Bullets Fever

A blog and community website for the Washington Wizards and their fans.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Community Projection: Jarvis Hayes

It seems like it happens every year. Jarvis Hayes starts the year showing lots of promise, displaying strong shooting and instant offense. Then, invariably, Hayes breaks his kneecap and is gone for the rest of the year. His games played has gone down from 70 to 54 to 21 in his three NBA seasons. Hayes actually started many games over Caron Butler last season and played well, but he was lost for the season very early in the year again. This year, the Wizards could really use him back healthy.

Last Season: 21 games, 24.6 minutes, 9.3 points, 3.6 rebounds, 36.1 % three-point percentage

My Projection: 62 games, 21.3 minutes, 8.3 points, 3.7 rebounds, 39 % three-point percentage

With Stevenson and Antonio Daniels taking up most of the crunch-time minutes on the wing, I expect Hayes to see a slight drop in minutes, thereby leading to less point production. However, this drop in minutes will allow Hayes to play in more games this season. I think it's a little presumptuous to expect Hayes to play a full 82 games, but 62 games seems pretty reasonable to me.

Now, it's your turn. Predict Hayes' numbers in each of those categories.

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Community Projection: Antawn Jamison

Last year was quietly one of Jamison's best years, as he set a career high in rebounds while shooting really well from the field. His defense left a lot to be desired, but on the whole, Jamison was a valuable cog for the team. He continued to transition into a perimeter forward, averaging a career high in three-point attempts and nearly averaging a career low in free throw attempts per game. This makes it all the more incredible that Jamison was able to average a career-high in rebounds, and he was only 0.7 rebounds a game away from averaging a double-double.

What's in store this season for Jamison?

Last year: 20.5 points, 9.3 rebounds, 44.2 field goal percentage, 39.7 three point percentage

My Projection: 18.4 points, 8.2 rebounds, 46% field goal percentage, 41% three-point percentage

Considering that I'm projected Caron Butler to significantly improve his scoring numbers, I expect Jamison's numbers to drop off. Butler is going to take more shots this year, and while Jamison has never been a player to demand the ball, he will invariably have some of the shots he had last year taken away. I still expect Jamison to have very good percentages, and he will still be a very good rebounder, but I think next year will be the start of a decline in his scoring production.

Now, it's your turn. Predict Jamison's numbers in each of those categories.

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Songaila Out Three Months

This is very bad news for the Wizards. Darius Songaila's back troubles are ultimately going to lead to surgery to repair the herniated disc and will miss at least half the year. Andray Blatche better grow up in a hurry, because otherwise the Wizards are going to struggle again with their frontcourt depth.

Who knew that when Songaila missed the first practice in training camp that it would ever become so serious?

How big a deal is this news? What do the Wizards need to do to compensate?

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The Full Blog Preview List and Superlatives

The NBA Blog Previews are done, and we're all ready to start the year. Here's a complete list of the team previews. Major, major kudos go out to Jeff at Celtics Blog for organizing this huge project. Collective action like this is one of the reasons I'm proud to run an NBA blog.

Atlantic Division

Boston Celtics
(presented by Celticsstuff Live, Celtics Blog, and LOY's Palace) 48-34, 42-40, 40-42 respectively
New Jersey Nets
(presented by Nets Daily) 51-31
New York Knicks (presented by Bench Renaldo) 41-41
Philadelphia 76ers (presented by Passion and Pride) 47-35
Toronto Raptors (presented by Hoops Addict) 42-40

Central Division

Chicago Bulls
(presented by Blog a Bull) 55-27
Cleveland Cavaliers (presented by Yay! Sports) 58-24
Detroit Pistons (presented by Detroit Bad Boys and Need4Sheed) 55-27, 57-25
Indiana Pacers (presented by Donning Craig Sager's Suit) 43-39
Milwaukee Bucks (presented by 5 Point Bucks) 44-39

Southeast Division

Atlanta Hawks (presented by Impending Firestorm) 37-45
Charlotte Bobcats (presented by Bobcat Bonfire) 42-40
Miami Heat (presented by Crazy From the Heat) 54-28
Orlando Magic (presented by Believing in Magic) 45-37
Washington Wizards (presented by Some Wierdo) 50-32

Southwest Division

Dallas Mavericks (presented by Mavs Moneyball) 59-23
Houston Rockets (presented by Rockets Blast) 57-25
Memphis Grizzlies (presented by The Beale Street Beat) 45-37
New Orleans Hornets (presented by Hornets 24/7) 48-34
San Antonio Spurs (presented by Pounding the Rock) 58-24

Northwest Division

Denver Nuggets
(presented by The Nugg Doctor) 51-31
Minnesota Timberwolves (presented by I Heart KG) 42-40
Portland Trailblazers (presented by True Hoop) 25-30 wins
Seattle Supersonics (presented by Sonics Central) 44-46 wins
Utah Jazz (presented by Lowpost.net) 43-39

Pacific Division

Golden State Warriors
(presented by Lowpost.net and Golden State of Mind) 35-47, 41-41
Los Angeles Clippers (presented by Clips Nation) 52-30
Los Angeles Lakers (presented by Jones on the NBA, Forum Blue and Gold, and Showtime) 48-34, 49-33, and 49-33 respectively
Phoenix Suns (presented by Phoenix Suns Rising and Suns Gossip) 60-22, 82-0
Sacramento Kings (presented by Sactown Royalty) 50-32

All these previews were really great, but I can't help but hand out a few superlatives.

Most Valuable Preview: It's no secret that the NBA blogosphere looks up to Henry Abbott at True Hoop, and for anyone who read his Portland Trailblazers preview, it's easy to see why. Abbott's comprehensive and realistic preview shed new light into a team that many have misinterpreted over the years. Abbott's preview was among the longer ones, but it never felt like a bore. Blog A Bull's Chicago preview takes a distant second.

The Dick Vitale Award for Most Optimistic Preview: Wow, there are so many to choose from here. Passion and Pride confused many with his prediction of 47 wins for the Sixers, and Bobcat Bonfire's 42 win prediction prompted Detroit Bad Boys' Ian Cameron to say "If the Bobcats win 42 games next year, I'll buy Detroit Shock season tickets." In the end, Bench Renaldo takes the cake for predicting 41 wins for the New York Knicks. Somewhere, Larry Brown is poking his eyes out.

The Bill Walton Award for Most Pessimistic Preview: Honestly, no preview was overly pessimistic, hardly a suprise when you ask a bunch of team bloggers to preview their teams. If someone pointed a gun at my head, I'd probably say Crazy From the Heat's Miami preview takes this one. While Vivek predicts an improvement in wins, he goes into great length describing his worry that the Heat will become complacent after winnng a title.

The Charles Barkley Award for Most Entertaining Preview: So many to choose from again, but the clear answer has to be the joint Phoenix Suns preview by Phoenix Suns Rising and Suns Gossip. The two played off each other like Kornheiser and Wilbon, with Brian providing the hard analysis and Suns Gossip providing the commentary.

Most Creative Preview: Hands down, Jason Gurney at Lowpost.net takes this with his interactive Golden State Warriors preview. A distant second is the Utah Jazz preview.

Most Unique Preview: Tom over at SacTown Royalty takes this one for his 93 question preview of the Sacramento Kings to close things off. Talk about leaving nothing to be unanswered.

6th Man Award: This goes out to Skeets and Tas at The Basketball Jones and Howie at NBA Basketball and Other Unrelatedness for keeping up with the previews despite not writing one themselves. TBJ's podcasts were another great way to start the season, and Howie's doodles were an entertaining break from the hard coverage.

