The Wizards lost to the Milwaukee Bucks Thursday night and it was pretty ugly. I won’t even mention the final score, but you’ll probably figure it out with some math in a second.
The first half started with promise. The Wizards out-shot the Bucks 49.7-percent to 43.8-percent and outscored them 57-51. John Wall had eight assists and two turnovers; his team had a ratio of 11 to nine in that department. Meanwhile the Bucks were forced into 14 turnovers to just seven assists, four of those dimes coming from Brandon Jennings, the other side of the night’s glamour matchup versus Mr. Wall.
The Wizards didn’t look particularly great in the first half, but the outcome was far more preferred over the second where Flip Saunders’ team was outscored 45 to 31 en route to shooting just 36.1-percent. Thirteen second half turnovers to just eight assists pretty much tells the rest of the story.
So why the change in offensive efficiency? Some of it could have to do with Gilbert Arenas (who didn’t start because, as said by Saunders when asked, “Nick [Young] played really good last game.”) only playing three first quarter minutes before checking out with what appeared to be a real injury, to his groin. Yep, I know what you’re thinking … isn’t that ironic?
Otherwise, the answer seems pretty simple for the young basketball squad, at least according to Saunders.
“We’ve been very poor away from our bench — the point discrepancy in front of our bench and away — because we can give them more guidance in front of our bench,” said Saunders. “We can tell them to get into spots quicker, and right now, we just don’t have that same flow away.”
It should now be clear in which half the offense was run near the Wizards’ coaching staff and in which half it wasn’t.
Also worth mentioning that the tougher Milwaukee team, even without free-throw machine Corey Maggette, who sat out due to injury, went 37-43 from the free-throw line. The Wizards shot a palm-smacks-face 11-22 from the charity stripe.
But then we get into one particular aspect of the offense in terms of individual play … Andray Blatche. A quick look at the box score, where Blatche scored 17 points on 8-17 from the field with nine rebounds, a block, three turnovers and three fouls in just under 32 minutes, simply won’t indicate how poorly he actually appeared. Or maybe it just serves as a reminder of the long way Blatche still has to go.
The Blatche factor gets lost … maybe because of his good play in a small sample of games after Antawn Jamison was traded to Cleveland, maybe because the Wizards are now such a young team with Wall and Arenas dominating the headlines. But out of anyone on the team, Wizards fans should be concerned with the psyche of Blatche the most, not Arenas.
“Our bigs basically tried to play too much perimeter,” Saunders added to his analysis of the offense. “That’s something we have got to clean up. We got to have a thrust inside. They keep on popping out, popping out. That just isn’t going to work. We got to have more of a presence in the paint.”
And yes, this is to be expected when Blatche, JaVale McGee, Hilton Armstrong and Yi Jianlian are your main bigs. And yes, this is also why Blatche’s presence on the low post is even more important.
“Dray’s the low post scorer. As a four, he’s about as good a low post scorer as there is … you know, if you look at fours around the league,” said Saunders when asked about his team’s overall low post situation. “We just got to get his big butt down there more often more often, and not having to keep poppin’ out there all the time. Because that’s were he’s most effective, is down there on the block.”
Here’s where the slightly concerning disconnect comes in. It’s okay that a young team struggles on offense, that the ball “sticks” sometimes. It’s understood that it will take time to come together, unlike last year when major red flags were raised when a veteran team had trouble moving the ball. What’s not okay is when Blatche is a main culprit in the offensive selfishness department with poor shot selection. He finished 0-3 from the three-point line and 2-5 from beyond 15-feet. So on an 8-17 night, Andray went 2-8 outside the paint. Five of Blatche’s shots were assisted upon … but all of those came in the lane, four courtesy of the creation of Wall, mostly in transition.
“I don’t know what my role in his offense … I’m just doing … I don’t know, I’m just playing the game of basketball,” Blatche quickly quipped after the game when I asked him how he felt his role was coming along in the offense.
And about Flip’s desire to get his “big butt” in the paint more?
“I mean, I can work on it if … I don’t know … that’s tough. I don’t really want to get into all that,” said Blatche. “It’s tough for me to stay on the block when I’m setting a lot of picks. You know, I’m just going through the flow of the game. A lot of guys are sagging off and I’m just reading the defense. If you want me to be down on the block more, I don’t have a problem with that. That’s where I want to be and that’s what I’m going to work on doing.”
It’s good that Blatche wants to work on it, now he just needs to actually do it. He needs to make the defense react to him, not stray around the perimeter because that’s what the defense gives him. That’s what they want to give him.
This is the second game in a row where Blatche has seemed openly frustrated with results from his end. After a 3-10 shooting night against the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday, Blatche told the media, “People have bad shooting nights. That’s all it was. I can’t go out and be Superman every night. Just missing shots. We talking about preseason here.”
And evidenced by his words on Thursday evening, Blatche has a lot of growing to do as a basketball player on the court, and off the court with his seeming impatience with the adjustment process. Let’s also not forget that Saunders has been imploring Blatche to do more work on the low block since last January, at least. That time his excuse was that he had to stay out of the paint to open the lane for Arenas.
Blatche means well, but he also can’t act like a handful of good games last season and a shiny new contract extension are going to magically make him into the player he thinks he’s supposed to be.
Yes, he is still working his way back into game shape after suffering the summertime setback of a broken foot. But when you are not following the coach’s plan, or are confused about what the team needs you to do (be a low post threat and not be a hindrance to ball movement), there is genuine cause for concern past the generic analysis of “It’s just the preseason” that you’ll hear on the local news.
Andray seems earnest in his desire to comply, but until he actually shows results of being that player, Wizards fans, in a basketball sense, should probably be more concerned with how Blatche’s 2010-11 plays out than they should be about Arenas’.