[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 Beckley Mason
Hilton Armstrong is one of those NBA players for whom it’s hard to remember a time when he was good. In college or the pros, the 6’11″ center has never averaged double-digit points or even seven rebounds per game. And yet, here he is– the former Big East Defensive Player of the Year and 2006 lottery pick is now the back-up center for your Washington Wizards (who actually wants to start).
Because Armstrong has never averaged more than 15 minutes or five points per game in his pro career, you may scoff at the turn this introduction is about to take– but Hilton Armstrong matters. His excellent wingspan (7’4″) to go with quick ups and a surprisingly soft turnaround make him a threat to escape mediocrity on both ends of the court. And he’ll matter because the Wizards are going to have to play him unless Andray Blatche, Kevin Seraphin or Yi Jianlian see significant minutes at the five spot.
So what’s held him back? The criticisms lobbed at Armstrong during first three years in college – he wasn’t tough enough and didn’t play with that necessary hunger—have resurfaced in his pro career. As Draft Express so frankly put it, Armstrong tends to be an “extremely poor rebounder on the defensive end, has the tools, but just doesn’t pursue the ball hard enough.”
As he enters his fifth NBA season, he does so as one of two true centers on the Wizards. Inexperienced starting C JaVale McGee, who has averaged 4.7 fouls per 36 minutes in his first two NBA seasons, will need a consistent substitute who can protect the paint and dunk it when Wall drives and dishes. The Wizards just need him to hold down the fort, run the court (he runs very naturally for a seven-footer) and show some fire. The expectations are low, and Armstrong may be just the guy for the job.
-by Stephen D. Riley
If you were looking for Armstrong this summer, the Las Vegas Summer League should’ve been your first stop. The newly acquired Wizard was on the scene scoping new teammate John Wall and comparing him to former teammate Chris Paul. “They love to get assists,” Armstrong told the media in Vegas. “They both like to make everyone on the floor happy. They’re not selfish.”
Unselfishness is a trait that Armstrong knows all about. The four-year veteran was never a major minute man in his NBA career before he got traded to Sacramento, then to Houston, then finally waived last season. Armstrong signed a contract with Washington in mid-July believed to be worth $854,389, the veteran’s minimum. When asked about the terms of his deal this summer, he jokingly told reporters it was worth “$20 million,” and even hinted at giving it a go to be John Wall’s backup.
Armstrong was quoted as saying he liked the “vibe” of the team and the city which is code for “anywhere but Toronto or Milwaukee.” Not content with being an expected backup, Armstrong told the Washington Examiner that he has intentions on starting this season, even if his paltry career averages suggest otherwise. “This year, I’m just coming in and playing hard, and right now, I feel like it’s an open spot for the starting spot,” Armstrong said. “I’m just going to play as hard as I can to get the spot, but even I don’t, I’m still going to play as hard as I can to help the team out.”
Hilton has only been with the team for a few months, but it’s clear he’s a jokester, even when he’s trying to be serious.
The Perfect Play.
-by Kyle Weidie
Pick. Roll. Finish.That is Hilton Armstrong’s perfect play.
I will add: set a strong pick, don’t look to slip too quick; however, slip when necessary (as I’ll display below); and go to the rim with a purpose, not with your head down. Look to draw a foul. Then again, Armstrong is a career 60.3-percent shooter from the free-throw line … and that’s an improvement from 57.8-percent during four years and 131 games at UConn. Believe it or not, Hilton shot a horrid “get off the Metro bus because a bum just threw up in the back” 38.8-percent from the free-throw line as a college soph, after shooting 50-percent his freshman year. He upped the stench to 52.5-percent his junior year, and then a very respectable 69.2 percent his senior year.
In other words … are you kidding me?
According to Synergy Sports Technology, out of 78 offensive plays as a Hornet in which Armstrong was involved that ended in a FGA, TO, or FTs in 2009-10, he served as the Pick-and-Roll roll man 10 times. He scored eight of those times at a clip of 1.6 points per possession (PPP). The two times he didn’t score he took jumpers as opposed to layups. Overall, in 18 games with New Orleans last year, Armstrong produced 0.68 PPP, ranked 437 in the league. In 15 games with the Sacramento Kings he produced 0.67 PPP in 15 offensive possessions; and with the Houston Rockets, 0.45 PPP in 22 offensive possessions. Just to, you know, illustrate the point of “Pick. Roll. Finish.”
