- The Washington Times - Friday, December 2, 2011

The truncated 66-game season the NBA will have this year will either benefit veteran teams or younger teams. It all depends on your perspective.

“You can have an argument for whatever you want to,” said Wizards head coach Flip Saunders at a press conference Friday at Verizon Center. “Veteran teams are going to say that the shortened training camp and the shortened season is a benefit to them because they’ve been playing together. Young athletic teams are going to say that the advantage they have is that they have a quicker recovery time.”

Clearly, the advantage is in the eye of the beholder.

“Whatever you have, you can make an argument for making that a positive. What it comes down to is that you’re going to have to have a blend of of both,” Saunders said. “There’s going to be times with the shortened season when you’re going to have to utilize the ability to recuperate quickly, which is good for younger athletic teams but veteran teams tend to win close games.”

A lockout-shortened season is nothing new to Saunders; he lived through it during the 1998-99 season when he was coaching the Minnesota Timberwolves. But 66 games is a better sample size for a true NBA season than 50.

“It’s not quite 82 [games] but its definitely better than 60 or 50, thats for sure,” Saunders said.

Despite the 23-59 record the Wizards had last season, Saunders saw some positives at the end of the season he’s hoping to build upon.

“As a team and an organization, we want to carry through with how we played at the end of last year,” the coach said. “We were extremely competitive and very good the last three weeks of the season. We need to be better offensively as far as not turning the ball over. … Defensively, [we need to improve] as far as containing, which is going to help us with rebounding.”

Saunders has been unable to talk to the players yet, but has kept a close watch on them. He’s impressed with what he’s observed from John Wall and Andray Blatche.

“He really worked a lot at the end of the year with [assistant coaches] Sam [Cassell] and Ryan [Saunders] before the lockout,” Saunders said of Wall. “His shot improved drastically at that time. I think John coming in, found it was a lot harder than he thought. He knew he was going to play against great players, but not every night.

“There’s no question he’s got to get better as far as taking care of the basketball. He went a little bit too fast sometimes. His maturity, his first year was a great learning experience. He had a great year and I think he’s going to build upon that.”

Blatche spent much of the season recovering from a nagging foot injury, but is finally healthy.

“A lot of people have been very critical of Andray at times but if you look at him playing in games, we had our best winning percentage when he played,” Saunders said. “He might not at times have done what you guys [the media] wanted him to do or other people [the fans], but he was doing things that helped us win as a team.

“Andray’s mind is the most positive its been in the time that I’ve been here.”

It’s clear that Saunders is looking for leadership and maturity this season, and childish antics will have no place on this team. To his point, Saunders took a moment to comment on the YouTube sensation featuring JaVale McGee and Nick Young attempting to eat cinnamon.

“The cinnamon thing doesn’t cut it,” Saunders said. “[JaVale] McGee has to become more a player of substance than of highlights. And we’re going to eliminate his full-court dribbling, or he’s going to be sitting at the press table.”

Nick Young, a restricted free agent, will need to need to show more discipline on and off the floor, and learn to make plays for other people. Saunders pointed out that Young had one of the worst assist ratios in the league for players with his scoring average, which was 17.4 points per game.

“They’re not young players anymore,” Saunders said. “You’re judged not by what you do as an individual, but what we do as a team.”

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