Player Evaluation: Brendan Haywood


Previously:

Stats: Per-game: 27.9 minutes, 10.6 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.7 blocks

Per-36: 13.7 points, 9.3 rebounds, 2.1 blocks

Percentages: 52.8 FG%, 73.5 FT%, 58.2 TS%

Advanced (explanations): 18.3 PER, 15.2 REB%, 17.3 UsgR, 12.9 TO%, 119 ORtg, 109 DRtg, 7 WSAA (Win Shares Above Average)

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Pradamaster: Even prior to this season, Brendan Haywood has been unfairly scrutinized for his performance as the Wizards' starting center.  Too many fans confused aesthetics with production, and while Haywood's game has always been awkward, he has always brought a lot of positives to the table.  A look at his plus/minus numbers over the past few years bear out his importance on the defensive end.  On the court, Eddie Jordan was harming the team by treating Haywood and Etan Thomas as equals.  Haywood was the team's best defensive player by a mile, and on a team starving for defensive players, sitting Haywood amounted to cutting off our own legs.  

Hopefully, those days are behind us after the season Haywood had in 2007/2008.  With his sidekick Thomas not in action, Haywood put together easily his best season as a pro.  His strong defense continued, but his offensive game took a quantum leap forward.  Haywood displayed more post moves than he ever had before, dramatically improved his shooting touch with the help of Dave Hopla, and, more importantly, presented himself as a legitimate option rather than simply as someone who collects offensive rebounds.  There was a time when only Dwight Howard was playing at a higher level among Eastern Conference centers.  Who could have expected that after Haywood tore the nameplate from his locker in the 2007 playoffs?

What changed?  There are a few factors at play here.  Which of them one chooses to emphasize will go a long way towards answering the question of whether 07/08 was just a fluke.  For one, there's the lack of Gilbert Arenas, leading to the shift from a high-paced racehorse style to the half-court, grind-it-out system that suited Haywood better.  There's also the absence of Etan Thomas, which sparred Haywood his competition for the center spot.  If one were to focus on those factors, they'd probably be skeptical about whether Haywood can duplicate this past season's success. 

At the same time, though, other things changed that may be more long-lasting.  First and foremost, Haywood's newfound shooting touch should remain.  Dave Hopla is still around, and Haywood remains a tireless worker.  Additionally, Haywood's newfound playing time may be more a result of his improved attitude than Thomas' absence.  He came into training camp knowing the job was not guaranteed, worked his butt off even after the way 2007 ended, and I think it's safe to say he would have won the job even if Thomas was healthy.  Throughout the season, Haywood emerged as a mature locker-room leader, even speaking up against LeBron James in the clip above.  One could look at that as immaturity, but I see a guy repressed for so long finally showing some toughness.

I'm a little worried that Haywood's offense will dip next season with Arenas back in the fold.  Without Arenas, Haywood's shot attempts and free throw attempts per-36 minutes rose significantly, and his usage rate climbed from 13.6% in 07 to 17.3% in 08.   With Gilbert out there, the Wizards run more pick and rolls, and don't dump the ball into the post as much.  Haywood is not a particularly graceful pick and roll player.  He still doesn't have very soft hands, and Arenas and Caron Butler have a tendency to zip the ball to him in poor position to catch it.  Hopefully, Arenas adjusts his game enough to get Haywood more touches.

But even if Haywood's offense comes back to normal, he deserves to play most of the center minutes because of his defense.  He's arguably one of the best one-on-one post defenders in the league due to his length.  He's routinely left alone to cover even the best big men, and his ability to alter shots can deter penetration (which is why I don't get why we keep insisting on protecting the paint at all costs...Haywood can do that himself!).  It made me chuckle a little bit reading Michael Wilbon wonder aloud how we can handle Dwight Howard down the road with this group.  Thanks to Haywood, we're probably better equipped to handle Howard than almost any other Eastern Conference team.

I liken Haywood to Chicago's Bill Cartwright.  Both had their share of detractors because of their awkward games, but both played major roles as starting centers on good teams.  Cartwright was probably a better scorer than Haywood, but otherwise, the comparison sticks.  Neither was a particularly powerful rebounder, but both were outstanding one-on-one defenders (just ask Patrick Ewing), great locker room guys, and players who could contribute without getting the ball much.  Haywood can play that kind of role for this team for a long time if all the other pieces keep improving. 

