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This is a terrible draft. The value in this draft in in the late first and early second rounds, but otherwise we are talking about role players and short need fillers. Next year's draft more than makes up for this embarrassment, and the lockout will be even more of a premium on players who have defined skills. Here is my best guess at how the events will transpire and what each team might need. This is a guess on how the draft WILL go down, not on what I would urge each team to do. Major difference. Picks 1-18, which is the Wizards' second pick.
1.) Cleveland Cavaliers – Kyrie Irving
Irving is the best player in this draft, but he really does not project to the usual superstar potential at this spot. He’s a fine athlete, a smart player, he sees the floor very well, and is a more proficient shooter than we’ve seen from some of the explosive points at the top of the draft recently, but he doesn’t have the ability to dominate that those players do either. He is a solid start to the rebuild for Cleveland, and his ability to score will be pronounced early – he’s an easy pick for rookie of the year for this reason. Cleveland was rabidly searching for a way to add both Irving and Williams but they simply don’t have the assets to do it. They are now trying to add a third pick in the lower portion of the first round where the value is much higher.
2.) Minesota Timberwolves – Derrick Williams
Williams has the potential to be a big time scorer, especially with the way Ricky Rubio sees the floor and Kevin Love can space the floor with his shooting as well as secure rebounds. They may struggle to find ways to adapt those three together adequately, and I suspect Williams will end of being in isolation situations often. This worries me from the perspective the ball should be played through Rubio and Love, and Williams is not the type of player than projects to dominate in a true team concept. His meteoric rise in the NCAA Tournament reflects his aggression and competitiveness, but he will have to accept that his is most effective as a stretch 4 in this league rather than a pure 3. He has not done that yet, and this raises questions about where Michael Beasley fits. Those two absolutely cannot play together, but the plan seems to be for just that. Rubio will have his adjustment even more pronounced trying to balance this team offensively.
3.) Utah Jazz – Brandon Knight
Utah is notorious for keeping their cards close to the chest, but they seem to have narrowed between Knight as the point guard of the future for them and Enes Kanter even though he’s fairly similar offensively skill wise and defensively with his lack of effort to Al Jefferson. Devin Harris is not the answer for any serious NBA team at point guard, and Knight has the size and athletic ability that Irving lacks. Utah would like to move out of this space, but when all’s said and done, Knight has the most upside and should be the start of a different look for this team with the athleticism of Knight and Derrick Favors.
4.) Cleveland Cavaliers – Enes Kanter
Kanter’s resume is wafer thin, and there have been major questions in the film we do have whether he cares enough defensively to make an impact. But there is no denying how tantalizing his offensive skill set is. Kanter is a huge physical player, and he has the size and strength to play around the rim and the touch to face up as well. He could truly develop into one of the better screen action players in the game, and his upside certainly is of a slightly bigger less athletic LaMarcus Aldridge. In such a watered down draft, to get probably the two best players in it would be a coup for Cleveland, and it’s hard to argue if they can pull that off. I’m very skeptical of Kanter, and I would not take him on my team, but I cannot argue the allure of his skills.
5.) Toronto Raptors – Kemba Walker
In a recurring theme, I really am not high on Kemba Walker. I love his intangibles and his competitiveness, but combo guards who don’t shoot the ball well have such a miserable track record over time. The Ben Gordon/Jordan Crawford/Gilbert Arenas player in that vein just has way too much potential to falter. Lou Williams has carved a niche in this role, and Jason Terry is the ultimate example, except Terry is a markedly better shooter than the other players combined. Walker will have to excel in getting to the line. Toronto also has a glut of guards in Calderon, Bayless, and Barbosa, but Walker gives them a shot of competitiveness and verve thatn Dwyane Casey will want – and his team made due with multiple small guards in Dallas. Vesely is a major consideration here, but Colangelo and Casey should seek the winner’s pedigree of Kemba Walker.
6.) Washington Wizards – Jan Vesely
Vesely can play now, and he’s an incredible athlete, shocking really. I continue to make the Anthony Randolph comparison, and I think that’s the best I can come up with. I’ve seen Vesely play a lot since I heard how much the Wizards love him back in February, and there’s no denying he can have an impact with his athleticism. But how does he help this team? He a awful rebounder, a poor shooter, very low skill set, poor defensively especially laterally, and doesn’t appear to have any role in a half court offense. He’s a terrible fit for the Wizards other than during fast break opportunities. This team has athletes – they need defensive rebounders, and perimiter and post defenders. They have none of them. They would love Kanter to fall to them, and Leonard is very much in play, and would be a dream fit for this team at this time. But the momentum is for Jan Vesely to join the Wizards now according to every source, and I don’t like where the results will end up.
