October 22, 2010
SI.com's NBA Enemy Lines
Washington Wizards
An opposing team's scout sizes up the Wizards

I have a lot of respect for Flip Saunders, and last year's disasters were beyond his control. I don't think the guys on this team have had a lot of self-control. This is a tough bunch with a very thin frontcourt, and they're going to have a hard time.

At first, Gilbert Arenas talked about how he was going to fit in and help No. 1 pick John Wall. Now you hear Arenas already looking ahead to when he's going to "move on" and all of the other kinds of things he always seems to be involving himself in. Having the ball made him so good three or four years ago, and it both helped and hurt the Wizards because he was just tossing up shots -- he makes them, they win; he misses them, they don't. He was an incredible talent who could score against anybody from all areas of the floor. But the team couldn't win big games with him doing that.

His injuries and suspension last year have left him untested at a high level for a long time. If he can't be his fun-loving self, is he going to be a cancer for them?

I doubt whether he can play off the ball. So much of his game is off the dribble, whether he's pulling up off the dribble and shooting, or getting by people on the drive. I don't see him as a catch-and-shoot guy at all, and he hasn't been a guy who works without the ball to come off screens. If he isn't scoring, then I don't know what else he gives you, because he's not a defender. I bet he struggles with John Wall having the ball in his hands.

You're going to see them trying to prove that Gilbert's healthy, and then there will be interest from another team willing to trade for him. Somebody out there is always looking for scoring, and if he's healthy, he can definitely score.

I bet it's uncomfortable for Wall because he's coming in there knowing that Arenas has been tainted and probably isn't happy to be sharing the ball. But as far as the coaching, this is a good situation for Wall. Flip has always been a point guard's coach -- he was a point guard himself and he has had point guards who did well. He has a diverse offensive playbook, and he puts the ball in the point guard's hands and lets him be the quarterback. Even Stephon Marbury played well for Flip in Minnesota, and then there was Terrell Brandon and Chauncey Billups.

They compare Wall to Isiah Thomas, and Isiah flourished under Chuck Daly, who ran traditional sets and plays. I think Flip will encourage Wall to run, especially considering the athletic big men they have. With Marbury, Flip ran a lot of controlled break and transition offense, and that's what I would expect here: quick-hitting, structured things that flow out of transition.

Kirk Hinrich can play shooting guard alongside Wall, and he can allow Wall to play off the ball a little bit. Hinrich is going to be a steadying influence on their backcourt. He'll be able to defend both positions and be on the floor in pressure situations where he can make sure the team follows the point guard's directions and gets into the plays. Defenses are going to try to harass Wall and see how well he can handle the pressure, and there will be times when Hinrich will bring the ball up and help the team get into whatever set they're going to run -- and he can do that without having the ball.

Hinrich is a tough guy, but I don't envision him being able to help turn them into a tougher team. Their big men aren't tough enough to follow Hinrich's example there.

Can they play Arenas, Wall and Hinrich together? That would be a tough lineup because they'll be so small. The one thing I don't see is them bringing Gilbert off the bench -- he could explode then.

Nick Young is a decent shooter, a three-point threat who hasn't had the chance to prove himself in big games because it's been so long since they've had any. Maybe Wall will bring out the best in him by delivering the ball to him in scoring situations ? if there are enough minutes for Young, that is.

At small forward, they can start Al Thornton or Josh Howard, depending on Howard's health after knee surgery. Thornton has an ugly shot, but he makes them. He has the size, length and athleticism. He puts the ball on the floor, gets to the rim and can even make his free throws. He competes hard, but once he gets the ball, he's a scorer and little else. Ultimately, that's going to make him replaceable because he won't help make a play for others.

Howard looked promising not long ago in Dallas. He had a lot of success early in his career and it looks like he couldn't handle it. But he's a talent who can put the ball on floor, shoot it, post up and defend. He could still be an impressive player and redeem himself, though he'll always have that cloud over his head.

Their frontcourt is long, thin and unproven. Andray Blatche is one of those guys with potential. Have people given him too much credit for his potential? Of course. He's disappointed far more often than he's impressed. I don't see him being able to contribute to a successful team. His shot selection is poor, and he doesn't seem to make a team-first effort. It's like he doesn't see anybody else out there playing with him, so as a scorer, he's talented enough to deserve the ball a lot, but he's not nearly good enough to take the team over the top. Maybe things will change now that he's getting older and they add better players. But the truth is, somebody's always going to want him, so they can move him.

I like Javale McGee's potential more than Blatche's, because McGee seems more reliable and coachable. One thing you won't have to worry about with McGee is that he'll bloat up in size. They can just focus on getting him up the floor and improving his post-up skills. He doesn't chase rebounds, though he does get the rebounds in his area. As a shot-blocker, he challenges people in his area and that's going to be his forte. He has decent hands and can finish, and maybe he can benefit from traditional point-guard play.

I don't believe in Yi Jianlian. He's a big man who can shoot off the bench, but he doesn't have the range to spread the floor out to the three-point line, and he's not strong enough to be a post-up player. He has a nice stroke but he's not athletic enough for his size to play the 3, and he's not a good enough rebounder or defender to get many minutes at the big spots. His only hope is to extend himself out to the three-point line as a specialist.

It would blow me away if they made the playoffs.

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