- The Washington Times - Friday, April 10, 2009

In the past two seasons, Andray Blatche has been one of the most scrutinized and criticized members of the Washington Wizards.

Last season, the forward showed flashes of potential that led teammate Caron Butler to say, “He's got the skill set of a Tracy McGrady when he's on.”

Yet for every flash Blatche has showed, he also has committed mental gaffes that banished him to the bench and has had a questionable work ethic that left him perpetually out of shape.

Blatche - the 49th pick of the 2005 draft out of South Kent School in Connecticut - entered his fourth pro season knowing the Wizards were expecting him to improve. On the eve of training camp, captain Antawn Jamison said the Wizards would survive the early going without Gilbert Arenas and morph into a contender once Arenas returned if Blatche averaged 14 points and 10 rebounds.

As the season draws to a close, Blatche's body of work is again a series of ups and downs: double-digit scoring and solid rebounding one night, few points and sloppy play the next. A string of promising contributions were followed by more frustrating play.

Blatche has raised his scoring average from 7.5 points last year to 10.1 and his rebounding from 5.2 to 5.4. But his blocked shots have fallen (1.4 to 1.0), and he still leads the team with 3.0 fouls.

“He's had some wonderful games where he's had the full panoply of his skills,” interim coach Ed Tapscott said. “But again, his challenge as a young player still is consistency. You have to take a look at what his top line is, and then take a look at what his bottom line is when he plays, [then] get somewhere in the middle and do that night in and night out.”

Much of the criticism directed has centered on an inconsistent level of concentration, discipline and motivation. Blatche has said he needs to play with better effort and more consistency, but Tapscott partially blames the Wizards' circumstances.

“I think the problem with 'Dray is we don't focus him and we're always needing to see how we can spread him around,” Tapscott said, referring to Blatche rotating from small forward to power forward to center the past two seasons. “And I think to be fair to him, if we're asking him for consistency, he needs consistency from us: Give him a position. It's difficult for a young player to move him [constantly]. If we want consistency from him, we need to say, 'Here, this is where we plan on playing you, and let's make sure you sharpen the skills appropriate for that position.' ”

Blatche, 22, said he has no problem changing positions because he feels confident enough at each and is just glad to have his name called.

In 10 games from March 15 to April 1, he experienced his most consistent stretch of the season. He scored in double digits nine times and averaged 13.1 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.3 blocks. But then came another adjustment: Top center Brendan Haywood returned after missing 74 games following wrist surgery, and Blatche's minutes were cut roughly in half. Frustration affected his focus, and he combined for just six points and five rebounds in the next two games.

“Started off tough, but then I had to tell myself, 'I've been here before, stay focused and try to fight through it,' ” Blatche said. “Just got my mind set, try to help the team and take the focus off myself and try to remember that I'm sacrificing for the team and trying to get us better.”

Although aware this season hasn't gone according to plan, Blatche said he is pleased by the areas where he improved. As far as the shortcomings, he aims to address them in the offseason.

“This season, I tried to approach it the best way I can,” he said. “I don't try to be no All-Star, just tried to be the guy who came out and contributed in different factors and ways. I tried to back up Caron and Antawn and help them out in whatever way they needed.

“I almost view this season as a success for myself, individually. And now I just want to continue to get better.”


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