7.) Sacramento Kings – Jimmer Fredette
a. I like Jimmer a lot. I think he can contribute as a bench player, a heater off the bench, because he is such a pure scorer. As we talked about with Walker, these combo guards have difficult careers unless they can shoot at a highly efficient level and can make use of fewer shots. Jimmer can do that. However, all the buzz we hear is for him to land in Sacramento here at 7. It’s frankly too high for him – even in a weaker draft, I’d be much more comfortable with him in the 12 to 18 range. However, my mindset about this draft is that I’d much rather have a player with a defined skill in a weak draft than one who is a major question mark. Jimmer will be a perfect fit next to Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins, a perfect floor spacer. If they can find a way to swing him as a 6th man, he will make this pick worth it.
8.) Detroit Pistons – Jonas Valanciunus
Valanciunus is a huge upside player. He is a legimitate center prospect, offensively in the Andrew Bynum vein of a back to the basket scorer. He is incredibly raw, however. Defensively he’s weak, and his moves are not nearly at the place where his potential is, and the comparisons to Darko Milicic may scare some. Detroit needs a superstar though, and Valanciunus will not be able to play in the NBA if there is a season next year because of his buyout. Detroit won’t mind, as they have some contracts to unglue before he will make an impact anyway. I like Valanciunus if you’re a team willing to gamble (again, that’s never my philosophy).
9.) Charlotte Bobcats – Kawhi Leonard
Leonard is my favorite player in this draft other than Chris Singleton. His huge hands and great length combine with his athleticism to make him a potential nightmare rebounding and defensive combination. His shot is weak, and he has been working with Chauncey Billups to improve some it some, but he’ll never be a great scorer. But we saw what Shawn Marion can bring to a team as an unorthodox defender/rebounder and scorer, and Leonard screams with that potential. The Bobcats made a huge error in letting Gerald Wallace go, but they can make up for it by adding a player than many thing can have a similar impact.
10.) Milwaukee Bucks – Klay Thompson
The Bucks mangled their offseason last year after succeeding so greatly the year before. Poor extensions and dreadful free agent decisions led to t ateam that was old, oft injured, and couldn’t score. Jennings will progress to great heights if he can up his shooting percentage, particularly around the rim. Thompson has been a huge riser, and he’s a classic fit player. On most teams, he’d a be a really bad fit, but for Milwaukee, his dead-eye shooting and ability to get his shot off will open up space for Jennings and put less pressure on Salmons and Magette to score. This team probably is a playoff team if they’re healthy, but they desperately need more outside shooting (as well as a backup point guard… this would be a great sleeper spot for Jimmer Fredette).
11.) Golden State Warriors – Marcus Morris
Morris was a productive player at Kansas who projects to a combo forward in the pros. He along with Derrick Williams have a baffling idea that they are small forwards who just had to play the 4 in college. No, they are true stretch fours. Morris told reporters he models his game after Carmelo Anthony. As great as Anthony is, Morris is not him, and unless he means that originating all his offense in the low block like Carmelo at his best, then that’s a scary prospect. But Morris could have a nice effect with Mark Jackson in Golden State who will want some players with a more winning pedigree than he currently has. Morris has the will, and unfortunately he will play traditional Warriors defense, but that doesn’t stop what is good value here from a developing organization.
12.) Utah Jazz – Chris Singleton
I’ve been sold on Chris Singleton for a long time. Coming off a playoffs in which every team we saw could defend, having the best defender in the draft is a smart move. At 6’9”, Singleton is a huge player, but still has the quickness and will to lock down on the perimiter. Singleton will never thrive offensively, but his ability to turn a team over in transition could defeinitely help a Utah Jazz team that would if this scenario plays out be incredibly athletic, and to me a major upgrade over a similar but declining player in Andrei Kirilenko.
13.) Phoenix Suns – Tristan Thompson
Thompson is another player who has a defining trait – rebounding – which projects to big time NBA production. He is small for his position, but he’s an athletic player with enough gritt and maturity to thrive. He is a wonderful fit in Phoenix with Steve Nash, particularly with all the shooters and big men masquerading as two guards they have there. Remember, you can’t run if you can’t rebound and defend, and Thompson can definitely help in that area.
14.) Houston Rockets – Bismack Biyombo
I like Biyombo’s upside, and if he falls this far, it will be the perfect spot for a gamble. He is a player Kevin McHale will love – he is a willing learner, a raw offensive player who could really benefit from one of the best post scorers to ever play, and he is a beast defensively. This is not a guy who just blocks shots and is otherwise completely outmanned, lost, helpless, and selfish defensively like JaVale McGee. Playing ina high level Spanish league, Biyombo showed consistently when I watched him an ability to read defenses and be a good team defender as well as individual. He is an athletic specimen, and I would love the tandem of McHale and Biyombo.
