WASHINGTON - The third quarter of the Washington Wizards' win over the New Jersey Nets tonight was dominated by two things - Wizards' baskets and Gilbert Arenas free throws. It was an endless parade of mad dashes to the hoop that ended successfully.
Arenas himself will probably receive a lot of the credit for that outburst. It was his first home game, and he did have the crowd on their feet.
But even Arenas admitted that it was the presence of Mike Miller and Randy Foye on the court with him that truly allowed him to shine.
"You got two people who catch-and-shoot, especially in a different offense where there's more room for people to actually make moves and get to the basket," Arenas said after the game.
The numbers back up Arenas' assertion. Consider these facts:
- In last Tuesday's opening-night win against the Dallas Mavericks, the Wizards outscored the Mavericks by a whopping 15 points when Arenas, Foye and Miller played together. This included an eight-point spurt in the second quarter when the Wizards took control of the game and a fourth-quarter stretch where they put the Mavericks away.
- Arenas, Foye and Miller shared the court for 12 minutes and 11 seconds tonight. In that time, the Wizards outscored the Nets by eight points.
- In an 11-point loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Friday, the Wizards still outscored the Hawks by four points when Arenas, Foye and Miller shared the court.
Why does the lineup work so well? Flip Saunders said the key is that all three players share three essential characteristics.
"They all have the ability to score, they all have the ability to handle the ball and [they can all] make plays," Saunders said.
It becomes easy to see how Foye's and Miller's ability to pass, handle and shoot makes life easier for Arenas. On several occasions, it was Foye or Miller who dribbled the ball up the court and initiated the offense, not Arenas. Arenas did usually get the ball at some point, but he didn't have to do everything.
Saunders was careful to note that while Arenas may not always be the nominal "point guard" in these sets, he will have the ball in his hands a majority of the time. However, Saunders did admit that Foye in particular makes life easier for Arenas.
"Randy can handle the ball and take some pressure off [Arenas]," Saunders said. "[Arenas] can almost at times rest a bit as far as off the ball."
Saunders also said that Foye and Miller together improve the production of the Wizards' Big 3.
"[Randy and Mike] make our better players better, because people can't cheat off those two positions," Saunders said. "They're going to do some of the dirty work."
But perhaps the real key to the lineup is that it has to potential to improve Arenas' game while improving Foye's and Miller's games at the same time. Players and coaches often talk about certain players or combinations that make their stars better, or stars that make their teammates better, but rarely do you find a pair, trio or five-man unit that plays so cohesively that they all improve each other's games. Yet this is exactly what Foye said is true of this trio.
"It's a lot of shooters, [so] it's basically like pick your poison," Foye said. "Most of the time, they're going to try to stop Arenas, because he had 31 [sic] points and didn't even try, so that leaves me and Mike [Miller] open."
And while it's only been three games, Foye said he already has great on-court chemistry with Arenas and Miller.
"All three of us, we put hours and hours and hours in on our shots," Foye said. "So when we see each other in there, so we know that when someone else helps, we kick it out to that guy. We trust that guy that he's going to make that shot when we kick it out."
Of course, any trend that's developed after just three games needs to be tempered with the truth that it's a very small sample of data. That being said, the proficiency of the Arenas/Foye/Miller trio on the perimeter has to be something Saunders will keep in mind when he decides which players will finish games in the future, even if it means keeping one of the Big 3, whether it's Caron Butler or Antawn Jamison, off the court.
One thing's for sure: having Foye and Miller share the court with him is something Arenas has been thinking about for a long time.
"Once I seen the trade [for Miller and Foye], I knew my assists were going to go up," Arenas said.