Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Surprise Team

So I just thought I'd dedicate a few minutes to talking about a surprise NBA squad that I like going into next season. They are one of last year's punchline teams: the Wizards. And I think they'll possibly challenge the Magic/Celtics/Cavs.

Don't look at me crazy. I know they won a beyond paltry 19 games last year. And I know that's crazily nice enough to tie them for second worst in the league. And I also know that they only completed a single trade this offseason and don't even have an impact rookie coming in. But I still like them to surpassingly crush all expectations even though this is a season where I fully expect twelve of the fifteen Eastern Conference squads to compete for those eight playoff spots. Just for the record, I think the Knicks, Pacers, and Nets are those three unlucky teams who are consistent enough to maintain as the East's resident bottom feeders. But on to the Wiz.

Before even discussing their one monster trade, the Wizards simply improve exponentially from last season's nonexistence because of the health of both Gilbert Arenas and Brendan Haywood. These men aren't going to be recovering while coming into training camp, either, because both came around fully right at the end of 2009's regular season. The team's starting point guard and center both had full and complete summers for rehabilitation and contact training. So even more than anyone who's been healthy, they should specifically come into the season in peak condition after not being on their feet most of last year.

And while Haywood is deftly important to this team's interior defense and gives them a (pretend) post scorer to distract some from the perimeter, Arenas is the pivotal cog that will reemerge and bring the Wiz into the upper echelon of East threats. Gilbert has been away from us for so long that all NBA fans have already started to forget or underestimate his floor impact. This man stands right behind Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony in the ranks of pure scorers in the league. He may seem to go games at a time where he shoots unconsciously and detrimentally to the team, but that reputation was gained more out of necessity and lack of team structure than out of pure ballhoggedness. Under Flip Saunders and with a full compliment of offensive weapons, Arenas will show amazing efficiency on the offensive end. Just trust me. And this same principle applies likewise to Antawn Jamison. Last year's team was purposeless on both sides of the floor. The club was marred with injuries and was infusing too many inexperienced pieces with a pitfall of uncertainty. With Arenas back at full capacity and some definitive upgrades at two key positions, this incarnation of the Wizards will show up on a nightly basis and perform.

And now the trade. For three less-than-proficiently talented forwards and the fifth pick in the draft, the Wizards acquired Mike Miller and Randy Foye from Minnesota. And though both players were rather nondescript last season, their skill sets will be highlighted on this team. Miller is instantly infused into the starting lineup and paired with Caron Butler to provide two big and strong wings which will dually cause problems for defenses. On the obvious front, Miller positively replaces a great deal of the 3-point attempts that Deshawn Stevenson, Mike James, Butler, and Jamison have been chucking the last few seasons. He'll knock them in at more opportune times and at a better clip. This also allows the free roaming of Butler and Jamison to become even more of a threat than it already was. You have to cover both of those forwards on the perimeter anyway, but now you have to even tighter and with more urgency since the ball could get dropped off or swung over to Miller at any point. And while he's not a premier defender by any means, his size gives a more versatile look on the defensive end of things when alternating between all the wing D schemes. Foye, on the other hand, provides a greatly talented scoring combo guard to be the first man off the bench for either Arenas or for the position shuffling of any combination of Miller/Butler/Jamison. In his short time at Minnesota, he became a more than adequate floor leader who can pick his spots to be a distributor or prime time scorer. In all honesty, he's a poor man's Gilbert Arenas. Funny how that happens. With Foye in the fold, the points will never drop off between the starting lineup and the bench. The Wizards with these two new players now have five guys who could realistically score 20+ points on any given night.

Once you add the peripheral players in, this team can exceedingly flourish when given the right direction. Nick Young is a big guard with as pure a stroke as you'll find in someone with so much untapped potential. Andray Blatche is a stylized big man of the future with every conceivable skill on the floor who simply needs to tame his shot selection to understand how versatile he can be in literally any system. Javaris Crittenton is a pure point guard, as well as a former Laker, who I fully believe can still develop into an absolute stud whether it's with the Wizards or a future team. Newly signed Fabricio Oberto is one of those veteran big men who, while not a big stat contributor, provides a calming influence and never provides anything negative while on the floor.

So all in all, I would be willing to throw some money on the Wizards being a big time crew next year with an epic bounce back performance. I like what both the Celtics and Magic did to improve their rosters, but I wanted to acknowledge the team that seemingly no one has on their radar right now. I witnessed the game live three years back when Gilbert Arenas laced up the Lakers for 60 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists, and a win while Butler and Jamison dropped an extra 27 and 25 respectively as well without missing a beat. It was a thing of beauty in the face of my own beloved Lake Show. And I'm not counting on that ever happening again, but I'm counting on everyone being able to score as much as they want and for Arenas to settle back in as a complete threat and floor leader for this overly talented team that will surprise you.

... but do take my word for it.

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