After Tuesday’s game against the Lakers, faint rumors of Gilbert Arenas’ potential departure to Orlando or Charlotte evidently started swirling in the cold winds around the Verizon Center, per the Washington Post’s Michael Lee. Ted Leonsis could be composing a denial of said detail-less rumors as I type, or not … because he’d be wasting precious pixels denouncing rumors that seem destined to brew until the February 2011 trade deadline (and into the Summer beyond if that be the case). Meanwhile, Arenas continues to be rather tranquil amidst a frustrating season mounting for a Washington franchise that currently sits with a record of 6-17, having lost nine of their previous ten games.
Many people, myself included, have spent a lot of pixels analyzing Arenas’ Gilbertology … with mixed results. Trying to read into Arenas’ words can be rather futile, and is probably most akin to trying to decipher Braille using your teeth. It’s also pretty hard to dissect Arenas’ exact role on a team that has several issues from top to bottom, even if you ask him directly, as you’ll see in the video interview below.
Arenas’ per 36-minute numbers this season compare closely to the numbers he put up his first year in Washington, 2003-04. Let’s take a look:
|Stats Per 36 Minutes||03-04||10-11|
Arenas is scoring about the same with a .392 field-goal percentage in both seasons, but this year he’s taking more shots and getting to the free-throw line less (making them more). He’s rebounding a little less, but is clearly passing more and turning the ball over less. Fewer trips to the free-throw line indicates that Arenas is looking for his own offense less, which he is supposed to do on a rebuilding team, and also promotes the idea I’ve conveyed before that Arenas is making a wholehearted attempt to do as he’s told on the basketball court.
To further illustrate: according to HoopData, in 2006-07, the season in which Arenas experienced his initial knee injury courtesy of Gerald Wallace, in 74 games he averaged 7.9 three-point attempts per game and 58-percent of his 2.8 made threes were assisted upon by a teammate. He attempted 6.0 shots per game from the 16-23 feet range and 25.6-percent of his 2.4 makes were assisted upon. Through 20 games this season, Arenas is attempting 6.8 threes per game and 79.5-percent of his 2.2 made threes are assisted upon. He’s attempting 5.1 shots from the 16-23 feet range and 47.6-percent of those 2.1 makes are assisted upon.
As you can see from the extreme jump in assisted-upon percentages, there’s a vast difference between how Arenas used to attempt long distance jumpers and how he is doing it currently. Now, more of his offensive action stems from ball movement within a different system.
But the Wizards are also scoring just 103.3 points per 100 possessions this year, which is tied for 23rd lowest in the NBA, which is actually lower than Washington’s 25th-ranked 104.2 points scored per 100 possessions last season. Flip Saunders’ squad is in desperate need of scoring, especially when dealing with so many injuries.
Maybe Arenas is still lacking confidence in his game legs which has resulted in poor shooting percentages. Maybe he’s just not as good when his shots derive from the action of others. Maybe Arenas’ shooting ability should actually be held in lower regard. Maybe he just can’t get to the basket anymore. Regardless of the reason and its significance, this Wizards team only has three diverse scorers: Arenas, Andray Blatche and Nick Young.
Arenas has shown the ability to attack and get to the free-throw line this season. He went 8-10 from the line in a win against Memphis and 12-14 in a close home loss to Orlando. Otherwise, Arenas displaying a balance of being able to attack while creating for others has been a rarity — he’s attempted four or less free-throws in 75-percent of his games. Sure, John Wall’s presence, when he actually plays, has had an effect. But does Arenas need to be more aggressive and stem the team’s offense through his own forays to the rim? I asked him after Tuesday’s loss to the Lakers:
It does seem off that this version of Arenas “hasn’t really paid attention to scoring” this year. I suppose one could now cue up the melodramatic “sad state of affairs with Gil” narrative that seems to be popular. But for someone still in basketball purgatory, both in body and in mind, to hear Arenas resigned to having no opinion of what his role should be isn’t a shocker, but it does raise a curious eyebrow. At least Gilbert seems to be comfortable with what he has to offer, whatever that means. Now he just needs to make some shots.