2008/09 Player Evaluation/Projection: Andray Blatche

 

Previously: Oleksiy Pecherov, Juan Dixon, Etan Thomas, Javaris Crittenton, JaVale McGee, DeShawn Stevenson, Nick Young.

STATS

Per-game: 24 minutes, 10 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.6 turnovers

Per-36 minutes: 15.1 points, 8 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 2.5 turnovers

Percentages: 47.1 FG%, 70.4% FT%, 47.5 eFG%, 50.8 TS%

Advanced (explanations): 15 PER, 13 REB%, 11.8 AST%, 14.3 TO%, 21.9 USG%, 101 ORtg, 111 DRtg, 1.4 WS

Mike Prada: The 2008/09 season most likely signaled an end to the hopes that Andray Blatche will become an all-star-quality player.  Finally armed with a chance to play starters minutes with all the injuries to other players, and finally freed from the Eddie Jordan vice, Blatche turned in a performance that was very similar to his 2007/08 campaign.  In other words, he didn't "break out."

Perhaps the only difference this year was that Blatche's season as a whole was up and down.  For the first month of the season, Blatche didn't even look like an NBA player.  Playing at power forward, Blatche was up to his old "miserably try to make plays from the perimeter" tricks and he lost minutes to McGee because of them.  Then, Ed Tapscott inserted him at center and he played reasonably well (and consistently) for a couple months before suffering an ankle injury.  When he returned, he played okay in March before really struggling in April and at the end of the season.  It was an odd journey, that's for sure. 

In the short term, I think the coaching switch helped Blatche tremendously.  His relationship with Eddie Jordan was irrevocably strained, which became clear during a Summer League interview with Dan Steinberg where he essentially admitted he didn't get along with Eddie.  Blatche's best game of the season was in Tapscott's first game as head coach, and for two months, Blatche actually was able to play well enough to banish JaVale McGee to the bench.  That's why it was so concerning to see Blatche level off as the season progressed.  If there was any stardom in him, it would have come out this season, when he had more of an opportunity to play (he was playing over 28 minutes a game in March) and a coach that he respected.  Instead, Blatche's play stayed the same, which isn't awful, but probably indicates that there's no stardom there.

There has been a ton of talk recently about how Blatche needs to play more inside and stop flinging from the perimeter.  Pretty much all the key numbers bear this out.  Bwoods suggested in July that Blatche could significantly improve his game if he stopped shooting so many jumpers.  He's right, and we'll get to this point in a second.  But first, just take a look at how much Blatche's production differed this season if he was playing power forward or center.

(All counting stats are per/48 minutes).

Position Pts PER eFG% FTA TO Blk
Blatche at C 21.7 19.6 49.5 5.2 2.5 2.5
Blatche at PF 18.1 12.9 44.8 3.4 4.2 1.6

 

In very, very simple terms, Blatche the center compares very favorably to Marcus Camby and Zydrunas Ilgauskas,  While Blatche overall may have not improved much last year, Blatche the center had significantly better production than Blatche in 2007/08. 

Of course, it's not that simple.  For one thing, one stat that Blatche the PF actually outperformed Blatche the center was rebounding, and it's no secret that Blatche's declining rebounding since 2006/07 is a problem.  The other problem, however, is the team's specific situation.  It's easy to say "Play Blatche more instead," but it's harder to conceive of a way that happens that maximizes the team.  

I'm of the mind that the Wizards' offensive system under Eddie Jordan drove Blatche away from the basket just as much as Blatche drove himself away.  Bigs in the Princeton often play on the perimeter to provide better spacing and such, which allows the guards to slash or cut to the basket.  That put Blatche in a lot of positions where he was catching the ball away from the basket.  Defenders were laying off him a bit to protect the other cutters and allow him to shoot jumpers.  It's true that just because Blatche is presented the 18-foot jump shot doesn't mean he should take it, but he was at least presented with it more than he probably should have been.

Flip Saunders' system could change that, but for Flip's system to be maximized, it helps to have at least one big who can shoot.  Who is that guy on the Wizards next year?  There's Antawn Jamison, of course, but a Jamison/Blatche frontcourt probably doesn't grab enough rebounds to play a ton of minutes together.  McGee can't shoot and shouldn't try either on offense when his athleticism makes him such an asset around the basket.  Fabricio Oberto doesn't shoot from deep like Darius Songaila, so that probably doesn't work all that well either.  This might cause Blatche to play on the perimeter a lot again next year when it doesn't suit his strengths.  

