The Washington Wizards likely had their most important off-season in years this summer and while many people had their doubts due to Ernie Grunfeld’s past blunders as General Manager and President of the teams, he has made some very reasonable transactions. One of them is acquiring former Spur and Maverick, DeJuan Blair, in a sign and trade with Dallas.
Wizards fans remember Blair for not being drafted by the team in 2009, the year of the infamous Randy Foye and Mike Miller trade. They ended up selling their 2nd round pick, which the Rockets would use to draft Jermaine Taylor, and DeJuan Blair was picked not too long after. The Wizards signed him to a 3 year, 6 million dollar contract with a team option in year 3, after allegedly wanting him last year in a sign and trade with San Antonio. DeJuan Blair is only 25, yet brings playoff experience and grit to a team that has seemingly prioritized that with Randy Wittman as head coach.
Now, let’s talk about Blair as a basketball player.
At first when the Wizards were trying to acquire DeJuan Blair last year, I was not a big fan of the idea of him in a Wizards uniform. At the time, I felt that the ideal Wizards big man should be able to either shoot or defend and a high level. Blair was good at neither of those things, and I could just see the 2nd unit being clogged up with the lack of spacing. I had those same fears when the Wizards were first trying to acquire DeJuan Blair this off-season from the Mavericks. While I had my criticisms about Trevor Booker, I didn’t think Blair was much of an upgrade over him because of his lack of shooting ability and their similar rebounding (good) and defensive (bad) qualities. However, the Wizards acquired Kris Humphries, who is a great mid range shooter, and I became more open to the idea of Blair. Now that I’ve looked more closely at him as a player, I can safely say that he has the potential to have a large impact on the team next year.
The first aspect of Blair’s game that struck me as I watched snippets of his play was his rebounding.
This is probably what he is best known for as a player, and it shines on tape. DeJuan Blair is excellent at taking up space in the paint and giving himself a large radius to grab his rebound. His diminutive stature as a big man (around 6’7) is irrelevant in regards to his ability to rebound. He has a large, 270 pound frame that he uses to create room under the basket for him to grab boards. Even when he is seemingly boxed out, he creates space by subtly shoving his man in the back and quickly snatching the ball. His incredible hands and reaction time make up for his lack of jumping ability, and he never fumbles the ball after grabbing it.
DeJuan Blair was 23rd in the league in contested rebounds per game, despite only playing 15 minutes per game last season with the Mavericks, per NBA.com. Blair was tied for 26th in total rebounding rate with Al Jefferson and tied for 11th in offensive rebounding rate with DeAndre Jordan, per ESPN.com. For a team like Washington, who was below average in offensive rebounding rate last season (ranked 17th), this will be a major improvement, and Blair’s ability to restart possessions and/or get putbacks will be valuable.
Offensively, DeJuan Blair is a very impactful player in the right situations.
DeJuan Blair’s never been seen as a big time scorer, but is very efficient close to the basket (63.6% in the restricted area), and as long as he plays his natural position at C, where he can roam around the paint, he’ll be able to take full advantage of this skill. While Blair’s not a shooter, he has a very effective floater that he can use if his path to the rim is impeded. He shot a very reasonable 44.6% in the paint from the non-restricted area spots, which are some of the most difficult shots league-wide. This floater is also useful for when he acts as a roll man, especially in the short roll, when his path to the rim is impeded. Blair’s best offensive skill is his ability to slip screens and roll to the rim. He’ll act as if he’s setting a screen and then will slip between his defender and the ball handler’s defender and have a clear path to the rim.
This could act as a safety valve for ball handlers on the team and the main ones, John Wall, Andre Miller, and even Bradley Beal should be able to maximize it. One other part of Blair’s game, that was even surprising to me was how quick and nimble he is on his feet. It is almost as if he’s gliding when running the floor. Looking at him would make one assume that he is a slow and burly player, but he is surprisingly fast for someone with no ACLs, and should be able to run with John Wall and Bradley Beal, should they be on the floor at the same time.
Despite all of the things DeJuan Blair does well, there is a reason he has been a backup big man for the last two seasons. Blair is very poor defender, largely because of his athletic limitations and his size. While he is bulky, depending on him to guard anyone is a bad idea and having him drop back on pick and rolls and playing him at the 5 (which is his natural position anyway) is probably the best way to hide his defense, as DeJuan Blair’s been known for gambling.
Even then, he cannot protect the rim due to his size and lack of jumping ability. The good news, however, is that Blair’s quick hands allows him to rack up a large amount of steals (1.8 per 36 min) and he is able to quickly get up the floor with a clear path to score on the other end. However, having Blair on the floor could definitely create some defensive limitations, and Randy Wittman will have to be selective on when to play him. Blair also cannot shoot at all, which could create spacing issues. Again, this is likely resolved if Blair is playing his natural position at the 5 where the skill is not as vital. While Blair’s impact as a whole should be positive, depending on his minutes, he does have limitations that could be exposed in the least ideal situations.
Overall, Wizards fans should be happy to have DeJuan Blair on board. Considering he came dirt cheap at only 2 million a year, Blair should be great value for a team that was desperate for frontcourt depth last season. He’ll make a sizable impact with his rebounding and offensive skills, and should be great insurance for Marcin Gortat and Nene. Despite his limitations, there is no doubt that Blair is a net positive as a backup center, and the Wizards will absolutely appreciate his contributions.