Player Evaluation: Gilbert Arenas



(language NSFW)

Previously:

Stats: Per-game: 32.7 minutes, 19.4 points, 3.9 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1.8 steals in 13 games.

Per-36: 21.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 1.9 steals.

Percentages: 39.8 FG%, 77.1 FT%, 28.2 3PT%, 45.4 eFG%, 52.9 TS%

Advanced (explanations): 18.2 PER, 27.4 AST%, 17.1 TO%, 31.1 UsgR, 102 ORtg, 109 DRtg, -1.5 WSAA (win score above average).

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Pradamaster: These evaluations are supposed to be about the players' season, with a quick glimpse into what it means for the future.  With Gilbert Arenas, though, it's obviously not that simple.  So I'll try to sum up the Arenas package, trying hard not to contradict what I've previously written.  Fair warning: what results is pretty long-winded.

This was a horrible year for Gilbert, no doubt about it.  He spent the offseason rushing his rehabilitation, playing pickup games in Barry Farms when he should have been more careful.  He clearly looked wrong at the beginning of the season, yet Eddie Jordan played him 40 minutes a game.  Then, of course, he went out again and the team proceeded to succeed without him until Caron Butler got hurt.  Arenas eventually delayed his comeback until there were only five games left in the season, choosing instead to do interviews and write blog posts about his contract status.  In his first game back, he didn't even tell his coach he wanted to play. 

He wasn't much better in the playoffs.  Save for a great Game 1 in a losing effort and the game-tying shot in Game 4, he was a non-factor because of the knee,.  One could argue that he messed up the team's rhythm.  For better or worse, he's linked to DeShawn Stevenson and his trash-talking, though I still am not convinced that DeShawn's words made a significant difference in the series or that Arenas did much to fuel the fire (all he said was the team wanted to play Cleveland).  He decided on his own once again to sit out Game 5, only the most important game of the season.

I could go on, but I think everyone gets the point.  His image was shattered, no doubt, and there were questions about his maturity.

To me, though, there's a major difference between image and performance.  It's kind of like how Dennis Rodman was chastised for being such a lunatic off the court by those who worried it would make a major difference in his play on the court, yet he may have been the best role player of all time.  One's image is always a flawed sense of both their reality and their basketball abilities.  Nobody really knows Gilbert Arenas, much less bloggers like myself.  I never really cared about what he says in the press or what he does with his free time, so long as he doesn't jeopardize his game or his teammates (and I'm not talking about guarantees).  (I love True Hoop, but why is the second part of this post titled this way?)  Essentially, what I'm saying is that I don't really have a problem with Arenas badmouthing Milwaukee, for example

The problem, of course, is that Arenas' image did affect his teammates and his game this season.  It affected his game in the sense that he never would have re-injured his knee if he approached rehabilitation like any normal athlete.  It's effect on his teammates is debatable, but there's written evidence that it pissed off Antawn Jamison during the playoffs.  (Calling Arenas a cancer, of course, is silly because there's almost no evidence that Arenas' teammates have asked him to tone down, save for that column).  Then, of course, there's the effect of Arenas' eccentricity on Eddie Jordan.  Before the season even started, Arenas was upset at his coach, though it seemed he had gotten over that.  Arenas' unconventinality caused him to both insert himself into the lineup (against Milwaukee at the end of the season) AND remove himself from active duty (Game 5) without his coach knowing well before game time.  That's a huge sign of disrespect.

To his credit, though, Arenas seems to understand the distinction, judging from his press conference comments today.  If we're looking for a "maturity growth" in Gilbert, that's the distinction that needs to be made clear.  Gilbert shouldn't stop being Gilbert, he should just be Gilbert while respecting those he works with.

So unless one wants to rehash the debate about his new contract (which you're free to do, I just won't make my case again) that leaves the on-court Gilbert Arenas to discuss.  Obviously, any future success is tied to his knee rehab.  So far, he seems to be getting it right, and so long as he does, there shouldn't be any problems.  He should have his explosion back, and even if he doesn't, it might encourage him to use fewer possessions to help the team's rhythm.

