WASHINGTON -- For the paying customers of the Wizards' only home preseason game, there should be but one question on their minds as they left the Verizon Center aftter the Dallas Mavericks' 123-118 win last night.
Do they prefer the extreme pass-first version of Gilbert Arenas? The one that didn't attempt a single shot in the first quarter and induced frustrated murmurs from the crowd for passing up open chances? The one who, with five seconds on the shot clock with the ball in his hands early in the game, swung the ball to a covered Caron Butler instead of making a play himself?
Do they prefer the extreme score-first Arenas of the third quarter, which got the crowd excited with 12 points on 6-6 shooting, but also included four turnovers and poor defense? The one who on one play dove down the lane, split three defenders, and finished with a vintage reverse layup on the left side of the hoop while being fouled, but on another saw his pocket picked by unheralded rookie Rodrigue Beaubois (otherwise known as the "darker Tony Parker")?
Or, do they prefer a hybrid Arenas, one that displays the patience and passing acumen of the first-quarter Arenas, but also the aggressiveness of the third-quarter Arenas?
If the answer seems obvious, well, it's because it is. The perfect Arenas is one that can score and dish with the best of them, keeping defenders off balance.
But rather than be frustrated by Arenas' seeming inability to put it all "together," I think it's a good thing that he's displaying multiple personalities on the court. There are times in games where he'll have to turn it on, and other times where he'll have to lay low. Eventually, yes, he'll have to put it all together, but to borrow a typical Flip Saunders/Washington Wizards 09/10 cliche, it's a process. Step 1: make sure he's healthy. Step 2: develop the ability to lay low. Step 3: kick butt. We're somewhere between steps 2 and 3 right now.
For his part, Saunders thinks Arenas should be somewhere between the third-quarter version and the ideal version. After initially saying the ideal goal was to get Arenas to "put it all together," Saunders said Arenas did better doing that in the second half.
"I think he was trying to [put it together] in the second half," Saunders said. "In the second half ... he started to do a little bit of both."
Saunders also admitted that he had to talk to Arenas to coax that aggression out of him again, which you could have never imagined Eddie Jordan needing to do.
"I told him at halftime that if he's open and he doesn't shoot it, the next guy he passes it to is probably going to be covered. Very rarely are two guys open on the same play."
Arenas still isn't talking to the media, blatantly ignoring an out-of-town reporter trying to chase him down after the game (for the sake of not embarrassing such reporter, I won't tell you who it was), leaving the rest of the players to talk about him. Namely, Arenas' buddy, DeShawn Stevenson.
"We have to read off him," Stevenson said. "He's the franchise of this team, and we know how he can go, but I think he's trying to feed everybody else, get everybody's confidence up. Usually, he does it by himself, but he's trying to be team player now. He can score so easily, but [now] he's getting everybody in a rhythm. You can see when he gets the ball, it's so easy for us to score, so I think if he does that and still stays aggressive, we'll be alright."
Score one for the first-quarter Arenas, I guess.
Meanwhile, Mike Miller hasn't played with the old Gilbert Arenas, but isn't worried about the new Gilbert Arenas adjusting to his new teammates.
"Gil knows what he's doing," Miller said. "It's not his first rodeo."
Four factors chart and more below the jump:
|Dallas||104 (very high)||118.3 (very high)||51.8% (high)||44.6 (very high)||18.6% (very low)||11.5 (very low)|
|Washington||110.3 (high)||56.3% (very high)||32.9 (very high)||24.4 (average)||18.3 (very high)|
- I've been extremely impressed with how quickly Caron Butler is making his drives to the basket. There was one semi-transition play in the second quarter where he caught the ball in the right corner, saw a slim opening on the baseline, drove right around Quinton Ross and got a three-point play. Playing with Gilbert Arenas again should open up more driving lanes for Butler, which should improve his declining free throw rate.
- Unfortunately, Butler was not good on defense. Shawn Marion erupted for 26 points in 30 minutes, and two of his points came on a late second-quarter play where Butler displayed his gambling addiction. Jamison and Randy Foye had trapped Jason Kidd on a high screen well, leaving Kidd's only option to pass to Drew Gooden at the free throw line. But Butler messed up the play by leaving Marion in the corner to go into no-man's land trying to get a steal. He didn't get the steal, Marion cut backdoor, and Dallas got a dunk.
- Andray Blatche had a good line (17 points, nine rebounds), but he got most of those points on his improved jumper, not from any spectacular transformation in his game. He messed up on simple tasks such as blocking out and staying down on pump fakes, and also whipped several passes out of bounds. Blatche already admitted he needed to be "slapped" to get up for tonight, but he also said some ticky-tack fouls early in the game threw him off. "That's the most frustrating thing ever, those ticky-tack fouls, when I get beat up worse than any guard on the floor," Blatche said. "But it's part of the game. Gotta fight through it."
- Mike Miller again was effective with the ball in his hands, but those concerned that he passed up too many open shots in Minnesota could look at this admission two different ways. "I've got to find out when to take shots and when not to," Miller said after the game. "Right now, I'm probably passing up a few, but at the same time, that's what preseason is for. We have to find out where we're going to fit in." The good news: Miller's aware that he isn't shooting enough. The bad news: Miller still isn't shooting enough even though he's aware.
- Nick Young had a pretty good game and I think still has the inside track on the starting shooting guard spot. I asked him about how he felt he did defensively on Jason Terry. I noticed him doing a pretty good job moving his feet and staying with him, but he still is developing as far as fighting through off-ball screens. "I think I did alright on Terry," Young said, later adding that "I think I'm getting better at [fighting through screens], especially coming off strong dudes like [Erick] Dampier. Coming through all those screens, I think I did alright tonight."
- Flip Saunders correctly blamed overhelping for the Wizards' defensive struggles. "We're still understanding defensively when you can help and when you can't help," Saunders said. "We had guys that were almost overhelping, leaving our basket uncovered, which is what you can't do." It'll take some time for the bad habits of the previous regimes to wear off.
- The Wizards did go to a matchup zone to start the fourth quarter, and it worked initially, as Dallas only scored three points in the first four minutes of the fourth quarter. "We did good with the matchup," Saunders said. "It kind of got us back in the game actually. The guys played well with that." My read: they got a bit lucky. Guys were out of position, and Dallas just wasn't making shots. But it's clear that, if the players figure it out, it's a nice change of pace and can confuse opponents for short stretches.