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Wiz look to the opener


The Wizards wrapped up the preseason last night with a loss at Detroit. The game was pretty similar to the previous seven preseason tilts: the starters came out and jumped all over the Pistons (Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton and Rasheed Wallace sat this one out for Detroit) and the reserves promptly coughed up the big lead. That has been a recurring theme all preseason and Coach Eddie Jordan acknowledged it in his post-game comments following Monday's game in Atlanta and after last night's contest.

The good news if you are a big Wiz fan is that Jordan's rotation will consist of Gilbert Arenas, DeShawn Stevenson, Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison, Brendan Haywood and Etan Thomas, Jarvis Hayes, Antonio Daniels, Michael Ruffin and my preseason MVP, Roger Mason Jr. Each of those guys played solid ball during the preseason. Arenas was basically unstoppable and I don't think he was even trying all that hard. Stevenson has fit in at both ends and he's a better offensive weapon that some folks might think. Caron and Antawn looked good though Antawn has been bothered by a sore right (shooting) shoulder and Daniels has been the same reliable, steady player he was during the final two months of last season.
Jordan essentially confirmed such a rotation after the game when he said: "A pecking order has been established and now we have six practices to get ready for Cleveland."

Mason was terrific Tuesday night. He kept the Wizards in the game in the second quarter with three long jumpers, including two three-pointers, and wound up with a game-high 22 points. For those of you who don't remember him at Virginia, Mason's game is real smooth. He's more of a classic 2-guard than a point but he can handle the rock and he's a good defender. At one point Tuesday night, Detroit's Linsey Hunter tried using his off arm to drive around Mason but Mason slid his feet, kept his spot and drew an offensive foul on Hunter, who smiled, gave Mason some love and headed back the other way. In the second half, Mason shook Flip Murray with wicked crossover followed by a Reggie MIller-like stepback move that created extra space. He then drilled a 19-foot jumper. The Wizards bench was oohing and ahhing at that one.

Though both he and Jarvis are shooters, Mason is a different kind of player. Right now, I see Jarvis being the pure spot-up shooter type and he could wind up playing some at the 3 behind Caron Butler because his size and quickness can make him a tough matchup for some of the smaller 3's in the league. Mason is more of a combo guard and I see him playing in tandem with Antonio Daniels in the backcourt. Daniels can drive and kick while Mason can spot up and drill the open shot when the defense sags. This team did not have that combination off the bench last season. Remember Chucky Atkins throwing up all those knuckleballs early? If opponents sag off of Mason and Hayes the way they did Daniels and Jared Jeffries, they are going to get burned.

Coach Eddie Jordan's take: "We've said it many times: Roger brings a special skill. He's got good size and he can make shots in different ways. Coming off screens. Pulls ups. Spot ups. Running off pick and rolls. And he also plays pretty good defense."
Translation: "I trust Roger Mason." I've been around Eddie now just about every in-season day since the start of last season and I've kind of learned how to read his body language and get a feel for what he is saying and why he is saying it. He likes Mason and Mason is going to get a shot at being in the rotation early in the season.

After the game, Eddie also seemed to confirm what I've suspected all preseason: Etan Thomas is going to be the starting center at Cleveland. Now, I don't know that but follow me here. As I talked with Eddie after the game, I pointed out that for a stretch of the first quarter, Etan brought a "nice burst of energy." Etan had three blocks, including one really good one on Carlos Delfino, and looked as good as he's looked in a long time.
When I said the thing about "a nice burst of energy", Eddie corrected me. "It was a little bit more than a burst of energy, you know, I was a little bit closer I guess....That was some real force there. As I said earlier, a pecking order has been established."
I followed up with this question: "So that means you are leaning towards starting Etan?"
Jordan: "I'm (pause)We have six more practices."
Translation: If Etan practices well and stays healthy, he has a good chance of opening the season as a starter. Remember, Eddie made Etan the starter late last season and Etan would have stayed there if he hadn't hurt his back. Should that happen, I will be very curious to see how Brendan handles it. He's made it clear that he wants to start and expects to start and he hasn't handled demotions well in the past. Stay tuned.