Now, to the question of how Arenas needs to adjust.  My position has always been that he doesn't need to change as much as some are saying.  To rehash: the Wizards treaded water (say it how it is, folks) this season because their defense was better up until mid-January, Brendan Haywood finally broke out, Caron Butler improved his efficiency and shooting range and not necessarily his usage, Antawn Jamison devoted himself to rebounding and post play and the role players provided a major lift.  Defensively, Arenas is certainly terrible, but he's hardly the only one who stunk on that end in year's past (and besides, the Wizards weren't much better defensively anyway).  The Wizards did not stay where they were because of things like "better ball movement" or "less antics."  ("Better ball movement" just means they went to more half-court Princeton sets, and the Princeton can look beautiful if properly executed).  Looking at the list of things that made a difference this season, it's hard to believe that Arenas' absense could be directly responsible for all of them.  Perhaps the simple answer is that the rest of the team improved their own games.

Automatically, Arenas' presence is going to improve several things.  For one, it'll give the Wizards the ability to fast break and strike at any point.  Without Arenas, the Wizards almost exclusively played in half-court Princeton sets, and no team saw their pace change nearly as much as the Wizards' did from 2007 to 2008.  That's good because the majority of the Wizards' key rotation players know the Princeton extremely well, having practiced it for at least two years, but it's bad because once a team figures out how to stop it, there's nobody who can create other than Butler, who struggled with the role at times during the season.  More importantly, Arenas, so long as he's healthy, provides a guy who can create offense out of nothing, mostly by getting to the free throw line.  Getting to the line is something Butler has never been capable of doing like Arenas can. 

That said, however, it would help if Arenas ended fewer possessions.  His usage rate has climbed significantly since Larry Hughes left in 2005, culminating in a crazy 31.4 rate in 2007.   Not surprisingly, 2006/07 was also Arenas' worst shooting season since his first year in D.C. in 2003/04.  With all the individual improvement of the guys around him, Arenas doesn't need to take so many shots.  He can rely on others to carry the load, which should make him fresher defensively.  Mind you, I'm not saying he should pass more necessarily (I think his passing is fine.  Not great, but it's okay), I'm saying he should not end as many possessions with pull-up 18-footers with 16 on the shot clock.  Run the offense a bit and you'll get something better.

He also needs to improve defensively, but that was always the case, and really the entire team needs to improve defensively.  

Otherwise, he should be himself.  Don't play passively, because he'll take himself out of the game.  Still be Gilbert off the court, but don't let your eccentricity undermine your game, your teammates or the coach.  End fewer possessions and allow yourself to use the Princeton to make your life easier.

See, I think Arenas is capable of doing anything offensively.  He can take over games, but he can also lay low when he wants to.  His passing skills are underrated and he knows how to cut in the Princeton.  He can hit jumpers from anywhere on the floor and he can drive to the basket and finish at any angle.  

The challenge now is to do all those things at the right time during the flow of the game.  It's the challenge every superstar faces at some point.  How Arenas fares with it will determine whether re-upping him was the right move.

JakeTheSnake: I suppose when you look back at Gilbert's season, you really need to start back last June when he decided to announce that he was going to opt out of his contract at the end of the season.  Up until that point Gilbert was the lovable, high-scoring guard with the weird quirks and the funny blog that brought the Wizards back into the playoff picture.  Once he made it clear that he was looking to get a better contract, suddenly he became a shotjacking cancer that can't get past the first round.

Of course, his performance this season didn't do much to change anyone's opinion of him in one way or the other.  There simply isn't any evidence from this year that you can use to make a judgment on him one way or another.  The injuries and the lack of PT with the rest of the team was just too much.  With an off-season to get healthy, he should be able to take care of both issues.  Even if his knee robs him of some of his burst, I'm confident that he'll be able to adjust the rest of his game to accommodate for that shortcoming. 

Why so confident?  Well, I've got a few reasons:

  1. I write at Gilbertology, I have to be confident.
  2. From the little we saw last season, Gilbert showed that he could still the run the court well, so he's still a threat on the fast break, even if he doesn't have the same explosive burst in the half-court that he once did. 
  3. Despite his injuries, Gilbert posted the best rebound and assist percentages during his time with the Wizards this season.  The summer should give him ample time to get back in the flow with everyone and bring his shooting percentages back to what we're used to.
  4. The third time is the charm with rehab.  Right?