We'll see.  I think Flip mostly gets that Blatche needs to play big to help the team the most, so these issues could be sorted through.  That just leaves the long-term question of whether McGee can develop if Blatche is taking the backup center minutes.  We've been through that discussion enough here though.

The bottom line?  While I'm confident Flip will play Blatche more inside and help make him into a more effective role player, there are several structural short-term and long-term problems with Blatche on this roster that make me wonder whether it's worth keeping him around on this roster.  We always say "This is a big year for Andray Blatche," but it means something this year.  There's no more Eddie Jordan slowing him down, no more Darius Songaila/Michael Ruffin-type of player to be the coaches' favorite that steals his minutes (maybe Oberto will be) and no more grand expectations of stardom weighing him down.  If Blatche struggles, I don't think Ernie Grunfeld and Flip Saunders are going to hesitate dealing him for a better fit.

JakeTheSnake: Anyway you break it down, the key moment in Andray Blatche's season was when Eddie Jordan was fired.  You can assign the blame to whichever party you choose, but a simple look at Blatche's performance before and after Jordan's firing make it clear that he needed a change.  Or if you're looking for an even simpler proof, all you have to do is take a look at his stat line against the Warriors in the game right after Jordan was fired.

For all the criticism Ed Tapscott took for failing to develop the young players this season, he was able to get more out of Blatche than Jordan was getting at the start of the season.  No, he didn't rid Blatche of the maddening inconsistencies that have dogged him throughout his career.  But he did manage to get him to play inconsistently at a higher level than before, which is progress.  I think.

Specifically, what I liked is that Blatche cut down on his fouling this season.  His 4.5 fouls per 36 minutes this season was the lowest rate of his career.  He only fouled out of two games this year (although in one of those two games he managed to foul out in just 12:24, which averages to a foul every two minutes), down from four last season.  Especially now that there's less big bodies on the roster, they'll need to hope that downward hacking trend continues next season.

One downward trend that needs to change is Andray's rebounding.  For the second year in a row his rebounding rate dropped.  That's just not supposed to happen to someone who just turned 23.  Most of that drop is on the offensive glass, which is somewhat understandable since he's been given (or taken, depending on how you look at it) more opportunities to work with the ball on the perimeter.  But still, his defensive rebounding has dipped each of the last two years as well.  Let's hope he's putting in some work this offseason to get his rebounding numbers back up while his legs are still young.

I wrote earlier in the off-season that the upcoming year is a make or break one for Andray, which I'm starting to think was a bit of a mistake.  It's hard to see a situation where Andray isn't a part of the team at the end of next season.  If he breaks out, he's too valuable to give up.  If he gives us more of the same next season, his value is too much of a question mark to determine fair trade value for him.  If he regresses next season, no one will want to make a move for him.  Win, lose or draw we seem to be stuck with Andray for a little while.  Right now, I'm still excited about that.

Truth About It: DMX's "Here We Go Again" is the first song that plays in my head when contemplating Andray Blatche.  Of course, DMX's career went the way of the gutter with a litany of charges, crack-induced federal agent impersonating, car-jacking attempts at JFK, and jail time. Evidently Earl Simmons is trying to find the Lord now.  Andray has certainly been through the fire, but people are still waiting for his first coming, much less a resurrection.

Sure, I'm skeptical of 'Dray, but no more than the next guy, or the guy after him, or the dozens in line after him.  I really want Blatche to succeed.  Honestly. The success of the Wizards depends on several aspects, and he is very high on the prioritized list.

We've seen enough glimpses of 'dream' Andray that his occasional dazzling pass induces drooling from Wizards fans like Pavlov's bell.  But we've also been conditioned to know than an unforced turnover, or an ill-advised jumper early in the shot clock, will quickly follow as backwards steps negating anything he does positive.