A few folks have written in asking for a Songaila update. I really don't know a whole lot. Here's what I do know: Darius has not played any kind of real basketball since the last week of August during the World Championships. He played hurt over there and has been rehabbing the lower back ever since. That means it's been over a month and a half and he's still not playing. He was given a shot in the lower back two weeks ago with the hope that the shot would loosen up the muscles around that pinched nerve and possibly allow him to move a little better. So far, from what I can tell, that hasn't happened. I haven't heard anything about surgery but it could be well into November or perhaps even December before we see Songaila on the floor.

By Ivan Carter  |  October 25, 2006; 12:00 PM ET
 
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Comments

*sigh*

I hope Haywood starts over Etan. Even though it appears Etan is playing better right now, he's playing against back ups and doesn't scare anyone. Com'on it's the preseason.

I'll say it again, if Haywood will just play defense and stop trying to be a point guard on the offensive side he'll have a significant impact on the Wiz's run towards a *possible* Championship.

The Wiz will not win anything in the post season with Etan Thomas starting at center. He doesn't scare anyone.

Coach Jordan really needs to think this one through. It's not that Haywood is all that great, but he's a 7 footer that can run the floor. If he would just learn to stick his really long arms up without fouling anyone then he could be pretty effective.

Thanks for the update guys. :)

Posted by: Ray | October 25, 2006 1:25 PM | Report abuse

Just wanted to say thanks for the great insight Ivan.

And I really hope Brendan takes the backup role like a man and a teamplayer. Otherwise, I can see his attitude causing problems all season.

Do you get any sense that Eddie wanted to give Etan the starting role a while ago, but is hesitant to for fear of Brendan acting like a baby?

Posted by: Aaron | October 25, 2006 1:30 PM | Report abuse

Ivan/Michael,

You included Michael Ruffin in the group of "guys that played great" during the pre-season. The Ruff didn't play much at all correct?

Re: The starting C spot

I favor Etan depending on the match-ups, I don't think it would be wise to start Etan against any 7 footers.

What is your opinion of Lang? I haven't seen any pre-season games - does he have shot at making the team?

Posted by: Wizzy | October 25, 2006 2:03 PM | Report abuse

Brendan doesn't scare anyone, either. And Etan hasn't only been playing against back ups. As Ivan has pointed out, they've been alternating starts this preseason. I've always thought Etan brought more energy and passion to the game than Brendan. Haywood has looked lost and uncaring at times. All that said, I don't think it matters too much who starts at center for this team because I envision the both of them logging equal minutes, anyway. I'm sure Eddie will go with whomever is playing the best at a particular time. It's not like the center who starts at the onset of the season is cemented in that role for the rest of the year.

Posted by: Colin | October 25, 2006 2:03 PM | Report abuse

Re: Mason -- lots of guys look good in preseason, then can't get it done when the games count. I hope Mason sticks, and continues to play well; but there's a reason he's bounced around. The Songaila situation also scares me.

Seems to me that the "X" factor in this season is Stevenson. I think we know what we'll get from the others (and the fact that Caron and Antonio have been here a year now means we should get out of the gate faster), but we don't know about DeShawn. If he can defend close to Jared's level, and give us some more scoring on the other end, I see a 50-win team here.

Posted by: Keithinator | October 25, 2006 2:03 PM | Report abuse

Brendan/Etan: I disagree that Haywood doesn't scare anyone. On defense, he *does* change shots. He's more imposing with his long arms. Etan may have more energy, but Brendan is more effective, IMO.

Posted by: Keithinator | October 25, 2006 2:06 PM | Report abuse

I hate hearing Ruffin's name in the mix. I am sure he is a great guy, blah, blah, blah, but he was badly exposed in the playoffs for what he really is...a plug. He doesn't scare anyone (and I agree with the other folks, either does Etan). Ruff is a guy who will hustle, grab a few boards, but this guy shouldn't reasonably be in the rotation of a deep-in-the-playoffs-run-caliber team.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 25, 2006 2:27 PM | Report abuse

Mason played in the FIBA competition - that's good-level Euorepan ball - last year for the Israeli team HaPoel Jerusalem. He played well and was a leader on the court. This pre-season is a continuation of his continually improving play.

