RICHMOND | Welcome back, Gilbert Arenas… setup man?
Washington Wizards fans have long waited to find out what version of Gilbert Arenas they can expect to see this season. In the sampling offered up by the former three-time All-Star during Tuesday night’s 101-92 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies to open the preseason, Arenas took a step toward answering those questions.
Is he healthy? After three knee surgeries on his left knee in two years and a summer with famed athletic trainer Tim Grover in Chicago, the answer appears to be yes.
Can he be an effective floor general running Flip Saunders’ offense? Judging by early indications, yes. Arenas assisted on the Wizards’ first seven baskets and went on to record 10 assists.
Can he be the Arenas of old, the MVP candidate who averaged 27.7 points a game from 2004 to 2007? That’s still to be determined.
Arenas showed no hitches as he showed great acceleration and leaping ability and drove past defenders at will. And his court vision was as keen as it ever was as he wove through defenders and still managed to find his teammates. But Arenas hardly looked for his own shot, taking just five attempts. He made only one of them and struggled from the foul line as well, going 3-for-9.
He finished with five points, 10 assists and three turnovers in just over 24 minutes - positive on most fronts but evidence that work remains for the player who got into just 15 regular-season games in the past two seasons.
“I thought he was good. He needs to get hit and do the things that he did in this type of situation,” Saunders said. “He had a [20-point, 10-assist] game right on his fingertips. You’re not going to see him miss six free throws and some of the layups he missed, but he felt good. That’s why he played 24 minutes - because he felt good.”
Heading into training camp, the Wizards believed one of their strengths would be their depth and abundance of offensive weapons, and that was evident against the Grizzlies.
Antawn Jamison, who missed the final game of last season with bone spurs in his left ankle and had offseason surgery, appeared to be his old self, recording 20 points and eight rebounds in 27 minutes. Caron Butler added 15 points in 24 minutes. Brendan Haywood, who missed 75 games last year with a wrist injury, had six points, seven assists and three blocks.
Nick Young - who got the start at shooting guard - posted 11 points and two rebounds in 19 minutes. And the Wizards got more offense off the bench with 14 points from Randy Foye and 13 from Andray Blatche.
But Washington struggled in the rebounding department, losing that battle 60-45. And the Wizards failed to capitalize on their 43 opportunities from the foul line; they made only 29 free throws.
“We can say we were pretty much atrocious rebounding,” Saunders said. “And one thing we talked about was attacking the rim. Now we just have to make them. We should be a good free throw shooting team, but that’s part of going through situations. We had a lot of practice, and guys’ legs were a little bit tired.”