Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Washington Wizards Should Keep Gilbert Arenas

Why should the Washington Wizards maintain the services of Gilbert Arenas? The short answer is 29.3, as in 29.3 points per game, Gilbert Arenas scoring average in 2005-2006. That is an elite number. How elite? Well only three players have topped it since 2005-2006. Maybe you have heard of those players, it's Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson and Lebron James, that's it. In three seasons only Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson and Lebron James have gone higher than 29.3 ppg. Plain and simple, Gilbert Arenas is an elite scorer in the NBA.

There are two arguments that one can use against the Wizards keeping Agent Zero, the first one is that Arenas is over the hill, injury prone or just can't score 30 points a game for entire season again. The idea that Gilbert is past his prime is laughable. Kobe is three and a half years older than Arenas and nobody is telling the 2007-2008 MVP that he is past his prime. Also, Kobe has had three of his top five scoring seasons since turning 27, coincidently the age Arenas will be next year. Gilbert may not be Kobe Bryant, but he certainly isn't over the hill.

Is Gilbert Arenas injury prone? Maybe. The MCL injury that ended his 2006-2007 injury lingered into 2007 eventually causing him to have surgery, missing most of the 2007-2008 injury. Really only sounds like one injury to me, so rather than brand the guy with the "injury prone" label, let's just see how next season goes after Arenas has had an entire offseason to recover.

Can Arenas score maintain a 30 ppg scoring average again? Looks like it. After the aforementioned 29.3, Gilbert scored at a 28.5 ppg clip in 2006-2007 and hasn't been fully healthy since. His 19.3 in 2007-2008 looks like a pretty big drop off, but looks can be deceiving. In the nine games that Arenas came off the bench for late in the 2008 season, he scored at a rate of 0.57 points per minute of floor time. While this is down from his impressive 0.72 pt/min in 2006-2007 and 0.69 pt/min in 2005-2006, it's certainly not bad for a guy that wasn't even close to 100%. In fact, over the course of a 40 minute game, it's only the difference of six points, something I can easily see Arenas overcoming when he returns to full health. Even if Gilbert only comes back to score at a 0.57 pt/min clip, that would have probably put him somewhere around the 8th best scorer in the NBA, somewhere around Dirk Nowitzki and Michael Redd. If Michael Redd is the ground floor, it's definitely worth it for the Wizards to see how high the Gilbert Arenas elevator can go.

The second argument is that the Wizards would be better off building around Caron Butler and Antwan Jamison and developing Roger Mason Jr. or Deshawn Stevenson into the combo guard that Arenas is. Caron Butler is under contract until 2011-2012, so he is definitely part of the Wizards long-term plans. The debate is between Antwan Jamison (currently a free agent) and Gilbert Arenas (a free agent if he options out of the last year of his contract, which he has indicated he will do). The choice here is Arenas. While Jamison is coming off a 20 point, 10 rebound season (matched by only 3 other players in the NBA this season: Dwight Howard, Al Jefferson and Carlos Boozer) he isn't an elite NBA big man. Yet somebody is going to pay him like an elite big man, probably somewhere near $20 million per season. Jamison shot a miserable 43.6% from the floor this year (Howard, Jefferson and Boozer were all over 50%). In fact, of the 18 players that averaged at least nine rebounds per game in 2007-2008, only Zydrunas Ilgauskas had a lower point to shot attempt ratio than Jamison. This puts a little tarnish on Antwan's 20 ppg. While Jamison's rebounding ability is legit (although playing more than 1 min/game more than any of the other guys averaging at least 9 reb/game), he is historically known as a guy that doesn't play a lot of defense, something you would ideally like from a power forward. So it comes down to a choice, the Wizards can either pay for an elite scorer or a defensively challenged, poor shooting power forward.

The combination of Caron Butler and Gilbert Arenas will pick up most of Jamison's scoring load, while the developing, defensive-minded Andray Blatche and the returning Eton Thomas can clear the boards and provide a toughness down low that the Wizards haven't had in some time. This is a much better solution than retaining Jamison (with his aforementioned flaws) and having a gaping hole at point guard. If you haven't been convinced yet, consider that the 2007-2008 Wizards team was basically the Jamison/Butler option, and how did that work out?

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