Sports Illustrated Questions Gilbert Arenas' ValueI recently asked, "Is Gilbert Arenas the Most Overrated All-Star in the NBA?" After all, his Washington Wizards started out 3-5 with him, then went 9-5 in their first 14 games without him; they've gone 2-3 since I made that post, so at 11-8 they have stayed above .500 without him for nearly a fourth of the season and that pace projects over 82 games to a 47-35 record, which would be better than Washington has ever done with a healthy Arenas (the recent downturn can at least partially be attributed to an injury to Antonio Daniels, Arenas' replacement). The Wizards were 39-34 last season before Arenas and Caron Butler were felled by season-ending injuries, so it's not like they were tearing up the NBA even with Agent Zero on the case. Arenas' legion of defenders popped up all over the internet to take up his cause, citing Arenas' gaudy individual statistics and suggesting that the Wizards' good fortune without Arenas is either (a) due to the overall improvement of the roster, (b) temporary or (c) a result of a soft schedule. Reason (a) suggests that the team should have done better in the early going even with a somewhat hobbled Arenas, while time will show us whether reasons (b) and (c) have any validity; of course, the latter two reasons somewhat contradict the first reason, which makes it sound like people are grasping at straws to avoid acknowledging that perhaps there are things about the way Arenas plays that are not conducive to building a team that is a consistent winner.
Chris Mannix offers his take on Arenas and the Wizards in the December 24 issue of Sports Illustrated (and, based on my experience, he should expect to receive a lot of, ahem, feedback):
How have the Wizards flourished without their leading scorer and primary ball handler? While Arenas' teammates publicly marvel at his skills, privately they acknowledge that they are much more focused without the eccentric Arenas--a constant locker room clown who lives for the spotlight--in the lineup. "Gilbert has a tendency to break off a play if he sees an opening or wants to shoot," says a scout. "Without him they are running that Princeton offense and they are getting wide-open looks."
Fans don't pay attention to whether or not Arenas breaks off plays and don't consider what kind of an impact that has on the team; they just see him score a lot of points and they embrace his quirky personality. On the other hand, scouts look at the game analytically. Some people who responded to my previous post about Arenas asked how could Arenas' absence be affecting the improved play of the team's big men, particularly on the glass. That may seem like a reasonable question but anyone who understands basketball realizes that inside players tend to play harder when they feel more involved in the offense and at least get to touch the ball once in a while at that end of the court; also, when a player takes shots that are outside the confines of the offense this leads to bad court balance, which can negatively affect a team's ability to rebound and defend.
Mannix mentions how well that Butler, Antawn Jamison and Brendan Haywood are playing. I don't dispute that the Wizards would not be winning games without their production; my point is that great players usually help everyone around them perform better, so it is a bit odd that so many Wizards players are thriving in Arenas' absence. Mannix raises the possibility that if the Wizards continue to do well without Arenas that perhaps General Manager Ernie Grunfeld will consider not re-signing Arenas and Jamison after this season and use the resulting $14 million in salary cap room to try to sign Elton Brand, Shawn Marion or Josh Smith. "The Wizards are obviously a more talented team with Arenas," Mannix concludes, "but thus far they've shown that they don't need him to win."
You know that something is wrong if Arenas' supporters--most of whom are obviously Wizards' fans--have to hope that their team does poorly the rest of the season without Arenas just to "prove" Arenas' critics to be wrong. My main point in my previous post about Arenas was simply that he is overrated and not truly an MVP level player. As for Mannix' contention, I don't know whether or not the Wizards would be better off long term without Arenas but isn't that a question that is at least worth asking? Did I miss the memo that declared Arenas to be an untouchable franchise player on the level of a Tim Duncan?
posted by David Friedman @ 5:16 AM