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Team Preview: Washington Wizards

By Mike Doria, RotoWire.comView: All Team Previews

STATE OF THE FRANCHISE

The Wizards literally limped to a 41-41 record last season, as late season injuries to Caron Butler and Gilbert Arenas defanged the team down the stretch. Without two-thirds of their three-headed scoring monster, last man standing Antawn Jamison, and what was left of the team put up a decent game-by-game fight against the Cavs in the Playoffs, but the undermanned squad was dismissed in four straight contests.

Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler had plenty to be happy about last season (minus the season-ending injuries).
(Mitchell Layton/NBAE/Getty Images)
It was a disappointing end to be sure, but obviously the injuries were the active ingredient in the team’s 2-8 finish and quick postseason demise. The healthy return of both Arenas (the league’s No.3 scorer) and the ever-improving Butler provides renewed optimism going into the 2007-08 season.

Of course, the Wizards were 39-33 when Butler’s broken hand started the downward spiral, so it’s not like the team was dominant even when the nucleus was intact. Scoring points was not the problem, as the team racked up 104.3 ppg, good for fourth best in the league. The issue continues to be the Wizards’ ability to stop their opponents, as giving up 104.9 ppg last year underlines. Only two teams were easier to score on.

With the same head coach and key players returning, it’s easy to be skeptical that the team is suddenly going to see the light and become a lock-down group like the Bulls or Spurs. And even if things tighten up a bit on that end, is the team’s limited cycling of spare parts enough to keep up in the improving Eastern Conference?

The team’s major offseason additions were work-in-progress big man Oleksiy Pecherov and top draft pick, Nick Young. The most significant loss was Jarvis Hayes, who Young essentially replaces. The Wizards also sent Juan Carlos Navarro to Memphis, although he never actually played for Washington. Moreover, Calvin Booth signed with Philadelphia. Let's be honest, this facelift isn’t going to propel a defensively challenged team to elite status in an improving Eastern Conference.

PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION

Truth be told, as the team is currently configured, in most cases, we could cut and paste last year’s playing time distribution section here, replace a couple of lesser names with new lesser names and be off. There’s a perception that there’s more talent on this year’s bench, but ultimately playing time for the role players will be determined by how well and how fast they fit into the system, as well as the inevitable occurrence of injuries.

During the past few seasons, the Wizards’ situation at center has been as much of a headache for the team as it has been for fantasy owners. Brendan Haywood and Etan Thomas will once again battle for most of the playing time. Oleksiy Pecherov could seize some of the action if they are not careful, but it figures to be a year of transition for him.

Look for Haywood and Thomas to get roughly 20 minutes each a game, with Pecherov grabbing a handful of minutes early on and perhaps more as the season progresses. A veteran center (in the mold of Calvin Booth) may be brought in to absorb garbage time minutes while Pecherov gets his on-the-job training.

The starting forward spots are the undisputed domain of Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison, who gobbled up regular minutes last year and will continue to do so. They should each see about 35-39 minutes per game. Darius Songaila should see 15 minutes or so when everyone is healthy, though his average could creep up if injuries hit again. Some of his minutes could come at center, a head’s up so you don’t split hairs with the math here. Andray Blatche is a wildcard up front. The Wizards love his upside, but off-court issues may slow his progress. Pencil him in for about 10 minutes per game, but there will be plenty of contests where he sees more time. Dominic McGuire and Mike Hall will grab minutes when they can, but they figure to be “energy” minutes.

Gilbert Arenas would probably play the whole game if they let him, but he’ll be held to the 36-40 minute range. DeShawn Stevenson keeps his starting SG job, but he’s more of a 25-30 minute guy, with Antonio Daniels and first-round pick Nick Young also needing time. Daniels should grab about 20 guard minutes and Young, a swingman, should gobble up SG/SF minutes left behind by Jarvis Hayes, perhaps 15 or so to begin with.

