Dreads or no dreads, DeShawn Stevenson has been a pleasant surprise for the Wizards this season. After rejecting a 3 year, 10 million dollar extension with Orlando, Stevenson signed with the Wizards for the veterans minimum and has arguably become the best bargain in the Eastern Conference.
In the Wizards' recent run of good play, Stevenson has been a key instigator. As Michael Lee of the Washington Post says:
When the Wizards signed Stevenson, most figured they were getting a decent defensive player and a black hole on the offensive end. On this team, Stevenson's offensive struggles wouldn't matter because he would upgrade the perimeter defense. So far, however, Stevenson has been a revelation on both ends of the floor.
Defensively, Stevenson is not directly responsible for the Wizards' further decline. Opposing shooting guards average a 14.4 PER on the Wizards, which is lowest among any position. By comparison, small forwards are averaging a 19.1 PER. The Wizards' defensive efficiency drops all the way down to 115.1 points when Stevenson is off the floor, while it's at 110.9 when he's on the court. Stevenson hasn't quite been a lockdown defender -- after all, Kobe Bryant scored 45 on him and Kevin Martin dropped 40 -- but on this team, Stevenson has become the best man defender.
On the offensive end, Stevenson's been much better than expected. The knock on Stevenson in previous years was that he was neither a shooter nor a slasher. He didn't have enough range to consistently hit three-pointers, but also didn't get to the free throw line enough to justify slashing down the lane. Last season, Stevenson averaged 11 points per game with the Magic and had the highest shooting percentage of his career. John Hollinger, in his player card for Stevenson, said the following.
Shame on Hollinger for failing to pick up on an upward trend. Last year, Stevenson's shooting numbers jumped significantly with the Magic. He went from being a 41 percent shooter to a 46 percent one, and his free throw percentage jumped from under 60 percent to 74 percent. His true shooting percentage jumped over 50 percent for the first time in his career and was a major step up from the 45% of 2004/05. All this happened as Stevenson's usage rate (a statistical evaluation of how much a player controls the ball on offense) went down from 19.2% to 16.5%. It therefore doesn't make sense to make the argument that Stevenson's shooting percentages will go down, because Stevenson was switching to a more offensive-minded team and was slated to receive even fewer shots than before. If the argument was that Stevenson's percentages have improved because he's shooting less, then Hollinger should have realized that Stevenson would shoot a better percentage on the Wizards than ever before.
Now, 26 games into the season, Stevenson is doing exactly that. He's shooting 51 percent from the floor and over 50 percent from three-point range. His true shooting percentage is up to nearly 58 percent, and his assists numbers are higher than ever. All the attention paid to Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler allows Stevenson to shoot open shots rather than contested ones. At the same time, defenses can't afford to sag off Arenas and Butler as much, because Stevenson has the ability to consistently hit open jumpers. Stevenson's usage rate has fallen to a career low 13.9%, but he's averaging nearly as many points (10.1) as last year because he's not shooting dumb contested 20 footers anymore.
More importantly, however, is that Stevenson seems to genuinely enjoy being in DC. You'd think that he would play for himself all season after being forced to accept the veterans minimum this season, but he's been as much of a team guy as anyone. He also hasn't shown any bitterness, claiming numerous times that he's still young and he has a long time left in his career. Off the court, Stevenson and Arenas have a great relationship, a difficult thing considering the uniqueness of Arenas' personality.
In the end, Ernie Grunfeld needs to move quickly to re-sign Stevenson to a reasonable contract. Because Stevenson has a player option on his deal from this summer, no extension can be officially signed until after the season, but that shouldn't stop Ernie from doing everything he can to find good value for Stevenson. If I'm Grunfeld, I propose a nice 5 year, 22 million dollar contract or so for Stevenson and offer it to him as soon as possible. The Wizards can't let him get away like they let Jared Jeffries get away this past offseason. Let Jarvis Hayes walk after the season and use his money to secure Stevenson.