2008/09 Player Evaluation: DeShawn Stevenson


Previously: Oleksiy Pecherov, Juan DIxon, Etan Thomas, Javaris Crittenton, JaVale McGee.

STATS

Per-game: 32 games, 27.7 minutes, 6.6 points, 2.4 rebounds, 3.1 assists

Per-36 minutes: 8.6 points, 3.1 rebounds, 4 assists

Percentages: 31.2 FG%, 27.1 3PT%,53.3% FT%, 38.7 eFG%, 41 TS%

Advanced (explanations): 6.9 PER, 5 REB%, 16.3 AST%, 11.1 TO%, 14.9 USG%, 93 ORtg, 117 DRtg, -0.6 WSAA (win score above average)

Mike Prada: There are three things I think all Wizards fans can agree on when discussing DeShawn Stevenson in 2008/09.  First, he was clearly more injured than he let on when he played.  Second, he possibly had the worst season in NBA history among wings that played more than 24 minutes a game.  Third, he was taking away minutes from players who were significantly outperforming him, which cost the Wizards wins.  So since there isn't much debate there, and because the subject is timely, I want to take a deeper look at DeShawn's injury situation.

One of the biggest things I criticized last year before I took a break was the news that DeShawn supposidely benched himself instead of head coach Ed Tapscott making the decision.  Here's what I said about it at the time.

In typical Wizards fashion this season, the coaching staff somehow manages to bungle up even the simplest and most obvious of moves.  If I'm reading this correctly, it took DeShawn Stevenson himself to get Ed Tapscott to finally move him out of the starting lineup.  Nevermind that only Desmond Mason and Raja Bell have worse PERs than DeShawn this season, that DeShawn's supposed defensive prowess completely disappeared this year and that, with tons of young guys behind him on a team that's currently 4-21, his suckitude was blocking guys who may actually be able to improve in the future. 

Kudos to DeShawn for selflessly benching himself, but it never should have come to that.  If the anecdote is true (and it may not be, it's possible Ed raised the topic in the meeting and DeShawn said he was okay with it), it just reaffirms the suspicion that the inmates are running the asylum.  There's no real plan, only an unspoken worry of "alienating the veterans."  Ed Tapscott is a nice guy, but he's in way over his head and I would be really mad if he was retained as head coach after the season.

It's now come out that the story of Stevenson benching himself was a lie.  Michael Lee reported yesterday that Tapscott basically gave Stevenson two options: rest or be benched.  If Stevenson agreed to be benched, Tapscott would cover up for him and tell reporters Stevenson benched himself. 

Even though the story has softened a bit (instead of Tapscott having no power and authority, he simply made a mistake in covering up for Stevenson because it undermined a lot of his authority with the team's young players who were outperforming DeShawn), it speaks to a troubling trend that developed in 2008/09.  That trend is too much unconditional admiration for DeShawn Stevenson within the organization.  

Before we continue, let me be clear that DeShawn was an absolute warrior in 2007/08.  He played through a ton of pain and, despite losing the one guy in Gilbert Arenas that essentially made DeShawn a decent NBA player, did not see his production suffer much.  He still defended as well as he could, flashed an improved three-point stroke and even picked up more ball-handling duties.  I don't blame him for anything with the craziness that ensued with LeBron James either.  Whether or not you agree that his response to LeBron's gossiping was appropriate, the storm that ensued didn't hurt the Wizards in their series against Cleveland.  DeShawn himself played fine, the "hard foul" stuff was way overblown and LeBron himself didn't get "angrier" and step up his game any more than he would have anyway.  The Wizards lost because they were ultimately the worse team and were outcoached.  The run Cleveland made in nearly beating Boston, then winning a league-high 66 games in 08/09 speaks to the strength of the team that beat the Wizards in the 2008 playoffs.

But that was 2007/08, and in 2008/09, Stevenson deserved no special treatment.  One thing that we all forget is that DeShawn Stevenson showed up to training camp out of shapeAfter Stevenson first pulled his hamstring in early November, then-coach Eddie Jordan admitted that Stevenson came into training camp overweight.  Eddie tried to follow that statement up by saying "but he's done a great job working that off," but that still doesn't excuse coming into to camp over your playing weight.  Offseason injuries don't excuse you either; lots of players have offseason surgery and still are able to get into and stay in playing shape by training camp.  There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that coming into training camp overweight was one cause of Stevenson's back injuries.  He was trying to work too many pounds off too quickly and it showed.

Now, we're hearing that Stevenson was up to as many as 250 pounds when he was injured with his back.  That's, again, not okay.  Sure, he's injured, and sure, he's lost 20 pounds, but when you're trying to impress on your young players that the way you take care of yourself mentally and physically off the court matters, you can't then prop Stevenson up as the poster child for how your team should play.  That's what Ed Tapscott did in 2008/09 and it was a major mistake.  The past is the past.

The past is the past is the motto the team should use with Stevenson.  If Stevenson is healthy and in shape, sure, he should get a chance to impress the coaches in training camp to get minutes.  I've always said that Stevenson is a good backup shooting guard because he can defend and shoot threes decently for a few minutes off the bench.  Hell, Denver started a worse player in Dahntay Jones and got to the Western Conference Finals, and the move gave their team more balance.  But Stevenson must now be seen as the fifth horse in a five-horse race for minutes at shooting guard.  Dominic McGuire should be ahead of him right now after the strong 08/09 season he had, and Nick Young should be propped up for his Summer League play.  Mike Miller and Randy Foye were acquired to play, not to sit. 