Posted by: Bob D. | October 25, 2006 2:30 PM | Report abuse

Who's the odd man out of the current 16 players on the roster? My guess would be Mike Hall of GW. I heard he had a shot, but the injury probably puts him on the outside looking in. Too bad they can't cut Booth (darn those guaranteed contracts). Although Blatche and Taylor aren't ready for prime-time according to Coach Jordan, I don't see them not making the team. Also what about the Russian they drafted in the 2nd round. I haven't heard squat about him. Unless Songaila gets healthy, the pickup seems like a waste right now.

Posted by: Ken L | October 25, 2006 3:00 PM | Report abuse

I am just glad Jarred Jeffries is gone. I felt like I was the only guy in the world that thought that guy sucked. Every time I turned around, there was talk of people in the organization worried they couldn't re-sign him. The guy could barely make any shot and, honestly, his defense wasn't all that great. He got smoked all the time. The only thing harder to look at than his basketball game was his mug. Good riddance

Posted by: Craig | October 25, 2006 3:16 PM | Report abuse

Easy there on Ruffin, the guy is a gamer, grabs offensive rebounds, plays solid defense, is an intelligent player who hardly ever makes a mistake, and at the very least is good for 6 very active fouls.

If he's a plug, he's a darn solid plug and definately deserves playing time on a winning team.

Posted by: Wei | October 25, 2006 3:18 PM | Report abuse

oh jeez I can already see Haywad gettin his panties in a bunch from being benched. But hopefully that would inspire him to step up his game...we'll see. I also am worried about the Songaila situation; a pinched nerve in the back sounds like an injury that has the potential to linger/get re-injured:(

Posted by: Tony- | October 25, 2006 3:33 PM | Report abuse

Etan all the way, baby! I realize that Haywood is the better defender but Etan has earned a look as a starter this preseason.

Posted by: Rico, DC | October 25, 2006 3:47 PM | Report abuse

I agree about Jared Jeffries. Any player that Isiah Thomas covets is his for the taking.

As for Haywood, maybe Eddie needs to play the role of psychologist here. Not every athlete takes to tough love or derives motivation from being benched. Maybe Eddie should just start Brendan to get as much out of him as he can and then let Etan-- more of a blue-collar, "team" guy-- contribute off the bench, only with more minutes than he's gotten in the past.

Posted by: Joe The Fan | October 25, 2006 3:47 PM | Report abuse

Woody Paige just picked Gilbert Arenas to win the MVP on Around The Horn...

Posted by: Jason from Southeast | October 25, 2006 4:21 PM | Report abuse

I read an assesment of Brenden's game on ESPN.com today that was probably the most accurate I've seen. It said (and I'm paraphrasing here) "Soft heart, hard hands - Brenden's got it all backwards".

I don't care about a 7 footer who can flail his arms around in hopes that he'll alter a shot. Give me the guy who's 6'10, has the heart of a lion and a fire burning in him. I'll take that guy every time.

Sure, you can't teach size...but you certainly can't teach desire and heart and Etan has always shown a willingness to bang with the biggest of them, scrap and fight for every board, and at least ATTEMPT to challenge anyone who steps in his territory. Had Etan been healthy last season there wouldn't be any question in anyone's mind who the starter should be. Ben Wallace is all of 6'8 without the 'fro, but I don't see anyone waltzing down the lane with him posted at the rim. It's about attitude, not size. Even at 7 feet you can play like you're 5'2. Brenden only plays with fire when he feels slighted. We need fire every night. Let Etan start.

Posted by: Malik | October 25, 2006 4:40 PM | Report abuse

I believe that the Wizard will be a credible force in the NBA this season. The main weakness, which everyone agrees, is the center position. I cannot believe that after at least five years in the league that Haywood has not developed a "pet" move in the low-post that produces a reasonable attempt to make a basket. Nevetheless, I think because of his size he should be the starter. I just wish that he is a bit more aggressive on both defense and offense. Thomas is a warrier but his size limits his effectiveness in the middle but I would keep him in the game at key times because he is not afraid of making mistakes at critical times. I also believe that Coach should play Blache more; he makes good decisions and has real skills; only by playing will his real potential be displayed.

