Well this is exciting, I mean really exciting. We've been at this blogging thing for more than a month and we just assumed the only people who read us were our parents. We are still having trouble gaining a following on the old twitski but we aren't hitting the panic button anytime soon. Last week we wrote an article about the upcoming NBA Draft and what our beloved Wizards could potentially do. This article painted a mural with the English language, but it garnered us our very first letter to the editor! We strongly encourage many more of these and please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
WARNING: WHAT YOU ARE ABOUT TO READ IS ABSURDLY AWESOME.
This letter is in reference to the May 17 piece titled “Ernie Grunfeld’s Lucky Powerballs?”
As a devout reader of the BOTB, Washington Wizards lifer, and owner of an unhealthy obsession with all things NBA (the draft specifically), words cannot describe the jubilation that came over me when I saw all three come together in this post. The excitement could best be described as a mix between “I just put $50 on Animal Kingdom and he is tearing down the back stretch” and “I just finished a 6-year prison sentence and am about to get some strange”. As I polished off the article, I must admit that the incredible high I had going into it had been reduced to a state of confusion, and perhaps a little bit of anger. The anger, of course, was not directed towards the beloved BOTB writers, but rather towards two men who have made me scratch my head more than a psoriasis patient, Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee. The confusion I spoke of came from the ideas that…
a) McGee is a valuable building block for the Wizards, and
b) that Blatche has any sort of discernable value as a trade piece in any league besides the WNBA
Unfortunately I do not have a venue to express such genuine distaste for said players, which is why I turn to you. Opinions are just that, so this is not intended to be a personal attack on you two as writers, but rather a very personal attack on McGee and Blatche.
I don’t think there is any denying the physical skills that both of these guys possess. Just watching McGee in warm-ups, he’s everything you could want in a post player. He’s a legitimate 7 feet tall, has an even longer wing-span, and can jump higher than a lot of guards in the league. He’s even put on enough weight to hold his own in the paint with a lot of the leagues post players. Blatche has prototypical size for a power forward but can move like a small forward. He’s got soft touch out to about 18 feet and is crafty at finishing around the basket. Sounds like a hell of a front-court to me. Physically, these guys pass every test in the book. Mentally? They don’t make grades low enough to describe what they’d get on that test.
The mental game of basketball can typically go one of two ways. The first is just good, clean unintelligence. These types of players don’t remember plays, are out of position defensively, take terrible shots and basically are a coach’s nightmare when it comes to X’s and O’s. I’ve never met Andray or JaVale, so I won’t go as far as to question their intelligence as human beings, but all bets are off when they step on a basketball court. They insist on shooting 15-foot fade-aways with a hand in their face instead of attacking the rim. They get so excited about trying to block a shot that they forget they just left Jordan Crawford under the basket trying to box-out Dwight Howard. These things don’t dawn on unintelligent players because they don’t understand the concept of defensive alignment or good shot selection.
Now, these unintelligent players are tough to overcome because it’s tough to hide their mental deficiencies on the court, but by no means are they unsalvageable. Some of these guys can carve out a productive NBA career by bringing great energy, outworking the other guys on the floor, and playing within themselves (see Chris Anderson). Unfortunately, Andray and JaVale posses neither of those qualities, which brings us back to my second, and most important point about the mental side of basketball.
You have to give a shit about winning.
I’ve watched both players evolve from their rookie seasons into the players they are today, and not once have they instilled any confidence in me that they care about winning games, let alone championships. Maybe McGee doesn’t know any better because he’s been a part of dysfunctional teams since coming into the league, but Blatche has no excuse. His first three years in the league were as part of a playoff team with proven veterans, an environment very conducive to a young player trying to find his way in the league. He played sparingly early in his career but showed enough flashes that in his third year he was finally asked to be a consistent part of the rotation. Rather than embracing the opportunity (as any aspiring NBA player would do), Blatche coasted through his 20 minutes per game, played hard when he felt like it, and complained about not getting his. But it was too late at this point. Big Ern had already extended Blatche before the season so Wiz fans were left hoping that somewhere along the way he would obtain some sort of passion for the game.
Every year after that was the same shit, different day. We’d read all summer long about how Blatche is committed this year; that he spent hours in the gym and is ready to make the leap. We even heard about a post-season conversation he had with his mom that completely changed his attitude on basketball. Wiz fans began talking about him as the centerpiece for the future, like he was the next Kevin Garnett. Ol’ Blatche was even threw us a bone and gave us a great quarter of a season every now and again, but asking him to sustain that was just a little more than he could handle. It wasn’t long until Flip was handing Blatche his annual one-game suspension for complaining about his touches or refusing to re-enter the game. Even when he wasn’t stirring up trouble off the court, his overall body language was that of genuine disinterest and his actual body was painfully out of shape.
Blatche is definitely an extreme case, but McGee still possesses all of the same underlying qualities of someone lacking the mental makeup to succeed in the NBA. We’re talking about two guys who probably gave the best efforts of their careers in the waning moments of a regular season game trying to get a triple-double. It was early in this most recent season in which Flip Saunders openly criticized McGee for playing with too much style and not enough substance. McGee would later go on to admit that he began trying harder because he “just didn’t want to get yelled at anymore.”
I’m as guilty as anyone for buying into the off-season hype and the physical talent, mainly because I wanted so badly for the Wizards to be relevant again. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my short existence, though, it’s that zebras don’t change their stripes. If you don’t love basketball and genuinely care about playing hard and winning, a quick conversation with your mom about playing harder is not going to flip the switch. In a sense, we can’t blame these two because they just don’t have the competitive gene that drives a lot of the great athletes of today. They care about their stats and their money. Basketball is their job, and as long as that check keeps hitting their bank account, they could care less.
The NBA is filled with Andray Blatche’s and JaVale McGee’s, but players of this nature are seldom found on teams that are serious about competing. You need guys that have an overwhelming commitment to winning. If they’re unhappy with their minutes or their touches, they keep their mouths shut because they’re fucking pros. They need to be the kind of guys that would play for free, and actually mean it. I heard a quote from Kevin Durant the other day while he was discussing the possibility of leaving Oklahoma City for a bigger market. “I don’t want to be an icon,” he said, “I just love playing basketball.” Durant is an icon whether he likes it or not, but I believe him, and boy is it refreshing. I also think John Wall is built the same way, and believe he has what it takes to be an NBA champion. I just hope every day that he doesn’t have his career wasted playing alongside the enigmas that are Blatche and McGee.