Wednesday, October 27, 2010 12:57 a.m.
By Frank Hanrahan
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Washington Wizards' fans, don't expect your team to romp into the playoffs in the upcoming season. As you might have heard before, the owner, management and the coaching staff have all made it abundantly clear that this will be a rebuilding season for the very young Wizards. With only four players back from a season ago, the Wizards' goal is to create a foundation that emphasizes fundamental basketball, hard work and playing the right way. Yes, a very, very cliched approach, but the simpler the better for this youthful squad. Here is my updated look at the 2010-11 Wizards by position.
Guards: This is where the Wizards are undoubtedly the strongest with John Wall, Gilbert Arenas and Kirk Hinrich as the backbone of the team's offense. If all are healthy -- and that's a big if with Arenas -- the team will need high volume scoring from these three if they are going to have any success this season.
I sound like a broken record here but Wall is as electric as they come with the basketball. Already, he could be the fastest player end to end in the league with the Spaulding in his hand. It's crazy to think it's possible that a 20 year old rookie could be that quick and explosive to the basket, but he is. Even if the Wizards have a rough season record-wise, which many expect, it will still be a treat to see Wall further develop his game in his first year in the NBA. The top overall pick knows he needs to work on his jump shot and limit his turnovers to be an effective point guard at this level.
Saunders has foamed at the mouth applauding the presence and play of Hinrich throughout training camp, anointing him as the team leader just three days into camp. Envisioned as a backup shooting guard when he came over in the off season from Chicago, Hinrich will be a starter opening night in Orlando and for the foreseeable future as he is too valuable not to be on the floor.
As the days go by and the Thursday opener at Orlando gets closer, the questions about Arenas and his health become more of a concern. First it was his groin, and now it is his ankle that has forced the former all-star to miss several days of practice in a row. Saunders and the team shrug it off as no big deal and that they will go on with or without him. That's pretty amazing considering Arenas used to be one of the most feared offensive players in the NBA before injury and then a locker room gun issue got him suspended for the final 50 games last season. With all that has happened, you would think Arenas would come back this year with a lot to prove but so far that hasn't felt like the case at all.
Arenas faked an injury to miss a pre-season game so teammate Nick Young could play, an action for which Arenas apologized -- sort of. Arenas was fined for the incident, but then in the next pre-season game, he hurt his groin and now his ankle is an issue. Arenas needs to get healthy and show he can be a reliable employee so perhaps another team would actually deal for him around the trade deadline, which is something I am sure the Wizards would not mind.
Nick Young can score but he needs to get more assists and be a factor defensively and on the boards if he wants to get playing time under Saunders. It is a very matter of fact situation for Young. Find consistency or be out of this league soon.
Forwards: Andray Blatche wants to pick up where he left off at the end of last season when he averaged 22 points and 8 rebounds over the final 32 games at the power forward spot. At 6'-11", Blatche gives the Wizards options offensively as he can post up down low as well as go outside and hit the jumper. Plus, look for Blatche to fill the lane and finishing on the break with Wall leading it. Blatche is working his way back into game shape after breaking his foot over the summer and, if fit, he is a legitimate double double threat.
If Arenas continues to be sidelined with injury, Saunders would scrap the three guard alignment and put Al Thornton in the starting lineup at the small forward position. The 6'8 Thornton can gallop up and down the court with the best of them and has a reliable jumper, but the Wizards need the fourth year pro to be more consistent with his scoring. In his second year with the Clippers, Thornton averaged 16.8 but dropped to just 10.7 last season after he was traded to D.C.
Josh Howard could be on a faster track to returning than what was initially thought after he underwent surgery for his torn ACL suffered last February. Although there is no timetable for the former all-star coming back, it could be earlier then initially projected, which was early December. The sooner the Wizards get Howard in the mix with Wall and company the better. Howard is an athletic wing forward who would fit nicely in the Wizards' up-tempo style, as he is able to create on his own in the open floor and is a streaky outside shooter.
What to make of Yi Jianlian? He is a 7-foot power forward, who it seems would rather shoot elbow jumpers than bang down low but that's what the Wizards will need from him. Yi must be a presence with his size in the paint and get rebounds and defend big post players as well. The jump shot and even three pointers will be an added bonus for Yi and the Wizards.
Center: After showing flashes of brilliance in summer league play, hopes are high for JaVale McGee to really have a breakout season. The 7-footer hopes to carry over his play from the summer but that was against most players who aren't on an opening day NBA rosters. McGee has to be smarter defensively and not pick up cheap fouls and be more consistent if he wants to stick in the starting lineup.
Hilton Armstrong has impressed Saunders in camp with his work ethic and attitude and will open up as McGee's backup. A former first round pick, Armstrong is yet again another Wizard who has a lot to prove this year.
Overview: Without question, the 82 game season will be a bumpy road with plenty of growing pains along the way for the Wizards because of their young roster. In my opinion guard play, led by John Wall, will be just fine (with or without Arenas), but interior defensive presence and depth is a huge question mark going into the season. Answers start to unfold Thursday night at Orlando.