If you were to pick two words to start a drinking game with the Washington Wizards, you would pick "consistency" and "timing." If you needed a third, you would throw "injury" in there as well. Following a contested loss to the New York Knicks these three words came were on the lips of every coach and player. Examples: "The team needs to find consistency." "Player X needs to regain his timing." " Well, Player X is coming back from injury."
Fans tend to fall into two camps when they hear these statements. The first camp will point to the fact that injuries happen all the time in the NBA and that the team should be prepared enough to cope with it and stay in every game. The second camp will point to the fact the Wizards have suffered an amazing amount of smaller injuries this year and that there is some merit in pointing to "timing" and "consistency" issues.
I normally find myself falling into the first camp. I'm a bit of a hardliner when it comes to to how the team performs and what I can expect from them. (What can I say? I am first and foremost a fan.) But as I listened to Flip Saunders debrief the media on the status of the various Wizards, I realized just how little this team has been able to practice together. How, is Al Coach? Well, Al is still getting back from missing two weeks of practice. Yi? Yi needs to get his timing down after missing two weeks of practice. John Wall missed two weeks of practice. Andray Blatche just came back after missing two games. Gilbert Arenas missed most of training camp and the first few games of the regular season. Alonzo Gee just got here.
It says even more when you consider that the three most productive players on the Wizards are the ones who have managed to stay healthy and on the floor. Nick Young and Kirk Hinrich are the two most notable examples, with Young playing himself into the discussion of getting starter's minutes, and Hinrich playing well enough for the coaching staff to overly rely on him and play him too much. The third example is of course JaVale McGee, who alternatively frustrates and fascinates the coaching staff. McGee has played well enough to to reduce the role of Hilton Armstrong, but still remains wildly inconsistent enough to allow for a first year rookie from the FIBA league to start in his place.
Having now successfully buried the lede in this article, one can see how consistency and timing were what ultimately did the Wizards in against the New York Knicks. As Mike pointed out in his excellent article on John Wall, the Wizards are obviously suffering from the fact that none of the formerly injured players are adjusting well to playing at a reduced capacity. Both Blatche and Yi are displaying an alarming lack of verticality since coming off the shelf. Al Thornton has been a shell of his former self since returning from the mysterious abdominal injury. And some of the players, instead of making the necessary adjustments, are trying to be something they are not. Al Thornton is not an effective pick and pop guy. His effectiveness prior to the injury was as a slasher, and he has since refused to slash. Both Wall and Arenas seem resolute in not taking it to the rim off the dribble. Blatche and Yi won't finish hard, but instead attempt crazy reverses.
The difference tonight was not only Amar'e Stoudemire making an even stronger claim to being the MVP. It was not only the disparity in FT percentage. It also lies in the hidden undercurrent that this Wizards team hasn't been on the floor together all that much, an issue that is will be further complicated by the return of Josh Howard.
Further thoughts and quotes up tomorrow.