Rookie Previewer of the Month: I hope that I can say that I at least shared this award after only blogging for a month and a half. Also, big props to newcomers Donning Craig Sager's Suit, Clips Nation, The Beale Street Beat, and Bobcat Bonfire.

Coach Preview of the Month: Again, one last chance to give Jeff some mad props on this project. Like I said before, it makes me proud to run an NBA blog when I can work with other team bloggers to produce a collective project like this. This was all Jeff's creation, so he deserves a lot of credit for putting it all together.

With all the previews done, it's time to get the season started!

What was your favorite NBA Blog Preview?

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Monday, October 30, 2006

Community Projection: DeShawn Stevenson

In Orlando last season, Stevenson was a model of consistency, playing in all 82 games, and averaging 11 points a game. It's probable that the relatively high point total is a factor of playing in 32 minutes per game, a number even I doubt Stevenson will achieve this season. However, with Steveson's defense, he should stay on the floor for quite a while and even play key crunch time minutes.

Last Season: 32.3 minutes, 11.0 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 46% field goal percentage

My Projection: 26.7 minutes, 7.2 points, 2.7 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 48% field goal percentage

I don't expect Stevenson to do much scoring on this team. Orlando didn't have too many other options, so Stevenson averaged a solid amount of points in his time there. I don't really expect that to continue, but I think Stevenson will get a ton of open jumpers, which explain my projected jump in field goal percentage. No matter how many points he scores, Stevenson will see plenty of time because of his defense and toughness on the wing.

Now, it's your turn. Predict Stevenson's numbers in each of those categories.

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It's Official: Thomas to Start Opening Night

Raise your hand if you saw this one coming.

After ending the season out of the Wizards' rotation for their playoff series with Cleveland, Etan Thomas has officially been named the starting center over incumbent Brendan Haywood for the season's opener.

To say this was a shock is definetly an understatement.

This presents an interesting situation for Haywood. Les Bullez says that it's about time to get Haywood out of there.
Maybe Haywood just isn’t that good and with 4 scorers on the floor, they need defense and rebounding and not a 7 footer who loves to take fadeaway jumpers.
Haywood has struggled because he doesn't really fit the Wizards' new up-tempo style. When he played alongside Michael Jordan, Haywood was perfect because all he had to do was focus on rebounding and defense in the half-court. As long as he took up space, it made Jordan's job easier. Now, however, he tends to bog down the Wizards' high-octane attack, especially offensively. He hasn't really developed a good post game and doesn't run the floor as well as he should.

At the same time, Haywood's defensive ability is significantly underrated. His length frustrates many centers, particularly Zydrunas Ilgauskas, he of the Wizards' Game 1 opponent. As a defensive rebounder, Haywood is pretty decent as long as he maintains concentration. The problem, once again, is that he just doesn't fit into the Wizards' style.

In Haywood's defense (I guess), reader and brother Josh offers this comment.
did you hear etan has been named starting center? I don't like it, he's better suited coming off the bench a junkyard
I'm guessing that if Josh were to elaborate, he'd point to Etan's durability issues since he signed the big contract in 2004. More specifically, I think he'd also say that Thomas is best suited as a change-of-pace guy a junkyard dog type who comes in during spurts and gives the Wizards energy and tenacity up front. The argument is that if you start Thomas, you lose some of the spark and raise the issue of durability. I feel like this is true, but I also think Thomas is more durable than it seems. He missed half of 2005, but has played in at least 67 games in every other year. Last season, he just simply wasn't good enough to get a regular rotation spot. From what I've been reading, it appears like he actually earned the job, showing that he's probably playing at his highest level in years. Essentially, Thomas' size is a much bigger issue than his lack of durability.

Ultimately, Eddie Jordan's decision culminates two years of washing away the Michael Jordan era and ushering in a whole new type of team. Haywood was the last relic of that team, and now that Thomas is starting, his role will be reduced. I still think the Wizards should hold onto Haywood for his size, but I'd give most of the minutes to Thomas. I'm a little worried about how Haywood will respond to being a reserve, but considering both guys should see the court plenty, I would be disappointed if he continues to hold a grudge. There's really no reason to trade him, as he's a 7 footer that has an affordable salary. I just hope his attitude will be better than in the past.

What's your take on the announcement? Is Thomas really a better option than Haywood?

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Community Projection: Caron Butler

Butler struggled a bit to start the season, but really came into his own once he was permanently inserted into the starting lineup halfway through the season. Other than Arenas, Butler was arguably the team's most indespendible player, as evidenced by the Wizards' late-season swoon without him in the lineup. He's completely over the thumb injury that bothered him late in the year and is all ready to have a breakout season.

Last Season: 75 games, 17.6 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.7 steals

My Projection: 79 games, 21.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 2.1 steals

I've said many times that Caron is going to have a big year, and I think 22, 7, and 2 steals does the trick. Despite being misused for one half of the year and injured for much of the other, Butler put up really good numbers last year. Assuming the thumb problems are behind him, he'll significantly improve on those numbers after a year in the offensive system. With DeShawn Stevenson around, Butler won't have to concentrate as much on defense, which will give him more energy to be a real offensive force.

Now, it's your turn. Predict Butler' numbers in each of those categories.

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Sunday, October 29, 2006

Community Projection: Antonio Daniels

It's tough to know where I go with Daniels. On the one hand, the first four months of last year were basically a lost cause, so it's hard to base a projection on last year's stats. On the other hand, he's getting up there in age and may not need to play as many minutes with DeShawn Stevenson around. I feel like the two will end up cancelling each other out and his stats will look a lot like last year's.

Last year: 9.7 points/3.6 assists/28.9 minutes/84.5 free throw percentage

My projections:
9.1 points/3.4 assists/25 minutes played per game/86% free throw percent

A slight drop in points, but mostly because of a slight drop in minutes from nearly 29 a game down to 25. I think Stevenson will steal some of the crunch time minutes that Daniels dominated last year, depending on the Wizards' opponent. He'll be 31 this year, so as long as he stays healthy, I expect most of his other stats to remain constant. I've heard that AD is in great shape in camp, which could affect his numbers if he can get minutes. Overall, about the same as last year.

Now, it's your turn. Predict Daniels' numbers in each of those categories.

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My Fantasy Team

I'm participating in the Hoops Addict Fantasy Basketball league with other blogs like Yay! Sports, Give Me the Rock, Need4Sheed, Rising Suns, NBA Basketball and Other Unrelatedness, and Celtics Blog. It's an all-points league with 24 owners and 10 players per team. We drafted Sunday morning and this is who I came up with.

Team Gheorghe's Giants

1-17: Tim Duncan
2-32: Rasheed Wallace
3-65: Rafer Alston
4-80: Caron Butler
5-113: Channing Frye
6-128: Kevin Martin
7-161: Al Jefferson
8-176: Devin Harris
9-209: Salim Stoudamire
10-224: Sean May

(Stoudamire has since been dropped and Mikhael Pietrus has been added)

I screwed up by taking too much time on my second and third round picks, as I definetly didn't want Sheed or Alston that early. Other than that, I like my draft. I expect Duncan to have a huge year, and his percentage problems don't exist in this league. I love Butler in the 4th and I love my 6-8 picks of Martin, Jefferson, and Harris. One of those three will be a fantasy stud this year. I just wish I had Jermaine O'Neal and Tony Parker instead of Alston and Sheed.

