed more focus on the court this season.
Despite starting off slow in Saturday’s game against the Spurs, Blatche continued to keep his head in the game, making hustle plays like drawing offensive fouls on both DeJuan Blair and Richard Jefferson in the third quarter. Andray ended up with five points on 2-6 FGs, six rebounds, a steal, an assist, a turnover and three blocks in 27 total minutes.
Still, in his post-game press conference, Flip Saunders was not totally satisfied with the progression of Blatche’s game and his decision making on the offensive end:
“I’d like more for Andray to stay around the basket. He keeps floating back out, the reason we want to go that way is to have a big that we can put down there.
He has to establish himself as a low block type scorer.
In the fourth quarter, if you think you’re going to go behind the back at 15 feet on Tim Duncan, who’s been all league for 15 years, and get a shot off? That’s not going to happen and he ends up shooting it on the side of the board.
He’s the guy on our team who I think can be a low block player. You have to have someone like that unless you’re going to shoot 55-percent from the field and you’re going to knock down 50-percent of your threes.”
In the locker room, I asked Andray about his offensive approach in terms of what Saunders wants him to do, about keeping his head in the game despite an off-night statistically, and about the state of the team moving forward:
Staying out of Gilbert Arenas’ way is great and all. As everyone knows, the team fires better offensively when Arenas is being aggressive, but that doesn’t mean Andray shouldn’t operate in the paint more. In terms of a low-post presence on offense, Brendan Haywood doesn’t always have the skills and Antawn Jamison doesn’t always have the size. Flip can only play with the cards he’s been dealt. It’s time for Andray to step up and fill a role the team needs.
Blatche’s numbers (via basketball-reference.com) across the board this season (including per/36 minutes stats) haven’t deviated much from last season. One must wonder, even though he’s focusing more on the little things, if he has flattened out statistically? Maybe not since he’s still getting about the same minutes per game and might need more time to better produce. But his PER certainly isn’t improving, going from 15.5 in ’07-08 to 15.0 last season to 14.7 this season.
When you look at how many jumpers Blatche is shooting, it gets worse. From his ’08-09 season evaluation, I wrote, “In 08-09, 57% of Blatche’s shots were jumpers (up from 47% in 07-08), and only 44% of them were assisted upon (down from 53% the year before).”
This season, Blatche’s jumpers (via 82games.com) have skyrocketed to 64% of his shots, but also worth noting that 64% of those jumpers are assisted upon. So, while it’s good Dray worked on his jumper a ton in the summer, and it shows, evident by his eFG% on jump shots increasing from 34.2% in ’07-08 to 35.6% in ’08-09 to 39.6% this season, it doesn’t always seem like the answer his coach needs.
If Blatche wants to continue his improvement, it’s time to get tough and do some dirty work in the paint. He doesn’t have to abandon his floor-spreading jumper, but if Andray can make himself more dependable on offense by developing a back-to-the-basket game, he and his team will be much better off.
BTW, here’s a bootleg version of Andray’s shot against Duncan that Saunders was talking about:
Simply put, c’mon son.