By Jason Kwiecinski
Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler are not Bostonís trio, but they are almost as talented. But not nearly as durable. Jamison is the only one of the three who has managed to stay healthy over the last three years. If the Wizards want to get by Cleveland and LeBron this year, Arenas and Butler will have to spend more time on the floor and less in street clothes.
Coach Eddie Jordan should have no excuses to perform this year. If he continues his losing ways in the playoffs (8-18 overall) he may see the boot at the end of the season. Itíll be up to the ďWizardly Trioď to keep Coach Jordan there.
Arenas was re-signed to a long-term deal in the offseason and will be the starter at the point once he's healthy, but the latest surgical clean-up on his knee, means his season won't start until December at the earliest. That means Antonio Daniels will slide into the starting lineup and someone else will move up into Daniels regular "third guard" role -- likely Juan Dixon.
DeShawn Stevenson will be counted on to start at guard and will eat up the majority of the minutes; expect Stevenson to average 30 a game.
At the center position Brendan Haywood has been anything but spectacular. He gets his 20-25 minutes a game, but is lucky to crack double digits in points or rebounds. That is where third year man Andray Blatche comes into play. Blatche started only 15 games last season, but saw action in all 82. The Wizards have groomed Blatche slowly and this season could be another big step. Etan Thomas will also be back after missing last year; he could be a factor in the middle.
The Wizards deepest position is the one where they need it least. Behind forwards Butler and Jamison Coach Jordan has Darius Songaila, Dominic McGuire, Oleksiy Pecherov and the rookie JaVale McGee. Songaila will be the first off the bench, but McGee may cut into his time. McGee has the size and ability to play either the power forward or center position, which will help his value.
Andray Blatche: Blatcheís minutes have increased every year he's been in the league. Last year he saw action in every game and averaged 20 minutes a game, but was most productive when filling in for an injured starter. Best-case scenario is that he wins the starting spot at center; he's a better defender and far more athletic than Haywood, but he's missed opportunities in the past due to immaturity and off-court trouble. He'll likely start the season as a general backup in the frontcourt.
Etan Thomas: Thomas missed all of last season after surgery to correct a heart problem. He's back this season, and expected to provide toughness and rebounding in the frontcourt rotation, initially as the primary backup to Haywood -- but it seems inevitable that he'll lose that job to Blatche or JaVale McGee before too long.
Caron Butler: Butler also had a great season last year -- but it could have been better. He only played in 58 games because of various nagging injuries. When he played, Butler was statistically one of the best forwards in the league last year, scoring 20 points per game, second in steals behind Ron Artest and second in assists following some kid named LeBron James. Look for more of the same this season, but be wary of the injury bug.
Darius Songaila: Songaila will not light up the score board, box score, credit score, or any kind of score, but he'll put in a few quality minutes for the Wizards this year. He'll likely start the season as the first forward off the bench and could see significant playing time, but his primary responsibility will be to get the ball to the "Big Three."
Dominic McGuire: A second-round pick in 2007, McGuire managed to see action in 70 games, but only scored a little over one point per game. He has done pretty well thus far in summer league play, but still isnít ready to make an impact.
Oleksiy Pecherov: Pecherov is listed as a forward, but his 7í0Ē frame may say differently. Coming out of the Ukraine he had the reputation of a great shooter, but in the NBA he hit only 35% from the field and 28% from behind the arc. He was unable to see any action during this yearís summer league because of an ankle injury, so any further evaluation will have to take place during training camp. He's probably a year away from making a major contribution.
JaVale McGee: McGee was the Wizards' first round pick (18th overall) in the 2008 draft. An athletic seven-footer with the wingspan of a commercial airliner, he projects as a combo forward/center who can run the floor and provide good interior defense -- but he's pretty raw. He did lead the Vegas Summer League in minutes, which may be a positive sign.
DeShawn Stevenson: Stevenson was counted on to produce while Arenas was sidelined last year, but didnít do much. He shot a horrid 38.6 percent from the field -- which mirrored his average from three, 38.3 percent. Hopefully his poor shooting was an aberration, and he'll get back to his 2006-07 averages of over 40 percent behind the arc and over 46 percent from the field.
Antonio Daniels: With Arenas on the shelf to start the season, Daniels will be asked to step in once again. He's a valuable backup at both guard spots, but when asked to play starter's minutes, some of his weaknesses are exposed. Last year he played a career-high in minutes -- over 30 a game -- and started 63 games, but his scoring average was a mere 8.4 points and his already-suspect outside shot went in the tank (23 percent from three). On the plus side, he did post career high averages in steals (1.0), assists (4.8) and boards (2.9), but those numbers make him little more than a viable injury replacement.
Juan Dixon: The veteran Dixon is a valuable backcourt scorer who will strengthen the Wizards' bench significantly. He split last season between the Raptors and Pistons, averaging 12.6 minutes, 5.0 points and, most importantly, 41.7 percent shooting from three. He's too small (6'3", 164) to guard most twos, which limits his playing time, but he's probably the best shooter on Eddie Jordan's bench, which could mean 18-20 minutes of playing time a night, and more until Arenas returns.
Nick Young: Young showed some promise in limited run last season, shooting 40 percent from long-range. With the addition of Dixon, Young is probably an end-of-bench guy for now.
Article first appeared on 9/30/08