What do you think of my fantasy team? Keep in mind there are 24 owners.

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Community Projection: Gilbert Arenas

After a hellacious weekend with the computer, I'm back. Apparently, I didn't miss much with the Wizards, as Eddie Jordan still hasn't announced who will start at center for the opener against Cleveland. I've already covered my view on this here and here, but we'll see what EJ does.

In the meantime, we're going to start our community player projections this week. I was hoping to start over the weekend, but couldn't because of obvious reasons. With so little time, I'm going to do multiple ones a day.

We begin with Gilbert Arenas, the only person we can begin with.

(As a quick aside, this profile of Gilbert Arenas is a must-read, as is this reaction by Wizznutzz)

Last season, Arenas improved all his numbers except for his rebounding stats. He went from 25.5 points to 29.3, improved his assists numbers from 5.5 to 6.1, and he shot more free throws per game (10) than ever before.

Last year: 29.3 points/3.5 rebounds/6.1 assists/36% 3 point percentage/10 free throw attempts per game

My projection: 29.7 points/4.0 rebounds/7.2 assists/38% 3 point percentage/12 free throw attempts per game

While Arenas has vowed to score 100 points against Portland and Phoenix, I don't think his scoring will increase that much with Butler's projected emergence. He is still very young, so I see improvement across the board, especially in his assists numbers. If Jarvis Hayes can stay healthy and DeShawn Stevenson can hit those mid-range jumpers, it will mean more assists for Agent Zero. I also see an increase in free throw attempts per game.

Now, it's your turn. Predict Arenas' numbers in each of those categories.

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Friday, October 27, 2006

Major Computer Problems are Holding me Back

My computer has a virus and it's causing me to completely re-install Microsoft XP. Basically, this means I'm probably out of commission until tomorrow at the earliest.

When I come back, we're going to have some real solid Wizards coverage to start the season. Be sure to tune in!

In the meantime, wish me luck with my computer.



Wednesday, October 25, 2006

So Eddie, What's the Rotation?

[As a sidenote, be sure to check out the must-see Bullets Fever team preview here and here.]

The Wizards closed the preseason with a 110-105 win over the Hawks and a 101-94 loss to the Pistons, meaning that they ended with a 4-4 record.

Interestingly enough, when you look back at the 5 things I said to watch out for, they were either answered very quickly or not answered at all. Stevenson took the shooting guard spot right away. Songaila's injury raises questions about the division of minutes in the frontcourt, we still don't know about defense or Gilbert Arenas, and the mentality really was only a factor early on.

The two biggest stories were ones I didn't anticipate.

First, it sounds like Etan Thomas is going to start over Brendan Haywood at center. At the very least, Thomas appears to have the upper hand after a really strong performance against Detroit. 3 blocked shots in 12 minutes speaks loudly, even if it was the preseason. From what I've observed, it doesn't appear like this is just a message to Haywood anymore. Both players have had pretty good preseasons, so for Thomas to wrestle the job from Haywood, he had to really impress Jordan. From the sound of it, he has done just that.

When I went on the Hoops Addict podcast, I talked about how Thomas may be the key to the season for the Wizards. Of all the guys on the roster, Thomas is the closest thing to the 4/5 athletic center that an up-tempo team really needs. When Haywood is in the game, he slows down the Wizards' offensive sets and isn't all that great in transitioning from defense to the fast break. If Thomas is all the way back to his pre-contract level of 2004, the Wizards will be a significantly better team. He's faster than Haywood, a better rebounder than Haywood, and, from the looks of it, a better defensive center than Haywood. If you ask me, the news that Thomas has earned the starting job is fantastic for Wizards fans.

If Haywood does indeed start on the bench, I wonder whether the Wizards are admitting to themselves that he has wasted their time. Haywood doesn't strike me as the type of player who would want to come off the bench. He doesn't provide the same type of quick spark that Thomas could provide, instead relying on defensive consistency and a stabilizing presence in the middle. Thomas and James Lang's preseasons may indicate that the team is heading in another direction inside. I severely doubt Haywood will be traded--after all, he's the only 7 footer on the team--but he may have reduced minutes.

The one trade I'd like to see happen would be with Memphis. The Grizzlies have long been searching for a traditional big guy in the middle, and they have classic tweenter Stromile Swift stuck behind Gasol (when healthy) and the rest of the frontcourt. Swift is a miscast in Memphis, but his style is perfectly suited for the Wizards up-tempo game. Wouldn't a Haywood for Swift swap make some sense? The problem is salary, but the Wiz could throw in a guy like Calvin Booth or Donnell Taylor to even things up.

Second, and more significantly, the Wizards have had significantly more success with the starters in the game than with the reserves. Preseason games have followed the same type of script. Starters give Wizards the lead, reserves cough up the lead, rinse and repeat. There are two ways of looking at this. One way is to say that it doesn't matter much, because the players on the floor were guys like Donnell Taylor and Andray Blatche, players who aren't a part of the regular rotation anyeay. The other way is to say that it does matter, because injuries and the long season are both going to force these guys into action. I tend to lean closer to the second view.

I'm particularly concerned about Andray Blatche. After a great summer league, he looked lost this preseason. The Wizards let go of Jared Jeffries partly because they believed Blatche could at least help to fill the void. After this preseason, I'm not so sure he's ready to play much at all. Making matters worse is the Songaila injury, which sounds like it could bother him all year. With Songaila out, the Wizards need Blatche even more than before. Up front, the rotation now is Haywood, Thomas, and Michael Ruffin. That's not going to get it done. Blatche was supposed to fill the void, but it appears he's not ready yet.

The lone pleasant surprise deep off the bench has been Roger Mason, a personal favorite of mine back when he played for Montrose Christian and Virginia. Mason's a local boy if you've ever seen one, and it looks like he's making Donnell Taylor expendable. If he can carry over his strong preseason to the regular season, he could even make Jarvis Hayes expendable. He's a strong shooter in rhythm, has international playing experience, and has worked hard to become a better ball-handler. If he can keep this up, it stings the blow of passing on Marcus Williams and Rajon Rondo in the draft.

Here's my projected rotation. I'm assuming Mike Hall is the final cut, as he's injured and Mason pretty much makes him redundant. I don't imagine they'll cut James Lang considering the lack of frontcourt depth, so Hall is a pretty logical cut.

PG: Arenas/Daniels/Taylor
SG: Stevenson/Mason
SF: Butler/Hayes/Blatche
PF: Jamison/Songaila/Ruffin
C: Thomas/Haywood/Lang/Booth

Ideally, they'd cut Calvin Booth, but he is under contract. If Songaila wasn't hurt, I'd cut Lang, but with the injury, Hall makes perfect sense. Lang's been good this preseason and if the Wizards decide to trade Haywood, he may end up playing a role.

What's been the biggest story of the Wizards' preseason in your mind? Do you think the Wizards have shown progress in solving their most important questions?

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My Wizards Preview is up!

Check out my Washington Wizards preview for NBA Blog Previews here.

Feel free to discuss it either here or there.

[edit]: It's been a really hectic week with two midterms and such, but now that it's over, I'm going to re-post the entire thing here. Enjoy!

The psyche of a Washington basketball supporter is one that is unlike any other in the NBA. Let’s consider the history. One playoff series win from the end of the Bullets Fever era of 78-79 to 2005. No seasons with more than 45 wins since 1979. 10 different head coaches in the last 10 years. One ridiculous name change. These are just a few of the things that drive a Washington fan crazy.

