[Wizards 2010-11 Player Preview Index: Gilbert Arenas, Hilton Armstrong, Andray Blatche,
Trevor Booker, Kirk Hinrich, Josh Howard, Yi Jianlian, JaVale McGee, Kevin Seraphin,
Al Thornton, John Wall, Nick Young.]
-by Rashad Mobley
Last year during Media Day, Andray Blatche looked like a man on the brink of a monster season. He had used his appearance in the 2009 Vegas Summer League to get in shape, he changed his number to “7″ because he planned on working hard seven days of week, and he talked like a man who had finally put the immaturity and inconsistency behind him.
“I need to go ahead and step my game up and be more focused. I’m going out here with a chip on my shoulder to work hard, and I’m basically going to try and kill myself on the court going so hard.”
When the regular season started, Blatche’s preseason proclamations appeared to be coming true. He opened 2009-10 with a 20 point, seven rebound effort against the Dallas Mavericks, and a couple nights later he scored 30 points against the New Jersey Nets–both games were wins for the Wizards. Then his old friend inconsistency decided to rear his ugly head once again. There was the one point game against the Indiana Pacers, then he failed to break double figures in key games against Oklahoma City, the San Antonio Spurs, the Boston Celtics and the Orlando Magic. There were times during those games when Blatche looked focused and ready to take over for a few possessions. Then he would come unraveled and make bad passes, force bad shots, or use his behind-the-back move in the post when it was totally unnecessary. Each time he’d make an error, Flip Saunders would look at his bench and quickly get Blatche out of the game.
He would still pepper in enough good performances to let everyone know what he was capable of, but not enough for him to be considered a go-to player. Then came the trade deadline.
Gilbert Arenas was already gone due to suspension, and when Caron Butler, DeShawn Stevenson, Brendan Haywood and Antawn Jamison were all shipped out of town, the Wizards makeover was complete. The established players who used to bail Blatche out when he was inconsistent, were replaced with inexperienced, slightly less established players with the names McGee, Singleton, Thornton and Livingston. If there was ever going to be a time for Blatche to make good on his earlier promise to step his game up and play hard, this was going to be it.
Thankfully for the Wizards, Blatche not only played hard after the trade deadline, he played at an All-Star level. He averaged 22 points, 8.3 points and managed to shed all of the tendencies that had previously derailed his ability to be great. He had 12 double-doubles, and on a few occasions he even flirted with triple-double. Sure the old Blatche resurfaced at home against the Charlotte Bobcats when he refused to re-enter a game, and it can’t be ignored that the Wizards went 9-23 while Blatche was putting up these big numbers. It also cannot be ignored that the Wizards were not even sniffing playoff contention at that point. But the bigger issue was that Andray “7 Day” Blatche was playing hard every night and putting this inexperienced team on his back in the process.
His performance towards the end of the year had Wizards fans and coaches excited about the 2010-2011 season. If Blatche could hover around 20 and 10 and rule the post with JaVale McGee, that would be a perfect compliment to the perimeter play of John Wall and Gilbert Arenas. No one expected the Wizards to contend for an NBA title right away, but they seemed to finally have a young nucleus of players who could grow together.
Then right after the NBA draft, Blatche broke the fifth metatarsal in his right foot, and the doubts and questions resurfaced. How did Blatche break his foot and would he be ready for training camp? Would he be in basketball shape by the start of the regular season? Once his foot heals will he a Shareef Abdur-Raheem type who puts up great numbers on bad teams, or can he one-day help the Wizards contend in the Eastern Conference? And will he let the end of last year go to his head, or come back hungrier, stronger and faster?
With all those questions in mind, let’s look a little closer at Andray Blatche, shall we?
-by Adam McGinnis
Blatche’s summer can be quickly summarized by that inopportune foot injury. Often humbled Wizards fans were hit with news that Blatche broke his foot on the same day top NBA pick John Wall was introduced to the District.
Rumors quickly swirled that Blatche injured himself playing pickup games at Barry Farms, but he believes it occurred during a workout at the Verizon Center. Blatche had a walking boot for about two months and could be ready to return to basketball action at some point during training camp.
Otherwise, this summer Blatche took in his first Washington Nationals game. He brought out the scorecard, jokingly asked Nats manager Jim Riggleman for a contract and butchered the national anthem. He also checked out a WNBA Washington Mystics game with John Wall.
He chilled at K Street Lounge with Wale and the Durantula, and walked the red carpet for the D.C. movie premier of “Takers.” Dray hit up Big Tigger’s celebrity classic and the pre-party at Love nightclub. He made an appearance at Sneakerball 2010, which is a black tie charity event for DC sports and was a celebrity guest at Bowl for Haiti. Blatche was pictured with Wall’s former UK teammate Demarcus Cousins and attended the birthday party of stylist Renaldo Williams. Dray had his 24th B-day bash at Adams Morgan dance club called the District Lounge.
