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Leftovers Part I: Role Players

Lie-tu-va! (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

It was easy to get caught up in the effect that Gilbert Arenas and Brendan Haywood had on the Washington Wizards as both players started alongside Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison for the first time this season. But there were some contributions, from players who were placed back in their rightful roles, that cannot be ignored in the Wizards 109-101 win over Cleveland on Thursday.

The Wizards probably aren't feeling so good about themselves this morning if not for Darius Songaila. Songaila had 17 points and six rebounds, but he saved his team in the fourth quarter. The Cavaliers erased a 14-point deficit and closed to within 89-88 when LeBron James made a layup with 6:51 remaining.

The Wizards were in an especially shaky situation because Antawn Jamison was forced to leave the game about 50 seconds earlier after jamming his right ankle and foot, possibly putting more pressure on Butler to carry the team. Songaila was looking to feed Butler underneath, but his pass was deflected by Wally Szczerbiak. He grabbed the ball and went right back up, getting fouled on a three-foot jumper and flexing before making the free throw. Then, Songaila drove right around Szczerbiak for a layup that put the Wizards ahead 94-88.

Songaila isn't one for emotion, but he really let loose on Thursday, hooting and hollering like he was playing for the Lithuanian national team, not in some relatively meaningless game for a lottery team. "You could feel the energy building up in the arena," Songaila said. "We were all fired up. I think that definitely showed on the court."

Songaila played the final 1:47 in place of Jamison, who was favoring his foot while he was on the floor, forcing Wizards interim Coach Ed Tapscott to take him out. Jamison left the locker room with a noticeable limp, but Tapscott didn't think the injury was anything serious.

Before the game, Nick Young confidently bragged to Andray Blatche that he had been given the green light off the bench, comparing himself to streaky but effective sixth men Jason Terry and Ben Gordon. After having an up-and-down season, Young had his best month of the season in March, when he averaged 12.4 points. He had a string of 10 consecutive games with at least 10 points snapped on Sunday in Indiana, but he has started another after scoring 16 points in Memphis on Wednesday and another 10 against the Cavaliers.

One play against Cleveland stood out. With less than 90 seconds remaining, the Wizards were clinging to a four-point lead and Young had the ball at the top of the key. Arenas and Butler were on the floor with him, but Young was the one taking the huge shot. He drove right to the basket for a pretty finger roll that pushed the Wizards lead up to 104-98.

"Gil told me to go. That's how much confidence he has in me," Young said. "Being the youngest guy out there, with Gil, Caron. I was kind of nervous. I ain't never been in that situation before. Me having the ball, I didn't want to mess up to hear these guys' mouths. When he told me to take it, I tried my hardest to get to that hole."

After a bizarre back-to-back in which they lost to Memphis and beat Cleveland, the Wizards have the day off.

By Michael Lee  |  April 3, 2009; 8:07 AM ET
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Next: Leftovers Part II: The King's Antics


Yes, Songaila played well; proves that he is better at PF than at C, where he is overmatched.

Posted by: sagaliba | April 3, 2009 9:22 AM | Report abuse

When the Wizards are back at full strength and the complimentry players are back to filling roles. This roster isn't nearly as bad as it's looked.

Posted by: flohrtv | April 3, 2009 9:34 AM | Report abuse

Songaila was never supposed to be more then a 15-20 min. a game "glue guy" vet to stabilize the bench. He was completely out of his element at starting center.

Posted by: flohrtv | April 3, 2009 9:37 AM | Report abuse

Another great game analysis Mr. Lee. Man, this game brings back memories from last year when we were having all out warfare on this blog on weather or not Haywood was worth having on this team. There were so many Haywood haters you could not even count them all.

I am just glad to see Haywood is finally get his due as a being a legit starting "5" in this league. It was always there, but for some reason or another Eddie J' just could not see it until forced (i.e. Etan's injury). Big up's to Haywood for showing why he deserves a new contract from the team when his present deal is up next year.

As for the Gilbert haters, the same can be said about him. Even at 75% (as he appears now) he is better then a lot of starting PG's in this league. Just wait until he gets it all back 100% by next season. Folks stop crying about his 111 million contract. He is an elite player when fully healthy, so these types of players get 100 million dollar contracts.

As for Song., a poster put it perfectly. He was playing at the "4" spot as he should and the dude handled his business. Back to the big three, it was real nice seeing "the band" back together. If McGuire works on his jumper over the summer, I can work with him taking Stevenson's spot in the starting lineup.

Or better yet, a trade for Larry Hughes would really sound good to me. Either way, this win was worth giving up some ping pong balls in my book......

Posted by: BulletsFever | April 3, 2009 9:46 AM | Report abuse

GM, I was thinking the same thing. What was clear to me last night was we were seeing the benefits of having three starters and a couple key reserves down for most of the year. Our bench looked pretty darn good last night.

