February 21, 2017

Top 10 Wizards

The 2016-2017 NBA season is the 20th that the Washington Wizards have played under their current nickname. By and large, it has NOT been a wonderful ride. But with the team seemingly surging towards more wins than they have had in over 35 years and with point guard John Wall in the All-Star Game this past weekend for the fourth consecutive year, I thought it might be a good time to create a top 10 list of the greatest players ever to suit up for the Wizards. Sort of a mini-20th anniversary celebration.

Now admittedly, I haven't been around for all 20 years of Wizards ball. I mean, I've been alive and watching NBA basketball for all that time but not necessarily paying close attention to the Wizards. I started watching the Wizards as my primary team during their third season under the new name, bought season tickets one year later and am now in my 17th year as a season ticket holder. I figure that's close enough, especially given the team's performance (9th and 13th in the Eastern Conference) in those two years I missed. No matter what list I create, there are always going to be folks who disagree with me.

This list considers a player's accomplishments as a Wizard, not a Bullet or on any other franchise's team. I'm deliberately considering the accomplishments of players who played for the team under both nicknames as Wizards. That both emphasizes performance since 1997 and makes my job a little easier. It also is not a list of the 10 greatest players to don a Wizards blue, black and bronze (later gold) or red, white and blue jersey. Michael Jordan may be among the greatest, if not the greatest, to play in the NBA but he ain't the number one Wizard with just two years under his 38-40 year old belt.

So having said that, let's get right to my list. There are some honors listed under some players' names; these are their achievements while playing for the Wizards (everything before or after is missing) There are also some top five franchise rankings in the list below. These are the spots these players occupy on the Packers / Zephyrs / Bullets / Wizards leaderboard. I know I'm switching standards there. Just deal with it. And finally a quick spoiler alert: none of the players in the cover picture of this post made the list.

10. Marcin Gortat (2013-Present)
Two Postseason Appearances.

I really wrestled with this 10 spot. I was tempted to sneak in someone like Paul Pierce or Emeka Okafor; someone who impacted the Wizards in a teammate development way (Pierce with the whole team; Okafor with John Wall and leadership) but ultimately I decided Marcin's three plus years of steady play meant that I had to put him at number 10. 

I think Marcin's under appreciated as a Wizard. So many fans focus on the games with little offense or quick fouls and ignore the larger body of work. Sure there are bad games out there and Marcin's not the number one locker room leader some fans want him to be but look at the numbers: three plus years averaging double figure points with close to double figure rebounds (for sure double figures this year). Moreover, he's extremely durable; he's played at least 75 games each of his first three years with our team and is poised to do the same this year.

9. Bradley Beal (2012- Present)
Two Postseason Appearances. NBA All-Rookie First Team (2013); Franchise Leader 3rd in 3 Point FG Made.

Before too many people get upset with Brad at this spot, let me say I don't expect that if I made this same list two or three years from now that he'd be at number nine. At least he better not be. Not with his contract.

I believe Bradley Beal is having a fantastic year. All the promise of his first four years are coming to bear in a single season. He's also healthier than he's ever been which I am sure is a huge relief to Wizards fans beyond me. I also believe Brad should have been an All-Star this year. If not on the coaches' ballots then as a replacement for Kevin Love. He and John Wall should provide many many moments for Wizards fans to savor this season and the next few years. He's clearly the second best player on our current squad. And (again) he should be with his contract.

But one year doesn't rocket you to the top of a list like this created by me. I need to see some more consistency first, which I believe I will see for hopefully the rest of this season and the next four beyond this. Beal has turned the corner in major way. And I love it. I just want to see more of it.

8. Nenê (2012-2016)
Two Postseason Appearances.

There may be some emotion behind my number eight selection on this list and I think that's OK. I'm a fan, after all, and this is a blog about being a fan.

If this current Wizards squad ever amounts to something serious, I'll always remember Nenê as the first one in the door. Once the Wizards traded away Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and every other player that resembled a leader in the locker room in the spring of 2010, things devolved into chaos pretty quickly. One year later it was no better; the team had failed to instill any sort of professionalism in the 12 months since the team had been dismantled. The stakes were pretty high: John Wall was supposed to be the face of the franchise and he had nobody to show him how to be a professional ballplayer.

Enter Nenê, on the trading block in Denver because that team was convinced Kenneth Faried was going to be just as good in a couple of years if not in the moment the Nuggets pulled the trigger to swap Nenê for JaVale McGee. Thank God for this trade. Nenê was never a vocal leader in Washington, but he brought a credible presence to the Wizards team. He also showed everyone in Washington what it meant to be a team player after a period of misdirection. Nenê produced in his time in D.C., averaging double digits as a starter. Yes, there was always the next injury looming but I give Nenê a ton of credit for holding this franchise together until John Wall could assume the clear role of team leader.

7. Michael Jordan (2001-2003)
2x All-Star (2002-2003).

I hate putting Micheal Jordan on this list. I thought Jordan's two years in Washington put the franchise on hold just so Jordan and Doug Collins could try to make one more run at playing and coaching in the league. I thought his leadership in the locker room (which spilled out in public all too often) was poor and every move he engineered emphasized getting into the playoffs now at the expense of player development of anyone not worthy to play with MJ. It was completely selfish.

However, he was good, even at 38, 39 and 40. He was clearly the best player on the team those two years he was in D.C. (I know the bar was set pretty low) and he had some spectacular nights. Sometimes he just seemed to will himself to beat the other team. He scored 40 points or more six times in two seasons, including an MCI / Verizon Center record 51 on December 29, 2001, a mark that stood (Gilbert Arenas tied it years later) until John Wall scored 52 earlier this season. Those two years were exciting until they ended and you realized it was all for the glory of MJ. 

