By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted Oct 16 2009 1:25PM
The Washington Wizards are set up for one of the biggest one-season turnarounds in NBA history.
Gilbert Arenas and Brendan Haywood are back. Randy Foye, Mike Miller and Fabricio Oberto have been added. Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison have 63 losses worth of motivation from last season. And they have a new voice on the bench in Flip Saunders.
There's just one catch: Washington has to play defense. To be an upper-echelon team, there must be some kind of commitment to defense, and since Arenas arrived in 2003, the Wizards haven't been a decent defensive team.
Saunders coached some strong defensive teams in Minnesota and Detroit, and he preached defense in training camp. The players have also given defense plenty of lip service in training camp, but getting stops on a consistent basis just might not be in the Wizards' collective hoops DNA.
"Defense comes with defensive concepts," Arenas said when training camp opened. "If you have a defensive concept, you're going to play defense. If you don't have a defensive concept and you have an offensive concept, then you're going to play offense.
"Before [under coach Eddie Jordan], we did the Princeton [offense]. That's offense."
Jordan, who is about 130 miles north of D.C. after filling Philly's coaching vacancy, is introducing the Princeton offense to the Sixers. Before he took the job in Washington, Jordan was an assistant in New Jersey and turned it into the league's best defensive team.
|Team Defensive Rating, Saunders' last six full seasons|
|Wizards' Defensive Rating, last six seasons|
|Def. Rat. = Points allowed per 100 possessions|
So it's hard to fathom that he ignored that end of the floor in his five-plus seasons with the Wizards, as Arenas would have you believe. In fact, Arenas once blamed a bad offensive game on Jordan's emphasis on defense.
In reality, a team's ability to defend hinges more on the players than the guy on the bench. Third-year guard Nick Young was a little more honest when asked about the Wizards' defensive struggles.
"Playing with Gil, it was just up and down," Young said. "Playing with [Caron Butler], up and down. We were really just trying to get points."
So the question remains: Do the Wizards have it in them to be a good defensive team?
The return of Haywood, who played just six games last season, will help. Historically, the Wizards have been a much better defensive team (relatively speaking) with Haywood on the floor than without. It's not a stretch to say, too, that his absence hurt more than that of Arenas last year, because Arenas' offense was more easily replaced than Haywood's defense.
Oberto, a former starter in San Antonio, brings to Washington the experience of four seasons with the best defensive team of the last decade. As the new backup center, he'll help keep the defense from suffering when Haywood rests. The two probably won't play together much, so Saunders needs to get more defensively from the other four positions.
That might not be an easy request to fill because other than the two centers, only DeShawn Stevenson has proven to be a capable defender. Already, Saunders has tasked Butler with being a better stopper on the wing this year. With all of the talent around him, Butler can afford to let his offense slip and expend more energy defensively.
But every team's defense starts with the guy guarding the ball, and more often that not, that will be Arenas. That means the man formerly known as "Agent Zero" must let his defense do the talking.
Oberto is optimistic, believing that the Wizards' offensive talent could spark the defense.
"Sometimes [good defense] comes also when you've got a great offense," he said. "That can keep you in a good mood and keep everybody running back and playing defense. So it's a good thing that we've got so much skill."
He's also somewhat realistic and knows that the Wizards aren't going to be the Spurs. They don't need to be ... unless they're serious about competing for a championship. Jamison has been the one talking title in camp, but he's also one of the team's worst defenders.
"We can't think that we can outscore everybody and just be an offensive-minded team," Jamison said, "because we've seen what that gets you. That gets you to the first round of the Playoffs, and then you're home after that."
If Jamison and his teammates can back up their talk with a new dedication to defense, then the Wizards can turn things around. If not, they'll be what they were before: fun to watch ... until early May.
1. SHARING IS KEY
With this much offensive talent, it will be tough to keep everyone happy.
2. THE WINNING SPELL
Good defensive teams can still win on the nights when the shots just aren't falling.
3. STAY HEALTHY
Much easier said than done ... especially with this group.
-- John Schuhmann
LAST YEAR: 19-62, fifth in Southeast
FINISH: Missed playoffs
2008-09 TEAM LEADERS
|Complete 2008-09 Stats|
GILBERT ARENAS, GUARD
13.0 PPG | 4.5 RPG | 10.0 APG
Arenas plans on being more of a mid-range shooter and wants to attempt less than 100 threes and focus on field-goal percentage.
MIKE MILLER, GUARD
9.9 PPG | 6.6 RPG | 4.5 APG
Offensively, Miller complements the other starters best. Defense is another story, so DeShawn Stevenson could work here, too.
CARON BUTLER, FORWARD
20.8 PPG | 6.2 RPG | 4.3APG
If he's willing to sacrifice his stats, Butler has the ability be one of the league's best two-way players.
ANTAWN JAMISON, FORWARD
22.2 PPG | 8.9 RPG | 1.9 APG
As training camp opened, no Wizard sounded hungrier for success than the 33-year old Jamison, who called last season "an embarrassment."
BRENDAN HAYWOOD, CENTER
9.7 PPG | 7.3 RPG | 1.3 APG
Haywood played just six games last season, and the Wizards had no suitable replacement, especially on the defensive end of the floor.
|A. Blatche||6-11||248||C||Vows to be more dedicated to his job.|
|Randy Foye||6-4||213||G||Needs to be more efficient offensively.|
|D. McGuire||6-9||220||F||Can defend multiple positions.|
|F. Oberto||6-10||245||C||Experience and defense earns him back-up role.|
|D. Stevenson||6-5||218||G||Apparently, a big fan of Abraham Lincoln.|
|Nick Young||6-6||200||G||Talented offensively, but lacks hoops IQ.|
ADDED: Fabricio Oberto, Mike Miller, Randy Foye
LOST: Etan Thomas, Darius Songaila, Oleksiy Pecherov
Gilbert Arenas, GUARD
If Arenas doesn't want to be an entertainer anymore and say what's on his mind, we're all a little worse off. But if he's healthy and can lead his team back to the second round of the Playoffs, Wizards fans will be willing to do without the Gilbertology.
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