Posted by: Justme | October 25, 2006 4:57 PM | Report abuse

Bottom line with Etan and Brendan - we need them both. Neither is capable of starting 82 games and being productive. Brendan has been wildly inconsistent and while fiery, Etan is going into his 6th season and has only played more than 50 games in TWO of his prior 5 years.

Posted by: JS - College Park | October 25, 2006 5:05 PM | Report abuse

On merit, Etan wins this hands down. Think about how Etan plays when healthy--like a defensive beast. Etan's two problems are staying healthy and..well, he is short and can be handled by some of the bigger centers on some nights. However, the Wizards play better with him starting. Brendan will bring energy for about 10 games before reverting back to a games where he does not really exist. Does he read the paper, every one knows that the Wizards season rides on what they will get and have gotten from the center position for the last # years. Does BH think folks write this because they have a personal issue with him...NO! it is because he does not defend!

Posted by: DJ | October 25, 2006 5:20 PM | Report abuse

You're right, Brendan scared anyone. In fact I wish we had ALL new big men.

But if Haywood would take the intiative to concentrate on defense instead of trying and failing badly to handle the ball like a point guard on offense he would be serviceable.

Etan just plain sucks. Sorry but it's true and we're talking about the PRE-season here. They tried to trade him last year and NO ONE wanted him. What does that tell you? Don't tell me it's his contract either.

Ruffin gives you "bursts" also but do you want him to start? No, I think not.

When the Wiz play a team with a decent big man they lose. The good thing about this year is Caron is starting now, which he should have last year from the beginning I thought, and Daniels along with Stevenson knows thier roles. The Wiz should have a good year, I'm looking foward to it but until they get a big man who can actually play defense they won't win the big one.

They give up WAYYYY to many lay ups.

Posted by: Ray | October 25, 2006 5:43 PM | Report abuse

err doesn't scare. :)

Posted by: Anonymous | October 25, 2006 5:44 PM | Report abuse

I have been coaching high school basketball for 30 years, and the Wizards have more problems than Haywood, and Thomas. I watched the Wizards play in Chapel Hill and, Haywood had 5 touches in the post. Haywood needs 10 to 15 touches a game to be productive. The Wizards as a team need to focus on defense, and stop talking about how many points they are going to average. Jamison should post up as well as shoot the jumper. If Coach Jordan, and his staff are even entertaining who is the best between Haywood and Thomas, the whole staff should rethink it. Be fair to your players,and don't have yes assistants. When fans come to a game they want to see the best the Wizards have to offer. How could you have a player like Haywood, and he not get better? Common sense should tell you, you need the BIG BOY in the middle. Please don't go home early again trying to prove a point to Haywood.

Posted by: David Price | October 25, 2006 7:59 PM | Report abuse

haywood's never gonna change, he is who he is, hoping he'll grow into anything else is akin to hoping kwame brown would. I'm so sick of him. he wants to start? then he should play like he deserves it. as for etan's size, the list of undersized players who played way bigger than they were starts with barkley (not really comparing the two) and goes on and on. what matters is that he battles, haywood thinks he's got the world coming to him and dreams about it when he's on the floor, so leave him off it.

Posted by: bling | October 25, 2006 8:12 PM | Report abuse

Recent alumni at the University of Arizona
wonder how Gilbert Arenas could've been such a complete bum jaking it as a Wildcat in Tucson, then suddenly become master of the court in the NBA...lots of immature basketball players, especially black ones from lower income environments with no special interest in an education, but intently focused on developing physical skills, show up to spend two years or so in what is a "minor league" experience at universities all across the USA...people like coach Lute Olson and athletic directors like Livengood (a jerk)at the University of Arizona are happy to take advantage of them...it's really a disgrace...and quintessentially about $$$$...