Certainly, Gilbert's season wasn't one to remember.  He couldn't hit shots, he wasn't in rhythm offensively or defensively, and occasionally he could be a distraction.  But I'm not going to fret over an injury plagued season as we move forward.  In a lot of ways, Gilbert finds himself in the same spot that Amare Stoudemire did a couple of years ago.  Both players had knee problems that robbed them of most of their season while their teams continued to play well without them, leading people to ask if they were better off without them.  When Amare returned, he lost a little bit of his athleticism, but it made him a more complete player.  I think you'll see that Gilbert will follow in suit.

Truthaboutit: This past season provided me, along with others, a lion's share of negative thoughts about Gilbert Arenas. Unfortunately, many of those others allowed such ideas to consume the previous good will built by Agent Zero to the point where they no longer wanted Gilbert on their team. I will not allow myself to forget what I've learned from the past.

For one, I'm a believer in Gilbert Arenas. He came from humble beginnings and has successfully overcome every real and perceived slight handed down upon him. I remember seeing Gilbert Arenas play live in college from the opponent's end of the court way back in December of 2000. That day, Mississippi State defeated 10th-ranked Arizona, in Tuscon, in 'Zona's own Fiesta Bowl Basketball Classic tournament, for the first time in its 16 year history. That Wildcat team featured the likes of Arenas, Richard Jefferson, Jason Gardner, Loren Woods, Luke Walton, Eugene "High Socks & 'Fro" Edgerson, and team leading scorer, Michael Wright. Gilbert dropped 14 points, but I barely remember him being on the court......he surely didn't live up to scouting report expectations. Gilbert Arenas? Who's that guy? Lo and behold.....almost seven years later.......I'm writing blog letters to the guy.

Even back in December of '07, when the Wizards were 8-5 and I was imploring for Gilbert to learn from his striving teammates, negativity filled the air, especially on the Washington Post's Wizards Insider. The Wizards are no doubt better without Gilbert Arenas and Ernie Grunfeld should immediately get rid of the bum for a bag of nickels and a pouch of Big League Chew......I'm paraphrasing what "they" were saying. The argument continued until the end of the 07-08 season and beyond. Should I get into it now? Nope, not gonna do it.

I'm glad to have Gilbert Arenas back on my hometown team. As much as I was frustrated with the antics, the distractions, the B.S. talking, the non-communication with Eddie Jordan, I always wanted Arenas to return to DC.....I was still going to vote for Nacho.

As recounted on Bullets Forever, most DC blogger/MSM types are amicable towards the resigning of Arenas...even though all could agree on desires for Gilbert to take even less money. The outsiders, they critically predict years of mediocrity for the Wizards as a result of the new six-year $111 million commitment. Eff 'em.....they're not with us and their not joining us. And those insiders....fans of the Bullets/Wizards....who were (and still are) against the return of Gil?....Oh well. I'm sure they'll claim that they had a seat on the bandwagon from the beginning if the team is doing well, and if not, they will be the first to proclaim their clairvoyance with a well placed "I told you so." How convenient.

I would be disregarding natural human instinct if I said that I didn't have doubts about giving so much money to a player recovering from a couple knee surgeries. But Gil is a hard worker (if anything, too hard as he displayed in overdoing rehab after the first surgery), and the field of medicine has advanced as the devastating consequences of knee surgery have decreased.

I'd rather take a chance on Arenas than deal with the heartache and regret of him being a star somewhere else. I may not be as perpetually sanguine as the DC Optimist, but I do anticipate a bright future for these Washington Wizards. I've got high hopes that Arenas has learned more this past season than he ever has from being part of a team before. Hope that he's acquired a balance between killer instinct and the ability to defer, a balance between antics and seriousness. Hope that he's heeded the words of leadership put forth by Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison towards the end of the season. Hope that Gilbert Arenas is a winner and not just another performer.

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