But it’s not just that the Washington franchise has been in a constant state of mediocrity for the better part of the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s. Unlike their mediocre brethren in the Clippers, the Wizards have always had some sort of a novelty among the league. Consider that former stars like Spencer Haywood, Gus Williams, Moses Malone, Bernard King, Rod Strickland, Mitch Richmond, Charles Oakley, and, of course, Michael Jordan all teased the Bullets/Wizards with their star power at the end of their careers. On top of that, whenever the Wizards got it right with a promising young player, they either got hurt (Chris Webber, Gheorghe Muresan), were traded too early (Manute Bol, Muggsy Bogues, Rasheed Wallace, Webber, Richard Hamilton), or underperformed (Juwan Howard, Calbert Cheaney, Kwame Brown). For years, Washington D.C. was essentially the league’s one-stop shop for aging veterans and underachieving youngsters.

If you ever wonder why the guys at Wizznutzz act like they do, try being a fan of Les Bullez for your entire life.

Why do I bring this all up? Because for the first time in ages, the Wizards actually have a real team that should be taken seriously. Sure, Gilbert Arenas is a strange dude, but the guy can play, and he has a ton of help on the court and in the front office. There’s reason for the hometown faithful to be excited about this team, so while I may not be as crazily optimistic as some of the previews so far, I’ll certainly struggle at times to contain my excitement.

Last Year/Offseason

When we last left the Wizards, they came out on the short end of a compelling six-game series against the Cleveland LeBrons…I mean Cavaliers. This loss followed a season where the Wizards were like the yo-yo in Gilbert Arenas’ head; up again, down again, up again, down again, and back up again. Early-season wins against San Antonio and Detroit were the bookends for a five-game losing streak. After falling to 12-18, the Wiz picked it up and put themselves in a prime position to match their 45 wins from the year before until a late 5 game losing streak pushed them down to 42 wins. You never knew which team was going to show up last year, but you knew they would be fun to watch

In the offseason, the Wizards said goodbye to Jared “The Enigma” Jeffries, letting him go to New York, where he will baffle Isaiah Thomas when healthy. In his place, the Wizards signed Darius Songalia from the Bulls and stole DeShawn Stevenson from the Magic for the league minimum. In the draft, the Wizards took two random guys from Europe who both won’t contribute this season.

The Strength of the Offense

It’s obvious that the Wizards’ strength is on the offensive end of the floor. When you have the highest scoring trio in the league for the second consecutive season, your offense is doing something right. What makes Washington particularly consistent offensively is their ability to get to the free throw line. Arenas, Caron Butler, and Antonio Daniels in particular do such a great job of getting to the charity stripe off the dribble without turning the ball over. This allowed the Wizards to finish sixth in the league in scoring ability despite finish 21st in true shooting percentage.

The great thing about this ability is that it doesn’t go away from night to night. Teams will have games where their jump shots aren’t falling. However, because the Wizards attack the basket so well off the dribble, they will rarely be subjected to off nights offensively.

Making this offense even scarier is the potential return of Jarvis Hayes from knee surgery. Without Hayes, the Wizards had trouble kicking the offense into full throttle unless each of the Big Three had monster games. Hayes adds a new dimension to the attack with his instant offense off the bench. He gives the Wizards a spot-up shooter on the wing that will benefit from Arenas’ penetration. Now, if only he could stay healthy…

The Weakness of the Defense

It’s no secret that the Wizards were poor defensively last year. They ranked 23rd in defensive efficiency last year, a ranking they need to raise about 8-10 spots in order to be a real contender.

It’s very easy to judge based on the Cleveland series that the Wizards need a physical, defensive big man to ever get to the next level. While that certainly was a problem in the playoffs, the reality is that there are bigger problems than that with this defense. Getting a big man like Joel Pryzbilla in free agency would not have been the best way to fix the problem.

The biggest problem was that the Wizards allowed far too many open looks at the basket in games. Had the Cavaliers’ shooters been playing at the top of their games, the result of the series could have been worse. For all of Arenas’ strengths offensively, he tends to drift off his man when he’s defending off the ball, allowing them open shot after open shot. Butler struggled with this problem as well, although he’s a much better on the ball defender than Agent Zero. While they both have been extremely dedicated to improving this in training camp, we have yet to see it translate to actual game play, although Arenas’ insistent to guard LeBron in the teams’ preseason game against Cleveland is certainly a good sign.

The other major weakness was on-the-ball defense. Jeffries was hyped as a great perimeter defender, but his sole value was his versatility rather than his man-to-man defense. Butler is a tough defender, but he lapses a lot of the time. DeShawn Stevenson should help, but on the ball defense remains a significant worry.

The Verdict

Many people have the Wizards pegged for a similar season, with a possible drop out of the playoffs. Naturally, I disagree with those predictions. There are those who wonder aloud whether the defense can ever be decent, and while those are legitimate claims, we need not look further than Dallas last season and Seattle the season before to illustrate that teams can improve their defense without making significant changes to the team’s core. In addition, the Wizards had the point differential of a 46-47 win team last year, and I don’t expect them to be as unlucky again. They’ll win more of those close games this season.

I don’t think the Wizards can contend for the title, but I think they will improve on last season. Stevenson gives the Wizards much-needed toughness on the wing, and Hayes’ return will make the offense even better. If Darius Songaila can come back healthy, the Wizards’ frontcourt will also be deeper than before. Throw in anything from Andray Blatche and a healthy return of Etan Thomas, and the frontcourt suddenly isn’t so shallow anymore.

Finally, I expect Caron Butler to have a monster year this season. It took the Wizards half a year to figure out how to use him effectively, and it was no accident that the Wizards’ 5 game losing streak at the end of the season occurred without Butler in the lineup. If he can stay healthy, he should approach 20 points a game and provide strong perimeter defense. It feels like we’ve been waiting on Butler for ages, but with a starting spot ensured and increased familiarity with Eddie Jordan’s offense, I see Butler finally showing his full potential.

There are certainly concerns, yes. The Wizards still aren’t particularly deep and I am concerned about the frontcourt depth, the defense, and the lack of a pure point guard. In addition, Orlando and their young players scare the crap out of me, and Miami is always the Wizards’ kryptonite. However, in the end I think this team will make the city go crazy with basketball fever for the first time in over a quarter of a century.

Predicted Record: 50-32, fourth seed in the East

[image via Yay! Sports]

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Monday, October 23, 2006

Analyzing the Competition

It's safe to say that few championship teams had a stranger preceeding 12 months than the Miami Heat. After a heartbreaking 7 game loss in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Detroit Pistons in 2005, executive Pat Riley took the unprecedented step of overhauling the team. Gone were Damon Jones, Eddie Jones, Rasual Butler, and Stan Van Gundy (eventually). In their place came Jason Williams, James Posey, Antoine Walker, Gary Payton, and Riley. Experts acknowledged the increased talent level, but wondered aloud why the Heat would blow up a team that was a few points and (arguably) a Dwayne Wade injury away from the finals. After struggling at points through a 52 win season, these experts' opinions seem to be vindicated, especially after a difficult 6 game series against the clearly inferior Chicago Bulls. After getting blown out at home in Game 1 against New Jersey, the Heat suddenly flipped a long-lost switch. Wade showed his superstar quality, the role players finally filled their roles, and the Heat ran all the way to an NBA title, defeating playoff favorites Detroit and Dallas along the way. Now, with the same team back from last year, the Heat have to be considered a threat to repeat their title performance.

