Player Evaluation: Etan Thomas

Etan_medium

Pradamaster: As far as this year goes, there really isn't much to say about Etan Thomas.  His heart problems surfaced early in training camp, and though he tried to come back, he kept having setbacks and never made it onto the court.  

But even though he didn't play, the center dynamic changed significantly (so I hope) because of Brendan Haywood's breakout season.  Whether Thomas' absence was a significant factor in Haywood's improvement can be debated, but it bears mentioning that Haywood's two best seasons (04-05, 07-08) came when Thomas played the least.  This seems pretty obvious, because the better Haywood plays, the more court time he sees, and conversely the less Etan sees, but I think it's more than that.  The two centers don't have the best history, and Eddie Jordan has consistently used Thomas as a leverage for when Haywood wasn't playing well.  Eventually, that leverage caught up to Haywood in 06-07, and without that leverage, Haywood was finally able to play as if he didn't have anyone looking over his shoulder.  Haywood's offseason dedication and excellent training camp attitude are big reasons why he had such a strong season, but Etan's absence also helped to a certain degree.

The thing is that Etan's 06-07 season was pretty solid by his standards.  To quote from our 2006-07 evaluation:

His rebounding jumped considerably, and he posted the highest true shooting percentage of his career.  His PER was above the league average, and after being a black hole in the post in the past, his assist rate jumped considerably.  About the only negative on that end was his turnover rate, which jumped to 16.2%, the highest since his rookie year.

2006-07 may have been Etan's best year since 2003-04 (which, of course, led to his six-year contract).  Offensively, the man has value.  He is an efficient scorer in the paint, grabs rebounds, sets good screens and can score with his back to the basket.  Defensively, however, is another story.  To rehash (since I ranted about this so many times last year), not only is Etan undersized, but he is a terrible help-side defender.  He tries to swat every shot instead of positioning himself to cut off dribble penetration.  His over-aggressiveness trying to block shots leads to offensive rebounds from the man who he was supposed to be guarding, which negates any rebounding strength Thomas possesses.  It's no secret that when both Haywood and Thomas were healthy, it was Haywood who had a significant positive contribution to the team's defensive efficiency.

Still, despite his contract, Etan has value.  The problem is when Eddie Jordan plays him as much as Brendan Haywood.  On this team, we need a good interior defender in the middle, and Haywood is far closer to that then Etan.  Etan's strengths are somewhat redundant, though I think he can be useful on a second unit that sometimes struggles to score.  Ideally, Ernie Grunfeld would trade him and his contract (which runs for two more years), but nobody will take him after the heart issues.  It looks like we're stuck with him, but that's not such a terrible thing.  For 15 minutes a game, he has decent value.  So long as his role is limited, and he is clearly the backup behind Haywood, he can help this team next year.

JakeTheSnake: While it's true that Etan is the most overpaid player on the team, we should remember that because a player is overpaid doesn't mean that he can't be useful.  Let's not forget, when he's healthy Etan can provide some solid offensive production in the low post, which never hurts.  Hopefully if Etan comes back next season he'll just take Songaila's minutes at center, letting Darius stay in his natural position and keeping Brendan's minutes in tact.  The absolute last thing this team needs is for the center controversy, which finally seemed to be resolved this year, flare back up again.

Truthaboutit: Etan Thomas' future is about as unpredictable as tagging along with Pac Man Jones for a night out on the town. The big question mark surrounds The Poet's heart....and in this case, no news is not necessarily good news. He tried to come back in mid-February, sported a chest protector, got hit in practice......and the next thing we know, the season is over and the word from Grunfeld is that Etan will make a full recovery by training camp. Not so says CBS Sportsline where Etan is listed as "questionable" for the 08-09 training camp (of course, that was last updated on 5/3). Basketball-Reference.com has taken the liberty of un-bolding Etan's name (even Penny Hardaway's name is bolded...ok, he played 14 games in Nov. and two in Dec.). What does this all mean? It means that Thomas coming back healthy is one thing, coming back as a contributor is another.

Etan Thomas does not first come to mind when you think of painted area defensive stopper, but maybe he doesn't have to be. Memory serves me that Etan is more agile than Brendan Haywood. Thus, in the Wizards match-up zone, Thomas has the potential to better play the passing lanes and defend the pick and roll. Etan is not going to match Haywood's output when the Wizards have the ball, as his Usage% has dropped in recent years.....(while his D-rating has increased ). If all systems are go in Europe in October , the Wizards would most importantly need Etan Thomas to be dominant on the defensive boards (which is easier to do in a match-up zone than a regular zone), contend for offensive boards, and keep track of his assignments on D.

Outlook:
I'd rather Etan be the throw-in on an ingenious Ernie Grunfeld trade than depend on him to fill championship needs in 08-09.

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