#7 Stands for Consistency
If the sell-out crowd on opening night was scrambling for their game programs to find the Wizards roster page it is hard to blame them. The player looked an awful lot like Andray Blatche and his game looked familiar, but his production was at an unthinkably high level and his jersey number, previously #32, was now #7. Sure enough the fans in attendance that night were not wrong with their premonition that #7 was in fact Blatche.
Playing with a new number this season that represents his dedication to the game of basketball. Blatche says it stands for "seven days of hard work", the 6'11 forward put on a show that had not been seen in some time, pouring in 30 points on 15 of 18 shooting from the field.
The performance was remarkable, but while it left a capacity crowd buzzing as they left the arena, the rest of his teammates and coaching staff weren't talking about a change in his uniform or his offensive repertoire, the one noticeable difference they had seen was in his consistency.
"He has been consistent," said Head Coach Flip Saunders. "He's doing a lot of things that he's done this summer when we worked together. He continues to work at things. I think the thing I like about him is he has been consistent. He hasn't tried to do too much. He's played within himself it has given him the opportunity to have success."
"He's shown me everything," added Caron Butler. "That is something we know that he is capable of doing. He has been showing that glimpse. His consistency has been great and we know he is going to keep it up. He has changed his mind frame and he is ready to go out there and perform at a high level."
The consistency that Blatche has shown early on can be seen by looking at the numbers. Currently Blatche is 2nd on the team in points per game (16.0), field goal percentage (60.3%) and leads the team in blocks (1.6 per game) while also averaging a career-high 6.8 rebounds. While Blatche's numbers have increased in several key areas, he is also playing much smarter on the floor and that can be seen in his reduced fouls per game and turnovers per game despite playing more minutes this season.
"I feel more comfortable. I have a lot more confidence," said Blatche. "The game has slowed down for me."
One big reason for an improved performance this season is the continued maturity of a player who despite entering his fifth season is still just 23 years old. In June's NBA draft several players drafted were older than Blatche.
Blatche's breakout season couldn't come at a better time for the Wizards. After losing starting power forward Antawn Jamison for several weeks of the season, Blatche has filled in well and is adjusting to his role as the first big man off the bench. It is a role that Saunders wanted Blatche to get used to upon Jamison's return.
"This is my first time having a relationship with a coach like this," said Blatche. "I must admit, I like it. It makes me want to work harder and be a better player. He tells me so many things that, if I told them all, we'd be standing here all day. But the main thing is, 'Just stay focused; continue to work hard.' He lets me know hard work pays off. He continues to just give me confidence and boost me up."
The confidence has led to consistency for Blatche, who looks to have a big role in what could be a big year for both him and the Wizards.