Is Gilbert a Gunner?Gilbert Arenas' 60 point game last Sunday has flown under the radar in the wake of the melee at Madison Square Garden and the Allen Iverson trade. Arenas became just the 20th player in NBA history to score at least 60 in a game and he broke the all-time record for points in an overtime period with 16 but his performance has largely been ignored--and when it is mentioned, more attention is given to the postgame comments of the man who guarded him (and put up 45 points of his own in a 147-141 loss), Kobe Bryant, who said, "You tip your hat and say, 'See you next time.' First of all, he shot 27 free throws. We as a team shot 30. Think about that. But him individually, it's funny. He doesn't seem to have much of a conscience. I really don't think he does. Some of the shots he took tonight, you miss those, and they're just terrible shots. Awful. You make them and they're unbelievable shots. I don't get a chance to play him much, so I haven't gotten used to that mentality of just chucking it up there. He made some big ones, but I'll be ready next time." Pundits spent some time debating whether or not this was a case of someone in a glass house throwing stones, generally coming to the conclusion that Kobe Bryant is the last person who should be criticizing anyone's shot selection; yeah, three-time NBA champion, member of several All-NBA and All-Defensive Teams--what does he know about basketball? Anyway, I already did a post recognizing the historical significance of Arenas' 60 point game, so I thought that it would be interesting to take Bryant's remarks at face value and see if there is any merit to them. Instead of blaming the messenger, let's actually read the message and see if there is any truth in it.
I touched on this subject briefly near the end of the above post, noting that Arenas' field goal percentage is worse than that of every other player who ranks in the top 25 in the NBA in scoring except for Allen Iverson. Arenas generally does a good job of getting to the free throw line, but his 27 attempts are more than double the number that he attempted in any other game this year. He shot just six free throws in the preceding game, zero (!) free throws in the next game and zero free throws in the first half of Thursday's game against the Kings until the closing seconds; in other words, after his 27 free throw attempts against the Lakers he went nearly six quarters without attempting a free throw. I can understand why Bryant was a bit surprised at that part of Arenas' performance; that does not mean that the calls were bad--it may just mean that for whatever reason Arenas went to the hoop more often and more effectively than he has in any other game this season.
Does Arenas have no "conscience" with his shot selection? Back to the boxscores: while he shot 17-32 in his 60 point game, Arenas was 10-23 in the preceding game, 10-30 in the next game and 9-23 on Thursday versus the Kings. So, in the three games surrounding his career night he shot .382 from the field. Add in the 17-32 and, voila, Arenas shot .426 in those four games--virtually identical to his season and career field goal percentages. Bryant's contention is that Arenas takes a lot of low percentage shots but that against the Lakers he made many of them. The numbers bear that out. Arenas got hot and he burned the Lakers, particularly in overtime, producing a performance of historic proportions. That does not change the fact that he is a low percentage gunner, an All-Star player but someone whose overall game is not on the same level as that of Bryant, LeBron James or Dwyane Wade--players who are more efficient scorers, better rebounders, better passers and better defenders (particularly Bryant in terms of the latter item).
Gilbert Arenas is an exciting player to watch and I respect how he has confounded his doubters throughout his career. He has improved to the point that it seems like he will be an All-Star for years to come but, as I wrote in my Eastern Conference Preview, "Gilbert Arenas is not as good as he thinks he is and if he believes that he can carry his team to a title by outdueling LeBron or Wade one-on-one then he will always come up short. LeBron told Arenas before some key free throws that if Arenas missed then he would send him home. Arenas missed and LeBron sent him home. Bottom line: If Washington does not put some more talent around Arenas and ratchet up the defensive intensity, Arenas’ playoff career will resemble Dominique Wilkins’—lots of points and highlights and no conference finals appearances." Yes, Arenas did outduel Bryant on this one night, just as Wilkins outdueled Michael Jordan on occasion during the regular season--but the standings show that Washington is barely above .500, has the fifth best record in the weak Eastern Conference and thus will not likely advance to the second round of the playoffs this year. Bryant may have been the wrong messenger in the eyes of some but, as TNT's old motto used to say, he "Let the truth be told."
Postscript: Washington rallied from a 59-53 halftime deficit to beat the Sacramento Kings 126-119. Arenas scored 12 points and shot 4-11 from the field in the first half, attempting just two free throws. In the second half he shot 5-12--including three makes from long range--and he made all five of his free throw attempts, scoring 18 in the half and finishing with 30 in the game. He also had eight rebounds and seven assists, better than his season averages in both categories--but the difference for the Wizards when they blew the game open were the 20 second half points scored by Antawn Jamison, who shot 9-17 for the game and had 33 points and 13 rebounds. Without his efficient scoring and strong work on the glass the Wizards may very well have lost. Seven Wizards players played at least 16 minutes and Arenas was the only one who shot less than .500 against the Kings' "defense," which was missing Ron Artest.
Artest was a late scratch after he told Coach Eric Musselman that he couldn't go because of sore knees, an injury that no one knew that Artest has. Musselman was very irritated at the timing of this, because if he had known sooner he could have deactivated Artest and activated someone else.
Regarding the Kings' defense, TNT's Doug Collins listed four traits that characterize good defensive teams:
1) Keep guards out of the lane (the Kings rank 14th in allowing points in the paint).
2) Contest perimeter shots (the Kings rank 28th in three point field goal percentage defense).
3) Block shots (the Kings rank 28th in blocked shots).
4) Defensive rebounding (the Kings rank third in allowing second chance points).
The Kings rank third in the NBA in steals, so the bottom line is: they steal the ball and they rebound misses but the Kings are not effective guarding perimeter shooters nor are they able to stop teams from scoring inside. Therefore, a good strategy against them would be to patiently work the ball around because eventually you are going to get an open jumper or a layup. That probably explains why in the opening minutes of the game Arenas launched a three pointer with five Kings back on defense and no other Wizards player visible on that end of the court (Arenas made the shot).
Arenas had some interesting second quarter possessions, too. After he fired up a fadeaway that completely missed the rim and barely grazed the backboard, Collins said, "That was a bad shot by Gilbert Arenas." The next time down the court, he attempted to feed the post while standing about 10 feet behind the three point line but his pass sailed over Jamison's head. Meanwhile, on defense, John Salmons, who averages 9.7 ppg but finished with a season-high 23, was simply wearing Arenas out by taking him to the hoop.
When Arenas finally did make a three pointer in the second quarter, Collins laughed and said, "I love Gilbert Arenas--he can miss 10 shots in a row and think he's hot."
A few minutes later, Collins' partner Kevin Harlan said, "(Wizards Coach) Eddie Jordan told us before the game, 'We need to have patience and discipline on offense.'" Those words were barely out of his mouth before Arenas dribbled up court and missed a contested three pointer from the top of the key. Collins observed, "That's not a good shot. Gilbert is trying to do too much on his own now."
posted by David Friedman @ 2:34 AM