This play is similar to a last second possession Armstrong saw Chris Paul orchestrate in New Orleans. The point guard, John Wall, sets up slightly to the right side of the court; the five spot, Armstrong, on the opposite block; the four man, Andray Blatche, on the opposite wing; and shooters in the corners, let’s say Gilbert Arenas and Nick Young.
Armstrong goes hard from the opposite block to set a high ball screen for Wall, who does whatever he needs to set up his man and goes off the screen toward the left elbow. The shooter in the left corner makes himself available, the shooter in the right corner starts and fills slightly higher to present the better passing lane, and the four man heads to the left block.
Blatche here needs to get between his defender and the basket, sealing off the paint if he gets good post position, or chucking off his man who could be going to help a cutting Armstrong, depending on if Wall was doubled off the ball screen. The shooters continue to fill the higher position, but at this point they’re mostly clearing out.
And the rest is simple. As Blatche holds the seal on his man, and Wall is assumed to be doubled by Armstrong’s man, and the shooters are able to distract their defenders, the lob from Wall to Armstrong is elementary, and his perfect, very simplistic play.
Let’s see this very play in action, in GIF form, featuring Armstrong and Chris Paul against the Toronto Raptors with around 35 seconds left in the half (just enough time to work two offensive possessions for one).
Now, not every P&R defender combo will be a bad as Jose Calderon and Andrea Bargnani, which is just about the worst defensive duo imaginable … I think I’d trust Gilbert Arenas and Oleksiy Pecherov defending the P&R about a thousand times more. Nonetheless, that was the defensive look that the Raptors gave New Orleans … and Chris Paul smelled blood. John Wall will need to recognize mis-matches on the fly just the same.
Let’s take a quick alternate look where Armstrong slips a ball screen. It’s late in the third and the Hornets are getting blown out by the Suns in their ninth game of the season, heading to a record of 3-6. Chris Paul, Devin Brown, James Posey, David West and Hilton Armstrong are on the court. Paul passes to the four man, West, at the left elbow extended and cuts over him for a potential hand-0ff, which is a decoy while Armstrong looks to be coming from the opposite elbow to set a ball screen for West. With the shooters, Posey and Brown, spreading the court in the corners, the lane is wide open for Armstrong to slip his screen for West … and since the focus of Phoenix’s defense is on the primary scorers of Paul and West, little attention from the defensive rotations is paid to the opportunity for Armstrong.
-by Beckley Mason
Because Armstrong got passed around the league like a flaming turd last year, you really have to go back to his last year in New Orleans, 2008-09, to find relevant statistical information. It’s always tricky evaluating a player’s statistical effectiveness when minutes are limited and inconsistent. A common way to account for the inherent lack of production is to extrapolate from the data to see what the player would do in increased court time. There are, of course, reasons why this method is often misleading: the player might go harder in limited minutes, could foul with abandon, or might be playing in meaningless parts of the game.
However, Armstrong is an interesting case because he actually started 29 games in ’08-09, so he’s not exactly a garbage minutes player. By examining the games in which he got the most run, we can see how he would produce in the role he will likely play for Washington. If his current stats can’t compare favorably to former Sonics (and Wizards) “great” Calvin Booth in 2004, Wizards fans must hold out hope he’ll blossom in an increased role.
Here’s how Hilton did when he received significant court time:
In 2008-09 Armstrong played 20 minutes or more in 17 games (a little more than a fifth of the games). In these games, he averaged: 0.76 blocks and 4.18 rebounds in 25.76 minutes of run. If we extrapolate from these statistics, which might give us a better idea of how he would perform in sustained action, he averages 1.18 blocks and 6.48 rebounds over 40 minutes.
So no, Hilton Armstrong is not a diamond in the rough who just needs the opportunity to shine. He’s just rough to watch.
-by Rashad Mobley
The first Washington Bullets game I ever attended was in March of 1988, when Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls came to Landover, Maryland. I was too new in town to really appreciate the Bullets, but I knew I wanted to see Jordan go for 40 points in the dimly lit Capital Center, so to say I was excited would be an understatement of epic proportions. Unfortunately for me, Jordan was off that day and only had 25 points–and no breakaway dunks I might add–but the crowd was energized and the Bullets won 106-103. John “Hot Plate” Williams had 28 points, as did Jeff Malone. Moses Malone added 15 points, 13 rebounds and countless buckets of sweat.
