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It's all in the jumper (well, almost) for Andray Blatche

In the spirit of reminding everyone that we're not even one-tenth of the way through the season, let's talk about the one major bright spot of the first eight games -- Andray Blatche.

Blatche has arguably been the Wizards' best player thus far this season.  (This is where your jaw drops and you gasp.  Do it for effect, please).  He has the highest PER and the highest Roland Rating (which is 82games' statistical formula that takes into account individual numbers as well as the team's performance when he's on the court as opposed to being on the bench) on the team.  He's also been among the most consistent players, which may be an even greater sign that he's coming along. 

How come Blatche is surging statistically?  It must be better rebounding, right?  Well ... no; his rebound rate this season is actually lower than it was last season.  Better passing?  No, his assist rate is basically the same.  Fewer turnovers?  Okay, okay, that's actually a big part of his improvement -- his turnover percentage is just 11.6% this year as compared to 14.3% last year.  But it's not nearly as significant as ...

(Dun Dun Dun)

... Blatche's improved jump-shooting.

Earlier this summer, we talked about how much better Blatche would be if he just stopped attempting so many jumpers.  Why?  Blatche was simply dreadful at shooting them last year.  His eFG% on jump shots last year was 35.6%, the type of mark you see from guys like Rajon Rondo and Tyrus Thomas.  That he posted a league-average PER while posting such a poor percentage on jumpers is actually kind of remarkable.  

The theory at the time was that Blatche should get inside more and shoot fewer jumpers, because he stunk so much shooting from the perimeter last year.  Jumpers constituted 57% of Blatche's shots last year, which is about 30 percent too high for someone who shoots that poorly.  He would have provided much better production, the theory stated, if he played more to his strengths on offense.

Well, fast-forward one year later, and Blatche's jump-shooting has completely transformed.  Blatche has an eFG% of 50% on jump shots in the first eight games, and amazingly enough, he's actually shooting more jumpers this year than last year (63% of his shots are Js).  His improved jump-shooting proficiency has vaulted his true shooting percentage all the way up 57.4%, as opposed to his mediocre 50.8% mark last season. 

How do you explain this?  I see two reasons that go hand-in-hand.  The first explanation is quite simple -- Blatche worked his butt off on his jumper this summer.  Granted, Seven-Day Dray worked his butt off on everything this past summer, but he has continually singled out jump-shooting as an area of emphasis.  The far more detailed explanation, however, lies in the type of jumpers he's taking.  We all have the typical Blatche possession where he dribbles five times and launches an awful shot in our heads because, well, that's what happened so much last year.  Only 44% of Blatche's jump shots last year were assisted, and when you're constantly shooting off the dribble, your percentage suffers unless you're an incredibly unique player like Jamal Crawford.  This season, 63% of Blatche's jumpers are assisted, because Blatche is catching and shooting confidently instead of trying to create something on his own.  No wonder his percentages ae up.

Now, the reason I say these two reasons go hand-in-hand is because confidence plays a huge role here.  It's just hard to tell which way.  Blatche is making much quicker decisions when he gets the ball, opting to let it fly when he's open much more often than in the past.  Why is this happening?  Clearly, Blatche has developed a good rhythm from practicing the shot all the time, and trusting that rhythm in the heat of the moment comes from having confidence in your shot.  On the other hand, confidence also comes into play when he's hitting the shot early on.  It's possible Blatche found that, when he set his feet, squared his shoulders and just shot it rather than trying to create something off the dribble, he was actually a pretty damn good shooter already.  He just needed to see that ball go through the hoop to gain the necessary confidence.  It's a classic chicken or the egg phenomenon.

Regardless, as long as Blatche continues to play and shoot this confidently, he's going to be an incredible asset coming off the bench relieving Antawn Jamison.  We talked about how Jamison's injury was Blatche's opportunity to shine, and that's exactly what he's done.