Posted Oct 18 2010 7:42PM
NEW YORK -- The hope here is that Gilbert Arenas' days of being a locker room distraction are over. It's an unrealistic hope, of course.
Arenas' latest mistake, faking an injury to get teammate Nick Young more playing time, came just six days ago. So even if Arenas wants to go about his business of mentoring and complementing John Wall in the Wizards' backcourt quietly, reporters will be ready at his locker with recorders and notepads before and after every game. Gilbert will be quoted, and there's bound to be reaction when he does.
Beyond the circus that is Gilbert, though, the Wizards will be a fascinating and unpredictable team to watch this season, for several reasons.
It has to start here, of course. Madison Square Garden got its first taste of Wall as a pro on Sunday, and it was clear to all those in attendance that the Wizards did well with the No. 1 pick. Wall terrorized the Knicks in transition, putting them on their heels several times on his way to the basket.
Clearly, transition defense needs to be a point of emphasis for any Washington opponent. Wall made six of his seven fast-break shots on Sunday, but just two of his seven shots in the half-court offense or on the secondary break.
Ball movement was clearly an issue in the half-court. There was too much one-on-one play from the Wizards on Sunday. They recorded just 18 assists on their 38 field goals, and it wasn't until the 5:21 mark of the second quarter before anyone but Wall had a single assist.
"We want to get our executing down pat," Wall said afterward. "If it's close to the end of a game, you might not have a fast-break. You've got to slow it down and execute better."
Before the game, Wizards head coach Flip Saunders was effusive with his praise of Wall. And it goes well beyond what he can do with the basketball.
"He is our leader," Flip Saunders said. "He's very vocal in practice, very demanding of our players, both veteran and young guys. He knows how the game is supposed to be played, and if they don't play it or practice at a certain level, he's not afraid to voice his opinion to those players. So that's definitely a positive from a coaching standpoint."
Wall is also willing to accept the responsibility of being the voice of the team externally. The Wizards brought him out in the hallway to speak to the media both before and after the game, which is rare for a visiting team. Usually, all players just speak in front of their lockers.
As fun as Wall is to watch, focusing on the Wizards' starting big men over the course of a game may be even more fascinating.
Both Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee are tantalizingly talented, but frustratingly inconsistent. Shaun Powell did a great job of summarizing the highs and lows of Blatche in his Wizards preview. At one point on Sunday, the 6-foot-11 power forward completely turned around Amar'e Stoudemire with a modified Dream Shake, but then blew the resulting wide-open 5-footer.
What you get with McGee also could have been summarized in one play from the second quarter on Sunday. He skyed in traffic to grab a rebound above the rim, and then tried to throw an outlet pass to Blatche, who wasn't looking.
That was just one of four turnovers from McGee. But we still saw more good than bad from the 22 year old, who had 10 points and six blocks in 16 minutes of action, highlighted by a block on Raymond Felton, followed by a fast-break alley-oop from Kirk Hinrich.
"They still have a tendency to float at times and not want to be involved where the dirty work is," Saunders said of his two young bigs. "So we've got to get them to give a more conscious effort to do those things."
McGee seems to know his role.
"All I try to do is go out there and do everything that will keep the coaches off my back," he said. "That's all I'm trying to do. So if they say 'Rebound,' I'm going to rebound. If they say, 'Be help side,' I'm going to be help side. And if I get garbage points off of offensive rebounds and stuff like that, I'll take it."
For both Blatche and McGee, it's simply a matter of being focused and energetic on every possession. When asked how patient he's being with his young bigs, Saunders had a simple reply.
"You have patience in the preseason," the coach said. "You don't have patience in the regular season."
Saunders started Wall, Arenas and Hinrich together for the Wizards' first three preseason games. From a +/- standpoint, the lineup had mixed results, but Saunders seemed pretty happy when asked about it on Sunday, calling it "extremely effective."
Arenas has played just three minutes in the last three games and is likely to miss Tuesday's preseason finale against Detroit. So Saunders will go into the regular season without seeing as much of the three-guard lineup as he would like. And at this point, he's unsure how much he'll use it when the Wizards' season opens next Thursday in Orlando.
"We will play it," he said. "Whether we start out in games with it as a starting lineup, that I don't know."
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