Bullets Fever

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

Friday, October 06, 2006

Training Camp Thus Far

5 days of Bullets training camp is in the books, so let's take a look at how the things I posted to look out for have played out so far.

1. The shooting guard situation

As mentioned yesterday, the job belongs to DeShawn Stevenson. He has been playing the entire time with the first unit in practice, while Jarvis Hayes has been playing with the second unit. Essentially, this was never an issue.

More interesting, however, is who is going to finish games at the shooting guard spot. In the second half of last season, it was Antonio Daniels who played most of the crunch time minutes alongside Gilbert Arenas. Once the Wizards figured out how to use Daniels, he took off, attacking the basket with vigor while rarely turning the ball over.

Ivan Carter reports today that Daniels looks even better so far at camp.
Antonio Daniels looks lighter, stronger and a whole lot quicker than he did at this time last year. He's also far more comfortable with his role on this team. Remember that at this time last year, Jordan was trying to figure out where to play Daniels and Chucky Atkins. It basically took until January to figure it all out. Antonio also got off to a horrible shooting start and, in my opinion, he began to question himself instead of just playing. Now, he's just playing. He's mainly running the second team at the point guard spot. He attacks the basket like always, makes great decisions in the open court and is a leader. I also like what he's done with his jump shot. Remember how the ball tended to come out flat last year? His shot gave him little margin for error. He's getting more evelation and the ball has better arc on it now. I guess he spent the summer working on rebuilding his J and it shows. I'll talk to him about it for an upcoming story.
At the same time, aren't the Wizards going to desperately need Stevenson's perimeter defense in the fourth quarter this season? One of the reasons Daniels played so much at the end of last year was that Jared Jeffries wasn't able to guard the top 2 guards in the league when it mattered. Now that the Wizards have Stevenson, they are better equipped to play against those top wing players. Seeing as how top scoring guards are relied upon more in the fourth quarter in a close game, wouldn't it make more sense to have a defender in than a scorer like Daniels? It's definetly something to keep an eye on.

Most likely, it will depend on the game. If the Wizards have a lead, look for Stevenson to get more fourth quarter minutes. If the Wizards are behind, Daniels may play more. Either way, the Wizards better hope they can find a consistent solution, because they struggled dividing minutes in the backcourt last year.

2. How will minutes be divided in the frontcourt?

This is probably an incomplete right now. Not only is it too early to tell what the frontcourt rotation will be, but the injury to Darius Songalia complicates things. So far, Andray Blatche has been playing with the second unit in Songalia's spot, but as mentioned the other day, Eddie Jordan is tempering his optimism with the youngster.

The other intersting development is that the center spot is still unresolved. I don't know whether the fact that Etan Thomas and Brendan Haywood are still fighting for the job is a testament to Haywood's inefficiency or Thomas' strong play. Was Thomas more dedicated to his fitness and therefore now injury free and effective, or was Haywood particularly lazy this offseason and therefore ineffective? As a fan, I'd hope the answer is closer to the former, but considering the way Haywood has teased everyone for 4 years without improving, it could easily be the latter. Either way, the situation is not resolved, and Carter has been surprisingly silent on the play of Thomas and Haywood thus far.

3. Is the defense really improved?

So far, it appears the Wizards are emphasizing the defense more than they ever had. Surprisingly, though, it has been the perimeter defense rather than the interior defense. Assistant coach Kevin O'Neill has been working very closely with Gilbert, Butler, Jamison, and Daniels on their off the ball defense. Carter has mentioned that the biggest problem Arenas in particular had was that he tended to watch the ball and lose his man through screens and double-teams easily. Carter specifically mentioned the Bulls game where Ben Gordon went off in the fourth quarter from the perimeter.

Essentially, the Wizards are a very similar team to the Dallas Mavericks. They are hoping to improve defense from within. O'Neill is no Avery Johnson, but his presence should mean a better overall defense this season. Hopefully, that also will translate to the interior defense, but it still seems that the Wizards are placing a premium on defense in training camp.

4. The mentality

It's early, but so far, so good. From the very beginning, the Wizards have looked focused and seem to be thinking big. Jordan predicted an Eastern Conference Finals berth before training camp and owner Abe Pollin was impressed with the dedication of the team. Today, Carter mentioned how Arenas in particular was playing with a lot of intensity, even during the scrimmages.
Also, even though it was just a training camp practice, Gilbert wanted to win. Badly. Dude was competing hard every time on both ends of the floor. The same can be said of Butler and Jamison. Coaches have to love that out of their stars.
This is the type of thing that could change with an injury or a bad preseason record, but for now, it appears the Wizards are serious about fulfilling Jordan's expectations. Carter also had this to say.

There is a quiet, unspoken air of confidence about this group that I can't quite put a finger on. It just seems that they know they are going to be good. I didn't have that same feeling last year at this time.

5. Gilbert Arenas

Arenas was his old goofy self on the first day, but since then, he's seemed very focused on improving his game. I'm sure we're going to hear more goofy quotes from Arenas during training camp, but he seems to be serious about improving his deficiencies. That's definetly a good sign.

Overall, the Wizards are having a very good training camp, but it's still early. Let's see how they deal with adversity.

In other news, I recorded an interview about the Wizards with Ryan over at Hoops Addict on his Hoops Addict podcast. Give it a listen and tell me what you think.

What are your impressions of training camp so far?

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