Caron Butler is officially out for tonight’s home opener against the New Jersey Nets, and so the Wizards — already sporting an alternate starting lineup with Antawn Jamison out — are forced to make more changes.
Coach Flip Saunders is moving backup combo-guard Randy Foye to starting shooting guard, and the previous starting SG Mike Miller to small forward to fill the void left by Butler.
That gives the Wizards a starting lineup of PG Gilbert Arenas, SG Randy Foye, SF Mike Miller, PF Fabricio Oberto, C Brendan Haywood. Saunders noted that this makes for a rather unique situation.
“Now we’re in a different situation, without Caron and making changes on the fly,” Flip said. “It may be one of the few times in history that the starting five tonight, none of those guys were on opening day rosters this time last year with this team. Gil and Brendan were injured, Randy and Mike were in Minnesota, and Fab was in San Antonio. It will be a different, and exciting situation for them too.”
SG DeShawn Stevenson and PF Andray Blatche will be the first options off the bench for the Wizards. It’s a familiar trend — the Wizards losing stars to injury — but unlike the last few seasons, the Wizards have experienced players to call upon. Because of that, Saunders feels like he is well equipped to weather the injury bugs.
“I don’t think we’re snake bitten, that’s just what you do, you fight through injuries,” the coach said. “And that’s why Ernie and the front office did what we did. Thats why we picked up Mike Miller and Randy Foye so when things went out, we didn’t have to rely on throwing a young player out there. Some times it’s tough for them to adjust on the fly. You saw last night, Nick had an opportunity, and he just wasn’t ready when he went in there. Veteran players know what it’s about, they’ve been there and they can help the younger players grow into their roles.”
Because of all the shuffling, and shortage of their top offensive threats, Saunders is placing a higher premium on defensive execution.
“I told our guys, this whole thing is a process. Everybody has talked so much about our defense, and we’re playing good offensive teams, which doesn’t make it any easier. But if you look at our [opponents’] field goal percentage, it’s been really good both in two-point, and the 3-point line,” Saunders said of the Wizards, who in two games have limited their foes to 40.3 percent shooting from the field, while holding them to a .237 clip from 3-point range. “It’s a process. I know offensively we’ll be a good team when we get Antawn back and Caron back, so right now we’re building those basics with our defense and hope they’ll be able to carry us for that stretch.”
For the second straight night, Flip took time to praise Gilbert Arenas’ skills. Last night it was for having the total offensive package. Tonight it was for underrated defensive skills.
“You look at Gilbert and I think he’s an under-appreciated defensive player. If you look at the first two games, the guy he was matched up with have scored nine points in two games between Bibby and Kidd, and he’s been very solid off the ball,” Flip said.
It WAS Jason Kidd, who isn’t really a scoring threat, and Mike Bibby, whose game has declined. But it was a decent start. Kidd was 2-for-6 including 0-for-3 from 3-point range. And Bibby was 3-for-9 including 0-for-4 from the arc.
You don’t normally think Arenas and think defense, and Flip didn’t either until this fall, and he said as much.
“I didn’t realize he was as smart a player as he is, to tell the truth” Saunders says. “He understands concepts, he understands where he’s supposed to be. He’s pretty competitive as far as the situation, and I think understanding what you’re supposed to do is half the battle. So I didn’t think he was as intelligent defensively and those things as he is.”
So, I guess he was saying, he thought Gil just didn’t understand defensive concepts, but he does, only hasn’t applied them, but NOW is beginning to, or something to that affect?? Saunders said Arenas has the potential to become an All-defensive team player, like Chauncey Billups was under him. We shall see …