- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Gilbert Arenas has earned the inaccurate reputation among a segment of the NBA intelligentsia of being the stereotypical ball hog who does not always play well with others.

They connect the team’s struggles to find the proper off guard this season and the occasional quick shot by Arenas in transition and see a milder version of Kobe Bryant or the young Allen Iverson.

They forget the genuine chemistry Arenas and Larry Hughes shared last season. They neglect to note the statistical drop-off of Hughes since taking up residence with LeBron James in Cleveland.

Hughes had a career year playing alongside Arenas — in what perhaps will end up as the most productive season of his career — and it did not come about because of the allegedly toxic nature of Arenas.

If anything, the ascension of Hughes to All-Star-like status last season was because of the complementary elements of the two players. They just fit together, for a number of reasons, and they did not really have to work at it.

They shared the ball but knew each had to score 20 points for the team to be successful. That is the way it is in the NBA. Scorers have to score, and they also have to facilitate the production of their less-talented teammates.

Nothing encourages the productivity of Brendan Haywood and the Poet more than an early easy dunk off the pass of a teammate.

If the Poet is left to his own devices, as he was in seven minutes against the Lakers, he can be painful. There is he is rocking one way, spinning sonnets another way, not seeing the floor or collapsing defenders before the possession falls apart.

Get the Poet an early dunk and he relaxes. The same with Haywood, whose capacity to score is seemingly tied to his hunger to rebound. If he is scoring, he rebounds better. If not, he is liable to have the stupefying first-half stat line he posted against the Lakers: three fouls, one turnover and the rest zeroes.

It is a delicate proposition: the need for a team’s lead players to stuff a stat sheet vs. the need to get the absolute most out of a team’s supporting cast.

Arenas probably has managed the assignment as well as anyone could in his position at this point in his young career. He is only 23 years old and still lacks a certain savvy, which is more evident in his passing decisions than his shot selection.

He is addicted to the long pass at the moment, which results in one or two turnovers a game. That is not the thought process of a selfish teammate. That is one teammate attempting to get another teammate an easy basket in transition.

He leads the team in both scoring and assists, and his assist totals would be higher if there was another pure shooter in his midst.

The other dimension of Arenas that wins over a locker room is his well-documented work ethic. He is not an Iverson wondering about the necessity to practice, as forever replayed in that famous press conference clip. Arenas wants to be the best and puts in the necessary time. It is hard to question the motivations of someone like that unless he is a 1-on-3 maestro in the manner of Bryant. And Arenas is not that, not remotely close to that.

Players the caliber of Arenas make everyone around them better. Ask Antawn Jamison how different it is on the floor on those rare occasions that Arenas is getting a rest.

Arenas is hardly a difficult teammate.

You might think that if you watch him play only once every two weeks, and his is a performance that leads you to reach into your bag of stereotypes on big scorers.

If Arenas hears the ball-hog charge enough, he is apt to try to lead the league in assists.

That would not help the team — a reduction in his scoring — but that is the nature of his competitiveness.

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