Unlike the previous two loses in which the Wizards played well and were able to take away some small moral victories, there would be none taken away from this game. The Wizards were over-matched in nearly every phase of the game and lost to the Bulls 105 – 77. Early in the game, the Bulls were unstoppable in the paint and finished the game with 48 points in the paint. The Bulls were also able to own the boards, pulling down 56 rebounds – 17 more than the Wizards. Following the game, Flip Saunders put it bluntly, “There bigs kicked our butt.” High percentage shots in the paint combined with their success on the backboards enabled Chicago to hit 48% from the field.
Andray Blatche finished the game with a double-double, he led the Wizards with 15 points and 11 rebounds. However those statistics, as they often are with him, are misleading. Andray is rarely in good rebounding position, often is slow getting back on defense and doesn’t appear to be focused when on defense. Those shortcomings can and were exploited by a team like the Bulls. Andray can put points on the scoreboard but they often come at the expense of good offensive flow.
Good NBA teams hover around .500 on the road and the best teams have winning road records, but few teams (and none so far this season) have better records on the road versus at home. So, given this it goes without saying that the Wizards will generally get their opponents best effort – since their opponent will be at home where they play their best ball.
In this article, we explore whether the blame solely rests on the team’s defensive effort or whether there are other contributing factors.
Due to a family emergency involving his mother, Flip Saunders was unavailable for the game against the Pacers. Wizards Assistant Coach Randy Wittman led the Wizards against the struggling Indiana Pacers who, entering the contest, had lost their last two games by 12 points or more. The Pacers were also on the second night of a back-to-back and their third game in four days.
The Wizards, who are win-less on the road, play solid basketball at home. So even with the absence of Flip Saunders, this was easily a winnable game for the Wizards who have been playing better basketball since the second half of the New Jersey Nets game.
It is important to note that many of the players who are currently occupying roster spots on Summer League teams will never play on a NBA team. Any analysis of a player’s Summer League performance has to take the level of competition, or lack thereof, into consideration before attempting to make any judgments. However, there are a number of items that can be taken into consideration, such as a players focus, their attention to detail, how hard they appear to be working, improvement made on identified deficiencies in their game, etc.
After two games in the Summer League, I have been most impressed by the leadership skills that John Wall is exhibiting. In part, I am impressed by this because he is currently the youngest player on the team and yet players appear to be accepting of his leadership.
The Wizards have long needed a “floor general.” And many hoped that Gilbert Arenas would evolve into a vocal floor leader on the team but it never materialized. Just because a person is your most talented player, does not mean they have the mental makeup to be the team leader. Some people are just not suited for or comfortable in that role.
So instead Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler took more active roles in team leadership. However, I believe there is a significant difference between being a vocal voice in the locker room and being a “floor general.” That job of floor general needs to belong to the point guard or other player who is responsible for initiating the offense. Conversely, I do not believe that it should belong to your best scorer.
Antawn and Caron did not initiate offense, there job was to score. Those two players players passed the ball if and when they did not have a shot. And it was rare when they did not believe they had a shot. An initiator will make others better by getting them shots in places in which they can be most successful.
I can not remember an occasion during the tenure of the “Big 3” in which they corrected a teammate during a game for a less than fundamental play. Consider this exchange between Wall and McGee which was captured by Mike Prada at Bullets Forever:
…Wall and JaVale McGee ran a typical pick and roll that resulted in Wall throwing McGee a lob pass that should have been a dunk. Instead, McGee came down with the ball, took one dribble toward the other side, pivoted back to the same side he caught the pass, leaned away from the hoop and hit a fadeaway jump hook while drawing the foul. As McGee started his typical post-move celebration, Wall immediately ran over to him and shouted “COME ON! DUNK THAT S*** MAN!” A high-five soon followed, but the message was clear – just because the shot went in doesn’t mean the shot was the right one.
I was thrilled to see John Wall get in McGee’s ear. Too often in recent years the young Wizards have passed up the easy, more fundamental play for the less fundamental and much more difficult one. They have long needed someone who was willing, able and best positioned to point these issues out to his teammates. And what is probably most encouraging is that the other players appear to be listening.
I also feel compelled to contrast Wall’s behavior against players like McGee and Blatche. Flash back to last season, there were occasions when Coach Flip Saunders would pull Andray Blatche or JaVale McGee out of a game, typically for some breakdown in fundamentals. Both of these players have either walked past Flip (in the case of Blatche) or looked uninterested (in the case of McGee) when Flip was trying to provide them with instructions on what he wanted to see from them. Through two games in the Summer League, when Wall is not in the game, or during stoppages in play, he is with the coaches receiving whatever instruction the coaches are providing. Again, extremely refreshing behavior particularly for a team leader.
Some other random observations:
- While JaVale has made some progress – bulked up a bit and his wind appears to be a little better. He still has additional work to do in both of those areas. However, he still is biting on head fakes much too often. This was particularly evident in the Clippers game, when on one play, Nick Caner-Medley got him to bite on pump fakes twice making JaVale look as if he was on a pogo stick.
- While JaVale could use all the time he can get in order to work on his conditioning, I would like to see Hamady N’Diaye get more playing time. The lack of playing time makes me wonder if the Wiz will assign N’Diaye to the DLeague for a bit this season.
