I'm sure many people here have lost some of their enthusiasm for the game-to-game journey this season. For those that haven't, let's take a second and look at the long-term future of the Wizards.
It's pretty obvious that the organization is building around the trio of Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison, costs be damned. There have been multiple opportunities to change streams and save money, but none have been taken. The organization didn't have to re-sign Arenas and Jamison during the offseason, but they did. The organization could have dumped Jamison for cap relief at this year's trade deadline, but they didn't. The organization could have done what the New Orleans Hornets tried to do and cut salary no matter the talent loss, but they didn't. The organization could have taken a strong anti-luxury tax stance, but they didn't. For better or worse, this is the path the organization is taking.
There's reason to question this plan, of course. We've all done it, whether it's arguing for Jamison to be traded, Arenas to have not been re-signed, etc. This post isn't going to be about that; there are plenty of other places to question the master plan. This post is going to be about how we make this master plan work. This interview with Arenas strikes me as a good jumping off point.
The video won't show up here, so here's the relevant section:
Aldridge: What do you guys need to do to get to the level of [the teams in front of you?]
Arenas: Just like any team, we have to pull the trigger on moves. Moves you don't think you need to pull the trigger on, you need to pull [the trigger]. I've been watching our rival Cleveland for the last three years. They went to the Finals, and they got rid of Larry [Hughes] and Drew Gooden, and look at them now. At the time, those looked like bad moves, but two years later, they're the best team in the NBA. Some of those moves, you need to make sometimes.
You just look back on your team and you're like 'Man, they've taken 10 steps forward quickly.' We need to follow in their footsteps.
Let's ignore the truth that it's much easier to build around one clear franchise player like LeBron or Dwight Howard than it is to build around three very good players. (The point is partially moot anyway. One great player costs less than three very good players, but cost isn't a concern for the Wizards because we're clearly committed to being a team that pays the luxury tax). Clearly, Arenas wants us to build around the foundation a lot better than we have.
Is he right? Sure he is. We currently have a mix of crappy veterans and young projects that we have yet to develop fully, neither of which are good as supporters of the Big 3. We've overpaid the wrong veterans (Etan, DeShawn, Mike James, the consequence of the AD trade) while spending draft picks on players that require more aid with their development than they've received (Dray, JaVale, Pecherov, Crittenton, even Nick to a certain extent). We haven't cycled through role players to find the right fits, like Cleveland has, nor have we cashed in our assets for proven players, like Boston has. There's reason for Arenas, Butler and Jamison to get frustrated by this plan. Should they keep it in house and stop whining to the press about it? Absolutely. But as long as the organization stays committed to building around them, I understand their annoyance.
Of course, if it was as simple as picking a philosophy, everyone would be successful. What type of pieces would we need, and how do we get them? Let's consider those questions after the jump.
With Arenas, Jamison and Butler as your centerpieces, clearly you're going to be a better offensive team than a defensive team. The defensive ability of all three of those guys can be questioned. Arenas has his knee problems and a general lack of desire/attention to defense. Butler is undersized, gambles a lot and loses concentration on the weakside, while Jamison is both undersized and a bit lazy on defense, having developed bad habits from his entire career. Obviously, to make it to the next level, the defense is going to have to improve significantly, but that can't happen at the expense of the strengths of the trio.
This concept really applies most to our coach selection, which we've talked about a ton, but it boils down to this: the coach needs to play to the strengths of the Big 3. If we wanted a coach that would radically transform the team, we should have been more aggressive in turning over our roster beforehand. Don't forget, when Dallas switched coaches to Avery Johnson, they did so only after dumping Steve Nash, trading Antawn Jamison and Antoine Walker and spending tons of money on Erick Dampier. Once Avery was hired, they also dumped Michael Finley. We haven't had a similar roster transformation and it doesn't look like we will, so why hire a coach to run a different style? That's what Phoenix did, and it didn't work.
A team with Arenas, Butler and Jamison offers plenty of scoring themselves, but the surrounding pieces still need to maximize their offensive output. It's only fair to start with each player's strengths. We don't know about how Arenas will recover, but we do know that he's adept at playing both on and off the ball. He shoots mostly threes or layups, but he will shoot a lot, or at the very least, try to make a lot of plays. That's fine because he rarely turns the ball over, but it does mean that he fares best with players who can use a lot of possessions, but don't necessarily.
