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Player evaluation: Etan Thomas

If I were a funny guy, I'd sum up Etan Thomas' season in a poem of some kind, but I'm not Jake.  Besides, I sort of used that angle already on the old blog.

Offensively, Thomas had a bounce-back year this season after a brutal 2005/06.  His rebounding jumped considerably, and he posted the highest true shooting percentage of his career.  His PER was above the league average, and after being a black hole in the post in the past, his assist rate jumped considerably.  About the only negative on that end was his turnover rate, which jumped to 16.2%, the highest since his rookie year.  

To me, the resurgence can be attributed to his off-the-ball improvement.  Etan's post moves have always been good, and he's always been able to score fairly well when isolated on the block.  But this season, he did a much better job on screen and rolls, especially with Antonio Daniels later in the season.  He also did a better job in getting good offensive rebounding position.  When you combine that with his ability to score on the block, and Etan's a very solid backup center offensively.

The problem is on the other end.  About the only thing Etan does well defensively is grab rebounds, which certainly has a ton of value, but is far less important that creating misses.  Despite his reputation as being a guy who does all the dirty things, the Wizards were worse defensively when Etan was on the floor.  My theory is that he's an undisciplined help defender that roams too much, unnecessarily swats at shots he can't block, gives up too many offensive rebounds off penetration, and commits too many fouls.  Since the Wizards guards, particularly Arenas, are so awful at surrendering dribble penetration, it's imperative that the Wizards' center be a good help defender.  Etan is not.

In terms of his future, there are two major problems with Etan.  The first is that he's good at elements of the game that are easily spotted, and bad at those equally important elements that are difficult to spot.  It's not easy for the untrained eye (or even the trained eye, for that matter) to notice bad help defense, but it's such an important element of basketball.  Just ask the Spurs, who have been masters at the skill for years.  It is easy, however, to notice a tough rebound or a "energy" play.  That all makes Etan look better than he is.

The second, of course, is the contract.  With three years and 20something million left, Etan is not paid like a backup center.  He's virtually untradeable, and that's a problem.

I do think Etan is a valuable player though.  The problem is that, because the Wizards are so bad at defense, it's so important that the starting center be defensive-oriented.  On a team with good defensive players, you can get away with an "energy" guy that's a strong offensive player at the 5.  The Nets did it all year with Mikki Moore, but it only worked because Jason Collins and Jason Kidd are such solid defenders.  The Wizards can't get away with that unless they suddenly have a defensive makeover.  In lieu of that, the best option is for Brendan Haywood to start at center, not Etan Thomas.

The other major problem with trading Etan?  Who hosts next year's Poetry Slam Contest?