The Washington Wizards held their last preseason practice at the Verizon Center on Tuesday afternoon before heading down to Orlando for Thursday’s regular season opener, a national television showcase against the Magic on TNT.
If you’re a Wizards fan, you might be losing sleep over the match-up nightmares Orlando specifically poses against Washington. Okay, never mind, you’re probably dreaming about John Wall — it’s good be distracted, for now. Plus, I imagine the coach of a rebuilding team is still slightly more concerned with how his own players follow his instructions than countering what a great team like Orlando does.
Of course, match-up-wise, we don’t know who Flip Saunders is going to start just yet, or if Gilbert Arenas will be available because of soreness in his ankle that caused him to sit out of practice on both Monday and Tuesday, which piggy-backed on a groin injury he experienced in the fifth preseason game against the Milwaukee Bucks that caused him to miss the last two games on the slate.
“From what happened before, you’ll know our starters 10 minutes before the game. That’s our new policy,” the coach quipped on Tuesday. ‘Before’ being when Arenas lied about soreness in his knee.
But the three-guard lineup isn’t necessarily the concern in this instance — it’s how Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee will be able to match-up with the inside/outside combination of Rashad Lewis and Dwight Howard. Blatche, who already floats away from the basket too much on offense (for a team that will be desperate for paint scoring), might find himself playing even more away from the basket in keeping track of Lewis on defense.
Howard is clearly too much for McGee to handle on his own, even if Howard is a career 59.9-percent shooter from the free-throw line (during the 2010 preseason Howard has been even worse from the line, making just half of his 44 attempts), where the Wizards plan to send him whenever necessary.
Will gimmick defenses compensate for the paint threat Howard poses along with the shooters for Orlando? I’ll be curious to see what tricks Flip has up his sleeve (some traps and ball pressure I imagine).
In 12 match-ups over the last four seasons, Washington has only beaten Orlando three times. During those games, Orlando has gunned up 310 threes, making 119 at a rate of 38.4-percent, which is slightly better than the 38.1-percent Orlando has shot against all regular season opponents during the same time period. Also against Washington over those games, Orlando also averaged 11.5 offensive rebounds per game, up from 9.7 against all opponents.
Then there’s McGee penchant to pick up early fouls (or his “ability” to do so, as you’ll hear me ask in the video below), which tends to put him off his game, and in turn, increases the likelihood that opponents will attack him early and often. No better way to test McGee’s improvement from growth, weight gain, Las Vegas Summer League honing and participation with the National basketball team than against the imposing physique of Howard.
After practice on Tuesday, Saunders and Blatche spoke of the match-up issue — watch the video below:
There’s also the issue of who will score in the paint for the Wizards. And perhaps I’m over-analyzing the situation (or beating a dead horse), but it certainly seems like Blatche does not want to be that guy (or that damn horse won’t shut the hell up). On Tuesday Andray compared himself to Rashard Lewis (in the video above), which goes along with a previous disconnect seemingly between Saunders and Blatche in regard to more offense closer to the basket and less away for 7-Day Dray.
Worth noting, Lewis and Blatche are pretty different players on offense. Last season, 5.9 of Lewis’ 11.2 field-goals attempted per game came from three point land. For Blatche, 34-percent of his attempts came at the rim while 31-percent of his attempts came from 16-23 feet out. In contrast, 16.1-percent of Lewis’ attempts came at the rim and 10.7-percent came from 16-23 feet. (Stats via HoopData.)
Both players have the ability to spread the court, but do it at different volume levels and for different reasons. Lewis is supposed to be a three-point threat to go along with the interior presence of Howard; Blatche is supposed to spread the floor more so for his guards, but is needed to get buckets closer to the hoop, whether it be within the offense or via second-chance points.
I asked Saunders if Blatche has progressed in finding ways to get offense closer to the basket — here’s that video:
Again, it’s way early and this team is still trying to figure itself out as a unit and as individuals, not to mention that Blatche is finding his way back to full basketball strength from the broken foot he suffered earlier this summer. That being said, it certainly still is curious to hear the coach say:
“[Andray] knows that he’s gotta be around the basket because he’s our best low block scorer …”
While the player says:
“Only adjustment I have to make is we have a great point guard, and the coach is running a lot of pick and rolls, which means not as much post touches for me. It’s more me rollin’ and poppin’ …”
Now, Blatche can certainly find many ways into the paint aside from the screens he may set for Wall. It also should be said that he’s an effective jump shooter (his FG% away from the basket has increased every year, via HoopData), and that such talents should be taken advantage of.
But again, from offense to defense, this year’s version of the Wizards is going to have a lot of trouble inside because of youth, inexperience and available talent — a scenario that’s compounded as the role of the team’s main big man curiously develops.
Stay tuned. But until then, mostly because of the outlined reasons, don’t expect the Wiz Kids to upset the Magic on opening night in their brand new arena.
As Chris Webber would say … “Good Luck.”