Butler's strength is inside 18 feet. He's got a very good midrange game and can punish smaller guys in the post. He's less effective shooting threes and making plays off the dribble. He can do it, but it doesn't maximize his output.
Jamison, meanwhile, moves extremely well off the ball and plays well off others, but isn't much of a passer. He also needs post-up opportunities.
What qualities are needed to complement those three, in my view? For one, a real space-eater inside is needed. With a lot of drives and shots, we need good offensive rebounders. It'd also be nice to have a wing guy who can handle the ball, but mostly operates on the perimeter. Someone who can shoot on kick outs, but also give Arenas chances to score off the ball. I'd argue another post-up option would be good, since Butler and Jamison also can play on the perimeter. Off the bench, we need someone who can take most of Arenas' usage when he isn't in, or when he is. Another creator, if you will. We also need someone who can hit mid-range shots like Butler and someone who can score with his back to the basket, like Jamison. It'd help to have another strong offensive rebounder, as well as a three-point sniper who doesn't dribble much, especially for moments when Arenas is playing with the high-usage bench player.
How does our current roster fit here?
Brendan Haywood fills a ton of these roles. His biggest strength is his offensive rebounding. He was second in the league in offensive rebound percentage in 2007/08, would have been seventh in 2006/07 and eighth in 2005/06 if he qualified (his OREB% was 12.5 in 06/07 and 12.0 in 05/06). He also certainly eats space inside, at least recently, and has shown he can be a post-up option on occassion. Dominic McGuire has also flashed the ability to be an ace offensive rebounder, and you also like that he can handle the ball a bit for his size.
Off the bench, Nick Young certainly is a good fit for the high-usage, instant offense guy. His usage rates have been above 23 percent in both of his first two years. Javaris Crittenton also might work here because he pounds the dribble a lot looking for teammates. Darius Songaila is helpful because he can hit the mid-range jumper (he's shooting 46 percent on jumpers this year, and 87 percent of those shots are assisted) and because he moves well without the ball, which you need with three other high-usage guys. DeShawn Stevenson, if he gets his shot back, could be that three-point sniper, but historically his percentages haven't been all that great.
That leaves us with one starter (Haywood) who fits perfectly and a bunch of bench-quality players that can help with some of these roles. If we only consider offense, McGuire, Songaila and Young seem like keepers, while Crittenton and Stevenson may be helpful long-term.
One name that hasn't been mentioned is Andray Blatche, but his strengths either duplicate other players' or don't help us offensively long-term. Blatche shares some of Songaila's passing strengths, but he doesn't move without the ball as well, doesn't shoot jumpers well at all (35.1% eFG% on jumpers) and, with Young around, we don't need his ability to use possessions and create shots as much. His offensive rebounding has really dipped recently, which also hurts his value to this team. Blatche has certainly not been developed properly, but ultimately, he fits Eddie Jordan's equal-opportunity Princeton offense better than a Big 3 approach.
We're still missing a post-up guy off the bench, a shooter and a big who can offensive rebound (McGuire is a wing). Keep those holes in mind.
Arenas, Butler and Jamison need far more help here. We can probably turn them into competent defenders, but it'll take some creative measures to surround them with good defenders.
It's important to note where our defense historically struggles the most, using the Four Factors (shooting defense, turnover creation, fouling and rebounding). We're clearly weakest in shooting defense, the most important of the four factors. Our eFG% defense rankings since 2005 (going backward): 30th, 27th, 28th, 24th, 25th. Scheme plays a major role, but the clear problem personnel-wise is finding players who contest shots extremely well. Arenas, Butler and Jamison may turn you over competently, they may not put you on the free throw line much and they aren't terrible at rebounding, but they stink at contesting shots. The number one goal is finding players who do contest shots well.
After that, our biggest weakness is defensive rebounding. Our rankings in rebound percentage since 2005 (again, going backwards): 24th, 20th, 24th, 26th, 25th. The one year we were 20th was the year Haywood got the most minutes. So that's one remedy.
We also need defenders who can competently defend someone one-on-one without being helped. Again, part of this is a scheme issue, because our defense overhelps, but personnel upgrades also help. In addition to that, good team defenders are a must. Arenas, Butler and Jamison will probably be beaten a lot one-on-one; we need guys who can help them.
