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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