About 2 weeks ago, Andray Blatche casually asked Josh Childress in the Nets locker room, “How are the Wizards doing?” At the time, his Nets were 8-4, and the Wizards were 0-12. Blatche went on to complain about how his former team didn’t have his back and left him out to dry when the fans started booing his miserable play.
At first, I was critical of Blatche, even as a Nets fan. Blatche was terrible in Washington when he first joined the team, and became even worse after signing a massive contract. This finally culminated in Blatche coming into the shortened 11-12 season out of shape and unmotivated, and Blatche played the worst season of his career.
If anything, Wizards fans should be mad at Blatche, I thought initially (which they are). After taking their money and declaring himself as “captain”, Wizards fans were right to expect Blatche to grow up and play like a leader, something that he is clearly capable of doing. Blatche should be blaming himself, not management for not having his back.
Or should he be? Now that he’s on the Nets, Blatche is playing All-Star caliber basketball and he’s doing it in an entirely un-Blatche way; quietly and more importantly, under the rim. After averaging 4 long 2s a game last season, Blatche has reduced that to 1.6, while increasing his shots at the rim from 2.6 to 4.7. And it’s working. Blatche is shooting 53% true shooting, average for a PF, and way better than any of his prior seasons. In addition to that, he’s rebounding better than he ever has before, fouling less, and playing at least competent defense.
All this has added up to a .232 WP48 for ‘Dray. He has the third most WP on an 11-7 team, and has lost his label as a locker room cancer. Let’s use his stats from the NBA Geek to delve further.
And here’s where the Wizards are at fault, Blatche is not doing this through some incredible transformation or activation of latent talent, he’s become productive simply by hustling for boards, getting in shape, and listening to his coaches when they tell him that a PF should be shooting inside and not shooting 20 footers (side note: if Blatche continues this tear, I think Avery Johnson, of all people, may deserve Coach of the Year).
There’s no doubt that Blatche has to take some individual blame for his poor performance in the past. But that being said, I do believe there’s some truth to no one having his back in Washington. Surrounded by an volatile environment (basically just having Gilbert Arenas around) and with no leader to guide him through his young career, Blatche’s talent wasted away and the Wizards were unable to cash in on what looks like at least an above average player. Now with the Nets, Blatche is apparently inseparable from Reggie Evans and Avery Johnson, has wised up, and is winning.
Ultimately, this shows something that we usually say doesn’t matter; coaching and the team environment can hurt or help a player’s performance when that player comes into the NBA as immature as Blatche did. When teams bring in players like Blatche, guys that are talented but mercurial, there has to be a serious effort to teach them how to play the game productively and make sure that their morale is high. That is the difference between coaches like Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich, and teams that become a punchline for former players.