If Stevenson beats them all out with his play in this year's training camp, then kudos to him.  He should be given that chance.  But he shouldn't be rewarded for the past because he hasn't shown he can take care of himself well enough to be an effective player since 07/08.  He deserves no "veteran sympathy" unless he becomes an effective player again.

JakeTheSnake: I suppose that we probably should've seen the writing on the wall with this one.  After playing all 82 games for three years running, while battling through injuries, it was only a matter of time before all of those nagging pains caught up with him and did they ever.

You have to give the guy credit for playing through all that pain, but nobody gets sympathy points for toughing it out.  The thing is, it wouldn't have taken many sympathy points to replicate his offensive production this season.  His shooting percentages were awful this season.  He had no burst to get to hole for inside shots and he couldn't get any lift when he took jump shots which made his shot consistent, but not in they way any of us would like.

Like I've said before, there isn't a lot of precedent for the kind of drop-off in production that we saw out of Stevenson this season.  You don't see a lot of 27-year-olds fall through the basement like Stevenson did this season.  Knowing that gives me hope that he can return to the form that we saw from 2006-08, so long as he can get healthy.  The "so long as he can get healthy" part will be tricky, because back injuries can be cumbersome for a long time, and it wouldn't shock me if there aren't other lingering injuries that haven't made themselves known yet but could slow him down in the future.

Right now, all we can do is hope that his extra long off-season is just what the doctor ordered for his ailing body and hopefully he can return refreshed and ready to contribute next season.  As long as he's healthy, he's still got a few prime years left where he can play an important role on the team.

Truth About It: DeShawn Stevenson was a nice role player. Played defense, played hurt, nailed the open three. Through the '07-08 season, Ernie Grunfeld had himself a steal to the tune of a reasonable 4-year, $15 million contract he signed Stevenson to in July of 2007 (after swiping the free agent from Orlando the previous season for a cool million, Stevenson having rejected a 3-year $10.5 million offer from the Magic in the summer of '06).

Only 32 appearances due to a back injury later, Stevenson is labeled as a has-been, a bad contract, and a prime candidate for riding the inactive list.

Is it fair to completely write the guy off? My gut instinct says no. If this team is to win, if Flip Saunders is to assert control over his new players, everyone should have a clean slate, and a chance.

But then I recall Stevenson's past antics. Him "not feeling his face" during games when the Wizards are getting their butt kicked. Him being an unnecessary antagonist in a rivalry with Cleveland. The fact that he can't seem to get over LeBron James. Is he the Dennis Rodman capable of getting under an opponent's skin to his team's advantage? Or is he the Dennis the Menace clown whose sophomoric distractions prove detrimental when the team should be professional, focused, and on a mission?

What we do know is that Stevenson is probably the Wizards' best perimeter defender, with Dominic McGuire being a close second.  And this team will need to have it's best defenders getting significant time.

He can also knock down spot up three pointers, possessing a complimentary game that doesn't hijack the offense. Stevenson's 158 three-pointers made in '07-08 would rank as the second most Mike Miller has made in his career ... albeit, Miller's 155 in '07-08 came at the clip of 43.2 percent, Stevenson's percentage was 4.9 points lower.

In the Bullets Forever poll on who should start at the two-spot, Miller won in a landslide with 57 percent. Stevenson's six-percent also trailed Randy Foye (23%) and Nick Young (10%). I voted for Miller, but my money is on the competition coming down very close between him and Stevenson.

If Stevenson comes back healthy (Darius Songaila was able to successfully come back from herniated disk back surgery), and his game returns to the level of his first two seasons with the franchise, he might get the nod to start next to the offensive weapons of Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler, and Antawn Jamison. This would leave the Wizards with a potent 1-2-3 punch of Foye, Miller, and Andray Blatche getting a bulk of the minutes off the bench.

Miller is unquestionably better than Stevenson in more aspects than just offense, such as rebounding and passing. But Saunders understands it's not about starting your best five players. It's about what pieces fit best working as one unit. Many fans have written Stevenson off, seemingly ignoring that his poor play on '08-09 was due to injury. Thankfully for the team, Saunders hasn't done the same.

Rook6980: It's difficult to evaluate a player that has been injured. Obviously, Deshawn Stevenson gets an "incomplete" for last year; however, we can say that he gritted it out, and kept trying to fight through the pain. Not that it helped the team any.  Let's face it, the Wizards might have been better off playing 4 on 5, rather than continue starting Stevenson. Finally he had to go to Ed Tapscott and ask to come out of the line-up (editor's note: As mentioned above, this is now false.  Rook wrote this before Lee's story was published).  I've gotta wonder why Tapscott didn't make that decision much earlier himself - I mean, Stevenson was very obviously not the same player he was in 2007-08 (or 2006-07, his best season). He couldn't hit even wide open shots, rarely went to the basket, and looked 3-steps slow on defense.

Now the question becomes, what can we expect from Stevenson in 2009-10?  You can look at his past contributions, and make the assumption that, if healthy, he should be able to shoot around 45% from the field (40% from the 3-point line) and play solid defense. I have always felt that a starting player should never lose his job due to injury - but with the addition of Mike Miller and Randy Foye and the further development of Nick Young, it might be difficult for Stevenson to regain his job, even if he's 100% healthy.

The easy answer is to just move on, and to say that Stevenson has outlived his usefulness as a Wizard. There are lots of folks in the BF community ready to do just that. But Stevenson had his best year playing opposite Gilbert Arenas. In 2006-07 he flirted with a 50% shooting percentage (settling for 46% for the year) and brought a bit of "street attitude" and toughness to the team.

Gilbert is coming back this year. Perhaps the tough guy, with the Moses-like beard, could surprise us all and have a stellar return - and bring back some of that toughness and attitude the Wizards lacked last year.

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