How does our roster fit in again? Once again, Haywood's the perfect fit. He contests shots extremely well, he is capable of defending one-on-one by himself (though we don't always let him) and he is an outstanding help defender. We need Haywood going forward on defense. McGuire also has the potential to be a lockdown one-on-one defender who can use his length to contest shots, though he's not really there yet.
Otherwise ... yuck. Nick Young has decent defensive length, but still needs to work on using it. JaVale McGee has great length and can potentially be an unbelievable help defender, but he's a project. A project worth holding onto, but he's not ready yet. Blatche has length, but doesn't use it, while Songaila is a good positional help defender that fouls way too much. Crittenton can pressure the ball well, but we don't need that as much. Nobody really rebounds well off the bench -- once again, Blatche should be that guy, but hasn't been, while McGee isn't there yet.
The roster, as it currently stands, still lacks the following: a lockdown wing defender who contests shots well, a strong defensive rebounder and a good help defender other than Haywood. The best fits for our defense going forward are Haywood and McGuire, clearly. Young, McGee and Blatche have the tools, but need development, while Songaila helps a bit, but not perfectly. Crittenton is ancillary, but certainly helpful.
All in all
Considering everything we've discussed, I'd rank the rest of our roster as follows:
Perfect fits: Haywood. Don't lose him in 2010!
Good fits: McGuire (more for his defense), Songaila (mostly for his offense), Young (for his offense).
Neutral: Crittenton (luxury), McGee (potential), Stevenson (price/blocking better players)
Poor fits: Blatche, Pecherov, Mike James, Etan Thomas.
I'd identify four guys who fit in pretty well in different roles. Haywood's perfect to start at center long-term, while Songaila, McGuire and Young seem like pretty good bench fits. Everyone else, in my mind, is expendable to find better fits for our Big 3.
Two possible scenarios here:
1. If we get the number one pick and draft Blake Griffin: Griffin solves our rebounding issues on both ends. He gives another post-up option, so we don't need to search there. Moving Jamison to more of a part-time role solves our offensive usage off the bench, rendering Young a bit more expendable. We still need a shooting guard upgrade, so Blatche, our expirings and possibly Young should be in play for a two-way wing who fills both our offensive and defensive concerns. In addition, if we lose Young, we may want to invest in a veteran point guard to mentor Crittenton.
2. If we don't get a top-two pick: We're now missing a defensive rebounder, a wing who can defend one-on-one, a spot-up shooter and another post-up guy. Blatche, Pecherov, the pick, our expirings and possibly McGee and Crittenton should be in play to solve those problems. Ideally, trade down rather than trading out of the draft, since a pick can easily solve one of those problems.
That's where we stand. Who on other teams fit our team the best and aren't untouchable? I'm going to divide this into our needs.
Starter-quality wings that complement our Big 3 on offense (see above): Kirk Hinrich, John Salmons, Delonte West, Tayshaun Prince, Mike Miller, Jason Richardson, Rudy Fernandez.
Starter-quality wings that complement our Big 3 on defense (strong one-on-one defenders): Gerald Wallace, Raja Bell, Kirk Hinrich, John Salmons, Delonte West, Josh Howard, Trevor Ariza, Nicolas Batum, Thabo Sefolosha, Shawn Marion, Andrei Kirilenko, Jeff Green.
Defensive rebounders off the bench/starting: Zaza Pachulia, Jeff Foster, Udonis Haslem, Marcin Gortat, Reggie Evans, Joel Przybilla, Nick Collison, Luis Scola, Tony Battie.
Bench wings: Maurice Evans, Tony Allen, Marquis Daniels, Jarrett Jack, Jamario Moon, Keyon Dooling, Julian Wright, Mickael Pietrus, Francisco Garcia, Roger Mason (ironic, I know), J.J. Redick (puke, I know), Daniel Gibson, Anthony Parker, Rasual Butler, Morris Peterson, CJ Miles.
Post-up guys who have mid-range games: Leon Powe, Joe Smith, Brandon Bass, Carl Landry, Chris Wilcox, Ike Diogu, Nick Collison, Drew Gooden.
There are probably more names that are attainable, but the point is that there are people out there that complement our Big 3. We have assets and many players who don't. Some combination of the two can yield supporting players who better fit our Big 3 than we do.
It's management's job to make it happen this offseason. If they're committed to building around the Big 3, it will take more action that we've seen.