15.) Indiana pacers – Iman Shumpert
This Pacers team was really inconsistent under Frank Vogel, but they have bene upgrading their athleticism, defense, and toughness. This would be a big rise for Shumpert but he fills a need both in skill and in position. They have struggled to find great point guard play in Indiana, and Shumpert plays with the elite defense and toughness that will really help Indiana. He’s a huge athlete, and while not efficient offensively, he continues the trend of physical defensive minded athletes after the Paul George steal last year and the emergence of Tyler Hansbrough.
16.) Philadelphia 76ers - Nikola Vucevic
This playoff team that fell albeit impressively to Miami had one glaring hole at the center position. Markieff Morris would be a fit here, except everyone that I’ve talked to that saw him in workouts was shocked at how poor his effort and lack of conditioning was. Doug Collins will not tolerate that. Vucevic is huge, and he showed improvement every year at USC. If he can blend the face-up ability he’s shown recently with back to the basket play, he’ll be a potential upgrade over the mediocre Spencer Hawes. Vucevic is not a great athletic player, but he is fundamentally sound and skilled, which fits the Doug Collins model well.
17.) New york Knicks – Marshon Brooks
Brooks has had a meteoric rise up the draft charts since the end of the season. He terrorized teams with his scoring ability at providence, and while the Knicks are in desperate need of defenders, Brooks would give them alternate scoring which was just as much of an issue. There was far too much offensive burden on Anthony, Stoudemire, and Billups, and we saw what a boost having Toney Douglas or Bill Walker able to go off for spurts could do for the rest of the team. He’s a perfect bench complement to the fundamental soundness of Landry Fields, and could be a dynamic playmaker in the world’s most famous arena.
18.) Washington Wizards - Donatas Motiejunas
This goes against every usual tenent of winning basketball I follow, but I actually like Motiejunas a lot. He can’t rebound at all, and there are some maturity and effort questions (which from my study are invalid). He is highly skilled, however, and has a great shooters touch and an ability to score that blossomed in major playing time on a highly competitive Italian team. He’s probably a bad fit for Washington with those personality questions, but he’s a steal at 18, and he brings one thing that this team sorely sorely lacks – he loves working out. He added around 20 to 25 pounds of muscle this season, and he is absolutely ripped. Maybe being a weight lifter myself skews my view of Montiejunas to the positive side, and I know deep down he’s an awful fit on probably the least disciplined and worst character team I’ve ever been around, with no close second. But I’d much rather reach for a European prospect who showed the drive to improve his body as well as his game, and his fluency in English and the impressive stretch by countryman Darius Songalia has me on the upside of Motiejunas’ potential.
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Wizards beat Boston 95-94 in overtime on Monday night (April 11, 2011).
1. The Wizards improved to 23-58 overall and concluded a 20-21 season at home.
2. The Wizards improved to 5-2 this month.
3. The Wizards played without rookie center Hamady N'Diaye (HAH-muh-dee EHN-jy) (strained left patella tendon), rookie forward Trevor Booker (fractured right foot), guard Nick Young (bruised left knee), forward/guard Josh Howard (left knee tendinitis) and forward Rashard Lewis (right knee tendinitis). All are expected to miss the rest of the season.
4. The Celtics played without Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo (RAH'-zhahn RAHN-doh).
5. The Wizards held the Celtics to 38-percent shooting from the field.
6. The Wizards had 29 transition points to the Celtics’ nine.
7. Forward Andray Blatche (ANN-dray BLATCH) had 16 points on 7-of-12 shooting, four blocks, two rebounds and a steal.
8. Rookie guard Jordan Crawford started and had 17 points on 8-of-19 shooting, six assists, two rebounds and a steal. He did commit five turnovers.
9. Forward Yi Jianlian (EE jee-EHN-lee-EHN) had six points on 3-of-8 shooting, 10 rebounds, two assists and a steal in 27:19 off the bench.
10. Guard/forward Othyus (OH-thee-iss) Jeffers had eight points on 3-of-6 shooting, five rebounds, two steals and an assist in 23:22 off the bench. He did commit two turnovers.
11. Forward/guard Larry Owens had seven points on 2-of-3 shooting, four steals and a rebound in 22:29 off the bench. He did commit three turnovers.
12. Negatives from the win:
a. The Wizards had 14 assists to the Celtics’ 20.
b. The Wizards were outrebounded 49-46.
c. The Wizards were outscored in the paint 44-40.
d. Rookie point guard John Wall went 5-for-17 from the field. He did have 24 points, nine rebounds, three assists versus one turnover, a steal and a block.
e. Center JaVale (juh-VAYL) McGee went 4-for-12 from the field. He did have 13 points, nine rebounds, five blocks, a steal and an assist.
f. Guard/forward Maurice Evans started and had two points on 1-of-6 shooting. He did finish with five rebounds and a block.
