As all college students probably know, "midterm" isn't necessarily synonymous with the exact "middle of the season/semester." With that in mind, since we've reached a convenient stopping point in the NBA schedule, let's discuss the performances of the key players on the teams. Next up: Brendan Haywood.
First instinct: One of the league's most improved players, partly because of his own improvement, and partly because of the fact that he's consistently playing 30 minutes a game. Still a solid defensive presence, but now with a much-improved offensive game. Admittedly, I've always been a Haywood fan, because criticisms of his game stem from its awkwardness rather than its effectiveness, but I don't think it's too much of a stretch to say he's one of the East's best centers.
A deeper look: Haywood's offensive improvement has been truly stunning, considering he's already 28 years old.
I mean, look at that. The one thing that jumps out to me is the free throw percentage. How many players improve by that much over the course of one season? That's the major reason his true shooting percentage is high -- he's getting to the line at a similar frequency, but he's converting far more often. The other key is that his turnover rate has gone way down as his usage has increased. That's very significant, because turnovers were a huge problem for Haywood last year.
Defensively, he hasn't had quite the impact as before, but I think that's because the rest of the team has improved on that end. In particular, it's nice to have Andray Blatche as the second team center instead of Etan Thomas.
One criticism lofted Haywood's way is his inconsistent rebounding, but let me be the first to call bullshit on that. Haywood does an excellent job of clearing space for others to get the board, and his 9.9 rebounds/36 isn't too shabby. The Wizards are grabbing a much higher percentage of rebounds with Haywood on the floor than without him, and the impact is basically the same on both offensive and defensive rebounds. I mean, really, can't we put this criticism to rest?
There are two major concerns, however, for Haywood going forward. The first is the potential return for Etan Thomas, because it could very easily mean fewer minutes for Haywood. That's Eddie Jordan's history, and it's reared it's ugly head in recent losses to the Sixers and Warriors. Less Haywood would be a huge mistake, because he's been so productive this year, and less Haywood in favor of Thomas would be even worse, since Thomas has such an adverse effect on the defense.
The bigger concern, however, is one nobody's been discussing, and that's what happens to Haywood when Arenas gets back. Last year, there was no better example of someone affected by Arenas' supposed "ball-hoggery" than Haywood. He averaged his fewest field goal attempts per 36 minutes since his second season, and his usage rate was well below his career average. The main reason it didn't look like he was doing much offensively was that he wasn't getting the ball enough. This year, without Arenas, he's getting the ball more than ever, and it's no coincidence that the increased usage has resulted in a career year. I'm a little annoyed whenever I hear about how Arenas needs to integrate into a team setting, but there's no doubt that he needs to do a better job of feeding his big man. The situation is very similar to the Chicago Bulls in the early 90s, when Michael Jordan had to learn how to give his awkward-but-effective big man, Bill Cartwright, a lot of touches underneath. Jordan figured it out, now Arenas needs to do the same.
Jake's thoughts: Brendan's path to improvement this season has to be one of the weirdest recipes for improvement that I've ever seen. All the Wizards had to do was hire a shooting coach and remove his source of belittlement (yes, it's a word) and BAM! he's a double-double threat. Now I can't help but think how many more big men over the last decade this could've helped. Imagine, if the Wizards had just hired Dave Hopla 7 years ago and managed to convince Michael Jordan to stay retired, Kwame Brown might be the most dominant center in the NBA right now.
Your thoughts: Comments section. Hopefully, Haywood breeds more discussion than Butler and Jamison have.