When Trevor Ariza arrived in Washington this past offseason, he didn’t have the best reputation. Ariza was best known for his performance as a high quality role-player on the 2009 Lakers championship team, and hadn’t played the same since. While he was a fairly decent three-point shooter and a high quality defender, Ariza came with a significant downside. He had a tendency to assert himself offensively, even though he lacked the skills to be the first offensive option. Many fans worried that without an established offensive hierarchy, Ariza would treat the Wizards’ offense as a way to fulfill his wildest high usage-rate fantasies.
And when John Wall went down with an injury to start the season, it looks like Wizards’ fans worst fears were confirmed. Ariza shot 39.5% from the field, 31.1% from three. Many of the nightmarish offensive possessions in the early part of the season began and ended with Ariza breaking from the play and chucking up a long two pointer or an above the break three. I dreaded the moments when fan favorite Martell Webster was subbed out for Trevor Ariza and our offense would stall out as often as a novelty car from the 1930s. He played consistent defense the entire season, with the Wizards giving up 2.3 fewer points per 100 possessions when he was on the court. But still, that was not enough to redeem his large price tag.
Then, something changed. Maybe Randy Wittman crying in the locker room got Ariza to buy in. Maybe John Wall’s return helped crystalize Ariza’s role on the team. Maybe he started to understand his place as a role-player as the season went on. Maybe it was a combination of all three of those things. But at some point in the season, Ariza started playing really well. After the all-star break, he increased his field goal percentage up to 44.6% and his three-point percentage to 41.5%. Even a cursory look at his numbers from prior seasons show that this is his best season since when he made his name with the Lakers in 2009.
Much of this is due to his chemistry with John Wall. Via Nbawowy.com, Ariza has shot 10 percentage points better from three when he shares the floor with John Wall since the young point guard returned. Even more impressive, 98% (!) of Ariza’s three-point makes were assisted when he shared the floor with Wall, as opposed to 88.2% when Wall was off the court. This, I believe, illustrates how Wall’s return crystallized Ariza’s role within the offense. When he shares the floor with Wall, Ariza doesn’t deviate from his strengths and sticks to his role.
So Ariza, like the Wizards in general, had a decidedly mixed season. But if his post all-star numbers are the new normal the Wizards might have a valuable player going forward. Ariza’s expiring contract means he could be flipped to a rebuilding team for draft picks or packaged with the Wizards’ draft pick for an asset to win now. But based on his chemistry with Wall, it might be best to keep him around and see how he plays next season. And if his revitalized three-point shooting is the real deal, the Wizards might want to keep him going forward.