Additions: None
Subtractions: None

The Heat are the rare championship team that returns completely intact. Alonzo Mourning re-signed with the team after being wooed by San Antonio, Gary Payton decided to come back for one more year, and Riley, after a long period of deliberation, is back as well. It speaks to the cohesivness of the Heat that none of their players bolted when the money called over the offseason.

Of course, this also speaks to the veteran nature of the team, which is probably going to end up being Miami's Achilles Heel. Other than Wade, who should become an MVP favorite this season, and Udonis Haslem, the core of Miami's team is old. Shaq is going to be 35 this season, and all indications are that he was out of shape entering training camp. Antoine Walker, James Posey, Jason Williams, Mourning, and Payton are all 29 or older. We can't really expect those players to put up career seasons at this point considering their ages.

Ultimately, the regular season doesn't matter much for Miami. They could have sleepwalked to a top 3 finish last year, and considering that their toughest competition, Detroit, lost one of their top players in the offseason, the Heat should not worry about falling out of the top seeds in the East. This is a veteran club, so I'm not too concerned that they will suddenly lose the motivation to win.

But will they win the title? Let's consider their playoff run last year. They benefited from playing a Pistons team that was completely out of gas in order to even get to the NBA Finals. While Miami certainly played well to win that series, the Pistons certainly didn't offer much competition. Had Detroit not fallen into a sudden offensive funk in the playoffs, we may not even be talking about Miami. Then, in the finals, the Heat needed a superhuman effort from Wade, with a little help from the referees, to defeat Dallas. Again, while I'm not saying Miami didn't play well, the result could have been very different in that series.

In the end, I think Miami will have a similar season to last year. Any drop-offs from the veterans should be made up by the continued maturation of Wade. I expect Wade to carry the Heat like LeBron James carried Cleveland last year. The injury to Williams is troublesome, but it may end up giving the Heat more depth than they had come playoff time last year.

However, I don't expect them to win the title. Someone will run circles around them and knock them out in the Eastern Conference Finals or in the NBA Finals. I'd say look elsewhere to find your 2007 NBA Champion.

Projected Record: 53-29

Crazy From the Heat previewed Miami for the NBA Blog Previews and predicts a 54 win season, but he won't go out on a limb and predict a repeat.

Here goes that three letter word again…The one that’ll be synonymous with Miami all season long…A-G-E.

All of us can remember a situation in most any sport where one of the great ones fell victim to “father time”. Obviously it’s one thing to play injured, knowing in the back of your mind that soon enough you’ll be back to form…But it’s another story when you’re facing opposition every single night that’s bigger, quicker, stronger, and last longer.

He goes on to say that he hopes the Heat can use their experience to outsmart their faster opponents once again, but is unsure whether this will actually happen. I'm with him on this concern. I'm not sure Miami will be able to outsmart their opponents in a league that benefits the quicker players more and more each year.

Think I screwed this one up? Let me know. How many wins do you think Miami will have this year?

Back Wednesday with my season preview for the NBA Blog Previews.

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Sunday, October 22, 2006

Weekend Links

It's been a busy weekend for me, so it's probably a good time to dump some links on you guys.
  • The DC Sports Bog has a video of Wizards players showing off the new road unis. We know Gilbert Arenas is not a fan of the new unis, and it appears other members of the blogosphere aren't so high on them either. I think it's really funny how so many Wizards fans are looking to embrace their past in their uniforms. It's not like Washington basketball has a tradition of excellence. Still, I think the uniforms are a little excessive.
  • The Basketball Jones dropped their Southeast Division preview podcast earlier in the week, with Dan Steinberg as the Wizards' guest of honor. His prediction is 47 wins. On Wednesday, you'll see if I'm above or below that number.
  • Finally, I found this video of the team having fun in the airport terminal. The video may center around Jared Jeffries, but the unintentional (and intentional) comedy is pure gold.

How entertaining is Gilbert Arenas' blog?

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Friday, October 20, 2006

Blog Preview Roundup

I've been really slow keeping up with these, which is not a good thing. Initially, I was going to do what lowpost.net has been doing and post a preview along with the one on the NBA Blog Preview site, but it just hasn't worked out. Anyway, a roundup of the latest previews.

Central Division

Chicago Bulls
Cleveland Cavaliers [Yay! Sports]: 58-24
Detroit Pistons [Detroit Bad Boys]: 55-27
Detroit Pistons [Need4Sheed]: 57-25
Indiana Pacers [Donning Craig Sager's Suit]: 43-39
Milwaukee Bucks [5 Point Bucks]: 44-38

Northwest Division

Denver Nuggets [The Nugg Doctor]:
Minnesota Timberwolves [I Heart KG]: 42-40
Portland Trailblazers [True Hoop]: 25-30 wins
Seattle Supersonics [Sonics Central]: 45-37
Utah Jazz [Lowpost.net]: 43-39

So here we go. That's 23 bloggers and only 2 losing records predicted. Hardly surprising, but still interesting nonetheless.

Upcoming are the Southeast Teams, and you know who that includes. My preview is dropping next Thursday, so stay tuned for that.

Anything I should keep in mind for my preview? What needs to be mentioned?

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As Expected, Songaila's Injury Worse Than We Thought

The Washington Times is reporting that Darius Songaila could miss up to a month of the regular season with hisback injury that was nagging him prior to the start of training camp. According to John N. Mitchell, Songaila has a pinched nerve in his back suffered at the FIBA World Championships that hasn't gotten better.
Washington Wizards forward Darius Songaila could miss a month or more because of a nagging back injury, according to a source with knowledge of the situation...
The 6-foot-9 Songaila was expected to miss the start of the season. A source said yesterday the Wizards believe he "might be out for a significant block" of time, possibly beyond Thanksgiving.
When asked if Songaila, who was diagnosed with a pinched nerve in his back, would be ready to play when the Wizards opened the season in Cleveland on Nov. 1, the source said, "No way."
As I expected, the injury is worse than everyone thought. I've wondered why Songaila wasn't in there playing at all, because I remembered Ivan Carter reporting on the first day of training camp that the injury wasn't serious. This raises concerns about Songaila, because he doesn't exactly have the reputation as a durable player.

This in particular is very concerning.
The Wizards have been closely monitoring Songaila's rehabilitation. That rehab is not going well, a source said.
The inability to treat the injury has caused concerns that the injury might be more significant than originally thought. Surgery hasn't been discussed, however.
"Every time he gets his treatment he makes progress for a day or two and then he's right back at square one with all the pain," the source said. "The treatment hasn't been working and I expect that they're going to have to try something else on it."
Back injuries should never be treaded lightly, and this injury sounds a lot more serious than initially thought. This is a pretty big loss for the Wizards, because they're right where they were last year in terms of frontcourt depth. Songaila should hopefully get back by Thanksgiving, but in the meantime, Andray Blatche needs to grow up quickly in order to give the Wizards' frontcourt a shot in the arm. Hopefully, Etan Thomas can also continue to play solid minutes until Songaila gets back.

What's your take on the injury? How will it affect the Wizards in the early going?

Gold Jerseys?

Via the DC Sports Bog, the Wizards are all set to unveil all new gold alternate road jerseys. Here's what they'll look like.

I'm not sure what to think of these, so I'm throwing it out to you guys. By the way, I love the gold "Go All In" slogan in the bottom left corner. Clearly, going all-in requires gold lettering...

What do you think about the new jerseys? Good? Bad? Is gold going to work with this team?

