Yesterday's "young vs. old" quote is just the latest example of what I'm now dubbing the "Flip Saunders and Company Positive Thinking Media Campaign" (copyright 2009). It's almost uncanny the degree to which Flip and company are telling us what we want to hear.
- Flip is saying he's challenging Gilbert Arenas to be a lockdown defender, a better leader and an extension of Flip on the court
- Flip is saying he wants an eight-man rotation like most playoff teams, but also says (and has convinced others) he believes this team has more depth than any he's on, meaning he won't hesitate to use more players
- Flip and company are actually working with the young players on specific skills and hyping up their confidence
- Flip is saying Gilbert Arenas is looking as good as new
- Flip is talking about having no duplicate players on his roster
- Flip is saying the team will emphasize defense, but he's also saying that better offense and better floor balance will improve the defense
- Flip is charting a database of plays that he'll use for his analysis
- Flip says 60 percent of his playbook is dedicated to defense
But as good as Flip Saunders may be, he's clearly not perfect. Timberwolves and Pistons bloggers have brought up several of Flip's weaknesses when he was coaching their teams, such as his misuse of Ben Wallace, his inability to craft an offense that shot enough free throws, his laid-back persona and his handling of the Pistons' personalities. Beyond that, there's also concerns such as his historically short bench es(save for 07/08, a year after which he was fired), his actual ability to coach defense among teams without historically great individual defenders, his huge playbook and his patience with young players. These concerns have varying degrees of truth, but they all existed in his previous stops.
Flip has also said numerous times that he feels his philosophy on coaching was reinforced in the year he was not coaching. Here's what he told Steve Aschburner of SI:
"You become more entrenched in your philosophy that what you did, you did the right way," he said.
So knowing that Flip isn't perfect and that he sticks pretty hard to his core coaching philosophy, some of the promises from the Flip Saunders and Company Positive Thinking Media Campaign (TM) are not going to be fulfilled. Below the jump, I handicap which promises carry the most substance.
Gilbert Arenas will be more of a leader
Chances of happening: 70%. Assuming Arenas is healthy, I really do believe the year off humbled him and made him realize that there's more to being a superstar than scoring a ton of points. I imagine he'll still be a bit of a goofball in the locker room, but I do think he'll be more hands-on with the young players on the team instead of being the aloof guy he was for all of last year. I also doubt we'll see any more "we're in the hood" type of quotes from Gil. On the court, Gil has said he wants to focus less on scoring and more on getting "triple doubles." There's also ample evidence that, based on Flip's latest teams, Gil will see a bump in his assist averages.
Of course, this all assumes Arenas stays healthy. If he's not playing, I could see him easily returning to the aloof Gilbert we saw last year. I also don't think the transition will be seamless; we'll see Gil try to be the old Gil a lot. But by the end of the year, assuming health, I think Flip will have gotten through to Gil here.
The young players will continue to like Flip and his coaching staff
Chances of happening: 65%. No, they may not get the playing time they might feel they deserved, but I think the young guys will respect having a coach that is direct and consistent with his expectations. They don't need to worry about Eddie Jordan playing them inconsistently, nor do they need to worry about making the right plays in a free-wheeling offense. Flip is going to dramatically simplify their roles, and I think they'll appreciate that. I also think they'll respect the assistant coaches, particularly Sam Cassell, who carries with him instant credibility.
The team will play significantly better defense (i.e. a jump of at least 10 spots in defensive efficiency)
Chances of happening: 50%. We've spent so many words here trying to explain to people that one of the major problems with the Wizards' defense was Eddie Jordan's "protect the paint at all costs" scheme, so any improvement is going to be pretty significant provided Flip really drills the club on sound defensive principles. At the same time, we have to keep in mind that our defensive personnel still stinks. Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison will never be great defenders, and Caron Butler historically hasn't been a good defender either. Mike Miller and Randy Foye also aren't known for their defense. The only significantly above-average defender on the roster is Brendan Haywood. DeShawn Stevenson is above-average when healthy, Dominic McGuire has the potential to be elite and Fabricio Oberto displays sound fundamentals, but none of those guys are good enough to help hide the deficiencies of others all by themselves.
All in all, I put the chances of this happening at 50/50. In 2008, the last full year under Eddie Jordan, the Wizards ranked 24th in defensive efficiency. Last year, the Wizards were 29th. A 10-spot jump puts the Wizards somewhere between 14th and 19th in defense. I think that's realistic, but it's not a guarantee.
The young players will play appropriate minutes
Chances of happening: 50%. I'd guess that Andray Blatche will have plenty of chances to prove himself, so his minutes will be appropriate. Nick Young seems to be a Flip favorite for now, but there are a lot of guys in front of him. JaVale McGee and Javaris Crittenton are probably targeted for spot minutes. All in all, it really wouldn't shock me if our eight-man rotation down the stretch is Arenas-Stevenson-Butler-Jamison-Haywood, with Foye, Oberto and Miller as the final three. That'd be an all-vet rotation.
I doubt we start the season that way, though, which is why I'm putting even money on this.
The primary playing rotation will be significantly deeper than eight guys (i.e. more than eight guys playing 15+ minutes per game)
Chances of happening: 40%. This is probably lower than you expected, but here's where I think Flip's "my coaching style was reinforced" quotes may come into play. I've continued to suggest that Flip played his bench more in 07/08 than in many previous seasons with Detroit. I also think part of the reason for that is that Joe Dumars wanted it that way after seeing Detroit's primary players play worse down the stretch because they played too many minutes in the regular season. Then, when Flip actually did what Joe D. seemingly wanted, he got fired. That probably doesn't give him a ton of incentive to risk losing games in the name of developing a bench. Maybe I'm taking Flip's quote too far, but it was certainly my first thought when I heard it.
Flip talks about how the Wizards are deep, but if Blatche doesn't impress, McGee doesn't get more consistent, Young regresses and/or Stevenson can't stay healthy (all very legitimate possibilities), we may be talking about having only seven or eight truly reliable guys on the team. If that's the case, then Flip's definitely going to tighten up and go with what he knows.
Gilbert Arenas will be a lockdown defender
Chances of happening: 0.1%. Let's get to passable first. I imagine Arenas might be better simply from playing fewer minutes, but that knee isn't stopping the quickest players in the league.
The locker room will be united
Chances of happening: TBD. It all depends on how much the team wins. Winning will make for a happy locker room.
Those are just some of the promises that I feel can be handicapped. Feel free to handicap others in the comments.