After starting the season slowly, the Wizards offense has been on a tear recently, having scored at least 100 points in 16 straight games. It has been this resurgence, led by career months from Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler, that's led the team into first place in the Southeast Division. But in the last game of 2006, the Milwaukee Bucks may have stumbled upon the perfect defense to slow the Wizards down.
That defense? A soft matchup zone that prevented the Wizards, particularly Arenas, from capitalizing on their one-on-one abilities.
The key to Milwaukee's zone defense was that it turned Arenas into a spot-up shooter, a skill he's never really mastered. Arenas was cut from the Olympic Team for this very reason. He wasn't enough of a playmaker to play the point, and his inability to be a spot-up shooter didn't bode well for the international style. It's simply not his game, and it's clear that he's not going to become one overnight. The only time Arenas was really able to get to the rim in this game was the third quarter, when the Bucks were primarily in a man-to-man. Arenas was 4 for 8 in the third quarter and 3 for 14 for the rest of the game.
When looking at the Wizards, the zone defense should work in theory. Two of the main elements needed to combat a zone are a past-first point guard and some solid spot-up shooters. The Wizards have neither. Arenas and Antonio Daniels are not pure point guards, and the only Wizard that resembles a spot-up shooter is Jarvis Hayes, a scary predicament. Antawn Jamison is probably the closest thing to a zone buster on this team, but he'd probably be much more effective roaming the high post, and throwing him solely on the perimeter makes the team easier to defend. Finally, the Wizards run an offense that relies on quick cuts and back screens, both of which aren't nearly as effective against a zone defense.
However, there are many reasons why I'm tempted to think the Wizards inability to attack the zone on Saturday was an aberration. In theory, the one player on the Wizards that should be stifled completely with a soft zone is Caron Butler. After all, he's not a jump-shooter, and his best offensive move is his mid-range pull-up jumper off the dribble. It's exactly the type of offensive repertoire that's optimal against a man defense. However, against the Bucks zone Saturday, Butler had one of his best games of the season, scoring 28 points and grabbing 13 rebounds. He was an impossible matchup all night long, and was able to find space in the zone's gaps to release that mid-range jumper. The other reason why I'm tempted to believe a zone won't work is that the zone defenders won't be able to keep the Wizards off the offensive glass. With Butler and Brendan Haywood, the Wizards have two of the game's best offensive rebounders, and it's even more difficult to keep them off the offensive glass after playing zone. More offensive rebounds means more chances for the Wizards' high-powered offense to score, which never bodes well for an opponent.
In the end, I'm on the fence with this one. If we see a few more teams stifle the Wizards with a zone, then I'll be more worried.
Do you think the Bucks stumbled onto something here, or is this an aberration?