Bullets Fever

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

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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1 Comments:
Blogger Unsilent Majority said...

Don't forget, Roger was at Sidwell before he sold his soul to the devil, Stu Vitter.

If Blatche could just stop turning the ball over I'd feel a lot better.

8:40 AM

 

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