Tension arises from the final Washington Wizards game of the season. Many fans were content with the loss to Cleveland. The 100-93 defeat on Wednesday means they stand-alone with the fourth-worst record in the NBA, and not tied with two other teams (New Jersey and Sacramento) for the fifth worst record, which could have had major implications on the NBA Draft Lottery. Other the other hand, they lost to Cleveland and looked pretty terrible in doing so.
Here’s where the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” conflict arises. During the game, Comcast’s television play-by-play man Steve Buckhantz mentioned multiple times how Flip Saunders instructed his players before the game that he wanted them to treat it like a playoff affair. But removing John Wall, Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee from the fourth quarter equation (when Washington went into the final period with a 74-71 lead), and then later taking out Jordan Crawford three and a half minutes into the period (the Cavaliers having taken an 81-76 lead), clearly swings the philosophy from treating it like a playoff atmosphere to tanking for the lottery. Worth mentioning that Wall “tweaked” something or another during the game (didn’t look major, better to be safe than sorry), Blatche and McGee were playing like they didn’t deserve to stay on the floor (we’ll get to them), and Crawford was 2-14 from the field (the lackadaisical demeanor assumed by some on the team clearly having an effect on the unit as a whole).
Flip Saunders told the Washington Post:
“I thought our first, main group played really well. I probably would like to see them play the whole game, the way they were playing. We were moving the ball, we were really active and pretty much dominating in many aspects. But it was a good opportunity for us to see a lot of the young guys.”
This is all fine and good … a minor blip of purposed losing on a crappy season. You can’t have your cake and eat it too, Wizards fans. It was also clear, per the Post’s Michael Lee, that many of the Wizards just didn’t give damn about the loss afterward, which also served as an indication of apathetic play during the game. Trey Kerby of the Basketball Jones so eloquently captures the scene as described by Lee.
Again, this is all just fine and dandy in the world of conflicts. The same, “Hey, we’re tired of losing, and the end of the season is in sight, so we are now going to decide to play better, more carefree basketball” attitude which led to success in the Wizards winning six of nine games prior to their final match in Cleveland is the same attitude that led to that last loss against the Cavs – No. 59 on the season and No. 178 in the last three seasons.
Here lies the problem: All the back-patting the franchise is doing to themselves — ‘Look at us! We had such a great year of development! Everything went exactly as expected!’ — promotes an unfortunate ignorance toward reality.
In essence, someone has to put down the pom-poms and watch the video. This is where we get into the heart of the problem that you’ve been expecting: JaVale McGee and Andray Blatche.
I’ve clearly written a lion’s share of criticism in regard to these two during the year. And sure, some of that has been overly aggressive. However, none of it is rooted in baseless accusations, but rather visual evidence. Sure, both are “young”(ish) — McGee just having completed his third NBA season at age 23 and Blatche having completed his sixth NBA season at age 24 (he’ll turn 25 in August). But they are also being peddled as pillars of the franchise. Old, vocal and experienced guys like Rashard Lewis and Josh Howard are great to have around, but at this juncture, Blatche and McGee should be setting a good example, not the poor one that they’ve conveyed on the court (and sometimes off, via club fights) for most of the year.
It’s preposterous to think that Ted Leonsis, Ernie Grunfeld and the rest of the franchise is enamored with how McGee and Blatche developed this season, but that’s the propaganda they’re selling nonetheless. And we get it, they have to. Support your players externally … let’s just hope that doesn’t lend itself to a separation of reality internally.
Many basketball modernists love them some stats. And there’s a prevailing theme within the Wizards online community that the team needs to invest more in advanced statistical analysis. Under Leonsis, they surely already are. The owner recently blogged that he enjoyed a piece in the Washington Post that cited Blatche’s statistical improvement from year to year. “Facts are good,” he wrote.
I like statistics, but they can be manipulated to be deceptive. They tell just a part of a story. In themselves, they contain facts. But, statistics should not always be used to make factual conclusions. Because that can be dangerous, as stats can be an imperfect measurement in relation to the real world. Blatche and McGee have good, improved stats. Great. But does that mean they often give a winning effort? Hardly.
In reference to stats, Grunfeld once said:
“At the end of the day, I trust my eyes as much as I trust statistics. Not every player is a stat player. A lot of times, a guy does a lot of little things that don’t show up in stats … I think those stat things are great for fantasy leagues and things like that.”
It can work both ways. And while I wouldn’t exactly consider myself on Grunfeld’s “team” when it comes to statistical philosophy (I’m more toward the middle), I will completely side with him when it comes to parsing the developmental effectiveness of Blatche and McGee. So instead of numbers, let’s go to some video (which is also just a glimpse which doesn’t tell a full story, but a telling capture nonetheless).
And again, this is where you’d hope the team would give their cheerleading pom-poms a rest, at least internally, and make such concerns relevant to their operations. Because the ease at which things came for the Wizards’ starters in Cleveland was more indicative of the low-level competition, and an even greater display of poor habits at their worst. Not anything at all to be proud of.
Avoidance of Defensive Rebounding
Earnest confidence lies in the rebuilding plan set forth by Leonsis. And hope can be an auspicious, relaxing break from reality. But in terms of trust, do Wizards fans believe the display put forth by Blatche and McGee in the final game of the season is them getting it out of their system? Or was it an invitation to look forward to the status quo? (Especially scary when considering the implications of extra time off due to a lockout.)
Washington Wizards, the ball is in your court to prove that acts conducive to a culture of losing will be treated as unacceptable. Good luck with all of that.