Highest plus/minus: Caron Butler (+11)
Lowest plus/minus: Darius Songaila (-15)
Gotta say, Gilbert's injury news obscured a pretty solid road win. Not only does Charlotte normally give us problems, but we were also missing Brendan Haywood, killing an already shallow frontline. Surprisingly, the Wizards were in control for most of the game, and survived a barrage of poor officiating at the end to hang on.
Without Arenas, one of the major questions that needs answering is whether Caron Butler can continue to raise his game. If last night was any indication, the answer is a resounding "yes." 39 points on just 23 shots is very impressive, as is the 12-12 from the free throw line. Remember, one of Butler's major problems is his lack of aggression, but that wasn't the case tonight, and really hasn't been the case since the first few games of the season. He even showed that he's developing new range on that three-point shot, hitting a huge one in overtime to put the game out of reach.
The other guy who really impressed me was Blatche. He was literally the only interior guy we had, but he more than held his own, blocking five shots and grabbing 13 rebounds. Emeka Okafor still had a good game, but that's to be expected, considering the size advantage he holds on Blatche. I actually like seeing Blatche at center, just because it gives the offense a new look, considering Blatche's ability to find people from the high post. Watching this guy mature really has been the joy of the season thus far, and it's becoming more clear that Ernie was smart to lock him up so cheaply.
Jamison was also big yesterday, hitting some really clutch shots down the stretch. I doubt he duplicates these efforts against teams with real frontlines, but still, he has to be big without Arenas, and last night, he was. On an aside, Charlotte really shot themselves in the foot by going small throughout the fourth quarter, though I don't know what else they'd do. The Wizards had no big men, yet Charlotte didn't have the personnel to take advantage. Give the Bobcats a healthy Sean May, and this is a blowout.
Defensively, the Wizards were okay until the fourth, where there were too many breakdowns. Antonio Daniels played well offensively, but he was powerless to stop Raymond Felton on penetration. AD's simply too old and too banged up to consistently keep quick point guards in front of him, which worries me, because that's been our weakness in the past. At least DeShawn is D'ing up well -- I barely noticed Jason Richardson yesterday. The old problem of not closing out on three-point shooters reared its head as well, though less so down the stretch.
The one area where we'll miss Arenas, more than anything, is with ball-handling. After AD, there's really nobody who can handle pressure and set up our halfcourt offense with enough time to spare. If we're going to add someone to our roster, that's where Ernie and Abe should look first. Someone like Earl Boykins is available (though I don't like him), and I'm sure we could use a conditional draft pick and a salary to pry one of Houston's point guards away. Roger Mason played well, but he can't handle pressure, and neither can Stevenson. I know the luxury tax is a concern, but we're simply too shallow to avoid it. Someone mentioned Marbury earlier today, and to be honest, if you can have him for cheap (like vets min cheap), I'd consider it, so long as he stays behind AD on the depth chart. He can still handle the ball, at least. Just no Donnell Taylor, please.
Are we going to win many games like this? Probably not. As good as Butler was, we needed practically every one of his 39 points, and it's not like most of the team played badly. Songaila absolutely needs to play better -- he almost singlehandedly blew the game with his awful defensive play -- but otherwise, who really stunk it up yesterday? Nick Young played well when he was in there, and even Dominic McGuire made a contribution. In theory, AD needs to play better defense, but I worry if he can, and I also worry about him breaking down.
The optimist in me, though, says we survived a decent team on the road with awful officiating down the stretch. Haywood will be back, and that will be a major help, and once we get another ball-handler, that will make AD play better. Songaila will have his moments, because he's not going to play against a bunch of guards every game. Finally, while Butler won't be this good again, it does seem like he's taking on added offensive responsibility effectively, and I see no reason why he can't still play at a high level.
In short, we still don't really know how good this team is without Arenas, but this was as good a start as we could have expected.