Blatche has a skill set like no other, and maybe that's the problem.  He tries to do too much.  The Wizards have more depth than ever before, and obviously diverse abilities to boot.  On defense, Andray needs to concentrate on the basics: blocking shots without gambling and fouling (at least his fouls/36 mins dropped a whole unit from 07-08 to 08-09 -- 5.5 to 4.5), and staying in front of his man, securing defensive boards.  Learning some communication from Brendan Haywood wouldn't hurt either.

On offense, Blatche MUST stop trying to be a point forward (just under half (58) of his 117 turnovers came from ball handling errors).  The Wizards have an abundance of guards, all of whom can push the ball better than Blatche.  He should be using those quick, athletic big man skills to bust his butt up the court in transition without the rock.

And once past half-court, Blatche's problem stems from thinking he's Kevin Garnett or David West from the perimeter.

Did You Know ...?

To put it in perspective

No one minds Andray shooting the occasional jumper; his touch has proven to be adequately capable.  But he should never have an unchecked green light to jack some awkward wide-stance shot after he tries to take his man off two dribbles that go nowhere.  His jump shooting is best left being created by guard penetration, hence his jumpers attempted percentage needs to be below 40%, and more than 65% of those need to be assisted upon.  By all means, if Blatche has a lane against an immobile, inferior defender, take him to the rack.  Just try to draw fouls on more than 10.8% of your shots.  Heck, even Dominic McGuire was able to draw fouls on 12.9% of his attempts.

Blatche needs to keep his game and his efforts simple ... on and off the court.  He just turned 23 on August 22nd, and having a low key birthday celebration (at least in terms of internet coverage) in comparison to last year is a start. Perhaps this will lead to less partying before the season is over as well.  But honestly, who cares what Andray does off the court, as long as he's not getting arrested.  Caron Butler is able to balance an active social life with TCOB on the hardwood.

The team doesn't necessarily need Blatche to fill up the stat sheet every night.  They need concentration and a consistent effort level, at least 90% of the time (which, perhaps is what we'll get if he aims for 110%).  Do the big man things that the Wizards will so desperately need, and only use guard skills when the opportunity presents itself. Do not force the issue.  As soon as Andray lets the game come to him, which might be easier now that the 'Blatche At Small Forward' Experiment seems highly unlikely, he will satisfy everyone's desire for him to be a solid contributor throughout the season.

Rook6980: I expected a breakout year from Andray last year, and when it didn't happen, I became one of his harshest critics.  To be fair, and after a summer of reflection, I've come to realize that what we got from Andray Blatche last year was minor, but steady improvement.  Fewer mistakes (although he still made some doozies), fewer silly fouls and fewer goofy moments. Best of all, he seemed to come on strong late in the year, averaging 25 minutes, 11 points and 6 rebounds from Mid-March to the end of the year.  A sign that his conditioning, a problem in the past, may be getting better.  He still had the occasional brain spasm; trying to go behind his back in a crowd, or making a mental mistake on defense; but I'm hoping the consistency he showed in the final 14-15 games last year will carry over to this year.

The Wizards don't need Andray to take a major step up.  Another year of steady improvement, especially if that improvement is in his game to game consistency, his professionalism, his focus and his effort.  As the first big off the bench, I'm sure that Flip Saunders will be happy with 20-25 minutes from Blatche, if those minutes produce steady production.

Rebounding is still a concern.  Andray had 9 games last year where he played 20 minutes or more and grabbed 3 or fewer rebounds.  His rebounding numbers last year were poor. I'm hoping that the return of Gilbert Arenas, a pretty good rebounding PG (career 4.2 rpg), the return of Haywood (7.2 rpg in 2007-08), the addition of Mike Miller (6.2 rpg last year) will make the Wizards a much better rebounding team - and help to hide Andray's shortcomings in that area.

Another thing that I feel is important is an improvement in his professionalism. Although we didn't see any off-beat videos, goofy moments or "companion" issues last year - I cannot help but feel that he still needs to mature a bit. Andray should stick to Jamison, Haywood and Oberto and learn from them.

So, in short, I've re-set my expectations for Blatche. As a $3 Million dollar per year back-up big man, he's a tremendous bargain. On this team, Blatche doesn't need need to be spectacular. He doesn't need to be an All Star. He just needs to make the easy play. Be consistent. Be professional. Stay focused. If he does that and continues to make steady, incremental improvements, he should be a big part of the Wizards future for years to come.

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