PLAYER OUTLOOKS* = Projected Starter

CENTER

Etan Thomas – WAS [C]: Like the U.S. and Soviet Union during the Cold War, Thomas and Brendan Haywood will continue to co-exist, albeit with some tension that has at times resulted in fisticuffs. The big difference here is that neither pivot is what you’d call a Super Power. Thomas’ name was mentioned in potential trade discussions, but a guy who is known more for his poetry than his hops is a tough sell when he signed a six-year, $36.8 million deal signed just three years ago. The Wizards have a generous Bucks’ offer sheet to thank for that. Barring a deal falling into its lap, the team is stuck with the uneasy time-share, one which saw Thomas average 6.1 ppg and 5.8 rpg last season. His 1.37 bpg and 57.0 percent field goal shooting weren’t bad, but his free throw shooting checked in at a category-killing 55.8 percent. In short, you’d need to be in a league deeper than Thomas’ writing for him to help your fantasy team out.

* Brendan Haywood – WAS [C]: The other half of the Wizards’ committee at center is Haywood, who has also been mentioned in potential trade discussions. Haywood has clashed with Etan Thomas and had issues with coach Eddie Jordan, so it’s fair to ask – are his 6.6 ppg, 6.2 rpg and 1.14 bpg really worth the trouble? It doesn’t help that his field goal percentage (55.8 percent) topped his free throw mark (54.8 percent) last season. If he played with the quiet fire of a Tim Duncan, the answer would be easy, but he still needs the occasional wake-up just to get going. With three years and $16 million remaining on his contract, it’s not going to be easy to move him, so it looks like another season of marginal fantasy numbers in a time-share for Haywood. Position scarcity at center is the only reason you’ll ever need to consider him.

Why? Either player (and the team) would benefit from one of them getting a change of scenery. The contract issues we mentioned earlier though make that tough to achieve unless the Wizards can pull off an “our headache for your headache” swap. Until then, chase those elusive center points elsewhere.

Oleksiy Pecherov – WAS [C]: The 21-year-old Pecherov is considered a skilled big man who can rebound, shoot and has a strong perimeter game. There could be an opportunity for Pecherov once he gets up to NBA speed after spending last season playing in his native Ukraine. A solid showing in the Las Vegas Summer League provides hope, but the transition to the NBA will be a big one for the 18th overall pick in the 2006 NBA Draft.

POWER/SMALL FORWARD

* Antawn Jamison – WAS [PF]: By the end of last season, he was like Parrish without Bird and McHale, Tinkers without Evers and Chance, or Peter and Paul without Mary. As productive as Jamison is, he’s not the sort of dynamic player that can carry a team on his back, but he quietly continues to put up strong numbers in the point and rebound departments – 19.4 ppg, 7.4 rpg to be exact. His 45.0 field goal percentage and 73.6 percent free throw shooting are okay, but what really helps his fantasy cause is that he can drain the trey, a nice bonus from the PF position. Last season, he totaled 138 in 70 games. Look for similar numbers this season.

* Caron Butler – WAS [SF]: They don’t come much tougher than Butler, who has overcome a rocky youth to become a first-rate contributor on and off the court. Dealt by both the Heat and the Lakers (they’d love to take that one back), Butler has blossomed with the Wizards, morphing into a fantasy-friendly stat-sheet filler. His 2006-07 season ended at the beginning of April with a broken hand that he says has fully healed; however, in 63 games during his injury-shortened season, he averaged a career-high 19.1 ppg, along with 7.4 rpg, 3.7 apg and 2.1 spg. His field goal percentage was a respectable 46.3 percent, and the only area where he fell short for roto owners was in three-pointers, nailing just 18.

Darius Songaila – WAS [PF]: Things are sure to start smoother this season for Songalia, who is healthy now after missing the first 45 games of his inaugural Wizards’ campaign with a back injury. He’ll continue to give the Wizards some depth in the frontcourt, where Antawn Jamison does not always match up well against traditional power forwards. His 52.4 field goal percentage looks pretty nifty, but he can afford to be choosy with his shots surrounded by so many willing snipers. If 7.6 ppg and 3.6 rpg gets you fired up, Songaila is your man. He is, however, who you’d want to grab in the event of a Jamison injury, though obviously he’d represent a major downgrade in terms of offense.

