As we sit here on the day of the Wizards' final game before the 2011 NBA All-Star break, my coffee mug was half full and it wasn’t Maxwell House. It was half full of delicious, fair trade Arabica beans. So that’s the mood I’m in.
Now, about basketball: The Wizards enter the All-Star with a win percentage hovering around 28 percent (give or take the game in Orlando). But instead of diagnosing the losing (here, here and here if you want your fill) let’s look at the positives and talk about our hopes and dreams for the Wizards after the vacation.
I’ll share first:
Hilton Armstrong: Armstrong is trying, I can tell you that much. He’s only getting 10.3 minutes per game, but he’s hustling when he’s on the court. Armstrong is second on the Wizards in rebounds per 36 minutes (10.0 per 36 minutes, just 0.1 behind JaVale McGee) and he leads the team in defensive rebound percentage, collecting 21.5 of available rebounds while he’s on the court. I just hope Andray Blatche stops asking him for foot massages on the road.
Andray Blatche: As Mike Prada mentioned after the Cavs game, Flip Saunders needs lock Blatche in a room with film from the first quarter against Cleveland. It was a reminder of the forward’s ability when he’s locked in. Last season Blatche exploded after the All-Star break once Antawn Jamison was traded. Could we see a similar jump this season if Blatche’s foot feels better and he starts eating his lunch before games?
Trevor Booker: Booker has been a pleasant surprise at times (see: six blocks, six rebounds in 23 minutes vs. Orlando) and a non-factor in other games (see: no points and five fouls the next night vs. Atlanta). But we can expect a breakout second half from Booker if every game is played on Tuesday? (Click to enlarge)
Kirk Hinrich: Hinrich has been a steady hand of the bench for the Wizards with John Wall and Nick Young teaming the starting backcourt. Here’s hoping someone can convince him to play while wearing a lab coat.
Josh Howard: STAY HEALTHY, JOSH!
Rashard Lewis: STAY HEALTHY, RASHARD! (And please, if you could keep making three-point shots ... )
Cartier Martin: Cartier Martin can shoot the basketball. Need proof? Then you don’t remember his five three-pointers against Milwaukee. As a D-League call-up last season, Martin told me he needed to improve his handle and ability to shoot off the dribble in order to stick in the league. If he continues to improve those aspects of his game, he could be stretch the floor for the Wizards as a shooter off the bench. His true shooting percentage is much higher than it’s ever been in the NBA during the largest sample size of his career.
JaVale McGee: McGee again has Wizards fans craving for him to turn athletic potential into a consistent presence on the court. He's shown flashes, giving (an injury-saddled) Andrew Bogut problems when Milwaukee visited Washington, for example. In the very short term, let's hope McGee can pull out an upset win in the Dunk Contest over Blake Griffin. It sounds silly, but maybe that will give him a confidence boost. Or maybe it will somehow encourage his blockitis. By the way, can we get a cure for that before it's too late? Time for a Twibbon campaign.
Hamady Ndiaye: There is not much to say about Mr. Ndiaye, who has only played 12 minutes total in four games this season -- although it is kind of funny that his PER is negative (-2.1), while his true shooting percentage is 85 percent! If he just continues to make people smile in the locker room, that's worth a lot.
Mustafa Shakur: Shakur is second on the team in PER, so that's good. There aren't a ton of minutes at the one with Wall locking down starter minutes and the venerable Hinrich soaking up time in relief, but as a D-League call-up Shakur can an impact playing Wall tough in practice and in spot duty. It worked for Martin last season. Oh, and hopefully he won't have to wear a makeshift jersey again anytime soon.
Al Thornton: Thornton is averaging the fewest minutes of his career right now, and it's not exactly a secret that he'd like to play more. As long as his minutes remain the same, let's hope he continues taking out his frustrations over PT on opposing big men (see: this YouTube-izating of Zaza Pachulia).
John Wall: Gilbert Arenas thinks Wall needs veteran support to prevent him from picking up bad habits. That seems a little alarmist, but it did remind me of a conversation I had with DeJuan Blair recently about how being in the Spurs organization has helped his development. And take a look at coach Gregg Popovich's assessment of his development:
"He’s becoming more and more professional, more and more consistent, understanding game situations and understanding what’s appropriate and what’s not," he said. Not one mention of his actual basketball improvement."
I'm don't think Wall's future is in jeopardy, but it's no fun to see him discouraged either. It'd be nice to see the Wizards get some wins after the break so we could see the Wall that was on TV after their win against Cleveland.
"We're a great team, we've just got a lot to learn," Wall said in an interview with Comcast Sportsnet's Chris Miller. "It feels like Christmas."
"I think there's a reason for Yi's improved play: he's getting more minutes as a center instead of having to be a power forward. ... Under those circumstances, Yi can use his shooting ability and relative quickness compared to his peers as an advantage, even though he's giving up a little in the strength department."
So hopefully we'll see more minutes for Yi in this situation. Also, Yi is a joy to watch celebrating on the bench. Perhaps there will be more moments to watch him do so in the second half of the season.
Nick Young: In a way, our hopes and dreams have begun to come true. With Gilbert Arenas out of town, he's finally ascended to a starting position on the depth chart -- and he's been scoring a lot. There's been some debate on Bullets Forever as to whether or not Young is a franchise cornerstone or if this is a brief Nick Young era during a bigger rebuilding process. For what it's worth, one scout sitting next to me at a recent game said Young there are plenty of good teams in the NBA for whom Young would start. He listed the Sixers and the Bulls among a handful of playoff teams that would probably insert him in their starting lineup right now. Young has been shooting slightly worse from the field as a starter, but his three-point percentage is up and he's carrying the offensive load for the Wizards.