Are Andray Blatche And JaVale McGee A Tenable Frontcourt Combination For The Future?

Editor's Note: This article has been in the hopper for quite a while, but with the Arenas trade and all the other nonsense that has happened with the team as of late, it took a a backseat. As such, it might read as a rebuttal to Bullet Nation in Exile's article about Flip Saunders. It is not. I want to thank Stop N' Pop from Canis Hoopus for his input.

Earlier in the season, before the wheels fell completely fell off the wagon, a poster made an interesting reference that I believed bore more though; that Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee were basically incompatible on the court and to play both of them together at the same time basically negated that either brought to the court.  Further mention was made that the Wizards now find themselves in the same situation as the Timberwolves did last year with Al Jefferson and Kevin Love in that they possess two dynamic post players who could not be on the court at the same time due to both player's defensive deficiencies.

From reading through our sister blog Canis Hoopus (a must read by the way), the general gist or the argument was that neither player allowed the other enough space to do the things that make them valuable on the basketball court. Kevin Love could not be the defensive rebounding machine that he has become because Al Jefferson was taking up all the space in the middle. Further, Al Jefferson went from being a can't miss breakout player to being perceived as a player who needed touches to be effective and negated the value of other players on the court by stopping ball movement to work his post game.

If these arguments sound familiar, they resemble many of the arguments we have made vis a vis Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee this year. JaVale McGee can't do JaVale McGee things (jump around, block shots, act like a menace) with a poor defending PF who who can't clean up his mistakes. Blatche's game is inhibited in the same way in that his defensive liability is further exposed by having a risk taking center on the court with him at the same time, which magnifies his mistakes in a perhaps unfair manner.

Now does the comparison make any sense? The general consensus is that Al Jefferson needed to be shipped out of town to allow Kevin Love to become "30 rebound" Kevin Love. Having not watched much of the T-pups, I asked the same question of Stop N' Pop, the editor of Canis Hoopus to get his take on the situation. He also has watched a lot of Flip Saunders having followed the period when Flip coached the team. His answer, following the jump was extremely interesting.

Stop N' Pop's answer:

A few weeks back, John Hollinger had a very interesting item in one of his chats:

Kerry (Dallas) – If you could give the T-wolves organization three pieces of advice, what would they be?

John Hollinger (2:45 PM) – How about one piece for now — bad franchises tend to focus on their best players’s weaknesses. All you heard Minnesota talk about last year was how Al Jefferson couldn’t move, and now you hear the same thing about how Kevin Love can’t defend. Kind of like the things we heard about Pau Gasol in Memphis. The problem isn’t Love or Jefferson, it’s that they’re stuck on a bad team …

Kevin Love and Al Jefferson were the Timberwolves' best two players by a long shot.  While it is easy to get lost in definitions of "fit" and "upside", it is similarly as easy to forget about the basic fact that the Wolves--a 15-win team near the bottom of the league--chose to jettison one of their two above-average players in order to "improve".  There has been a lot of buzz this season about Love's "fit" with the team, currently sitting there with only 4 wins.  Should he be moved for a better "fit", the Wolves will be the only bottom-dwelling team in recent memory that I can think of to get rid of their two best players in consecutive seasons in the name of improvement. Chances are, such an approach will only serve to guarantee them and their fans a couple more years of hoping for luck with lottery balls. Meanwhile, Al Jefferson is somehow finding a way to co-exist with the Love-sized Paul Milsap.  

Good players are good players are good players and if Blatche and McGee are good players, that should be the end of the story for a franchise like the Wiz.  I have long had a theory that getting a team to 45-55 wins requires front office competency while anything more requires luck.  The Wizards appear to have been blessed with a great deal of luck with the arrival of John Wall.  They now need to pray to the Gods of competency in order to surround him with as many good players as possible.  If the Wiz are lucky enough for him to be the real deal, fit will matter about as much as Ricky Rubio does to the current play of my favorite squad.  