- While this is only Summer League, Trevor Booker is beginning to prove those Wiz fans, who complained about his selection, wrong. While his stats will not jump off the stat sheet he is proving to be what the Wiz thought he would be – a big body who rebounds, aggressively defends, can hit an open 12-18 foot shot, easily runs the floor and most importantly has some “dog” in him. They have long needed a big who has a bit of a nasty streak in him.
- The Clippers’ Sofoklis “Baby Shaq” Schortsanitis appears to be the Oliver Miller of Greece, except he bulkier at 340+ lbs and is less gifted offensively. He sets a hell of a screen though.
- NBA TV should consider using anyone other than Kevin McHale for color commentary, they can save him for studio work.
- Can’t the NBA afford better Summer League uniforms? Or at a minimum can’t they find a vendor that produces tag-less, reversible jerseys? It looks cheap to see those little white tags sticking out from the top of the white-side of the jerseys. Hell, hire an intern to cut the darn tags.
June 24, 2004 was likely one of the happiest days in the life of Shaun Livingston. On that night, he was the 4th overall pick, and the first PG selected in the NBA draft. The 6’7” pass first, shoot second true point guard with the 7′ wingspan had some comparing him with Magic Johnson. In 2007, during arguably his best season, Livingston suffered a terrible knee dislocation that sidetracked a potentially very promising career. Three years and three teams later, Livingston is on the second 10-day contract with the Washington Wizards.
Once it became clear that Mike James was not going to remain with the team, it became clear that the Wizards would need to pick up another point guard. The Wizards were fortunate enough to pick up Livingston, who had played earlier in the season with Oklahoma City.
Livingston gives this current roster its second true point guard – the other being Earl Boykins. While Boykins seems to be best suited providing energy off the bench. He does tend to be a shoot first, pass second point guard. In addition to Livingston’s passing ability, his height is also an asset. He is able to post up and comfortably shoot over smaller guards. When he has gotten a chance to play he has played well. His unique combination of skills has defenses fits as he has gotten into the lane creating easier scoring opportunities for his teammates.
The Wizards have 20 games remaining in this season, they should have seen enough from Livingston to know that warrants a longer look – picking him up for the remainder of the season. While Flip Saunders wants to win as many games as he can, it is also important to develop his young players in the process. Shaun Livingston should be an important component in the team’s short and long-term development.
While it has been three years since his injury, Shaun Livingston is still recovering. He has played in less than 40 NBA games since his rehabilitation. If Livingston can continue to work himself back into peak condition the Wizards may have gotten very lucky. It is very likely that Livingston will never fully attain what was his full potential. However, at 24 years of age he is still a young guy with upside potential. The fact is that he can be very effective even if he does not get fully back to where he seemed to be going as a player.
He has demonstrated with limited minutes that he can still create plays for his teammates. And at this stage in the season, it is much more important to allow him to work himself into shape – while on the floor. It does not help this team’s development by playing Earl Boykins for extended minutes. Flip Saunders and Ernie Grunfeld both know what Boykins can provide the team and more to the point he is not a part of the long-term future of this team. They should give Livingston as much time as his body can handle.
If he continues to improve, the Wizards have potentially found a guy, in Livingston, who can be their second string point guard. If they are really lucky, he could develop into a guy who can play in the back-court with Gilbert Arenas. It is important though that the Wizards let that process begin now. The first step in that process is picking up Livingston’s contract for the remainder of the year and then giving him an extended look on the court.
I will admit that given all this kid has gone through in his young career, I would like to see his career get back on track. I would like nothing better than for this kid to develop into an all-star caliber player. And if Livingston is on the verge of getting some semblance of his career back on track, I hope the Wizards are smart enough to spot that now and take a chance – an inexpensive chance at that – on a guy who had NBA draft lottery talent. At the very least, he appears to be the best point guard they currently have on their roster.
I caught the Mike James interview on 106.7 The Fan’s The LaVar Arrington Show with Chad Dukes. During the conversation, I couldn’t help but wonder what issue (if any) did Flip Saunders have with Mike James? I’ve heard and/or read people who have spent time with Mike James mention that he is a honest and straight forward individual and I have no reason to believe anything else. So in this scenario, I am going to take his comments on face value.
On a few occasions this season he has pointed out that he worked extremely hard in preparation for the season and could not figure out why he wasn’t playing. He reiterated those thoughts during the interview. James seemed to indicate that Flip Saunders, or someone on his staff, had a preconceived notion of him as a player and he was not afforded the opportunity to disprove those notions. Any time that there is a coaching change, it is likely that a coach has inherited a player (or players) that does not fit his/her style of play. Depending on the contract situation, that player (or players) is usually traded or released as quickly as possible. It is a possibility that this situation with James was as simple as that. Maybe Flip, who is notoriously demanding of his point guards, did not feel that James’ style of play over his career fit the way he wanted his point guard to play. And maybe he thought that Mike James was too set in his ways to adapt to his system of play (old dog, new tricks cliché).
If James did not fit, then it would seem to have made more sense for Ernie Grunfeld to trade James during the off-season, or at least much earlier in the season – ideally prior to his hand injury. But after he returned from his injury, and it was apparent that he was going to be with the team for a while, it makes you scratch your head that he couldn’t manage to play for a few minutes per game. Particularly during games where he might have provided a better match-up off the bench then Boykins.
For those of us who aren’t in the Wizards locker room and practices, it would appear that James’ inability to get off the bench would seem to indicate that there was some larger issue just beyond what we can see. While Mike James’ days with the Wizards are over, I would love to know why Flip Saunders felt that his team was better with James on the bench than with him getting at least a few minutes per game.