Butler Does it, Washington Improves to 5-4 Without ArenasGilbert Arenas is out of action for at least three months due to his two knee surgeries--including a microfracture procedure--but the Washington Wizards are actually playing better without "Agent Zero." Caron Butler scored 29 points on 10-18 field goal shooting as Washington defeated Toronto 101-97; Butler also had seven assists, three rebounds, three steals and no turnovers. The Wizards are now 5-4 this season without Arenas after only going 3-5 while he was in the lineup. Butler is putting up the best numbers of his career by far in all three shooting categories and is scoring a career-best 23.0 ppg. Antawn Jamison also had a big game against Toronto, producing 28 points and 14 rebounds. Jamison shot 11-18 from the field, including nine straight makes after a slow start. Both Butler and Jamison shoot a better percentage from the field than Arenas does, so maybe one thing that we are finding out is that when Arenas returns the Wizards would be better off if "Agent Zero" shot less--particularly the long jumpers that he loves to launch early in the shot clock--and passed more to Butler and Jamison. Butler has blossomed into a multidimensional player who can score inside and out and who also rebounds, defends and passes well.
Last year, Arenas was touted in some quarters as an MVP candidate. If he is truly that valuable then it would be logical to expect that in his absence Butler and Jamison would not only be attracting more defensive attention but that they would also suffer without Arenas' playmaking; that combination of factors should lead to lower shooting percentages for both players. However, Butler has shot 78-143 (.545) from the field in the nine games without Arenas and Jamison has shot 84-66 (.506) from the field in those contests, well above both of their career averages, better than they have ever shot while playing with Arenas and better than every season in their respective careers except one (Jamison shot .535 from the field in 2003-04 while playing for Dallas). One could argue that this is a small sample of games but, at least in terms of this season, it is a balanced sample (eight games with Arenas, nine games without him). It will be interesting to continue to monitor the Wizards' progress as a team as well as the numbers posted by Butler and Jamison.
The Raptors were also missing their most celebrated player and they were obviously affected by the absence of Chris Bosh (who has a strained groin muscle) much more acutely than the Wizards were bothered by the loss of Arenas. Jason Kapono led the Raptors with 23 points and surprising rookie Jamario Moon had a double double (16 points, 13 rebounds) but Andrea Bargnani (four points, 2-13 field goal shooting) had an awful game and Toronto shot just .432 from the field.
At halftime, the Wizards retired Earl Monroe's number 10 jersey. He is just the fourth Wizard/Bullet to have his number retired, joining Gus Johnson, Elvin Hayes and Wes Unseld. Monroe, a Hall of Famer and one of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players, spent the first four seasons of his career with the franchise, then known as the Baltimore Bullets. He was the 1968 Rookie of the Year and he made the 1969 All-NBA First Team after averaging 25.8 ppg. The Bullets traded Monroe to the New York Knicks in 1971 and he formed the "Rolls Royce" backcourt with fellow Hall of Famer Walt Frazier as the Knicks captured the 1973 NBA title. During this year's All-Star Weekend in Las Vegas, Monroe shared with me his memories of playing against various ABA teams--including Dr. J's New York Nets--in some hotly contested interleague preseason games. The Knicks retired his number 15 jersey in 1986, so Monroe is now just the eleventh NBA player to have his jersey retired by at least two teams. Several of Monroe's contemporaries were on hand for the ceremony, including Mike Davis, Mike Riordan, Archie Clark, Kevin Loughery, Phil Chenier and Wes Unseld. Davis also played briefly in the ABA and I had a chance to speak with him at the ABA Reunion during the 2005 All-Star Weekend in Denver.
During the third quarter, Monroe joined announcers Chenier and Steve Buckhantz at the broadcast table to talk about the ceremony and his great career. Monroe explained how he developed his unique playing style: "It was all trial and error for me because I started at the age of 14. Other guys had been playing (from a younger age). What I did was just go to the playgrounds, try this and try that. If it worked, I kept it; if it didn't work I just discarded it." Monroe was not a high flyer but he mastered the spin move and was able to get a shot off against anybody at any time. Chenier described Monroe's style as "herky jerky" because he always had his defender off balance; it has been said that Monroe himself did not know what he was going to do before he did it so his defender had no way of knowing, either. Chenier said that Jamison uses some Monroe-like moves and he also showed some film clips of Tony Parker and LeBron James utilizing spin moves to good effect but I think that the current player whose game is most reminiscent of Monroe's may be Sam Cassell. Like Monroe, Cassell is not a high flyer but he is a master at getting his defender off balance and figuring out how to get off a good shot in any situation.
posted by David Friedman @ 12:05 AM