Posted by: Nick Nolte | October 25, 2006 8:19 PM | Report abuse

I fully agree with everything David Price just wrote. :)

Posted by: Ray | October 25, 2006 8:36 PM | Report abuse

"especially black ones from lower income environments with no special interest in an education"-nick nolte

hahahaha, love that that's coming from nick nolte - how's your boy mel gibson doing? see you guys are having fun in rehab trading racist conspiracy theories. it is about universities mAking money, that's true, but it's also been an amazing pipeline for a lot of kids who might never have gotten a college education, and with it, have done incredible things for their old neighborhoods. the real shame is these kids get pushed into lame majors and never get to go to class b/c jerks like nick nolte want to watch 30+ games of college ball a year

Posted by: Anonymous | October 25, 2006 8:37 PM | Report abuse

I hope Etan proves me wrong, but I just don't see him as a true center. He's a more natural power forward--and even there he's an awkward ball handler. Last year he wasn't fluid in his movements--every time he had the ball it seems like he had to put it on the floor so that he could make his pivot, jab step move. I don't remember him taking the ball directly to the basket.

I'm also a little worried that Jordan didn't seem to mix in players with the first unit in preseason. I can understand using a second unit in the early games, but during game situations it seems like one of the big three is always going to be on the floor--and that at least two of the starters are always going to be in the line-up--except in the case of blow-outs.

Having said that I do think Stevenson was a solid addition--it sounds like he'll be an upgrade over Jeffries. Songalia probably won't be a factor until early December--but he still seems like a good addition. Hayes adds some depth off the bench. On balance this looks like a very good team, but the center position still appears to be a liability, and I still have concerns about the way Jordan uses his bench. Looking forward to real games to gauge where this team really stands.

Posted by: JPT | October 25, 2006 8:48 PM | Report abuse

Ivan,

Could you explain why the Wizards preseason isn't covered on local TV? CSN hasn't ever carried a single Wiz preseason game, yet on NBA Season Pass, every Celtics game this year has been shown? Also, how do you explain the fact that the Wiz only play one preason home game each year? The Celts and Knicks seemingly have played 4-5 already. What gives?

Posted by: Robb | October 25, 2006 9:19 PM | Report abuse

The coaching staff and front office of the WIZ have taken a perenial loser to the playoffs for 2 consecutive seasons. Let's all try to trust that they know what they are doing.

Posted by: LightAgent | October 25, 2006 9:30 PM | Report abuse

Robb, I know a lot of people who have asked the same thing. We're in a major market and a two time playoff team with a legit superstar can't get their preseason games on the tube? That's whack. Thanks everyone for reading and keep coming back. Mike Lee and myself will keep bringing good NBA stuff all season.

Posted by: Ivan | October 25, 2006 9:43 PM | Report abuse

I want to also say I think it is a crime that the Wizards preseason games are not all televised like the Knicks or the Celtics, they are a definate top four team in the East and deserve more respect, as for the center situation, I recall at the end of the season when Caron was hurt Brendan played some incredible basketball (Chicago and Milwaukee) and was given praise by people like Bill Walton. The problem as Hubie Brown pointed out in the Cleveland series was that they didn't give him enough touches. No player is going to give you a maximum performance if all they do is run up and down the court and not get looked at, for all of you Wiz fans one of the reasons Brendan's numbers went down last year was because he didn't have Larry Hughes passing him the ball in the post in a position to do something positive with it. You have to give your bigs passes that put them in a position to capitalize on their size, Larry was very good at drawing the defense and passing to Brendan for an easy dunk. People understand we don't have a center with a Hakeem or Ewing low post game, but we have someone with good size who catches the ball very well and we have enough players who can penetrate and draw the defense, if they remember to include the big fella He will step up and play well, If you go back and look at the last 8 to 10 games in the season Haywood played well and had presence that made a difference. Start Haywood, include him in the offense and watch the year he will have.

Posted by: Derrick | October 26, 2006 3:49 AM | Report abuse

Derrick is right on. Brendan never gets the ball, except on put backs. As Hubie Brown would say, "The guy shoots a high percentage." He's got a reliable short hook shot.

I'm not saying he's Yao Ming, but Haywood can score - he just never gets opportunities with this team. If he was on a team that was more inside-oriented, he'd probably average 14 or more per game.

And he simply *is* more of a defensive threat than Etan. Watch how teams change their style of play when Brendan's back there. They do not drive to the hole as much, because BH is more of a threat to block the shot. I've seen it over and over.

The one fortunate thing about our lack of quality at center is that almost every other team is in the same boat. I can't ever remember a time when there were fewer quality centers in the league. It's really appalling.