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I said in my last post that it would be my last take on the Wizards season. I lied. I am going to shameless rip-off David Thorpe’s excellent take on whom each of the top rookies in the NBA should study film of to emulate in the offseason, and apply it to the Wizards roster. Thorpe’s analysis has shaped in many ways how I look at the game, and his eye for the development of players is as sharp as anyone’s. The following may be a futile exercise in part because if the Wizards ever reach the gold standard of which we expect, perhaps four of the fifteen players on the roster will still be here, and more likely two. However, we will not go gently into that good night, and assume that if each of the below player puts in the work expected of a champion and molds their game more in this way, they may become something special.
Jordan Crawford = Lou Williams
-Williams is the NBA’s ultimate 6th man, although he doesn’t get much credit for it. A hybrid one-two combo guard, Williams came into the league as an absolute gunner in the way Crawford has. William’s shooting ability outstrips Crawford, but they have a similar spirit. Williams has molded himself into one of the more efficient limited minutes players, even though it is not reflected in his
Andray Blatche = Lamar Odom
-Blatche has shown over his career impeccable skills even without elite athleticism, but his work ethic both on and off the floor are largely inadequate. His inability to play within a team concept hurt him as well. The best game he played this season was not against Cleveland, where his numbers were very high as was his ego – staring down the bench of a 15 win team that was one of the most embarrassing displays of acting like a professional that I’ve ever seen. His game in the win against the Boston Celtics was his best. He was challenged by Kevin Garnett physically, and Blatche reacted by standing his ground, and earning a technical in the process. Instead of shrinking, however, Blatche put forth his best effort of the season. Defensively he was excellent, attacking, playing within himself offensively, and everything about that game signified that Blatche when committed could actually make an impact. Here is where the Odom foil comes in. Odom had a very similar reputation early in his career. Putting his ego aside for Phil Jackson and committing to coming off the bench was a huge jump in his career. He has sculpted himself into excellent physical shape, capable of playing at an elite level off the bench. He defends multiple positions with vigor, and uses his skill set not as a way to get his own shot and improve his stats, but rather to accentuate his teammates. He passes at an elite level, and he will drift outside the three point line if the offense needs spacing, but he chooses most often to attack the rim with or without the ball. His rebounding is tremendous, and he does so with physicality, particularly on the offensive end. He is the perfect model for Blatche – it really is Blatche’s only chance at not continuing to be a major disappointment. It will take a strenuous work ethic and commitment, but if he is willing, he will be able.
Nick Young = Manu Ginobili
-Young is unquestionably one of the most gifted players in the league. The fact that he can get any shot he wants off at any time, and his superior shooting ability converts his shots into solid attempts. He has one of the most limited basketball IQs in the entire sport, however. His shot attempts border on horrific, his reckless and high dribble leads to fumbling the ball and constant turnovers, his assist numbers are embarrassing, and his defense is at best described as non-participation. A player of his skills could be an elite role player, but he lacks the concentration and the focus to do anything except hoist shots. Ginobili is very similar in terms of skill set – he has quicker feet which allow him to penetrate and avoid defenders to finish in the lane, and his hands are quicker as well, allowing him to use his hands to fake in a way that is unprecedented. Ginobili has an innate understanding of the angles and fluidity of the game that Young does not and probably will not possess (Ginobili is one of the best ever in this respect), but his ability to run an offense as the primary ballhandler particularly late is something Young could have. Seeing the floor is something that is difficult to work on, but can be studied. Young puts in his work – he is one of very few players on the team that has maintained an acceptable level of conditioning, and he works before games with Ryan Saunders on hand-eye coordination drills. If Young accepted a more physical brand of basketball, he could right now boost his rebounding totals enormously. His biggest stride could be on the defensive end, where although his slow feet hurt him, his overall athleticism could lead to him being a plus defender. Young has to somehow figure out how to sharpen his concentration, because his physical skills far outweigh the inefficiency at which he plays.