I'd consider him about as close to untouchable as our Big 3.  Last season proved it.

JakeTheSnake: Over the last six years, we've come to understand what Brendan can and can't give us on a given night.  We know that he'll block some shots, get some offensive rebounds, give you strong man defense, and he'll try that awkward looking hook shot once a game.  We also know that he'll never be a great scoring threat, his defensive rebounding leaves a lot to be desired at times.  He's not ever going to be an All-Star, but he's better than a lot of the centers out there.  After all, if the Celtics, can win a title with their center averaging 7 points and 6 boards, we have to feel good about Haywood averaging 10 and 7 right?

Given what we know about Brendan, I really don't think he could've played any better last season.  He knew with Etan on the shelf that this was going to be his best, and quite possibly his last chance to show how good he could be if he got solid minutes.  His performance this season put the Brendan vs. Etan debate for rest once and for all.  If the roles were reversed, there's absolutely no way The Poet would've had the same impact that Brendan did.  I'm still concerned about what's going to happen with the minutes if Etan returns next season, but I think Brendan has solidified his spot as the starting center so it shouldn't be as much of an issue as it was in previous years.  The two of them will still probably find a way to get into a fight about something, but at least it won't affect the starting lineup this time around.

If you're looking for something that can definitively show Haywood's worth to the Wizards, compare Dwight Howard's splits versus Washington to his stats against the other teams in the league.  Considering we're going to deal with Howard (as well as Al Horford) within our division for the next decade, low-post defense is going to be a must for the forseeable future and Haywood provides it in spades.

Finally, if we're going to talk about Haywood's season, you have to mention Dave Hopla.  I don't know what kind of money he's making, but he deserves a raise based on the work he did with Haywood this season.  Anytime you can help raise someone's free throw percentage by nearly 20% (!!!) you're getting the job done.  Maybe I'm overstating things, but I don't think that it's a stretch to say that the extra free throws that Haywood made as a result of Hopla's coaching helped us win a couple of games that we would've lost otherwise.

Truthaboutit: Before the 2007-2008 season, I had feelings of intense frustration, and perhaps despite, towards Brendan Todd Haywood during his tenure as a Washington Wizard. I found BTH to be a bumbling, soft, waste-of-space....leading to frequent use of the effeminate moniker, Brenda. My opinion was so negative because I simply expected more use of his potential, and Haywood seemed to be a never-ending source of disappointment.

In my second game blog of 07-08, the massacre in Boston, I wrote this:

1st Quarter: Haywood dunk! Great positioning on the rebound…AND…the subsequent block! Please do this all year. If you do, I will write a personal letter to you apologizing for all the times I've referred to you as Brenda Haywood. You can hold me to that.


It wasn't until game 21 versus the 'Sota T'Wolves when I "officially" stopped calling Brendan, Brenda. Haywood was able to sustain whatever it was that got into him for the entire season and led me to turn an about face, believing the chances of him reverting back to his former self to be very slim.

This past season, Brendan Haywood posted career highs in: games started (80), minutes played (2228), FGM (316), FTM (216), PPG (10.6), RPG (7.2), BLKs (133), FT% (.735), PER (18.3).....among other categories. We can certainly consider a number of factors for Haywood's improvement: confidence in being able to play without looking over his shoulder at Etan, which led to increased minutes, which resulted from an off-season conversation with coach Eddie Jordan, which helped amend the past maligned relationship between the two.

But a lot of those are indicators of a change in Haywood's external psychological environment. What has Haywood accomplished internally? We can certainly attribute a drastic increase in free-throw shooting to Dave Hopla, but it's not like Brendan didn't put in work on that area himself. What I noticed most out of Haywood was increased hand strength, improved concentration, and better leadership skills, displayed in one of my favorite quotes imploring Gilbert Arenas to put reality in perspective. Sure, BTH had a couple lapses (maybe contributing to the Wizards-Cavs trash talk, even in jest, was one of these lapses), but those were more far and few between than I could have ever imagined.

In a matter of a twelve months, Brendan Todd Haywood made vast advances in his maturity as a basketball player. I have confidence that this will be a continued trend and thus a vital ingredient to franchise success......given that Haywood always works like it's his first day on the job, or in his case, the first day of his seventh year on the job. Perhaps my hopes should be more cautiously optimistic, but in the least, I owe the guy a letter, so here goes:

Dear Brendan,

My bad.

Sincerely,
TruthAboutIt.net

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