My advice for Wizards fans is to forget about the long run.  Worry about the birds you have in hand and forget about the ones in the bush.  Are Blatche and McGee above average NBA players?  Teams like the Wiz and Wolves shouldn't worry about fit or implementing systems. They should be worried about building a culture of winning along with collecting as many above average players as possible.  Unfortunately for both organizations, they appear to have coaches who are tied to a relatively static (and stubborn) type of play.

Instead of being Iron Chefs who can roll with the punches and create a fine dish out of whatever nonsensical groceries are placed in front of them, Flip and Rambis are more like short order cooks--guys who will try to pump out burgers and shakes no matter if they are provided with ground beef or eggplant.  

So it's not the players as much as it is the system. The question that I want to pose to all of you is what is to be done about this situation. To continue to use S N' P's metaphor, the Wizards have hired a French Chef and presented him with Szechuan Pepper and a blowfish and asked him to make a souffle. One may get a souffle at the end of the day, but it is doubtful that the result would be something that anyone would want to consume. However, it is hard to place the blame on either the Chef or the ingredients. Saunders is going to keep trying to make that souffle, because that is all he knows how to make.

So how does one fix this problem? There are several solutions at hand, none of them completely desirable to Wizards fans.

1) Have patience. This is currently the most popular statement made on the board. The Wizards are a rebuilding team and patience is needed as the organization figures out which pieces fit around John Wall. However, patience does not necessarily do much to fix the problem as illustrated above, that conventional thinking and coaching is not going to fundamentally change how Blatche or McGee play the game of basketball.

2) Trade either Andray Blatche or JaVale McGee. I'm not going to go into to detail about this because the ground has already been covered by Mike and other posters. This solution to me strikes one as cutting one's nose off to spite the face. I'm not particularly enamored of either Blatche's or McGee's game, but to trade either of them at the moment is to admit that the situation can never work in its current setup.

3) Change the coaching style. By which I mean, change it a completely radical way. Either bring in someone like Don Nelson (but not Don Nelson) who can think completely outside the box or convey to Saunders that his traditional PG oriented, distribute the ball system isn't going to work with the current group of Wizards. Use Blatche as a Point Forward. Deploy McGee as a roving safety. Do something, anything, that shakes up the current pattern of play and allows players to play to their strengths rather than highlighting their weaknesses.

The question that remains is whether Flip Saunders can learn to make anything but a souffle. Last year, following Arenas' suspension, he instituted a two guard system that was meant to limit the weaknesses of Arenas when he returned to the team. The system was somewhat successful in its implementation, but Saunders has regressed this year to demanding that the game is played in his conventional system, which appears to eliminate the strengths that players bring to the squad. Why employ a coach that is know for squads with the lowest pace when the team now has John Wall in the fold? Why demand that JaVale McGee becomes a conventional center when all signs point to the fact that his abilities lie in creating havoc and taking chances?

Alternatively, if the organization is wed to Saunders as a coach, then it needs to stop presenting him with crazy ingredients. I have beat this drum many times in the past, but the organization needs to make the choice as to whether it is going to sign and draft players that fit the system or employ a coach that coaches a system that fits the makeup of the team. For too many years, the Wizards front office has attempted to have their cake and eat it to. They gave Eddie Jordan three solid pieces on which to build a foundation, and then kept adding low basketball IQ players to a squad whose coach employed one of the most complex systems in the NBA. Now we have a a coach rigid in his implementation of a system trying to coach a team of players more suited to freelancing and "feel not think" basketball.

Right now what we have is bad basketball. Yes, the Wizards sometimes win, but from an aesthetic standpoint the results are disappointing to watch. To watch the Wizards play right now is like going out to your car in the morning in winter after not driving it for two weeks. You pray on your walk up to the car that it will start. Sometimes you have no issues and the car will start fine. Other times it takes a few minutes to turn over and by that time you are late to work. And sometimes the battery is dead.

Something in the near term has to give. Whether it is Saunders or the roster, something has to be changed to transform the Wizards so that they can take that next step. Enough with the conventional thinking, it's time to try some crazy solutions.
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