Tuesday January 25, 2011 11:34 a.m.
By Frank Hanrahan
WIZARDS PAGE WIZARDS VIDEO
After losing once again on the road in New York on Monday night, the 13-30 Wizards return home to host Carmelo Anthony and Denver on Tuesday night. It's been a real struggle for the "rebuilding" Wizards in the first half of the season, particularly the well documented 0-21 road record.
As a team, the record speaks for itself, but how is each player performing? Here is what I think, with my mid-season report cards for key players on the Wizards roster.
John Wall: Grade B
The Wizards' present and future star point guard is on the cusp of becoming a household name with his recent play. Averaging about 15 points and 9 assists, Wall is certainly more than legitimizing the Wizards selection of him as the top pick in last summer's NBA draft. Wall is like a blur with the ball and he might be the fastest player in the league going the full 94 feet. He can finish on the break and also has that knack to find open teammates for easy buckets.
Wall's performance against perennial Boston on Saturday was an absolute gem. He scored 8 of his last 16 points in a crucial fourth quarter stretch, including a three pointer off the backboard to put the Wizards up for good and get a surprising win over a real contender in the Celtics. Coach Flip Saunders has talked about Wall's will to win and it was on display against Boston. There's no doubt Wall has that swagger at Verizon Center that strikes fear in opponents, but his ability to take over games on the road just isn't there. If he can produce on the road like he does at home, watch out. But that really is the story for the whole team.
Wall has to work on his defense, his jump shot and cutting down turnovers for his grade to improve. He has been roasted on the pick and roll many times this season and he has a tough time staying in front of guards on the defensive end. His shot needs major help as right now it is pretty much a set shot. Defenses continue to dare him to beat them with his jumper. His turnovers are too high for a point guard as he coughs it up about 4 times a game.
Wall's a rookie, so he continues to learn and shows he has that attitude to listen to coaches and get better which is refreshing. When and if the team can start winning, John Wall will be an NBA star for seasons to come.
Nick Young: Grade B
Surprise, surprise, look who has emerged as a legitimate NBA scorer...at home that is. Nick Young is torching the nets at Verizon Center, averaging 19 points a game but just 13 points away. Young looks like a different player when he is in the friendly confines of D.C. There's no hesitation, he's confident and feeding off the crowd dropping in jumper after jumper...again that's at home.
On the road, Young is starting to play better but earlier in the season but most often he has been a non-factor, shying away from taking key shots when it counts, the fourth quarter. Like his teammates, Young has to get better on the road to improve his grade.
JaVale McGee: Grade B-
McGee is a huge tease. He shows moments, usually with dunks or blocks on the court, that leave your jaw on the floor and clutching whoever is next to you saying, "Did you just see what I saw?" McGee is still very raw and his athleticism makes you want to believe that he can be whispered into a solid starting center in this league someday. But then again, McGee has moments where you just shake you head and wonder what he is doing? Playing out of control, defensive lapses, not setting good screens etc, McGee can be as frustrating as he can be brilliant.
Overall, the third year center averages about 9 points and 8 rebounds and nearly 3 blocks a game. There is no question that he has improved the season but his consistency is an issue. McGee can go for 15 points and 10 boards like he did against the Knicks and follow up it up with a dud.
Andray Blatche: Grade C-
Not in shape. Not focused. Not prepared. Whatever the reason, Blatche is by the far the biggest disappointment in this first half of the season. The brass gave him a 5 year contract extension before this season with the belief that Blatche would have a breakout year and build off his impressive play in the latter half of last season.
His stats aren't that bad; in fact 16 points and 8 rebounds looks tantalizing but if you watch him play there's another story. At 6'11", he has fallen in love with the jumper and is reluctant to get on the block and post up. Defensively, he is not tough and more often than not he rarely contest shots.
Blatche's inconsistent on court play and off court issues had the Wizards apparently in discussion with other teams about a possible trade. That may be hard to do because I don't know if any NBA team in there right mind would take Blatche now.
For Blatche to improve his game and grade he has to finally get in tip top shape. He still looks a step slow at times and physically it's hard for him to overpower opponents near the rim. Blatche has to make that commitment to being a pro. Simple as that.
Rashard Lewis: Grade B
Give Lewis credit, after coming in the trade for Gilbert Arenas, the 31 year-old has played better than I thought he was capable of. Lewis became a one trick pony in Orlando, spotting up for three pointers, but in D.C., Lewis has gone back to what got him all that money in the first place from the Magic, an actual triple threat scorer. Inside, outside and on the glass, Lewis is doing what he had to do in Seattle many years ago.
In 25 games with the Wiz, Lewis is averaging 14 points and 7 rebounds and has helped the Wizards get tougher defensively, especially....at home. For Lewis to grade better, I think he has to even be more assertive offensively. At 7'0", Lewis should post up smaller players when he has the chance to giving the Wizards another option offensively.
Al Thornton: Grade C
Every ten games or so, forward Al Thornton has a great game. There's the problem. Like many other Wizards, the issue with Thornton is the ability to bring it every game. It also makes it tough for Thornton to produce because his playing time has gone down considerably since the season started, A one time starter, Thornton is now being used in bit spots. In the loss to New York Monday night, Thornton provided a big spark off the bench off with his energy and hustle scoring 10 points and grabbing 5 rebounds in 24 minutes.
That's likely his new role for the rest of the season for Thornton and when he is giving the chance he has to seize it. To improve, Thornton should attack the basket more off the wing and not settle for jumpers. This is a big second half for Thornton and his future not only with the Wizards but in the NBA.
Kirk Hinrich: Grade B
Sidelined right now by a sprained elbow, Hinrich was having a decent enough season as a starter and coming off the bench averaging 11 points and almost 4 assists a game. Hinrich is good shooter and plays pretty good defense and probably at this point in his season a backup guard Hinich was playing well enough to maybe get a look from a contender at the trade deadline.
Yi Jianlian: Grade D
The former top 10 pick has been a bust. The 7'0 has been slowed by injury but when healthy Yi just looks out of place and is a elbow jump shooter averaging just 5 points a game in 16 minutes a game. To improve, he has to get better down on the block and defensively. At 250, he is a solid specimen but doesn't use his size to his advantage at all.
Trevor Booker and Kevin Saraphin: Grades C
Booker and Saraphin have a long way to go. Booker is an energy player who will need to work on his ball handling and jump shot if they want him to play the small forward spot next season. Saraphin has banged when in ballgames and has an ability to block shots. The verdict is very much out.
Josh Howard: No Grade
It's too bad that Howard hasn't been able get full healthy with his knee. Able to play in just 6 games before his knee got too sore, Howard would have been a nice veteran to have on the court. Right now, he is just a spectator.