Hollinger predicts 33 wins

John Hollinger is easily the best writer on ESPN.  John Hollinger doesn't like the Wizards at all this season.  Therefore, I'm concerned.

But 33 wins?  If the Wizards wins 33 games this year, then it will be a colossal failure.  It's worse than worst case scenario.

Here's how he justifies it.

Take a look at their three best players and tell me which of them are going to take a step up from last year: Arenas, who depends entirely on his quickness but is coming off knee surgery? Butler, who comes off a career year at 27? Or Jamison, who is 31 and has seen his numbers slowly declining the past couple years?

I'll go with "none of the above," and for that reason Washington's secondary players are going to need to step up in a major way. But here we have the same problem -- Daniels is a 32-year-old penetrator and nobody would be shocked if he hit the wall this year; while Haywood and Jordan have a prickly relationship that seemed to get even worse last season. The dynamic between Haywood and Thomas bears watching as well -- they fought multiple times last year, and it's rather shocking that one or the other wasn't traded this summer.

While many of Hollinger's points are spot-on, I think he's overrated the lack of upside here.  Arenas may be coming off knee surgery, but he didn't have his best year last year, even before he got hurt.  His per-40 totals improved slightly, but his percentages were way down.  He was quick, but settled far too much for jumpers last year.  I'm not concerned about the knee injury; it occured a while ago, he's back to full strength, and he's shed some weight, which should make him faster.  I'd expect Arenas to be closer to his 05/06 production than his 06/07 numbers.

Butler, on the other hand, had a spectacular first half and a poor, injury-free second half.  If he can simply be somewhere in the middle, which doesn't seem like an unreasonable request, then he won't drop off at all.

Finally, his claim that Jamison is slipping is just lazy.  It's as if Hollinger looked at the age and assumed he was slowing down.  Anecdotally and statistically, Jamison had one of his better years last season.  His per-40 numbers, with the exception of rebounding, all remained relatively the same.  His free throw rate improved, even as his usage rate went down.  More importantly, Jamison was scoring far more efficiently last year.  His true shooting percentagte went from 51.8% to .54.5%, and his effective field goal percentage also rose from 49.1% to 51%.  All that contributed to a jump in PER from 17.1 in 05/06 to 18.4 last season.  It seems that Hollinger mistakenly violated his own dogma and looked at per-game stats rather than per-40 numbers.

Anecdotally, how can anyone say Jamison's declining when he played the way he did in the playoffs?  Combine that with the fact that all that production came in a year where Jamison continually suggested that he was exhausted after playing with Team USA over the summer, and I see no evidence why he would suddenly fall off this year.

As for the complimentary players, AD slipping is definitely a concern, but he was better last year in terms of per-40 numbers than he was in 05/06, so I think he has at least one more good year left in him.  Though Etan being hurt really sucks, more time can only be a good thing for Brendan Haywood, because the bottom line is that the team plays better when Haywood plays more.  Having Darius Songaila healthy will also help; even if the Wizards were fairly fortunate with injuries last year, they'll have Songaila for more than 37 games.

Then, there is the addition-by-subtraction of having promising rookies replace Jarvis Hayes, Michael Ruffin, and Calvin Booth in the rotation.  Even if Nick Young, Dominic McGuire, and Oleksiy Pecherov take a while to get adjusted to the NBA, they have to be upgrades over Hayes, Ruffin, and even Booth.  I mean, we're talking about replacing guys with PERs of 10.7, 9.6, and 4.5.  It seems a little hypocritical for Hollinger to ignore this point when it was the main justification in saying Atlanta would be a playoff team.

A lot of people disregard this, but sometimes a team can improve very rapidly merely by replacing awful players with average ones. And you'd have a hard time finding two players more awful than Claxton (PER 7.37) and Wright (6.65) were last season. Furthermore, unlike most awful players, they played a lot -- more than 2,000 minutes between them. Thus, just swapping them with a replacement-level player would add over three or more wins to Atlanta's total. Replacing them with somebody halfway decent should double or triple the effect.

Right, and the Hayes/Ruffin/Booth trio played 2,275 minutes last year.  Where's the difference?  If that phenomenon happens to Atlanta (and I agree it will), it should definitely happen to the Wizards, though perhaps not as egregiously.

Add it all up, and I'm not sure where 33 wins came from.  The Wizards had the point differential of a .500ish team last year, yes, but I don't see how one can foresee a dropoff all the way down to 33 wins.  Even if you take the Pythagorean record (39-43), Hollinger suggests the Wizards will lose six more games than last year, even though no key contributors were lost.  Is the East really that much better?  I'm dubious.

Let's hope Hollinger is wrong again.  Remember, he said the Wizards would miss the playoffs last year as well, and didn't really give a great reason why.  This year, he has a reason, but it's problematic for all the reasons discussed above.

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