By Shaun Powell, NBA.com
Posted Oct 13 2010 6:37PM
The Basketball God sometimes works in mysterious ways. He's known to bless certain human beings with skill and opportunity and turn them into potential stars, all without a moment's notice or warning.
His most recent creation? Presenting Andray Blatche, who came from nowhere.
This is a true story. Blatche was nothing more than a 6-foot-11 mild curiosity as recently as last February. At that point, he was better known as the player who, just prior to reporting to Wizards camp as a rookie in 2005, was shot in the chest during a carjacking attempt. The miracle, then, is not that Blatche just might be in the All-Star Game this season. The miracle is that on that fateful night, he wasn't leaning a little more to the left, or the right, or wherever the bullet could've done more damage than it did.
So Blatche survived, and he tread water in his first four seasons in the league, owing his longevity to potential more than anything else. And then, something very few (if anyone) saw coming happened. With a smattering of games left in the Wizards' lost season, Blatche began putting up numbers. Nice numbers. Scary numbers.
He'd score 20 points, and follow up with another 20-pointer. And he'd chip in with 10 or so rebounds. And find teammates cutting to the basket for a handful of assists. And he got his mitts on sloppy passes made by the other team. The Wizards started running plays for him. And he more than justified the minutes.
The final 32 games, Blatche looked like a star. He got 12 double-doubles, averaged just over 22 points, with 8.3 rebounds and 3.6 assists. It wasn't just hollow numbers, either; Blatche showed a funky game for a big man. He dribbled with both hands, showed off some slick moves and had confidence in a mid-range jumper. He saw the floor and his open teammates and found them with passes. Sure, you couldn't put too much stock into the final few months of a season, when competition turns light because half the NBA is already thinking about tee times. But Blatche was dropping some serious hints about the future.
"He's a skilled big man, someone who's multi-dimensional," said Wizards GM Ernie Grunfeld. "He has shown steady improvement, and last year performed very well for us during that stretch."
The Wizards showed their confidence in Blatche was more than just talk, rewarding him for his promising play with a five-year, $35 million extension in the offseason.
What Blatche did was take advantage of the departure of Antawn Jamison, the former All-Star starting power forward who was sent packing to Cleveland in a hasty Wizards fire sale shortly after Gilbert Arenas' gun affair. His playing time rose and his confidence got rolling, to the point where the Wizards really didn't miss Jamison at all. At least as a performer.
But as a team leader and professional? OK, here's the part of the Blatche story where the magic dust gets blown away. A few times during that breakout stretch, Blatche got full of himself. Some might say he believed the hype and thought he was already a star. The tipping point came in a game against the Pacers, when Blatche was removed from the game and bristled when approached by coach Flip Saunders to re-enter the game. So as punishment, he sat the final three quarters.
It could very well be that Blatche suffers from the syndrome known as "first fame," that is, he's already caught up in the vortex caused by his sudden rise. Some insiders suspect his ego swelled right along with his stats. His maturity, or lack of it, will be monitored closely this season, and it's possible the only thing that can hold Blatche back is Blatche.
Well, there's something else, too. He broke the fifth metatarsal bone in his right foot this summer, which required surgery and screws. The foot bears watching as well, especially early on, because foot injuries and big men don't get along too well (see Walton, Bill). But his recovery was said to be going swell, and if healthy, there's no reason Blatche can't pick up where he left off.
And that's especially true, now that the Wizards have a pure point guard who thinks pass-first. Rookie John Wall can only help Blatche develop into one of the more productive power forwards in the East, if not the league; the real issue is the return of Arenas and if that results into fewer touches for Blatche (and how Blatche deals with that).
"He's a competitive player," said Grunfeld. "And remember, he came to us straight from high school."
That's another way of saying the Wizards are keeping his maturity in stride. Blatche has plenty of incentive to take a more professional approach, if only to justify the faith he has in himself. And that can only happen if conference coaches think enough of him and his maturity to put him on the All-Star roster. Provided he continue playing as he did last spring.
Big men with skills don't come around often, and we'll get to see if Blatche was truly blessed ... or if the Basketball God was simply teasing us and the Wizards.
AGENT ZERO RETURNS
Gilbert Arenas hasn't been both good and healthy in a while, but he can still average 28 points and 6 assists, as he did in '06-07, and All-Star. He's only 28.
JOHN WALL NEVER HITS ROOKIE WALL
If Wall is in the running for the top rookie award come spring, then that means he and Arenas are hitting it off, and he's making his teammates better.
MCGEE PLAYS LIKE HIS MOTHER
She's Pam McGee, of the famous McGee twins, and one heck of a player at USC back in the day. Her son is an up-and-comer and poised for a breakout season.
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LAST YEAR: 26-56, 5th in Southeast
FINISH: Missed playoffs
2009-10 TEAM LEADERS
|Complete 2009-10 Stats|
GILBERT ARENAS, GUARD
22.6 PPG | 7.2 APG | 4.2 RPG
After tumultuous season, will confine his marksmanship to the court. Still has the all-around skills to be the old Gilbert.
JOHN WALL, GUARD
NBA can be hell on rookie point guards, although Wall has the good to make his transition easier than most. Might be a star right away.
ANDRAY BLATCHE, FORWARD
14.1 PPG | 6.3 RPG | 2.1 APG
Nice plethora of moves and tricks for someone so big. His stats could soar with Wall passing him the ball.
JAVALE MCGEE, CENTER
6.4 PPG | 1.68 BPG | 4.1 RPG
Just starting to grow into his body and his game, the upside is there for this pup who can be as good as he wants.
AL THORNTON, FORWARD
10.7 PPG | 3.9 RPG | 1.2 APG
Can be quite explosive in spurts, but still looking to develop some consistency in the league. This might be the year for that.
|Kirk Hinrich||6-3||190||Guard||Would be a starter for plenty of teams, can be a valuable 6th man.|
|Yi Jianlian||250||7-0||Center||Career has been somewhat of a disappointment, but at least he came cheap.|
|Josh Howard||6-7||210||Forward||He's looking to reclaim a career stained by serious knee injury and off-court incidents.|
ADDED: John Wall, Trevor Booker, Hilton Armstrong, Yi Jianlian, Kirk Hinrich, Kevin Seraphin
LOST: Randy Foye, Mike Miller, Earl Boykins, Quinton Ross, Mike James
JOSH HOWARD, FORWARD
Remember Josh Howard? Whatever became of him, anyway? He looked to be on the verge of stardom with the Mavericks a while back, only to regress into anonymity in warp speed. He missed 77 games the last two years and still is mending from an ACL tear. The Wizards expect him back sometime in November; however, their guess as to what he'll bring is as good as yours. He had a 3-season stretch where he averaged 19 points a game for Dallas. With the small forward spot up for grabs, he needs a throwback year.
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