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Thursday, October 19, 2006

Analyzing the Competition

The Denver Nuggets entered the 2005/06 season with very high expectations. They closed the previous season on an absolute tear, and with a budding star in Carmelo Anthony and a solid cast of surrounding parts, many expected them to be a dark horse challenger for the NBA title. In the end, they became yet another example of a team over-hyped in the preseason because of a hot finish in the previous year. The Nuggets suffered many injuries and were forced to rely on Carmelo Anthony to save them time after time. Marcus Camby and Kenyon Martin each missed 26 games, but surprisingly, the Nuggets didn't seem to miss them much, posting winning records in their absences. Ultimately, the weakness of the Northwest Division allowed the Nuggets to get a division title and the 3 seed, but they were clobbered by the Clippers in 5 games in the first round of the playoffs.

Additions: JR Smith (Trade-Chicago), Joe Smith (Trade-Milwaukee), Yakhouba Diawara (International)
Subtractions: Greg Buckner (FA-Dallas), Ruben Patterson (Trade-Milwaukee), Francisco Elson (FA-San Antonio)

This team could go in a ton of different directions, which makes them so hard to predict. On the one hand, if Carmelo continues to mature, if Kenyon Martin, Marcus Camby, and Nene stay healthy, if J.R. Smith becomes a star, and if the Nuggets find a way to find a shooter at the deadline, they could be as good as the San Antonio-Phoenix-Dallas trio. However, if Carmelo fails to develop defensively, if Camby misses 26 games again, if Martin continues his feud with George Karl, if Andre Miller goes down, and if J.R. Smith can't step in at the shooting guard, they could find themselves deep in the lottery.

Tired of those run-on sentences. It gets better. Denver's record was ultimately tied to the weakness of the Northwest Division. If Utah can stay healthy, if Seattle's bigs improve, and if Mike James and Randy Foye can complement Kevin Garnett, the Nuggets' road will be even tougher. They could legitimately be first in the division, or they could slip to fourth if everything goes wrong. Anything is possible with this club.

Most experts seem to think that Denver will have a similar year to last year. However, I actually think they will be worse. Denver has the worst front office this side of New York City. It feels like whoever is in charge right now is building the team more like a fantasy club than a real NBA team. The Nuggets have a lot of big names with Melo, K-Mart, Miller, Camby, Nene, and J.R. Smith, but they just don't fit together. Martin and Nene play the same position, Camby keeps getting hurt, and Miller can't shoot, meaning Carmelo has to do it all alone. Those contracts they gave to Nene and Reggie Evans were outrageously stupid. How many teams were really lining up for Nene? Did he really deserve 60 million over 6 years coming off his knee surgery.

The problem, of course, boils down to a lack of shooters. Opponents will just slow down the break, pack it in inside, and make Denver beat them with jumpers. If anything, Denver is an even worse outside shooting team this year. They replaced their best shooter, Greg Buckner, with Smith, a slashing, athletic guard. Getting Smith for nothing was a no-brainer, but they could really have used a shooter along the lines of Jason Terry, Peja Stojakovic, or Matt Harpring (who would have been a great fit). Right now, all they have is DerMarr Johnson, and they only brought him back reluctantly.

Considering how strange last year was, you never know with this team. But with the bottom of the Western Conference improving, I think it's more likely Denver misses the playoffs than makes it.

Projected Record: 39-43

The Nugg Doctor, the premier Denver Nuggets blogger on the net, previewed Denver's season for the NBA Blog Previews a while back. He predicts a 51-31 record and a second-round playoff appearance.
When you talk about the potential depth of the Nuggets playoff run this season you have to keep a few things in mind. First, The Nuggets are a team that is searching for an identity. They have the talent, the coach, the superstar, and the city of Denver behind them. They know what it takes to make the playoffs from the last three years, but it will be what they have learned from the first round disappointments in those three years that gets them to second round this season. The additions Nuggets management has made should make this team improve, and I think that and the maturation process of Carmelo Anthony should be able to get this team to the second round at least.
I love the Nugg Doctor's blog and his historical glimpses on Hoops Addict, but I have to respectfully disagree with him here. I think this sounds too much like preseason optimism talk. If anything, I think they took a step back this offseason. While they may have improved from a talent perspective, I don't think the pieces fit together. They need shooters and instead locked up two power forwards, traded for another, and brought in an unproven slasher to start on the wing. I don't think those moves improve the team at all.

In the end, our very disagreement proves that Denver is the toughest team to predict in the Association. They could be really good, really bad, or anywhere in between.

Think I screwed this one up? Let me know. How many wins do you see Denver getting this season?

Also see the last "Analyzing the Competition," Chicago.

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Gilbert Arenas Is Not Quirky

I feel like I'm beating a dead horse here, but I wouldn't be a good Wizards blogger if I didn't mention this blog post by Michael Lee on Wizards Insider. Apparently, Gilbert Arenas does not like being called "quirky" and thinks his actions are normal.

"What is quirky?" Arenas asked me, seeking a definition. "Why do people always call me quirky?"

I told Gilbert that "quirky" is a nice way of saying he's special; that people call him quirky because, well, "you're a little different."

"What are you talking about?" Arenas said. "I'm not different!"

Brendan Haywood, sitting about 10 feet away, quickly lifted his head and said, "You are different, Gilbert."

"No I'm not. What makes me different?" he asked.

I tried to come up with all the reasons that I have labeled him quirky and eccentric in my time covering him. Arenas is often painted as a bit of a goofball by those of us in media. I know that I've helped contribute to the quirky label - but so has he. C'mon, Sports Illustrated dubbed him the 'Wizard of Odd' with good reason. I'm embarassed to admit that I never thought that I'd need to prepare myself to have a discussion with Arenas about what makes him weird. I figured some things are universally understood. Sky is to blue as Gilbert Arenas is to quirky.

I kind of covered my take in the comments section of Lee's blog entry, but I think Gilbert really doesn't feel the need to fall under any sort of classification. He's not concerned with his image like so many athletes are, but I also think that he legitimately does get tired of being labeled "quirky." In a perfect world, I think Gilbert Arenas just wants to be classified as "Gilbert Arenas." With that being said, I think that Arenas is a media members' dream, and that he, on some level, understands that.

Most of the complaints are mere frustration, but Arenas makes some interesting points at the end.

I told him that most competitiors don't break stuff in the locker room. Arenas then got defensive about how players get certain reputations in the league. He takes exception the labels that players around the league receive. He asked how certain players are called hotheads for being emotional when they lose, but others are called passionate and fiery - for doing the same things - if they win. I told him that winning is air freshener for you flaws in this league.

"That's not right," Arenas said. "My first few years in the league, I was called a 'hothead.' Now
that I'm winning, I'm 'quirky.' I don't get it."

This complaint is definetly valid, but it's the type of thing that is never going to go away. As Lee says, in the eyes of the sports media world, winning cures all. I can understand Arenas' frustration, however. How would you like going from a "hothead" to being "quirky" or "wierd." It's definetly an odd jump to make.

Overall, I think we need to remember just how young Arenas is. He's going to have some instances where his immaturity shines through. This seems to be one of those instances. Deep down, I think Arenas is a little more insecure than most, considering that he's been doubted at every level of his basketball career. This just seems like another step in his maturity. I think we'll see a return of charismatic, unique Gilbert Arenas very soon.

How exactly would you characterize Gilbert Arenas? If "quirky" isn't the best word, what is?