JaVale McGee = Tyson Chandler
-I talked to Chandler about McGee when Dallas was in town, as Chandler struggled with consistency and his effort for a long time before he understood the game. He said it took him until the tail end of his time in Chicago before he began to understand the team aspect, what it took defensively, and how to play. Then playing with Chris Paul in New Orleans really opened up his understanding of the game, and he said that playing and preparing with better teammates would help McGee as well. He said McGee has to understand what he can do – that is perhaps McGee’s biggest issue now, his desire to do too much on both ends of the floor. Chandler doesn’t have the athleticism that McGee does, although no one outside of LeBron James does, but he uses his body incredibly well. He has the thin frame of McGee, but he is incredibly strong, mostly because he always plays with a solid base in his lower body. McGee’s feet are always off the floor, and what he doesn’t understand is how much it limits his effectiveness. He has been better in this area, but his ability to leap quickly and his long arms actually allow him to stay down and react more quickly. He bites on every single pump fake – he could actually be more effective in affective shots by holding good position low and extending his incredible wingspan vertically rather than his jumping. What also allows Chandler to be effective, particularly on lob plays, is his screen setting. McGee is one of the worst screeners in the league, partly because he has no base on the floor, but because he is so eager to receive the ball that he doesn’t focus on creating the space necessary to do so. Chandler also very rarely tries to execute post moves – he understands that if he screens up top, the following rotations will allow him to catch and finish with more ease. McGee has the work ethic, but he must also put his ego down and see how the flashes he shows can lead to an effective career as his athleticism wanes over time.
Kevin Seraphin = Reggie Evans
-Serphin is far more skilled than Evans offensively, and this is one instance in where Seraphin could be a higher quality player than his model. Evans is one of the most relentlessly aggressive players in the league, and he takes many things off the table. He fouls at an extremely high rate, and his turnovers are unbelievably high for a player who has zero offensive skills. He gets to the free throw line however, because he is so physical. Seraphin is incredibly strong, and he has very quick feet. He has shown he could be an effective pick and roll defender, which this team desperately needs. He also sets elite level screens, which is a skill that no one else on this roster other than Booker is even remotely interested in participating in. Seraphin plays too soft however, and his focus rivals only Nick Young for most unimpressive. He has zero idea how to play basketball, and so all his skills mean nothing. His raw physicality could translate into an Evans level of rebounding and defense and brutality that would be unmated. He is a gregarious, nice kid – that must end. He must craft himself into a feared player, and it will begin in the weight room. Seraphin is around 50 pounds overweight, and it is extremely limiting to his effectiveness. I have very little faith that Seraphin will ever be effective. He is so incredibly far away from ever contributing in a meaningful way, that it is difficult to find examples of players that have made such a leap. But earning his reputation as a fearsome presence through the weightroom, the salad bar, and a change in mindset are his path towards it.
Othys Jeffers = Tony Allen
-Jeffers has really impressed me on the defensive end. He plays with a hustle and energy offensively that leads to some points and effective plays but he will always be very limited in that area. However, defensively he has shown that he possesses the physical strength and quickness to guard at a high level. He has the passion for sure, and he may never become a rotation player unless he becomes an elite defender. Allen presents a model for him to do so. Allen is a much better overall athlete, and he tries to do way too much offensively. When he is at his best is using his quick hands and overly persistent motion to create havoc and create steals at an astonishing rate. Jeffers’ limitations in terms of skill set could be offset by two or three steal and fast breaks per game, particularly with Wall. If you put those two on the floor together, you could develop into an elite level backcourt for a sprinkle of minutes per game. Jeffers is more physically thick than the wiry Allen, and he could be an elite level defender if he improves his strength and quickness even further, and continues to play at the level he has. His growth is limited, but he could keep a roster spot at this pace.
Trevor Booker = Gerald Wallace
-Other than Wall, Booker is the only player on this list I have faith in to accomplish the necessary growth to become effective. Although Booker is a rookie, he should be more consistent than he is. Whether that is coaching limitations or his own is something that we will discover as his career progresses, but Booker has incredible raw athletic skills. He plays with great aggression, and he is a hybrid forward who doesn’t quite fit either forward positions. His pure strength and physical tools could easily translate into the hyper effective defensive player that Wallace has become. Wallace has almost zero offensive skills, and though he has developed them into an All-Star level, he still earns his salt on the glass and his defense is impeccable. His emergence on the glass is a combination of his top tier athleticism and his absolute fearlessness. Booker posses much of the first and hints of the second. His put back dunks against Minnesota were shocking, but they show that he can be an impressive presence with space. His speed and vertical leaping ability combined with his physical strength negate his lack of size if he attacks the glass from distance as Wallace does. He doesn’t need to always box out, unlike Blatche, McGee, and Seraphin (Javale because he always takes himself so far out of position both by poor decisions and his lust to add to his block totals). Booker also sets plus screens, which allows him to open up more space to dart in and out of to attract rebounds. These skills should serve him well on the defensive end. He in fact has the quickness and speed to guard three positions and even perhaps overtime five like LeBron James. This is where Booker could stand out, learning angles, studying defensive efficiency, and using the relentless nature of Gerald Wallace not just to slap up huge rebounding and offensive numbers without a jump shot, but to lock down defensively as well.