-by Arish Narayen
For Blatche to have a successful 2010-11 season, he must increase his FG% on spot-up shots, while making it more difficult for his opposing counterpart to make those same spot-up shots. Per Synergy Sports Technology, last season, Blatche averaged 0.81 PPP (points per possession) on his spot-up shots, and allowed 1.05 PPP defending those same shots. This disparity is interesting given ‘Dray’s success defensively in isolation situations (0.72 PPP).
If he wants to maximize his offensive potential this upcoming season, then he needs to create more cutting to the basket opportunities (1.22 PPP in ’09-10), maximize his chances to score off offensive rebounds (1.17 PPP last year), and run the floor for transition buckets (1.07 PPP). On defense, Blatche’s biggest flaw last season was allowing spot-up opportunities, so he needs to concentrate on closing out on shooters and putting a hand in their face.
Per Blatche’s HoopData’s Shot Location chart, notwithstanding his regular playing time only last season, ‘Dray needs to increase his opportunities at the rim and rely less upon his 16-23 foot jump-shot.
If Blatche wants to take the next step and become an elite power forward in the League, he must not try too hard to create inefficient opportunities for himself. He is coming off a season in which he was used in a fourth of the team’s plays, an all-time high. This upcoming season, Blatche must be careful not to force anything, and let the offense come naturally.
-by John Townsend
-by Arish Narayen
After Washington dealt Antawn Jamison to Cleveland, Blatche must have been ecstatic. He finally had the opportunity to showcase his talents. One need only look at the difference between Blatche’s numbers before and after January to see just how he responded to his increased playing time.
But it wasn’t all good. After shooting 55.1% in February, Blatche shot 47.5% in March, and 43.2% in April. What started as efficient, 20 and 10 games immediately after the trade became inefficient, 18 and 5 games versus tougher defenses. The disconnect that I see between the varied performances is not talent; ‘Dray’s ego was just blown up by his numbers immediately after the trade, to the extent that he wanted more money and thought he could take long two-pointers at will because he was the only primary scorer left on the team. Such a prominent position on the team was not guaranteed, which is certainly why ‘Dray was lobbying so hard for the extension (which has now come to fruition, per Michael Lee)
There is an obscure TV show character who exemplifies Andray Blatche’s youth, quick rise, decline, and need for guidance. In The Wire, Avon Barksdale’s enforcer, Wee Bey, has a son, Namond, who plays an integral role in Season 4 of the show. In that season, Namond is only in middle school, yet his mother expects him to uphold his father’s values of street intelligence and toughness. Namond upholds these values by working for Barksdale drug dealer Bodie Brodice, to the extent that Namond gets a ‘package’ from Bodie to make money for his family. After Namond gets this package, he makes the mistake of entrusting its sale to a hopper named Little Kenard, who essentially steals the drugs and uses the proceeds for his own benefit. For his failures, Namond’s mother throws him out of her drug-money-paid-for house, and Namond gets adopted by former Western District commander Howard “Bunny” Colvin, who is teaching a class at Namond’s school.
Like Namond, Andray Blatche had a quick rise based on his perceived talents, some early success, and then some later mistakes per his hubris, to the extent that Blatche needs guidance to reach his full potential. Considering the fact that Blatche thought he was underpaid after a month of play, his hubris is in full effect. Per the news of his contract extension however, he got his new deal. Now it is up to him to design his future, under the tutelage of a veteran coaching staff — will Blatche commit to the team concept? Or languish in individual inefficiency? Only time will tell. Given the proper guidance, a la Bunny Colvin, ‘Dray could be something special.
-by Adam McGinnis
Throughout his young professional career, I always got the sense that Blatche desperately wanted to be “the man.” His inconsistent play, questionable work habits and immature off the court decision making led even his stalwart supporters to doubt if that day for Dray would ever come. After the Big Three was officially broken up, Blatche finally seized on his opportunity to show he could carry a team. Everything clicked, his mid-range jumper became damn near automatic, and he put up monster numbers that helped NBA fantasy owners to late season title runs.
Along with Kyle Weidie and large swaths of fans, I was constantly cynical of Andray and thought his potential would never be reached. Covering him last spring changed my tune and I see him now in a completely different light. Obviously, his improved play was a major reason why, but I also witnessed a guy who was a good teammate, and highly personable with fans, media, and team employees. He seems to possess a bleeding desire to put a team, albeit a struggling one, on his shoulders. You could sense he was reaching new-found higher levels in confidence and maturity.
Questions still remain with Andray. Was his stellar late season play just an outlier or can he keep it up over 82 games? Can he handle the pressure of being the man night in and night out? How will he mesh with Arenas, Wall and the other newcomers? How fast can he bounce back from the mini set back of a broken foot? When his shot isn’t falling, will he do other things on the court that help a team win like take charges, set solid screens, contest shots, box out, and run the court on offense AND defense? Can he take an on and off the court leadership role?
The key will be if Blatche can continue to knock down his 15-20 foot jumper with regularity, because then he becomes an impossible match up for defenses. He is too quick for bigs, easily able to blow by them, and he can post up smaller, quicker defenders down low.