At that time, I was playing in a local rec league (shout out to Potomac, Maryland in Montgomery County), so whenever I attended a game or watched on TV, my father made it his business to point out the subtle nuances of the game. He wanted me to watch the rebounds, the box-outs that preceded the rebounds, the picks that were set, on-the-ball defense and all the other things we so affectionately call “dirty work.” So during this game, my father asked me to pay special attention to Charles Jones since he embodied all of these things.
Charles Jones was 6’9″, 215 lbs., and on that night he started at small forward, but he played a little power forward and center as well (Chicago started a beefy front line of Brad Sellers, 7’0″, 210 lbs.; Charles Oakley, 6’8″, 225 lbs.; and Dave Corzine, 6’11″, 250 lbs.). He had no jump shot worth mentioning, he wasn’t the best rebounder, he wasn’t exactly an enforcer on defense, but he was the king of dirty work. My father kept pointing out his hustle, his blocked shots (he had four that night), his willingness to sacrifice his body, his timely defensive stops and how effortless he made it all look. Jones played 36 minutes that night and his stat line of six points, six rebounds, four blocks and two steals wasn’t All-Star worthy, but it was definitely needed on this particular night.
I’ll admit, had Jordan put up 40 that night, I wouldn’t have given a damn about Charles Jones and his hustle, but MJ was a bit off, so I was transfixed by Jones. I later found out that Jones’ nickname was the “Secret Weapon,” because once a game he’d break out at least one dazzling, offensive move that would catch everyone (including his teammates) off guard.
So why did I just take you back to my childhood and tell you about Jones? This is who Hilton Armstrong can be for the Wizards. Neither one of them have impressive stats that jump off the page. Right now, Armstrong has averaged 3.4 points and 2.6 rebounds in his four-year career, Jones averaged 2.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.6 blocked shots over his 15-year career. Just like Jones did the dirty work in a limited amount of minutes, so can Armstrong.
For example, if the Wizards are taking on the Orlando Magic, and Dwight Howard has gotten Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee in foul trouble, Saunders could look down on the bench and call on Armstrong to save the day. He could take a few charges to frustrate Howard. He could block one of his hook shots, and then he could sprint down the floor and dunk an alley-oop pass from John Wall to get the crowd pumped. After about five minutes or so, Saunders would put Blatche or McGee back in the game, but Armstrong could take pride in knowing he swung the momentum in the Wizards’ favor. Sure the box score would only show four points, four rebounds and a block, but on a team with Gilbert Arenas, Wall, Blatche and Nick Young, scoring will not be in high demand, but hustle will be. And for that reason, Armstrong should embrace his inner Charles Jones.
-by Stephen D. Riley
For years I best recognized Armstrong for the mesmerizing part in his haircut more so than his mesmerizing play. At 6’11” and 235 lbs., he offers excellent size to rotate as a backup power forward and center, but with career numbers of 3.4 points per game, it’s safe to not expect anything huge out of the former Husky. Armstrong has never been a big time scorer, not in the NBA, not in the NCAA. But he did manage to turn a 4.7 points per game career collegiate scoring average into a first round lottery selection (yea, beats the hell out of me too).
With the Wizards however, Armstrong will be what he’s always been throughout his basketball career: a warm big body who can help alter shots and rebound. Due to the collection of talented point guards, Armstrong will always be in palpable position to score. Wall, Gilbert Arenas and Kirk Hinrich could make a Safeway clerk a viable scoring option, so Armstrong could be in line for a boost in his scoring average (if he gets time).
He’s long, he’s lanky and his career numbers are lame, but there’s always a place for big men in the NBA.
Armstrong’s short-term deal indicates Washington views the him experiment as another trial run as they attempt to fortify backup positions with plug-n-play players. Should starting bigs Andray Blatche or JaVale McGee go down, Armstrong could find himself in a starring role. He’ll likely be the first power forward/center off the bench, which is ideal, but even local die-hard UConn fans will tell you not to expect much.
Play Diagrams in this post were created in FastDraw.
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