Posted by: Keithinator | October 26, 2006 8:16 AM | Report abuse

The day Haywood gets 10-15 touches a game is the day Eddie Jordan gets fired. That is just insane.

Hubie Brown sees the Wizards maybe 2 games a season and suddenly he's a Brendan Haywood expert? Please.

Posted by: Wei | October 26, 2006 8:42 AM | Report abuse

Wei,

We don't know how Brendan would do with that many touches, since he never gets them. And you miss my point about shooting percentage. You don't have to be an expert in the Wiz to know a player's shooting percentage. You just have to know how to find, and read, statistics.

Posted by: Keithinator | October 26, 2006 8:57 AM | Report abuse

I agree with the earlier posts about getting Haywood more touches (and Etan too). During the first half of a game last season I noticed that Haywood hadn't touched the ball on the offensive end for like the first four minutes. Finally he touched the ball and the Wizards scored. And again. And again, etc. Haywood touched the ball on 11 offensive possessions in the first half and the team scored on the first 10 of those possessions. (How the teams' coaches didn't realize that after watching game film and think, "Hmmm. That gives me an idea," is beyond me. If stupid old me can notice that, shouldn't the coaches?) The point isn't that Haywood is Wilt. It's that it is easier to play offense 5 on 5 than 4 on 5 (the same argument people in Detroit are making about Ben Wallace being replaced with Mohammed). Passing the ball into the pivot makes defenses adjust, thus opening things up for others. There is a reason the typical lineup has a PG, SG, SF, PF and C -- the floor is balanced and makes it more difficult on defenses than if there were 3 centers or point guards.
As for who starts, I don't care. I just want to see the offense run so that all 5 players are involved. Not equally involved, but involved. It makes no sense that Haywood, your starting center, whose field goal percentage last season was near the highest on the team was getting 6 shots a game. That both hurts the offense and keeps opposing big men out of foul trouble.

Posted by: Henry | October 26, 2006 9:01 AM | Report abuse

I would guess that Hubie Brown can watch 5 minutes of basketball and learn more about a team than most of us could learn by watching half a season of games.

Posted by: Steven | October 26, 2006 9:03 AM | Report abuse

For those of you thinking I was calling Hubie Brown a Wizards expert, pay close attention: I was parodying Brown to make a point. Haywood has traditionally been a high-percentage shooter. One of Hubie's favorite phrases is "He shoots a high percentage." Thus, I was gently mocking Hubie to humorously make a point about Haywood. Got it now?

Henry, your analysis of Haywood is spot-on. Having a scorer in the middle, or at least a scoring threat, opens things up a great deal on the perimeter. If Arenas would realize this, we'd win more games, and he'd score even more. Everybody wins!

Posted by: Keithinator | October 26, 2006 10:30 AM | Report abuse

tHE ISSUE WITH BH IS NOT TOUCHES WE DONT NEED HIS SCORING FELLAS WE HAVE THAT IN ABUNDANCE WE NEED HIM TO DEFEND, WHICH HE IS A HUGE LIABILTIY HE ALTERS NOTHING MORE PEOPLE DRIVE DOWN THE LANE ON HIM AND THE MOST HE DOES IS FLOP ON A 6'GUARD.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 26, 2006 10:31 AM | Report abuse

HAYWOOD'S ATTITUDE SAYS ALOT ABOUT HIS ABILITY AND CHARACTER, THE COACH OR TEACHER OR INSTRUCTOR CAN ONLY GUIDE THE INDIVIUAL HAS TO DESIRE TO GET BETTER...DOES THIS SOUND LIKE THE CHARACTER OF HAYWOOD. JORDAN OWES HIM NOTHING HE OWES JORDAN AND TEAM TO PLAY LIKE A MAN EVERY NIGHT.

Posted by: ERIC | October 26, 2006 10:46 AM | Report abuse

One thing to watch during the season is the +/- statistics of Haywood and Etan. Last season, Haywood had one of the highest on the team and Etan one of the lowest. Obviously who is on the court with you when you are on the court is a factor, and Haywood usually was on with all or most of the starters. We'll see if that is the case if Etan is a starter and Haywood comes off the bench.

Posted by: Geo | October 26, 2006 11:28 AM | Report abuse

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