John Wall = Walt “Clyde” Frazier
-Wall has had a conspicuous start to his career, and his unyielding abilities of swishing and dishing put him in the small number of players in this league who project to deliver a championship. He has shown his aggressiveness in attacking the rim, his ability to see the floor, his pure speed and passing ability, and a hunger to perform at the highest level. I almost put Dwyane Wade here, as Wall has the ability to attack the basket and score at the Rose/Wade level, and in fact that is when he is more effective than in piling up assist totals. Where Wall could truly set him apart is by following the path and philosophy of one of the greatest defensive guards of all time. Frazier lured and trapped offensive players in order to create steals and break opportunities at an unparalleled level. He put huge offensive numbers as well, as you see in Game 7 of the 1970 Finals, but he took pride in being the elite defensive guard of his era. Wall has every bit the ability and tools to do the same. His wingspan is outrageous, and he possesses the quick feet and hands necessary to both stay in front of players, dart around screens, and pick up steals to spark his unstoppable transition game. Wall’s natural progression in this area, and at times his production, have shown that is in fact capable of playing defense close to Frazier’s level and that it is not simply a dream. In fact, if Wall does adopt such a philosophy, he will almost undoubtedly bring a championship banner to this city. Now, he backpedals too far on his reactions, instead of attacking his defender. This would make sense if he were going to play passing lanes and pick off steals like Tony Allen does, but it gives his man too much room, and it becomes impossible for him to guard pick and rolls. This is why you always see his man get into the paint – he reacts to far back. Partly, the length of his legs are at fault, as one step for him is much further than for most point guards. He has the ability to chop his feet on the defensive end, and eliminate that space between him and his man. Frazier’s philosophy defensively is not something I would advise completely for Wall. Walt: “I don't believe in contact defense. I like to keep them guessing where I am. I have the advantage because my hands are so quick. It's like I'm playing possum; I'm there but I don't look like I'm there. They're relaxed more than if you're up there pressuring them all the time. That's when they get careless." For Wall, I think he can be a much more aggressive and physical presence on the defensive end fighting through screens, switching off and shutting down space with his length the way LeBron James does, and an ability to go over a screen to wall off the screen and roll, or to dive under and still recover quickly. He MUST add strength to do this, particularly to be able to stay on top of the screen and fight through contact. If John Wall wants to become the best point guard in the league, he will live in the weight room and add significant shoulder, back, and arm strength that he does not currently possess. Also something for Wall is Frazier’s on court demeanor. He played everything calmly, and while we need to allow Wall room for the fire that drives him, the flexing, beating his chest antics do not serve his cause. I am confident Wall can become the elite defensive guard of his era just as Frazier did, and should all those pieces come to fruition, he can stamp his legacy in the same way as well.
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As we approach the playoffs, this blog will be a space for tactical observations of the teams vying for a championship. Thus far, it has been for overarching themes and criticisms of the Washington Wizards based on expectations for their eventual ascension, and I thank you for allowing me to share those thoughts. I have not written in some time, because each article ended up devolving into a harsh criticism based on similar themes, and at some point it is counterproductive. It had reached that point. My observations have been tinged with denigration and at times vitriol. It is important to understand why. This article by my friend Frank Hanrahan is as succinct and effective a way to explain. Below is my take on the matter, and my last opinion on this Wizards season before we transition towards the spring and the brilliance of the NBA Playoffs.
I loathe when media share details of their personal lives, because honestly no one cares. We are professionals and our opinion matters based on our expertise, not our stories. I will not say that I am not vain, because I most certainly am. Simply, I understand that my life is of no interest to those in the public. However, my reason for sharing the above picture is crucial to understanding my approach to the Washington Wizards. For that reason, I tell you that I work out every day, three hours per day, seven days a week. It’s an increasing habit that has transitioned into an obsession, a reaction to various factors that have led to my pursuit to achieve a focus culled from physical exertion. I am by no means an elite athlete, rather it is the work that attracts me, the ability to improve and achieve based upon determination. Everyone has their outlet, their means to focus and try to humble and improve themselves - this is mine. Three days a week, my workout includes an extreme intensive circuit routine which remains intimidating. To buck my spirit, I have various inspirational quotes and images I use. Among them is the above image: a frothing Kevin Garnett screaming at our friend and comrade Andray Blatche. Garnett exemplifies everything my workouts represent – intensity, focus, obsession, perfection, and a raging hated for excuses. While these ambitions have bled into other aspects of my life, this one image stands as a clear reminder to never accept failure. Garnett, a world-renown competitor, flooding the ear of a player with the opposite reputation, bracing his expletives with the one standard that matters: champion.