Andray Blatche – WAS [PF]: Blatche, the Wizards' second-round draft pick in 2005, has appeared in 85 games in two seasons, displaying enough upside for the Wizards to sign him to a multi-year contract extension despite some embarrassing off-court issues. It hasn’t been easy for Blatche, who was shot in the chest a couple of months after being drafted. At 21, he still has time to realize his immense potential, highlighted by plus skills and versatility for a player of his size (6-11, 250). On the flip side, he still has plenty of personal and professional development to go through before he turns into the “poor man’s Kevin Garnett” that some have projected him to be.

Dominic McGuire – WAS [SG,SF]: The second-round pick performed well enough in the Las Vegas Summer League (12.0 ppg and 6.2 rpg in five games) to earn a guaranteed contract with the Wizards. General Manager Ernie Grunfeld describes him as “extremely athletic, very competitive and is a good rebounder. Dominic is a solid overall defensive player who plays with great energy." In other words, a youngster who is likely bound for garbage time minutes as a rookie unless a slew of injuries hit.

Mike Hall – WAS [SF,PF]: He signed a non-guaranteed contract this offseason, which allows him a chance to battle for a roster spot as a depth forward.

POINT/SHOOTING GUARD

* Gilbert Arenas – WAS [PG]: The colorful, never-dull All-Star guard injured his left knee last April, but expects to be at full speed in time for training camp. He plans to opt out of his contract with the Wizards after this season, so if it comes down to Arenas or another elite player on draft day, remember that he's playing for his next big payday. The chip on his shoulder from slipping to the second round of the 2001 NBA Draft remains, a slight that a max contract might finally soothe. Don’t assume that his 28.4 ppg average makes him a one-trick pony. Arenas is among the best at his position because he scores like a top off-guard but still produces assists, steals, and a surprisingly high number of boards. His 205 treys in 74 games last year were a nice bonus too, a by-product of his “I never met a shot I didn’t like” mentality. His field goal percentage dipped from 44.7 percent in 2005-06 to 41.8 percent last season, but that should creep up a bit with a few friendly rolls now and then.

* DeShawn Stevenson – WAS [SG]: Stevenson, who averaged 11.2 points, 2.7 assists and 2.6 rebounds last season (his first in Washington), re-upped with the team this offseason. Both he and the team are comfortable with his status as the next best scoring option after the “Big Three,” but there are only so many shots to be had, which limits his opportunities when Gilbert Arenas is healthy. Stevenson’s career-high 46.1 field goal percentage was a plus, as were his 74 three-pointers, but his secondary role in the offense makes him a marginal fantasy option at guard.

Antonio Daniels – WAS [PG]: Daniels remains a valuable role player for the Wizards, but he has only scored in double digits once in his career (2004-05) and is coming off a 7.1 ppg campaign. He also chipped in 3.6 apg and 2.2 rpg in 22 minutes per game during the regular season. His 13.3 ppg and 11.8 apg during the Playoffs (in 44 minutes per game) is the sort of production you can project if he is thrust into a starting role in the event of another Gilbert Arenas injury. In short, Daniels is only worth drafting in deeper leagues as a reserve or if your roster is deep enough to allow you to stash an Arenas insurance policy.

Nick Young – WAS [SG,SF]: The Wizards tabbed Young with the 16th overall pick in June’s draft. Young also gives the team a new and improved version of free agent departee, Jarvis Hayes, as well as DeShawn Stevenson insurance. The 6-7, 200-pound Young (compared by some to the Knicks’ Jamal Crawford) averaged 17.5 points on 52.5 percent shooting as a junior last season at USC. He is viewed as a player who can create shots off the dribble and make jump shots from three-point range. He’s slated to come off the bench, and with the Wizards not usually rushing rookies into the mix, expect his involvement to increase gradually as the season progresses.

Why? The Wizards are hoping that Young, who brings the upside of youth to the table, can give the team the sort of versatility and spark off the bench that they were hoping the departed Jarvis Hayes would provide.

Donell Taylor – WAS [PG,SG]: Taylor has played in 98 games (with two starts) during his two seasons with the Wizards, averaging 2.7 points and 1.1 rebounds. He’ll have to battle just to make the roster and earn a spot at the end of the team’s bench.

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