We have a long season ahead of us, but I am having trouble containing my woody after watching the Wiz beatup a 50-win team from last year, on the road no less! With the team undergoing so many changes from last season, there were a lot of questions going into this opener, but I think we already have a few answers. It is never too early to pass judgment, so I will go through my list of 10 burning questions and see where we already stand.
10) Will Gilbert Arenas return to his All-Star form?
Agent Zero is back, and close to fully healthy. The only reservation I have after one game is that he did this against a geriatric defender in Jason Kidd and a midget in JJ Barea. His burst looked pretty good, and more importantly, his passing and distribution looked great. Gil is clearly going to play at an all-star level, but how great he plays will determine how far we go.
9) Can Gilbert Arenas change his ways and be a leader in more than name?
As stated, his distribution and passing were great, indicating that he has become a more true PG. Floor leadership will only be a small part of the battle though and the off-the-court leadership will be hard to determine for a while.
8) Can Flip Saunders get this team to play defense?
I don't want to get ahead of myself here, but the answer in game one was a resounding, "yes'. We held a team below 40% from the field that averaged over 46% last season. Maybe Dallas was a bit rusty, but so far so good here.
7) Can Caron Butler fit in with Arenas after being the alpha-dog for 2 years?
Still not sure on this one. Tough Juice had a 'quiet' 16-8 while shooting 6-17. I kept looking for the offense to run through him whenever Agent Zero was on the bench, but it seems that Flip is set on having his guards initiate. Despite the change in offense, if a few more shots had fallen for Caron, he would have been over his averages from a year ago of 20.8 ppg and 6.2 rpg.
6) Are Mike Miller and Randy Foye what the Wizards really need?
Both had great games, with Miller extremely efficient and fitting in nicely with his teammates. Foye was a pleasant surprise, shooting 8-14 and finishing with 19 points. I wouldn't fire up the Foye bandwagon just yet though, as he had a hot shooting night and only managed 1 assist in 30 minutes despite doing a lot of ball handling. Yes, Foye was good, but I don't think he'll be this good in every game. Miller, however, can clearly be the glue guy that this team desperately needs.
5) Who will be the odd men out in Saunders' rotation?
Flip seems to already have his 8-man rotation set, with Arenas, Miller, Butler, Haywood, Blatche, Foye, Stevenson, and Oberto soaking up all but 3 minutes of PT. It is unclear what will happen when Jamison returns - will this be a 9-man rotation, or will Oberto sit? I like that Oberto brought some grit amongst our offensive talent, so would like to see him in the rotation when Jamison is back.
As assumed, Mike James, Javaris Crittendon, Dominic McGuire, and Javale McGee saw limited or no action. The big surprise here was DCLS friend Nick Young (aka Young Sushi), who did not leave the bench after averaging over 22 minutes a game last season. I expected Young Sushi to get 10-15 mins per game and split or even take the role being played by Deshawn Stevenson. I spoke with Nick on Sunday night and he didn't mention any health issues or problems going into Dallas, so this looks like Flip's decision. I was not impressed with Stevenson though, and would like to see Young Sushi get a shot given that he has some upside.
4) Will the Wizards make another big trade?
With Mike James' expiring contract and a collection of young talent riding the pine last night, it appears that the Wiz definitely have pieces of value they would be willing to deal. Maybe Grunfeld wants to hold onto some of the young guys, but last night should only give ammunition to any trade rumors.
3) Can the team stay injury-free this season?
So far so good.......bang head on wood....
2) Will any of the team's young players step-up?
The only one given a chance last night was Blatche, and he was great. On athletic talent alone, he could average 16-7 with 30+ minutes (after an efficient 20-7 last night). I also thought he moved well off the ball, which, combined with his athleticism, will make for a lot of easy buckets. Once Jamison returns, his minutes will drop, but he should be playing ahead of Oberto.
1) What is the ceiling for this team?
I think I undershot this with a 45-win prediction. I heard Mark Cuban on 106.7 yesterday say that he thinks the Wiz can win 50 games this year. Well, after beating Cuban's 50-win team convincingly, I think he's right. The game at Atlanta on Friday night will be a big indicator about the race for the 4th spot in the East.
(Image courtesy of the AP via espn.com)