The Washington Wizards were crippled throughout the 07-08 NBA season as both Caron Butler, and especially Gilbert Arenas, missed a majority of the games. To start things off this year, Arenas will miss roughly the first two months of the regular season, perhaps more. Antawn Jamison had a fantastic season carrying Washington into the Playoffs, and this year he will be looked at to repeat his All-Star performance. Caron Butler is a great all-around player, but always seems to miss time. If Butler can remain healthy, he is arguably this team’s most valuable player, and creates a strong duo alongside Jamison. A healthy Butler with Antawn Jamison will get Washington to the Playoffs, but without Arenas, this team is destined for another first round defeat.
Offense: With Gilbert Arenas, the Wizards easily top the 100 point barrier every night. Without him, though, they struggle. Caron Butler is a solid scorer, and more importantly, a smart playmaker. Butler can create for his teammates just as well as for himself. Antonio Daniels is a smart offensive player, but lacks the firepower and scoring techniques of Arenas. He will be able to handle things until Arenas gets back, but he is much more valuable as a backup. There may be no one more dangerous in the league once they are in the lane as Antawn Jamison. He has a deadly floater, and is terrific with his back to the basket. The one problem with Washington’s offense is the lack of a strong post player. Brendan Haywood and Etan Thomas are big, but their offensive skills leave much to be desired. Andray Blatche is an interesting sub, but doesn’t have the size to stay in the paint. Depending on the return of Gil, the Wizards should be a high-scoring team, and make it to the postseason.
Defense: The only great defender this team has is Caron Butler. He is a great perimeter defender, and man on man can handle even the quickest forwards. The backcourt is good defensively, as Arenas, Daniels, and Stevenson can stay in front of their man. Brendan Haywood and Etan Thomas are good post defenders, but are not quick enough to handle the smaller players who get to the basket. Washington is not a terrible defensive squad, in fact, they aren’t half bad. With Arenas out, the backcourt will take a hit, but should do fine. If Butler goes down, though, so does the team. The defense, much like their offense, is dependent on a healthy lineup. They’re only decent on the defensive end, but if more injuries follow, decent sounds much better than dreadful.
Strengths: Many teams like to boast about having a “Big Three,” but Washington fans can get away with using the cliché term, because they actually do have three superstar players. Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler, and Antawn Jamison are All-Star talents, and when one, even two goes down, each one has the ability to carry the team. When all three are healthy, they are a threat to take down any team, and challenge for the title. Not many teams sporting a “Big Three” can say that about their squad.
Weaknesses: Health. Arenas is already down, and it could be just a matter of time before someone else follows. The Wizards have suffered from injuries for two years now, and always get hit hard in the Playoffs. If that’s the case again this year, big moves need to be made in the 2009 offseason.
Five Players to Watch:
Caron Butler - Butler is still an underrated talent in this league. He is great offensively, defensively, and is a beloved teammate. The leader of this team is not Gilbert Arenas. Along with Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler provides suitable leadership and through his play, he forces his teammates to step up. Off the floor, Butler is very charitable, and that ultimately helps his value on the floor, as well as in the locker room. The argument can be made that Caron Butler is the most valuable player to this team, but if he can’t stay healthy, his great play and leadership may not matter.
Gilbert Arenas - Going into the offseason, and preparing for the 08-09 NBA season, Arenas was hoping to shell his image of being unreliable, and horribly injury-prone. Well, he’s starting the season on the sidelines, and may not be back till January, February, or even later. Arenas took less money this offseason so that the Wizards could keep Jamison, but at this point, it looks as though he is getting paid too much, regardless of his pay cut. When on the floor, there are few deadlier players all game, and in the clutch, than Gilbert Arenas. That’s just the problem, though; he’s never on the floor. If Arenas is healthy, this team is a Championship contender. So far, he isn’t healthy.
Antawn Jamison - The Most Valuable Player for Washington last season was none other than Antawn Jamison. He is consistently on the floor, putting up big numbers, and this year he will likely do the same. Jamison is great as the star of the team, and is just as effective in a supporting role. This year, Jamison will be the star by default, and he can handle it, yet again. Jamison doesn’t get the credit he deserves, but hopefully this year will be different for the Tar Heel.
DeShawn Stevenson - After picking a fight with Cavs’ superstar LeBron James, “Soulja Boy” was embarrassed in the Playoffs, and his normally strong defensive game was useless. This season, he needs to get over the name game, and a growth in maturity wouldn’t hurt, either. Stevenson has had some off the court problems in his career, he doesn’t need any more on the court. Stevenson is an effective role player, and his defense is much needed on the perimeter. If he can’t grow up, though, he should be benched in favor of smooth-shooting Nick Young.
Nick Young - Young has one of the best looking, and most effective jump shots in the league. With Arenas already down, and Stevenson’s value a question, Nick Young should get plenty of time. He is the perfect player to place on the perimeter beside Arenas, and should feed off post passes from Butler and Jamison. Young hasn’t shown a propensity for passing the ball, or playing defense, but those traits should develop over time. I would love to see Nick Young get the starting job, so I probably have a bias, but I believe that he deserves the shot.
Title Hopes: If Arenas gets back before the All-Star break, and his game is back to the level it was in 2006, the Wizards could really put up a fight for the title. If Arenas is out longer, and Butler possibly goes down, the Wizards could even miss the Playoffs. The East has gotten stronger, and is much more diverse. Another shaky season in Washington can not occur, otherwise this team will be blown up, and the team will be in full rebuilding mode before we know it.
Prediction: 2nd Place, Southeast Division