Posted by: jones-y | April 3, 2009 9:50 AM | Report abuse

Wonder if the good feelings reflected above will bounce to Tapscott. Think he'll look like a coach with the boys all back?

Posted by: joe2chase | April 3, 2009 9:54 AM | Report abuse

"As for Song., a poster put it perfectly. He was playing at the "4" spot as he should..."

He's not even a great fit at the 4. Too many guys he faces are bigger and faster than he is. But he's got valuable skills, and coaches will find a place for that.

Passed a park in Montgomery County the other day where there was a furious game of full court street ball in action. Bunch of young kids with good legs and a playing style derived from And1 videos. But there was one kid, about 6' and maybe 20 lbs. overweight, who kept catching your eye. It was his fundamentals. Somehow he was always in the right place to interrupt what the other team wanted to do, intercept a pass, get the break going the other way. Never seemed to be playing hard, actually seeemed tired during the game, and yet among all these plashy, hyperactive athletes, he was clearly the best player on the court.

Wonder if that's what Tapscott thinks sometimes about Songaila. Somebody taught him how to play the game, and he never forgot.

Posted by: Samson151 | April 3, 2009 10:08 AM | Report abuse

that shot by Nick Young was huge. At the time I felt the team was in a mini-rut and you could just sense that LeBron was going to turn it up. Gilbert passed to Young and told him to take over and he did.

I think the leadership Gilbert gives this team is amazing. The young guys feed off him, because they know he knows their ability.

Posted by: tedunni1 | April 3, 2009 10:32 AM | Report abuse

get lucky in the draft, nobody gets injured, could be an interesting season next year.

Posted by: stevie2 | April 3, 2009 10:47 AM | Report abuse

BTH makes a big difference. It's so obvious. The vision that the Wiz had 2 years ago was on full display last night. We're not gonna shut anyone down with this squad but if we learn to play even adequate defense, we can outscore most teams in this league.
I don't know if it's a winning formula but at least the country could see what we have. We played well and that's without huge contributions from Gil offensively or the young players like AB and JM.

I've said it before and I still beleive that we don't even need a pick. The team we have now can win if we have the right coaching and we're healthy. We can get to 50 wins and a 2 or 3 seed. The only question is whether we can buckle down and play enough D in the playoffs to get far.

Unless we can get Griffin, we need to trade the pick for a big veteran with skills (and not an old guy) or a future pick. We have no need for another 19 year old PF unless he's burly and a rebounding/defensive specialist. Don't even talk about Dejuan Blair because he's too short.

Posted by: original_mark | April 3, 2009 11:22 AM | Report abuse

Presence of Haywood can't be understated. He neutralized Z from dominating under the boards and actually outscored him. He also altered a number of shots or forced the Cavs to settle for jumpers. Not that this makes the Wizards a good defensive team, but at least covers up for the fact that Arenas can't stay in front of anyone. I was surprised how minimal of lateral movement he showed on defense and how the Cavs attaked him with West.

Looks like the Wiz should be able to return to being at least a .500 team next year with the current roster, but there are still too many weaknesses to overly excited about being a contender next year.

Posted by: wizfan89 | April 3, 2009 11:24 AM | Report abuse

Darius just abused Wally Szczerbiak in last night's game. It was clear he couldn't handle Darius and Darius just went at him time and time again. Great recognition of a mismatch on Songaila's part.

Posted by: jonathan30033 | April 3, 2009 11:42 AM | Report abuse

Let's not make Haywood more than he is. He could be the starting center of a legit contender with our Big 3, but we'd need a starting 2 who is better than Stevenson, McGuire or even an aging Hughes to be a legit contender.

In addition to a solid starting 5 (after adding a 2), we need:

1) Young to improve into a solid 3rd guard;
2) A back-up center better than Etan. Blatche and particularly McGee have potential, but the Wiz aren't great at developing talent.
3) I'm not convinced that Song and McGuire are good enough reserves for a title contender. But Griffin would fit the bill if the Wizards' luck changes.

It would have been nice for Blatche, Young and McGee to have played more this year. Without that, there are too many question marks going into next year for the Wiz to be considered anything more than a 5 seed.

Posted by: Izman | April 3, 2009 11:43 AM | Report abuse

Last night proved that Blatche's basketball IQ is less than zero. This guy has so much physical talent but no mental talent. If you could combine Blatche and McGuire, Wizards would have a great player.

Posted by: fearturtle44 | April 3, 2009 12:23 PM | Report abuse

When I think about a second unit next year that is basically our first team from this year, it's pretty impressive. McGee, Songalia, Blatch, Young and Critt.. not a bad list of backups.

It'll be very interesting to see who gets the minutes at the 2 between DMac, Young and Stevenson next year. Personally, I think Young has locked up the job of scorer off the bench and DMac has improved so much it's hard for me to imagine him sitting when Stevenson is ready to go again. But, I'm sure once the back is healed fully, Stevenson will be a much different player than he showed most of this year.

