There wasn’t much to celebrate about the first half of the 2011-2012 season for the Washington Wizards, but with a young team, it’s all about looking forward to what we can do down the road. The combination of the lockout-shortened season and the Wizards’ inexperience has not worked in their favor. The shortened training camps and lack of practice time means a lot of on the job training for the eight players on the roster with less than two years of NBA experience. John Wall seems to be one of the only certainties about this team. Here are some of the things to watch for from the rest of the Wizards in the second half of the NBA season.
- Can Chris Singleton get back to playing like he did at the beginning of the season?-The Wizards didn’t draft Chris Singleton hoping he would score 20 points per game. Over the course of his three seasons at Florida State, Singleton averaged 10.3 points per game while shooting 42% from the field. He was a first round pick because of his defensive prowess. He finished his career at Florida State 5th in school history in blocked shots and 8th in steals. Standing at 6-feet-8, Singleton has the versatility to defend guards and forwards, and came into the NBA with a chip on his shoulder after falling to 18th in the draft. Singleton has almost been non-existent as a scorer, with 3.8 points per game, and his defense has tailed off recently. He played in just 28 games his last year at Florida State due to a broken foot. Is the grind of the shortened NBA season wearing him down, or will he bounce back after the All-Star break and show us some ferocious defense? Notable stats: Singleton is averaging 1.1 steals per game and only 0.4 blocks. He has grabbed five or more rebounds in a game just six times this year.
- Will Jan Vesely be able to stay on the floor and play consistently?-Vesely was deemed by a lot of analysts as one of the most NBA-ready prospects in this past year’s draft. At 6-feet-11, Vesely is another versatile player that has done a lot of the little things that don’t show up in the stat sheet. He has been the Wizards’ most effective player at guarding pick-and-rolls and hustles for every loose ball. All that is true when he is on the court at least. In the 26 games he has played in this season, he averages three fouls per game in just 15.5 minutes. He has managed to clock more than 20 minutes of on-court time just seven times this season. The All-Star break won’t be enough time to cure this, but as the season progresses we will hope to see a little more discipline from Vesely on both sides of the ball. Vesely is a great energy player, but has been erratic at times.He has been called for a lot illegal screens because he isn’t getting his feet set. Cutting down on those kinds of fouls would be a good place to start for Jan. Notable stats: Vesely was effective at getting to the free throw line in his last professional season overseas. He averaged 4.1 attempts per game, but made only 54% of those. This season, Vesely only averages 0.7 free three attempts per game and is shooting just under 37%.
- What will Andray Blatche look like when he comes back from injury?-Blatche did not travel with the team to Milwaukee today as he continues to rehab his calf injury, but he is expected back soon. It’s a return that many Wizards fans are surely dreading. Before Blatche got hurt, he was averaging a career low 38% shooting in 17 games. Of the 13 games he started, the Wizards won just two. Regardless of what his numbers are like this year, Blatche is the closest thing this team has right now to a true power forward. The Wizards have had a hard time finding anyone interested in trading for Blatche, so it looks like they will be stuck with him for the rest of the season. If he can come back in shape and provide any semblance of low-post scoring, the Wizards could be a little more competitive in games where they can’t get out and run the way they like. Trevor Booker has looked great filling in for Blatche in the mean time and has started to show some flashes off an offensive game to go along with his solid defense. Would Blatche be able to embrace a bench role if he can’t come back as a starter? Probably not, but we’ll have to see. Notable stats: Blatche’s field goal percentage, free throw percentage, rebounds and average minutes are all down significantly from last year. He has scored 20 or more points just once in 17 games played and has yet to play over 40 minutes in a game. Last season he scored 20 or more points 25 times in 64 games played and played over 40 minutes ten times.
- Who is going to play small forward for the Wizards for the rest of the year?-If the Wizards can find a way to combine Nick Young and Chris Singleton into one player, this won’t be an issue. Given the small possibility of that happening, the Wizards will need to find out who can play the small forward position going forward. Up to this point, Chris Singleton and Rashard Lewis have essentially split time starting, Singleton has 18 starts and Rashard has 15, but neither of them appear to be the answer at that position. Singleton doesn’t give the Wizards enough scoring and Rashard doesn’t give the Wizards much of anything. The Wizards have shown some small line-ups where they played Nick Young at small forward, especially in their recent game against the Kings, but they got out-rebounded tremendously with that set on the floor. The Wizards will surely look to address that position in the off-season, but Singleton will probably see the most time at small forward the rest of the year. The question remains where the scoring from that position is going to come from. Notable stats: Rashard Lewis’ ineffectiveness cannot be overstated. He has had one 20-point game this season and his decision making on offense is puzzling. Lewis has been known as one of the better three-point shooters for years, but is shooting just under 24% from three-point range. His field goal and three-point percentages this season are the lowest they have been since his rookie season.
- Can the Wizards avoid finishing with the worst winning percentage in franchise history?-The Wizards’ current winning percentage of 21% has them on pace to be the worst team in franchise history. If they continue to lose at this pace, they will finish worse than the 1961-62 Chicago Packers who had a winning percentage of 22.5%. Since the franchise moved to Washington, the worst winning percentage is 23.2% by the 2000-01 and 2008-09 Wizards. There really aren’t any easy games for the Wizards given that they play offense and defense worse than most of the teams in the league. The bright side: The Wizards still get to play the Bobcats two more times. Notable stats: The Wizards have only won two games in a row once this season. The Charlotte Bobcats have yet to win two games in a row this season.
The Wizards start off the second half of their season on the road tonight against the Milwaukee Bucks. Tip-off is at 8pm EST. The Bucks will be without Center Andrew Bogut. Stephen Jackson and Drew Gooden are also questionable to play. The Bucks have dropped six straight at home.
Follow along during the game with me on Twitter @cooooooookiee.