Thursday, August 26, 2010 11:52 a.m.
By CJ Hempfield of WizardsExtreme.com
The Wizards selected Andray Blatche, the 6-11 Forward out of South Kent Prep (CT) with the 49th pick (2nd round) of the 2005 NBA draft. Andrays career didnt immediately get off to the start that he or the Wizards would have hoped for.
Coming into last season, Andray Blatche was saying the right things and seemingly was beginning to do the right things. His career appeared to be now heading in the right direction. As a symbol of his new found dedication, Andray changed his jersey number from 32 to 7 to symbolize 7 days of hard work, 7 days of focus. A more focused and dedicated 7-day Dray was launched. And it appeared that Flip Saunders had noticed stating, one thing that hes done is hes had a very, very good spring and summer.
And while the unfortunate pre-season injury to Antawn Jamison created an opportunity for Blatche to play additional minutes in the early part of the season, the fact remained that Blatche still had two former All-Stars Forwards, Jamison and Butler, commanding most of minutes. During the first 49 games of the season, Andray had 4 starts and averaged 21.9 minutes per game.
Andray seemed to find himself in an endless loop his inconsistent play lead to inconsistent minutes and his inconsistent minutes lead to inconsistent play. One way to illustrate this is through his efficiency rating - a measure that at its most basic level totals players positive contributions to a game and subtracts their negative contributions. During the first 49 games prior to the All-Star break, Andrays efficiency rating was a sub-par 10.7, using HoopStats.com. The average for a NBA player is an efficiency rating of approximately 15.
New Trend Emerges
A clear trend with Blatche appears to be that as his playing time increases so does his level of play. For an example of this, look no further than his performance post-All-Star break. As you may recall, Andray was afforded more playing time as nearly all of the more experienced players on the roster who could be traded, were traded. Blatches playing time went from an average of 21 minutes per game to 37 minutes per game. During this stretch of the season he also saw significant increases in his average point, rebound and assist totals. His most significant jump was to his efficiency rating which increased by nearly 11 points. For example, if here were able to maintain that level of performance for the entire season, that would have placed him just below Amare Stoudemire and just above Carlos Boozer when comparing the efficiency ratings of the leagues best Power Forwards. Putting him in some very impressive company.
While his performance in the second half was some of his most consistent of his career thus far, he still had some uneven performances. When he was good, he was very good. Evidence of this is how he played in his matchups versus specific players. These examples compare Blatches efficiency rating versus his opponent when both played more that 25 minutes in their particular game. Andray had some significant wins in which his efficiency rating was significantly higher than his opponent: Kevin Garnett (25), Yi Jianlian (21), Louis Scola (14), Joe Smith (17), Wilson Chandler (25) and Brad Miller (29).
On the opposite end of the spectrum, he had some games in which he lost his matchup from an efficiency standpoint. A few of the significant examples are Mehmet Okur (-14), Josh McRoberts (-10), Pau Gasol (-11), Marcus Camby (-21) and Ersan Ilyasova (-10).
The next graphic illustrates the point that as Andray Blatches minutes increased so did his performance. Youll notice that as his playing time increased from 0-10 min per game (3.0 eff) to games in which he played 40 min per game (27.3 eff), his efficiency rating increased an incredible 24.3 points.
Andray appears to know that if he wants to take the next step he has to continue building upon the foundation that he established last season. He entered the off-season with a desire to continue his hard work. Unfortunately he injured his ankle, which required surgery. Yet, he appears to have continued working out during his rehab. He told WashingtonWizards.com, As far as the rehab is concerned Ive been doing a lot of things to keep the strength in my leg and hip. Ive been able to continue to work on my conditioning with a lot of work in the pool. This is another positive sign that the more mature Blatche gets it. What would be easy for him to do during this period is rest. Instead Andray is doing those things that he can do to work out during his recovery from surgery.
Past results are not indicative of future performance
Well, in this case, maybe they are. Once Josh Howard went down with his season-ending injury, Andray Blatche largely put up his numbers as the main scoring threat on the team. For the first time in his professional career, he had to adjust to teams game planning to stop him. This season could present the opportunity for him to get easier shots as there will be more scorers on the team who will generate attention from the other teams defense.
This season the opponent will have to worry about a potentially fully recovered Gilbert Arenas, a lightning quick John Wall, Andray Blatche and, once fully healthy, Josh Howard. Not including Wall, that gives the Wizards once again three players who can easily combine for nearly 60 points per game. Sound familiar? However, unlike the previous version of the Wizards Big 3, this time they have a 4th, who happens to be a true point guard who can create for others. Its way early, but it is starting to feel somewhat similar to the Celtics Big 31 with Pierce, Garnett, Allen and Rondo. Comparisons aside the point is the Wizards are effectively adding three new players to the starting lineup to play with Blatche (Arenas, Wall and Howard). Together these players should make it easier for each other to perform.
Some in Wizards nation have grown a bit frustrated with Andray Blatche (prior to his second half performance). Fans now want to see if he can continue what he started last season. They hope that he now knows what it takes to provide consistent effort for 82 games. What became clear last season is that Blatche has a world of potential and, if he chooses, could be something special. He would have been a true steal as a second round pick.
Because Blatche has been with the team for 5 years, it is easy to forget that he joined the team as an 18 year old high school graduate. After five years with the team he is only 23. He was one of 37 players, since the Draft Lottery era (1985) to enter the league straight out of high school. In general, it takes these players longer to develop. Consider only 8 (approximately 22) have become All-Stars (Garnett, Bryant, Jermaine ONeal, Rashard Lewis, McGrady, LeBron James and Amare Stoudemire). The immediate star from high school appeared to be the exception rather than the rule.
Andray Blatche has set a new standard for his performance, now he has to continue his hard work to continue to push past the set of expectations that come with that new performance standard. What I expect to be a breakout season for Blatche will be aided by having much more talent on the roster than he finished with last season.