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Point-Counterpoint: The Starting Center

I'm going to start a feature here called "Point-Counterpoint." I'm going to take a look at a controversial issue regarding the Wizards, present both point of views, and ultimately make a final decision. The cool thing about this, however, is that I’ll have the two sides arguing against each other directly, meaning that we’re really just going inside someone’s head, and since it’s always fun to simulate fake conversations, we’re going to do that in this feature.

The first topic: Who starts at center for the Wizards? Brendan Haywood, or Etan Thomas? Let’s go inside Eddie Jordan’s head. Try to imagine two little fairies of Haywood and Thomas popping up on Jordan’s shoulders if you can.

Eddie Jordan:
Who should I start at center this season? Arenas, Butler, Jamison, Stevenson, and who else?

Brendan Haywood fairy: Geez Eddie, the decision’s easy. I’ve started for this team since 2003. I even started for Michael Freaking Jordan! Why is this even a competition?

Etan Thomas fairy:
Wrong you are, Mr. Haywood
Steal your spot on the floor, I could
All your skills are still the same
While I’ve been focusing on my game

BH: Come on Etan, let’s get real here. Since you signed that huge contract, what exactly have you done? You put up 9 and 7 in a contract year, and since then, you’ve been crap.

Crap, my friend, is the operative word.
Because if you don’t think that’s you, you’re absurd
What have you done in your career?
7 and 6? That’s no reason to cheer

BH: Etan, this team needs a dependable big guy in the middle. I’ve averaged over 70 games a season in my career. You, my friend, have averaged 56 in that same time. In that same period, I’ve had better numbers across the board. I’ve averaged more points, rebounds, and blocks than you have. Need any more advice as to the better player, Eddie?

The times are changing, my Carolina pal
LeBron’s path to the hoop was as wide as a canal
The days of the 7 foot plodder are all but done
The ones of the athlete have just begun

BH: Look, Eddie, the choice is clear. If we’re going to keep with our prevailing theme of continuity, look no further than our Mr. Stability. That may have been a dumb rhyme, but it’s a statement of truth. I get a bad rep as an overrated crappy center, but how many teams can say they’ve had a consistent 7 footer in the middle? I’m a better defender than you think and I can score much better than Robert Frost over there.

Don’t make the mistake of listening to him
If he’s in there, our chances are grim
This isn’t your fathers’ plodding team
My style fits in better with our running scheme

Brendan wants to score like David Robinson
But that’ll get us nowhere in the postseason
We have plenty of guys to who can score the rock
So pick me, the athlete, who can actually shotblock

EJ: Could you guys be more annoying? Where’s Peter John Ramos when you need him?

Bullets Fever’s take

After reading Michael Lee's article on Haywood and Jordan's relationship, I can’t help but wonder whether this competition is real or not. Is Jordan keeping this close only to try to light a fire under Haywood? If that’s the case, I’d be really disappointed, because it would mean that Etan Thomas isn’t really all the way back to his 2004 form. Ultimately, Haywood should start, but I want to see Thomas finish more games. Haywood’s not as bad as he’s made out to be, but he’s a halfcourt center that doesn’t fit all that well to the Wizards’ running style. Thomas, while injury prone and inconsistent, is more of the type of player the Wizards should be looking for. He’s undersized, but he’s a great athlete and, most importantly, can be a real enforcer down low. If he can get back to his 2004 form, he, and not Haywood, should get the majority of the minutes at the center spot. Granted, that’s a huge if, but despite the stability of Haywood, Eddie Jordan should try to give Thomas as many chances as possible to gain the starting job.

Who do you think should win the starting center’s job? Can you really trust Etan Thomas to play to his potential?

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Yeah, he's really worth 10 million a year...

Jared Jeffries is out for the beginning of the season with a broken wrist.

Still think the Wizards should have matched the Knicks offer? Unfortunate news for the Knicks, but they're soon going to find out that Jeffries is useless even when healthy. He teases you with his length and athleticism, but he can't score, isn't much of a rebounder, and isn't even all that great a defender. His lone value is his versatility, because he can act as a nice 8th man as a 3 or a 4. That's not good enough to merit a 5 year, 30 million dollar contract (which, because of the luxury tax, is more like 5 years, 60 million).

The Wizards are about 10 times better off with DeShawn Stevenson. I feel bad for Jeffries, but the Knicks are going to realize how inept Jeffries is when Renaldo Balkman takes over his job early on.

Does this injury mean anything at all for the Knicks? How do you feel about swapping Jeffries for Stevenson and Songalia?

[edit]: It's even worse than we thought. They're now saying Jeffries will be out 6-8 weeks. Enjoy your investment, Isaiah Thomas!

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Monday, October 16, 2006

Wizards are apparently less sleepy than Bobcats

The Wizards and the Bobcats played a preseason game at 10 AM (seriously, 10 AM!) this morning, with the Wizards coming out on top 100-91 despite turning the ball over 26 times. Apparently, the two teams needed to play for the local-area Charlotte schools, and the only time that would work was 10 AM. Naturally, I wonder what those kids were doing watching a basketball game at 10 AM instead of being in school, but the question apparently never was considered by the organizers of the game.

Other than Antwan Jamison having a monster game with 22 points, there's not much to report here. Etan Thomas got the start at center, but neither he nor Brendan Haywood played much during the game. Caron Butler had his strongest game of the preseason with 17 points in 18 minutes. Donnell Taylor turned the ball over an astounding 8 times, hurting his quest to earn the backup point guard spot. Gilbert Arenas and Jarvis Hayes didn't play, with Hayes sitting out because of a sprained ankle. Hayes' injured ankle certainly doesn't sound good considering his past history, but I think he'll end up being okay.

Now that 4 games have been played, what's been good and bad at Bullets training camp?

The Good:

-Starting Lineup: As Michael Lee and Ivan Carter note, the Wizards have outscored their opponents by 14 points in the first and third quarter of games, the time when starters are usually on the floor. The Big 3 in particular have had really strong showings this preseason. Gilbert Arenas opened the preseason by dropping 29 in 29 minutes against the Raptors and has been very strong when on the floor. More importantly, the Black President has showed a willingness to improve his defense, as evident by his insistence on guarding LeBron James in the Wizards' win over the Cavs on Friday. Antwan Jamison, featured in this article, had a big game today and seems to be carrying the momentum from his Team USA performance over to the preseason. Caron Butler, when playing, has been a solid third scorer, and has proven to be one of the team's most consistent options. As for newcomer DeShaun Stevenson, wait until the next point.

-The shooting guards: This was point #1 for me on my list of things to watch in the preseason, and the results so far have been more than encouraging. I'm becoming more and more convinced that signing DeShawn Stevenson for the veterans minimum may prove to be the steal of the offseason. Stevenson seems to be exactly what this team needs. With Arenas, Jamison, and Butler providing more than enough scoring on their own, the Wizards didn't need more offense. When Stevenson is out there, he is a tough, physical, lock-down defender in the Bruce Bowen mold, and is a much better fit for this team than Jared Jeffries ever was. He's even shown a solid outside touch, hitting on over 50 percent of his shots in the preseason.

Jarvis Hayes, meanwhile, has also had a big preseason. He nearly led the Wizards to a win over Toronto in the fourth quarter of the preseason opener and has averaged a solid 8 points in only 16 minutes per game. We've been down this path before with Hayes, and every time he seems to gain momentum, he gets hurt or shows inconsistency. With that being said, he's still very young and, if he can stay healthy, he will provide really strong scoring punch off the bench.

