Gilbert Arenas is currently struggling to find a set role in the Wizards back-court, and John Wall is struggling with consistency and turnovers. The general feeling is that the current plight of both players is a temporary one, and eventually they will find their individual games, and then learn how to play off each other as well. This is not a slight to Kirk Hinrich at all, but as Hubie Brown would say, “Now we know Wall and Arenas have tremendous upside, and at their peak they give you the best chance to win.” And Hubie is always right.
Until Wall and Arenas find that comfort zone, they will have to continue to work hard in practice, trust each other when they do get in the game, and perhaps watch film to correct their mistakes. The first piece of film they should watch? The play of Mo Williams and Daniel “Boobie” Gibson during the Wizards 107-102 loss to the Cavaliers.
Williams scored 28 points in just 31 minutes of play, and Gibson added an efficient 19-point game during his 27 minutes of the floor. Williams did his damage from beyond the three-point arc, on drives and on mid-range jumpers, while Gibson primarily hurt the Wizards from the outside. During a key 10-0 run by the Cavs, one which saw the Wizards lose the lead for good, Williams had seven points and Gibson had three–including back-to-back three pointers that pretty much sealed the Wizards’ fate.
When I listened to the post-game comments of some of the Cavaliers players and coaches, I couldn’t help but to think about what Wall and Arenas could be. First there was Byron Scott;
“You have two guys [Williams and Gibson] that can spread the floor, both guys can beat you off the dribble and both guys are very unselfish. They look for their teammates and they’re both able to make big plays and big shots. It’s a luxury for me to be able to have those guys on the floor at the same time, especially in crunch time.”
Then Mo Williams chimed in:
“I think we pose a challenge for our opponents because they have to worry about two guards that can play pick and roll and also knock down shots. So we turn into point guard and shooting guard and vice-versa, so that’s tough. Usually in a situation like that, the defense will say, “Okay we’ll leave him open and we’ll close out on him,” but it’s different, especially with the pick and roll, you gotta be collective and help as a team to stop it. And those guys [the Wizards] were collapsing in the paint, so we were swinging to Boobie and vice-versa to me, so we knocked them down.”
And finally Boobie:
“It’s tough on team’s “twos”, because a lot of times, they are used to chasing guards around or guarding post-ups, but with us, there’s a lot of pick and rolls, so that’s makes it tough because they have to really guard, and then try to score on other end. I think it’s a difficult task trying to keep us quick guys in front of them.”
Now on the surface, it’s easy to say that Williams and Gibson are entering their third year together, so of course they are going have great chemistry. But as Williams accurately observed, their roles in the post-Lebron era have dramatically changed. The days of LeBron drawing the crowd, and leaving the guards wide open are gone:
“I’m not shooting the three really well, but my role is really different … in the past I had my feet set a lot, and the ball would swing and swing and I’d be wide open. Now it’s going to be more me off the dribble this year, more with a man closer to me and not leaving me open.”
In the fourth quarter of the Wizards’ game against the Knicks, Wall and Arenas showed brief flashes of the chemistry that could further develop down the road. Arenas had his outside shot working, and Wall was able to get to the basket here and there, but it was only their first regular season game together. Saturday night’s game showed even more flashes, but it’s clear they are still learning each other — much like LeBron and Dwyane Wade, ironically enough. But I’m sure that on more than one occasion, Wall and Arenas looked at the play of Mo and Boobie and thought about the possibilities.
Other observations from the Cavs locker room:
- The man of the night was supposed to be former Wizard and current Cavalier Antawn Jamison, but a sore knee kept him out of the game. He shunned the media before and after the contest. When Mike Prada of Bullets Forever and I tried corner him as he walked toward the team bus, we were shunned once again. I was able to catch up Jamison’s teammate, Anthony Parker, to ask him about the emotions involved in returning to one’s old team.
“You tell yourself and the media that it’s just another game, but you know deep down that it’s special and it stands out. You’re seeing all the building people who saw you during weekend and early morning practices. You see coaches and trainers who worked on your jumper, taped you up, and joked around with you, so of course it’s special. But it’s odd too, because you’re entering and exiting through the visiting locker room, so it’s an experience. ‘Twan is known as a professional on and off the court, he hasn’t complained about the changes in the team during the past few months, so he keeps things in pretty tight, but I know this means a lot to him — although it would mean even more if he was playing.”
- Before every game I’ve attended this season, whether it was preseason or the two regular season games, the opposing coach had taken time to marvel at the brilliance of John Wall. Coach Byron Scott was no different:
“He’s a blur. He’s one of the quickest guys in this league that I’ve seen in a long time with the ball. Chris Paul is extremely quick with the ball. Jason Kidd, in his heyday, I thought there was nobody that could start a one-man fast break better than Jason Kidd. This kid is on that level. He gets a rebound or outlet, there could be three guys back, he gets to the basket. He’s that quick. Needless to say, transition defense is a key – trying to keep him out of the lane and keep him under control. He’s a one-man fast break, so you’ve got to get back. Just watching him, he’s going to be special.”
- Around a month ago, Flip Saunders made the decision to announce that his team captains were John Wall and Kirk Hinrich. Cavs Coach Byron Scott has yet to name team captains. Before the game against the Wizards, he explained why:
“I’ve always felt players have a real good idea who the captains should be, and it’s always guys they respect. Back in the day, it was easily known that Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar] was the captain, but Magic [Johnson] was the leader. Sometimes captains aren’t necessarily leaders. These guys should have a pretty good idea, after being with each other for six weeks, who the captain should be.”