Upon Rashard Lewis’ arrival in Washington, Flip Saunders lauded him as a professional. Ernie Grunfeld called him a lead-by-example veteran. But these terms easily get demeaned amongst the press conference speak. They are used almost too often to describe just about any veteran who is victim of a trade from contender to bottom-feeder, perhaps as a proclamation of what’s expected from them. But what Lewis has made of his new challenge several games in has given real meaning to these proclamations.
We all know what ‘professional’ means. On the surface, yes, it means you get paid to do a job. A lot of people get paid to do a job but aren’t exactly earning their money … it happens in every profession. Being ‘a’ professional is about more than just earning your keep. For NBA players, it means consistent performance on the court and measured, but worthy, comments in the locker room.
Antawn Jamison was the last professional the Wizards had with an all-star pedigree; some called him the Gentleman Jamison. He was surprisingly consistent for his age, which was only accentuated by the way his game sneaked up on you. In post game media sessions, Jamison could fill a tape recorder with clichés, but he would also give long-winded answers, so one was always sure to find a good quote in there somewhere.
Much of what got lost in the reverberations from the Gilbert Arenas trade was that in Lewis, the franchise might have found their new Jamison. But in a weird twist of circumstance, Lewis means much more to this current group. Toward the end, Jamison was hanging on to hope in an uncompromising manner. He wasn’t on a rebuilding team, he was on a broken team … and he was trying to shoulder the load amidst futility. That philosophy reared its ugly head in the form of a paltry 1.2 assists per 36 minutes for Jamison as a Wizard during 2009-10, a career-low aside from the season he won the Sixth Man of the Year Award as a Dallas Maverick.
Jamison was never much of a passer, however. It just wasn’t what he was often called on to do, he’s always been a scorer instead. Lewis’ game has been similar in many ways, at least as far as career passing numbers are concerned — Jamison with 1.7 assists per 36 minutes over 898 career regular season games, and Lewis with 1.9 per 36 over 883 games. But the difference can be found in what Lewis has done since donning a Wizards uniform.
He was admittedly shocked when he was traded. Or, as dramatized by Gilbertology (according to the supposed words of Nick Young), he felt like “the world just ended.” But Lewis didn’t grow a beard and act civil on the outside while pouting on the inside. He has gradually and seamlessly worked to prove himself on the hardwood instead.
In nine contests with the Wizards, Lewis has averaged 36.4 minutes per game. His 3.3 assists averaged per 36 minutes during that time would be a career high; his 7.9 rebounds per 36 is at a career high level as well. He’s even increased his field-goal percentage in D.C. to 44.2-percent, higher than the 43.9-percent from the field he shot his second season in Orlando (2008-09) before a steady decline with the Magic into this season.
“He’s making the right decisions, not just taking shots just to take shots,” said Wizards coach Flip Saunders about his new professional after Washington beat New Jersey last Friday night. Flip even called Rashard a “professional” twice in one answer.
Lewis makes the extra pass, he’s a threat to spread the floor, he boxes out, he sets an example. You can live with his bad shots because there are so few of them. He has made the best of a less-than-ideal situation by adjusting and relenting his game to the environment … something a a true professional does. The Lewis effect hasn’t just been seen on the court, but also in the manner which he carries himself away from the game.
I recently spoke with JaVale McGee, Nick Young and Hilton Armstrong about what Lewis brings to the team:
I also spoke with Lewis about the impression he’s trying to make on the young Wizards:
Gilbert Arenas may have been a good guy, a buddy the likes of John Wall and Nick Young could play video games with. But what these Wizards needed more was a professional … dependability, not distraction. What these Wizards needed more was a Rashard Lewis.