With Stevenson blending in easily with the starters and Hayes showing that he could be a potential 6th man candidate, the shooting guard spot, which seemed unsettled entering training camp, has now become a potential strength.

-The defense: Granted, it's preseason, but the Wizards have held each of their opponents below 95 points and 45 percent shooting from the field. That's a good sign no matter how you slice it.

The bad:

-Andray Blatche-
Granted, the youngster had a very good game today, shooting 4-7 from the field and scoring 8 points in limited minutes. Prior to today's game, however, Blatche has been struggling. His stats prior to today's game have been ugly to say the least. He's shooting under 20 percent (5-28) from the field, committing turnovers at an ungodly rate (3 per game), and averaging nearly as many fouls (4) as rebounds (5). With the injury to Darius Songalia, the Wizards have given Blatche many opportunities to succeed, but he just hasn't been able to carry over his strong summer league performances to the preseason. Hopefully, today's game can be a turnaround, because he may find himself back in the D-League with more poor performances.

-Darius Songalia-The Wizards' top free agent signing continues to be out of action with his back injury. On the first day of camp, the team expected this to be a day-to-day thing, but here we sit over two weeks later and Songalia is still injured. There's no denying that Songalia's offensive game is tailor-made for Eddie Jordan's system, but unlike fellow newcomer Stevenson, Songalia hasn't gotten the opportunity to get used to the system. If Songalia's back continues to bother him, the Wizards may be forced to play more of Michael Ruffin, who should not ever be playing more than 5 minutes a game. With Blatche's poor preseason and Songalia's injury, the Wizards haven't really had the chance to develop the frontcourt depth they desperately need.

Overall, I'm liking this preseason so far. Despite the problems of Blatche and Songalia, the Wizards are proving to be a much deeper team than they were last year. Gilbert's dedication to defense also is incredibly encouraging, and the starting lineup looks to be clicking already. Barring a serious injury to a top player, the Wizards will enter the 2006/07 season with their best team in 25 years.

Bonus stuff...The NBA Blog Previews keep rolling along. Be sure to check out these awesome previews for Detroit (Need4Sheed and Detroit Bad Boys), Indiana (Donning Craig Sager's Suit), Milwaukee (5 Point Bucks), and Denver (The Nugg Doctor). Each of them predicted an over .500 record for their teams, which, at this point, is hardly shocking to me.....Blog-A-Bull is still in limbo with the decision to accept my wager. I'm eagerly waiting for Matt to stand up for his team and pull the trigger. There's nothing like a little friendly blog rivalry between two fanatic team bloggers. Well, maybe if we were actual professional athletes...

What's your feeling on Bullets training camp thus far?

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Sunday, October 15, 2006

Analyzing the Competition

Like Washington, many people expected Chicago to take a step back last year after surprising in 2004/05 with 47 wins. After all, there was something about that Bulls team in 05 that made you wonder how they were so good, compounded by the fact that their expected won-loss record was 44-38. In the offseason, Chicago gave Tyson Chandler lots of money to stay put and traded Eddy Curry to the Knicks for Michael Sweetney, Tim Thomas, and a series of unprotected draft picks. Chicago struggled for most of the year to recapture the magic of 2004/05, and were sitting 9 games under .500 with only 11 left to play. After that, though, Chicago may have been the hottest team in basketball, as they won 10 of those last 11 games to finish 41-41 and get the 7th seed in the playoffs, where they gave Miami all they could handle before falling in six games. After a busy and productive offseason, expectations are sky-high for Chicago this season.

Additions: Ben Wallace (FA-Detroit), P.J. Brown (Trade-New Orleans), Adrian Griffith (FA-Dallas), Victor Khryapa (Trade-Portland), Tyrus Thomas (Draft 1-4), Thabo Sefolosha (Draft 1-13)
Subtractions: Tyson Chandler (Trade-New Orleans), J.R. Smith (Trade-Denver), Darius Songalia (FA-Washington), Eric Piatowski (FA-Phoenix), Janeero Pargo, Othella Harrington

If they gave the Larry O'Brien trophy to the team with the best offseason, the Chicago Bulls certainly would be the winner. They stole the single best free agent on the market from their archrival and found a way to rid themselves of the awful contract of Tyson Chandler. Replacing Chandler for Ben Wallace and 5 million a year is a phenomenal trade. Wallace is on the downside of his career, but he is still able to be a major defensive force when healthy. Most importantly, Chicago didn't kill their cap space, because they found a taker for Tyson Chandler and his 60 million dollar contract. Chandler had a very good season in 04/05, but he regressed last year and messed up Chicago's rhythm with silly fouls on both ends of the court. Replacing him with Wallace and P.J. Brown will make Chicago much better.

The question is, how much better will the Bulls be? Chicago had an expected won-loss record of 43-39 last year, but needed to win 10 of their last 11 to even finish with a .500 record. The ultimate problem with Chicago is that they still have nobody that can score for them unless it's in the framework of their offense. After a really strong rookie year, the Bulls were hoping that Ben Gordon would be that guy, but he averaged 3 fewer points per 40 minutes last year. Despite playing in 7 more minutes than the year before, Gordon barely increased his scoring average and percentages. Kirk Hinrich was solid once again at the point, but his numbers were basically identical to his 04/05 year.

There is good news with the young Bulls, however. Luol Deng improved his numbers from last year, averaging a solid 14.3 points and 6.6 rebounds a game. Andres Nocioni also stepped up his game, averaging 13 points and 6 boards a game. If either can emerge as a reliable and consistent scorer, then the Bulls will have a much more efficient offense.

Based on the Wallace move and the increased depth alone, the Bulls will be better than last year. How much better will hang on the shoulders of Gordon and Deng. If either can emerge as a 20 point scorer, the Bulls will be much better offensively. Otherwise, the Bulls will remain relatively inconsistent, with their performance directly relating to their jump-shooting ability. I see them beating up on the East bottom feeders due to their depth and defensive ability, but struggling against the Clevelands, Miamis, and Detroits of the East. Unless they can pull off a trade to bring in a superstar like Kevin Garnett or Jermaine O'Neal, I see them having a similar record as they did in 05 with the potential to improve even more.

Projected Record: 49-33.

Matt over at Blog-A-Bull previewed the Bulls recently for the NBA Blog Previews and predicts a 55 win season.
Some teams are said to be built for the playoffs. It’s hard to predict whether this new mix of players will be ready for a deep playoff run, but they are definitely built to win a lot of games in the regular season. As you’re likely tired of hearing by now: the Bulls play defense and are deep, two things that can keep them in every game they’ll play. They may have nights when the shots aren’t falling, but there will be very few games when they’re not putting out an effort, meaning they should beat up the lesser teams in the league without fear of playing down to the competition.
I agree that the Bulls are build for the regular season, but I also think they'll struggle against top competition in the East. They'll have one of the league's best records against sub-.500 teams, but I don't see Chicago having a winning record against the top teams in both conferences just yet.

I'm also posing the same challenge to Matt as I did to my roomate. With the Bulls and the Wizards developing into a budding rivalry, and the distinct possibility that they'll end up meeting somewhere along the line in the postseason, who's going to get more regular-season wins? You take Chicago, I'll take the Wizards. Winner gets to have the loser post on their blog as to why the blog's team is so good. What say you, Matt?

Think I screwed this one up? Let me know. How many wins do you see Chicago getting this season?

Other "Analyzing the Competitions" looked at the Hawks, Nets, Knicks, 76ers, and Rockets.

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