In trading for Trevor Ariza, the Wizards didn’t improve their outside shooting, but they likely upgraded the small forward position, nonetheless. With the help of MySynergy Sports, let’s take a look at how the Wizards can use Ariza on offense.
First, let’s address what Trevor Ariza can’t do. As At The Hive's Rohan Cruyff noted, it is important to keep Ariza away from being a creator. Ariza’s isolation possessions have decreased since he left Houston, and that is a very good thing. Last season with New Orleans, he averaged a paltry 0.35 points per isolation possession and shot 19 percent in the process. Ariza didn’t fall into the trap of settling for bad threes, but he was quite fond of the contested midrange jumper.
Beyond Ariza’s inability to hit shots, he also turned the ball over on about 22 percent of his isolation possessions. Ariza usually lost the ball when he tried to get to the basket (as opposed to committing turnovers via pass or offensive foul), so one could see why he settled for so many jumpers.
Obviously, it is in the team's best interest to make Ariza a finisher instead of an initiator. If the Wizards stick Ariza in the corner and keep the ball out of his hands, he is much more likely to be an effective player. Ariza shot 41 percent on corner threes this past season. That number is above the NBA average of 37 percent and a little better than Chris Singleton’s 38 percent. But the question remains as to if we will we see that 41 percent next season. Ariza shot an underwhelming 34 percent on corner threes in 2010-11, while Singleton could very well improve in the offseason.
Ariza’s and Singleton’s three-point percentages may fluctuate, but Ariza has an advantage over Singleton as a driver in spot-up situations. Compared with Singleton, Ariza was much more effective at getting to the rim when the defense closed out on his spot-ups, even when defenders weren’t threatened by his jumper. Singleton acknowledged his problems getting low and beating his man off the dribble, and this wasn’t just against set defenses. Wizards fans saw Singleton take some tough shots against recovering defenses because he rarely beat his man to get all the way to the rim. The video below shows a few examples of Singleton’s drive attempts on spot-ups. Even though his defender isn’t in great position to stop a drive, Singleton still can’t get his shoulders past the defender, and he often stops to settle for a fadeaway.
Singleton plans on working on this, but with the acquisition of Ariza, the Wizards have a more reliable slasher at small forward. The Wizards shouldn’t let Ariza dribble into isolation situations, but when he can take one or two dribbles against a scrambling defender, he can get to the rim. On a similar amount of spot-up drives as Singleton, Ariza got to the rim twice as many times. Ariza is listed as 15 pounds lighter than Singleton, but he plays much stronger than Singleton in these situations. The video below shows Ariza’s ability to beat his man even when they aren’t closing out with urgency.
The problem here is that although Ariza may get to the rim more, he doesn't always finish those shot attempts. He’s been up and down as a finisher in recent years, and he shot only 47 percent on these at-the-rim attempts on spot-up drives. At the very least, those shot attempts at the rim bring a greater possibility of drawing fouls. With a little random variation in terms of made layups and fouls, Ariza could be a solid bailout option instead of a negative presence.
Finally, Ariza also brings some off-ball movement that the offense lacked last year. As noted previously, Singleton almost never cut to the basket, even when the opportunities presented themselves. Ariza could stand to do more cutting, but this is still an improvement over Singleton. The clips below show Ariza finding cutting lanes in the horns set. This is important because the Wizards operated from that set a ton last year, so Ariza should be familiar with the baseline cutting angles.
Another positive in coming from New Orleans is that Ariza showed an ability to cut off of a post player. Obviously, this will be important because Ariza's cuts will help keep the pressure off of Nene and Kevin Seraphin in 2012-13.
Again, Ariza isn’t a great finisher on these cuts (151st in points per cutting possession), but even considering his mediocre performance, the average cutting possession is much more productive than any other type of half court possession. If Ariza can successfully play off of Wall’s drives and Nene and Seraphin’s post-ups, the entire offense will benefit.
Next season, Trevor Ariza's level of involvement in the offense could serve as a gauge for how well the offense is functioning overall. Ariza needs to be even more reliant on off-ball, low-skill possessions like spot-ups, cuts, and transition plays. Ideally, he should have well over half of his possessions coming from those plays, similar to how Kawhi Leonard functioned for the Spurs. The more involved he becomes in isolations and pick-and-rolls, the more likely something is malfunctioning elsewhere.