That status, and that revulsion with excuses, is the standard by which I hold the Washington Wizards. This is the team I grew up idolizing, and which I have and will support through all turbulence. Fair or not, because of this, I hold the franchise to a higher standard of expectations, and I maintain the belief that one day they will reward this faith with that ultimate achievement. This time represents a unique opportunity for this organization. A player who has all the attributes of a standard bearer, and an owner whose success is unparalleled. This season was the time to cleanse the blemishes, and to eradicate all excuses once and for all. To achieve, this franchise had to shatter the bad habits first, and to establish a new standard for performance. There are justifiable explanations for why the win totals would not be high, but the things under the team’s control - practice habits, workout habits, diet habits, preparation habits – these are all isolated factors that can be controlled and achieved by any player or staff member, regardless of their resume or experience. As Garnett’s coach Doc Rivers preaches, every practice is a playoff game. If the Washington Wizards were not going to reach the playoffs this season, then every practice and every game should be their NBA Finals. This is an extremely high bar of personal determination to expect from a perpetual loser, and I understand that. But these are exorbitantly compensated professionals, and why hold the players and staff of this organization to anything less than the pursuit of perfection? There is no excuse to accept otherwise, because without this obsession with the every day details and challenges, there can be no champion.
Clearly, this has not happened. We have expounded on this fact all year, and it does not need to be dissected again. From every facet of the organization, instead of the battle cry of improvement and carving a path to join the elite, there has been an absolutely staggering array of excuses. They do not impress, nor do they justify the bad habits that have carried over. Recently, we have seen some hopeful signs, the spark of fight that took months of failure and the removal of the unwilling (by injury, not be choice as it should have been) to achieve. The bloodbath at the hands of the Portland Trailblazers seems to have awoken the competitive spirit of a team that up until this point has surrendered at every turn. This current effort is the base line of what is required. It should only fuel more hunger to scrap, to claw towards what is attainable – a championship.
I throw out those two phrases, Wizards and champion, and it seems naïve. Many of you think it is a rosy dream, something that Boston and Los Angeles and Chicago and Miami can experience, but this city and this franchise is unable. Perhaps. But my relentless criticism comes because I have an audacity to hope. The word champion is not uttered without the understanding of what it takes to get there. It takes, as Mr. Leonsis has laid out, several years of building, and all the tools in the forms of financial flexibility and draft picks that they now possess. But it also takes an obsession with the possibility. Every day until that banner is raised is their playoffs. No days off, no shortcuts, no excuses. As Garnett famously said after he earned his ring, anything is possible. And so it is for this franchise as well. My expectation is nothing less than that standard – that anything is possible, and that anything less than pursuit of that goal is unacceptable.
This space will not mention this team again. Now is the time for winners in this league, and they do not deserve mention until they prove they want to be there. I am hopeful, however, that one day we will speak of this team and John Wall in the same breath as those gunning for the 2011 title. And just as today I will work to perfect those 1600 reps of the Spartacus workout with an eye toward the violently committed Kevin Garnett, I hold hope that one day it will be a Washington Wizard screaming obscenities at some poor opponent, supported by the years of embracing the relentlessness that led him to the standard upon which he now stands – champion.
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We went over our “Glassie Grades” with the valedictorian Al Galdi this morning on Sports Saturday, and here’s an extension: grades for the front office and ownership. The overall grade for the organization is an unequivocal F, obviously. John Wall’s ability and moving Gilbert Arenas don’t make up for the opportunity botched by Wall’s presence. Instead of embracing the opportunity to truly build around Wall’s competitive personality, defensive intensity, and unique energy, they chose to build around class clowns Andray Blatche, Nick Young, Kevin Seraphin (who doesn’t even belong on a serious NBA team), and the like, then throwing Wall into the mix. It’s a toxic failure, and a rare opportunity to reforge an identity based on intensity, accountability, and defensive focus was completely squandered and the opposite identity has been carried over from past failing teams, bringing their poor approach and lack of professionalism along with it.
Ernie Grunfeld: F. Ernie Grunfeld’s spectacular failure as Team President stands out, since he hires everyone from coaching staff, medical staff, public relations, etc. The tone for the organization is set directly by Gunfeld, and having been involved in some lethargic work environments before, I can recognize one when I’m around it. The Wizards are as poorly run an organization as I’ve been around, and it’s sad because there really was a unique chance to remake their character. Grunfeld in particular is such a disappointment, because after being given a chance to prove his stewardship of a spectacular collapse in two consecutive seasons could be turned around, Grunfeld has overseen business as usual, not changing attitude in any way, and supporting and coddling players like Blatche in the same way Arenas was handled. To be given another chance, and change absolutely nothing about the way business is done is terrible. I don’t enjoy being so critical, but the results are very clear – not in terms of wins and losses, but in terms of excuse-making, lack of accountability, and an unearned air of superiority championed by the team president. John Wall deserves better, and here’s to hoping that if Grunfeld is not replaced immediately, then he can understand the team’s lack of intensity is directly borne from him and begin to turn this around.
