Washington Wizards’ DeJuan Blair Is Serious About Contributing This Season


When the Washington Wizards made the switch to small-ball this season, most wondered how the big men would adapt to the change. While Marcin Gortat and Nene have thrived in fast-paced systems before, the likes of Kris Humphries and DeJuan Blair would have to find new ways to contribute.

Drew Gooden is the only player I could think of who’s completely altered his game in his mid-30’s. For the majority of his career, Gooden was a mid-range shooter and face-up player. Given Washington’s need for a stretch four, Gooden added a three point shot to his arsenal and earned a spot in the rotation when it looked like he’d rarely see the floor.

This summer, Humphries did the same thing, albeit to a lesser extent.

Humphries, like Gooden in the past, has never been a three point shooter. He’s a bruising big man who’s capable of stepping out and knocking down the 15-18 foot jump shot. However, the Washington Wizards have eliminated that shot from their offense.

Humphries worked on adding a three point shot this summer and he’s shot the ball well enough from deep to replace Nene as the team’s starting power forward.

I wouldn’t expect Humphries to shoot lights-out from three, but he’s competent enough to spread the defense. He’s also shown that he’s capable of putting the ball down on the floor and finishing at the basket when the defense closes out.

The system change employed by Randy Wittman has made one message clear to the big men: learn to shoot or you’ll have a tough time staying on the court.

DeJuan Blair is never going to learn how to shoot.

Players like Blair were considered a commodity a few years ago. He’s big, hustles and rebounds the ball well for an undersized center. Unfortunately, he was a liability in virtually every other aspect of the game. He can’t shoot it from anywhere outside of four feet, he’s too slow to run in transition and his defense leaves a lot to be desired.

Blair was supposed to replace Trevor Booker after he opted to join the Utah Jazz, but that never happened. Instead, Blair came into training camp out of shape and Kevin Seraphin became the team’s primary backup center.

This season, Blair vowed to get respect back in the nation’s capital. He lost a bunch of weight and seemed committed to helping the team.

As skeptics, it was still difficult to think of a situation where Blair would find a way to contribute this season. He’s not a player that fits into what the Washington Wizards are trying to do. He can’t shoot nor run along side the guards in transition.

During preseason, though, Blair has shown that he does still have something left to offer.

On Friday against the Philadelphia 76ers, Blair got a chance to play extended minutes with Nene resting. He scored 15 points and grabbed 7 rebounds. More impressively, he actually looked like he had tools to offer. He rolled to the basket, stripped the ball from the post numerous times and didn’t force up bad shots.

Yesterday against the Milwaukee Bucks, Blair morphed into prime Shaq for about 10 minutes. He dropped a double-double in that span and the Bucks announcers compared him to Tim Duncan. As someone pointed out on Twitter, how dare they compare Timmy to one of the best big men of all time…?

Blair finished that game with 12 points and 14 rebounds in just 18 minutes of action. He looks quicker and he’s finding ways to score, which are two of his biggest weaknesses.

Recently, Blair talked about the changes he made this summer, via CSN Washington:

"“This is probably the best I looked since I’ve been in the league, for real…It’s time to switch it up a little bit, trying to better myself in every way.“It’s my body (that’s the difference). Last year was a big wake-up call coming from Dallas, went from playing in the playoffs to not playing at all … This year I worked all over the summer.”"

Even with the obvious improvements he’s made this summer, Blair is still going to have a hard time cracking Wittman’s rotation.

Gortat, Humphries, Nene and Gooden are all presumably ahead of him in the rotation. The Washington Wizards also expect to play Jared Dudley and Otto Porter at the four spot as well.

Regardless of whether or not he gets consistent playing time this season, Blair has shown that he’s still capable of giving the team a lift. He’s energized and hungry to contribute. If things don’t work out in D.C., he’s done enough to find a spot somewhere else — which isn’t something we could’ve envisioned last year.

Blair is no longer just the victory cigar for the Washington Wizards. It’s just preseason, but the difference between this year’s Blair and last year’s Blair is night and day. He’s going to continue playing in these exhibitions with hopes of getting real playing time this season. Will he get it? We’ll just have to wait and see.

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