It's a good situation for Grunsfield. He's assembled a lot of valuable assets to surround the core.

Posted by: jon_quest | April 3, 2009 12:23 PM | Report abuse

Someone once said about Songaila, he is just like James Thrash of the Redskins, he does everything right, and rarely make mistakes. But if he is your starter, that means your team is bad.

With his "fundamentals," he can contribute as a role player playing at 4 (even with his slowness), but not as a starting 5. The main reason Songaila played well last night was because he was matched up with Wally, and not the opposing center.

Posted by: sagaliba | April 3, 2009 12:56 PM | Report abuse

It was great to see Haywood putting a body on Ilgauskas, and Songalia basically shut down Szczerbiak. But, let's not get carried away about Brendan. This was GOOD Brendan. Most nights, he's not going to get you more than 12 points and/or 8 rebounds.

The real deal is JaVale McGee. It's only a matter of time before JaVale McGee bulks up and moves into the starting center position. Even the Wizards are smart enough to see that they have a potential monster shot blocker and inside scoring threat in JaVale.

2009-2010 Preview
Going into next season, the Wizards need to part company with DeShawn Stevenson, Oleksiy Pecherov and Etan Thomas. Juan Dixon is 'on the bubble.'

Nick Young has the physical ability to play the shooting guard spot and he will easily get you 12 points a night. Nick must learn to concentrate on the mental aspects of the game.

Andray Blatche is another enigma. He's a big man with skills, who is trying to do too many things. But with the right coach, Blatche could become a major force on the frontline.

Javaris Crittenton is a pure point guard with a big upside. He gives the Wizareds an additional scoring threat and he takes a lot of the ball handling responsibility away from Caron Butler [which is a good thing].

With minimal injuries, the 2009-2010 Wiz could beat Detroit, Atlanta or Miami and make it into the 2nd round of the playoffs.

Posted by: musicmanjr | April 3, 2009 1:42 PM | Report abuse

But, let's not get carried away about Brendan. This was GOOD Brendan. Most nights, he's not going to get you more than 12 points and/or 8 rebounds.

I agree, let's not get carried away. We need his 6-8 rebounds, but his 7-10 points per game is a nice plus and not a necessity. But that is all overshadowed by his team D. We win 10-12 more games this year if we had him manning the middle. That puts us just barely outside the East playoff picture, but its a lot more respectable than 17-59.

His return has clearly demonstrated how weak out team D and interior D has been. Now don't get me wrong, he's not the best interior defender, and he does better against the big slow types like Big Z than the more athletic types like Nene, but he's head and shoulders over everyone on the roster defensively. Etan is a somewhat better defender on the athletic 5s and stronger 4s, but BTH is a way better team defender.

The real deal is JaVale McGee. It's only a matter of time before JaVale McGee bulks up and moves into the starting center position. Even the Wizards are smart enough to see that they have a potential monster shot blocker and inside scoring threat in JaVale.

Time yes. Won't be next year, may or may not be during the 2010-11 season, depending on how fast he gets it, but he's our future starting 5 no doubt about that.

Yes the wiz see his potential (key word), as does the rest of the league, that's why EG said no to all the teams who wanted him at last month's trade deadline. All the teams who were willing to take on some dead weight (like Etan or Mike James) to get him.

Posted by: jones-y | April 3, 2009 3:04 PM | Report abuse

"But, let's not get carried away about Brendan. This was GOOD Brendan. Most nights, he's not going to get you more than 12 points and/or 8 rebounds."

If Brendan can play that well in his second game back in 6 months, people should be getting MORE excited about his prospects.

He looks quicker, more agile, and more athletic than I ever remember him being with this team. On top of that, he looks mentally sharp. These things happen sometimes when players get injured (depending on the injury). Never underestimate what a prolonged absence can do to a player.

Posted by: psps23 | April 3, 2009 3:15 PM | Report abuse

"The real deal is JaVale McGee. It's only a matter of time before JaVale McGee bulks up and moves into the starting center position."

"IF" he develops, he will be a real deal, and a starter, no doubt. But it is not a sure thing yet, and Wizards' track record of developing talent isn't that good.

Posted by: sagaliba | April 3, 2009 4:49 PM | Report abuse

musicman, kidding me. Watch the game..the flow...everything. Haywood is ALWAYS in the right position to cut off passing lanes or back off a guard from getting to the rim. McGee is way more athletic but clueless in basketball IQ at this point compared to Haywood. Not to mention the strength difference. McGee played well in his intended role last night much like Songalia.

I've been saying all along don't judge this team until next season. The bandwagon is already growing. Been on board for a healthy Wiz team all year.

The good thing is guys like McGee get to see how it is supposed to be done on a professional level now that the legit professional players are back. It ups the ante for the rest!

Posted by: rphilli721 | April 3, 2009 6:20 PM | Report abuse

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