Ted Leonsis: D. Ted Leonsis does not escape blame here either. It is his organization, and the above listed factors ultimately fall at his feet. It was his choice to bring back Ernie Grunfeld and Flip Saunders, and then not push for a new identity – or if he did, an unwillingness to follow up and ensure that the new day to day operation was enforced. He selected John Wall and planned a vast welcoming party for him, and then threw him into the quicksand of a roughshod operation shaped by the shrugged-shoulders and pranksters that carried over from 19 and 25 win teams. His push to extend Andray Blatche’s contract alone cannot allow him a passing grade, and his explanation that it was to motivate Blatche, a player who has never been motivated his entire career, is laughable. Leonsis’ insistence of reacting wildly to criticism of a franchise that is clearly capsizing is a major factor in this grade as well. His faux-polite blog posts that are in effect temper tantrums to criticism don’t fool anyone. He has the keys to the franchise, he elected to maintain the status quo instead of revolutionizing into a true accountable organization led by John Wall’s attitude, and now he has to swallow his pride and make changes, whether with pink slips or pushing a new mentality. Either way, it all falls on him, and he can paint the steps of the arena whatever color he wants, if his players don’t play with focus on the court and preparation off it, it’s going to amount to nothing but further criticism.
With all this being said, there are only a few small signs I need to see in my analysis to change all these. Leonsis is right that these things take time, but this is by far the most critical step. Winning basketball is birthed by preparation and accountability. Those things are sorely lacking here. God is in the details as Jesuit-schooled Leonsis knows, and so is winning. Emphasize the details, ostracize those who are unwilling or incapable of conducting themselves accordingly, and begin to play basketball with intensity no matter the opponent or the record, and this atrocity of a season can finally start to take a step forward.
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I told them to enjoy it but let's not take a big breath and think OK we got a win, great. We have to think that we are supposed to win games.
That is the answer. That’s why even though this will not be the matchup of the zeros as everyone irrationally hyped it would be, the game against Cleveland is the biggest test for this Wizards team perhaps all season. Inside that locker room, their game tonight against San Antonio should hold more weight, as any opportunity to prove your progress against a team that has truly accomplished in this league should be embraced. But what looms ahead is Quicken Loans Arena – the house of horrors for a string of Wizards teams that ultimately faded into the powdered dust of mismanagement and losing, that capitulated to the test that all emerging teams face – how to progress from good enough to truly good without slipping back to earth. An arena which one housed true vitriol for a roster of Wizards players now since dispersed again contains within its walls a test of character that this team can for once measure truly where their progress lies.
Any rehabilitation must begin from the nothing, an acceptance of the failure that led to the bottom and an embrace of the journey to climb back up. That step has not taken place yet. Sure, the owner and general manager have used the excuse buzzword “rebuilding” to sweep the vast emptiness of a foundation underneath the rug to try and escape scrutiny for what is really going on. An owner who links on his blog with many thanks to articles praising his team’s progress and is quick to fire off retorts to those critical of his organization. That’s fine, it’s his prerogative. But it’s also his team. And what this team lacks is an acceptance of the bottom. They smile and laugh and joke and shrug off three seasons of complete ineptitude and say “we’re rebuilding, give us time.” They have not felt the sting of the bottom, embraced it, let the emptiness seep in and consume them, and allowed that loneliness to fuel their drive to succeed. How do we know this? We know because it’s a tangible reality. Fundamentals do not lack on a team in which the ache of losing has corroded bad habits. Diet plans and workout sessions are not a product simply of work ethic and desire – they are weapons shorn to stave off that rancid beast of losing that is not satisfied unless it engulfs the soul. This progress cannot happen until that beast is met, recognized, and slayed. They do not even see that monster at their side.
That’s why this game matters. It is not the battle of the zeros. It is an opportunity. It presents the rare chance that only sports provides – a chance to silence critics and prove the doubters wrong. Even if they win, it is simply one step toward embracing the cold reality facing them. Or should they lose, it proves an opportunity to feel that throbbing sting of irrelevance, and begin to throw coal onto that fire that will truly begin building towards something real. For now that furnace lies empty. A final refusal to accept losing anymore will spark it. Desire will fuel it. Talent will make it rise, and precision will make it finally an all consuming blaze. As the owner has said, that time is far off. But it will not happen ever without that spark. Start the process that will prove us doubters wrong. As Byron Scott said, you are supposed to win games. But If you don’t, don’t brush away the consequences. Embrace what they mean and look ahead to the long road that lays ahead. Instead of fearing its brambles and curves, smile at the challenge the way the great ones do, and charge ahead diligently. No more acceptance of the culture that has set in. Go out, punish a weaker team daring to impede your hunger, and show to everyone that the owner is not blowing smoke. Show that there is in fact a fire.
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