With the first day of Wizards training camp coming, Bullets Forever is asking 20 questions about key issues with the team in 2010/11.
The most immediate positive return from the Wizards' roster demolition last season was the emergence of Andray Blatche. Without veterans Antawn Jamison and Brendan Haywood around to take minutes, Blatche was finally given a true opportunity to blossom, and though there were some ups and downs, there were more positives than negatives.
Blatche showed last season that he can harness the gifts that he had shown glimpses of throughout his five-year career and put it together in a role worthy of a starting spot in the NBA, averaging 22.1 points, 8.6 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game after the All-Star break. On the flip side (no pun intended), he also showed that he won't be leading a team to the playoffs, much less an NBA title as a team's top option. After the break, the Wizards went 9-23, including a 16 game losing streak.
Thankfully, with Gilbert Arenas back and John Wall now on the squad, Blatche won't be asked to shoulder the load each night like he was at the end of last season. Now he faces the challenge of trying to build on his success from last season, while at the same time adjusting to no longer being the team's top option. Which leads to our next question:
How will Andray Blatche respond to having more talent around him?
To answer this question, we must look back and understand how Andray Blatche performed last season. To understand that, we must realize that Blatche really had three seasons in one last year.
There was the first nine games of the season, where Blatche was primarily coming off the bench as Flip Saunders tried to create a defined role for Blatche off the bench, with Fabricio Oberto serving as a placeholder until Antawn Jamison returned from injury. During this opening stretch, Blatche was solid, avoiding some of the dizzying lows that marked his career up to this point, and managed to have arguably his best performance to that point, scoring 30 points and only missing three of 18 field goal attempts.
Jamison returned for the 10th game of the season and ushered in the second part of Blatche's season. Despite Saunders' best efforts to keep Blatche's minutes steady as Jamison returned to the lineup, Blatche's minutes were yanked around as Saunders tried to find the right mix to get the team on the right track. While Saunders was adjusting his lineups, Blatche was adjusting to playing with Arenas, Butler and Jamison for the first time in his career since the 2006-07 season, when he only played in 56 games and averaged a paltry 12.2 minutes per game. As his minutes and his roles fluctuated, his performance predictably went up and down. Blatche showed more of the inconsistencies Wizards fans had become accustomed to throughout his development.
Then, after the team was gutted at the trade deadline, Blatche moved into his new role as the team's primary offensive option and flourished, as we talked about earlier.
His numbers went up across the board, but did he get more efficient? Let's compare his numbers over the three parts of last season.
|Part 1 (Games 1-9)
|Part 2 (Games 10-49)
|Part 3 (Game 50-82)
- For better or worse, Blatche's shooting efficiency went up as a whole as his usage rate increased. It's encouraging to know that he was getting more efficient as he took a larger role with the offense. As good as that is to know, it doesn't do anything to alleviate concerns that Blatche could regress this season as he takes a smaller role with the offense.
- To give you an idea of just how Andray Blatche's usage rating was for the final stretch of the season, consider that Dwyane Wade led the NBA last season with a usage rate of 33.3. Even if John Wall and Gilbert Arenas weren't going to be part of the team this season, it would probably be a good idea to get that number down.
- Only five players in the NBA had a usage rate over 30 last season. Blatche had a higher eFG% higher than three of those players (Gilbert Arenas, Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant) during that final 22 game stretch of the season. Of course, that isn't to say Blatche is better than those guys, but its worth noting.
Though Blatche won't be getting the touches he received at the end of last season this year, I believe its still possible for him to maintain those higher shooting percentage he showed at the end of last season. Most importantly, Blatche needs a consistent role. Now that he's established as the team's key players, that shouldn't be a problem, so long as he doesn't butt heads with Flip Saunders.
Secondly, as Mike has alluded to in this series, it's going to be important to get Blatche some early touches to keep his head in the game. Sure, it would be nice if Blatche could come out on the floor and give you the same energy each night, but that's just not going to happen. In order to get the best out of Andray, it's important to get his systems running before he goes into hibernate mode.
The new talent around Blatche will likely lead to a decrease in his scoring averages from the end of last season, but with a consistent role and some early activity, the Wizards can ensure that his efficiency remains high.