The Washington Wizards were supposed to be the surprise of the East, if not the entire NBA. They were slated to have Antawn Jamison, Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood healthy at the same time for the first time in a few years. Throw in Mike Miller's versatility and true shooting ability, the Wiz looked like the beast of the East. A month later no one is so much as uttering the words 'playoffs' or 'post-season.' Wins are few and far between so far, and the season-high two-game winning streak was broken in shameful fashion. Who is to blame? Is it possible to point the finger at just one player, or does the blame lie with the coach?
It is simple to look at the stats and see that Arenas is not having the great year everyone thought he would, Jamison was missing for the first nine games of the season, Butler is struggling to adjust to Flip Saunders' offense, the defense is abysmal, the offense can't score, but is any of that the real cause? In short, yes. And no. Yes, Arenas is shooting 40 percent from the field, 34.4 percent from three-point range, and 73.7 percent from the free throw line, all career lows excluding the 15 games he appeared in over the last two seasons. He claims to have changed his game and called his teammates out for not meeting him halfway on it, but the stats show otherwise. In games where he appeared to be on the ball with his passes, his assists just fill the void left by his poor shooting. In games where has had recorded eight assists or more, he is 60 of 156 from the field (38 percent) and 14 of 42 from three-point range (33.3 percent). As a comparison, in the games where Arenas has fewer than eight assists, he is 72 of 174 from the field (41 percent) and 18 of 47 from three (38 percent). It just shows that Arenas only changes his game when he isn't scoring. And he isn't scoring because he isn't making the same shots or the same amount of shots he was prior to his injury He is still throwing up 20 shots a game, but he isn't making nearly enough to keep the Wizards in contention with anyone in the NBA. Arenas is certainly an important part of the Wizards, but he is not as important as he may think he is. Prior to Jamison's debut, the Wizards had won two games. Since then, they have won five of their last 10. The Wizards have put themselves back on track since the return of their fearless leader in Jamison, but they are a ways away from turning the corner from the bottom of the league to playoff hopefuls and beyond. The "Big Three" isn't what it used to be, and has since expanded to four in the wake of Brendan Haywood's great play through the start of the season.
Still, the Wizards are on the wrong side of .500 early in the season with a wealth of problems that seem impossible to solve. Decent defensive efforts from Washington are sub-par efforts anywhere else. Their players aren't good enough to hit the number of shots necessary to be a run-and-gun type of team they seem so desperate to emulate. And even with a noticeable shift in attitude in the midst of winning four of their last six, they still look like they are searching for an identity. The NBA season is long and can feature unexpected runs and slumps for any team, the Wizards are riding a sort of run that followed a season-opening slump. The playoffs are a long way away in terms of the season and where the Wizards are as a team right now. Wins alone won't solve both problems and losses only compound them.