Jordan is one of only five Wizards players to make it to two All-Star Games, although the first was a fan vote and the second was likely a coaches' sympathy vote. 

6. Larry Hughes (2002-2005)
NBA All-Defensive 1st Team (2005); One Postseason Appearance.

Larry Hughes is the one guy in my 17 years as a season ticket holder that I wished had not walked away from the team. I don't feel the same way about Trevor Ariza or Paul Pierce or Jared Jeffries or any other player. I understand why Larry did it; it's hard to turn down that kind of money. But he and Gilbert Arenas were a backcourt to behold. Yep, it was fun seeing Gilbert team up with DeShawn Stevenson and for sure D-Steve was a cheaper option but I always thought Larry and Gil could have taken that team to a really good place.

Larry spent just three years in Washington, and he never played a full season (he never played more than 67 games). But the two last years he played at 601 F Street were among the best of his career and his last (the 2004-2005 season) was without a doubt the best. That year he averaged an astonishing 2.9 steals per game (albeit with a lot of gambling that paid off) and led the league in that category. Larry should have been in the All-Star Game that year; his injury right before the voting ended game coaches an excuse to not put him in the game along with Gil and Antawn Jamison. I saw Larry at the Oklahoma City game this year and told him as much. He agreed.

5. Brendan Haywood (2001-2010)
Franchise Leader 4th in Blocks; Four Postseason Appearances.

Brendan Haywood is at the five spot on this list for four simple reasons: (1) he made it to four consecutive playoff appearances with the team; (2) he was the most important defensive player in his years as an established starter; (3) he has played more games as a Wizard than any other player ever; and (4) he was my first favorite Wizards player. I warned you it was a fan's list.

I loved Brendan Haywood playing for the Wizards. Yes, he was selfish; he fought with Etan Thomas (I mean like actually fought with fists) and was reluctant to or just plain refused to mentor JaVale McGee. Yes, he was terrible from the free throw line except for that one season that Dave Hopla got him to shoot 73.5 percent.  But he was the primary starter at center in his second year in the league and held that spot (except for the 2008-2009 season when he was hurt) until the Wizards traded him to Dallas and he was the difference maker at the defensive end. He called the defensive sets for a team which sometimes had few defenders and made up for the mistakes of his teammates. The Wizards would have been a lot worse off if it wasn't for B Wood back there.

I'm putting Brendan unapologetically at the five spot while also conceding there might be a lot of emotion behind this decision.

4. Caron Butler (2005-2010)
2x All-Star (2007-2008); Three Postseason Appearances.

Caron Butler has spent time with nine NBA franchises in his 14 year career but he spent more than twice as long in Washington than he did in any other spot. He also had his greatest success in a Wizards uniform, being named to two All-Star Games. He also acquired his nickname, Tough Juice, while playing too hard in practice at Verizon Center. Nicknames don't really make much difference to me but Tough Juice is such a great nickname that it counts with Caron.

Caron's greatest seasons statistically during the 2006-2007 season and the 2007-2008 season, the two years he represented the East as an All-Star. The work he did along with Antawn Jamison in keeping the franchise afloat was phenomenal. If there's a season this franchise could have collapsed but didn't it was that one. I'll always remember Caron for the buzzer beater at Cleveland in the 2007 playoffs to stave off elimination (at least for one game) and for the monster slam dunk he had in Sacramentto. It's number two in this video.

Good times...
3. Antawn Jamison (2004-2010)
2x All-Star (2005 & 2008); Franchise Leader 2nd in 3 Point FG Made; Four Postseason Appearances.

Antawn Jamison was the guy that first put the Wizards into the playoffs. The franchise had struck out on the postseason in its first seven years under its new name. Jamison got them there in his very first year and he kept them there for the next four years. Before Nenê joined the Wizards in 2011, AJ was the only guy who showed any sort of leadership in the locker room. He was rewarded with the captaincy and with Abe Pollin's undying affection.

Antawn earned his only two All-Star nods while in a Wizards uniform and was the model of consistency on the offensive end, averaging more than 19 but less than 23 points every year he suited up in D.C. Antawn is likely to be one of two players (along with Tom Chambers) who scored more than 20,000 career points who will not be in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (hoping I'm wrong here; maybe in a down year?) and he scored more than 8,500 of them in Washington. He still has one of the quickest shots I've ever seen. I'll forget all about the baseline he let LeBron James have to beat us in the playoffs. There were few better than Antawn in the last 20 years for the Wizards.

2. Gilbert Arenas  (2003-2010) 
All-NBA Second Team (2007); 2x All-NBA Third Team (2005-2006); 3x All-Star (2005-2007); Franchise Leader 1st in 3 Point FG Made / 5th in Steals; Four Postseason Appearances.

And then there's Gilbert Arenas. I clearly love Gil. I mean I named this blog after him for crying out loud. There's only one player in Wizards history who has captured national attention with his play and his antics off the court. Where do I begin? Agent Zero. Hibachi. Oxygen tents. Walk off three pointers. Highest single game point total in franchise history. Throwing jerseys into the stands. Staying at season ticket holder events to sign every autograph even when the rest of the players have gone. Early morning shooting sessions at Verizon Center after sleeping on the couch in the players' lounge. Guns in the locker room. Trampoline dunks at the All-Star Game. His swag was phenomenal. 

Unfortunate about that whole guns in the locker room thing. More unfortunate about Gerald Wallace landing on his knee.

Gilbert is the only player who as a Wizard has been arguably the best player in the NBA. I'll admit it didn't last long but there was a time when he was dropping 60 and 56 points on a west coast road trip during the 2006-2007 season where he was legitimately in the discussion. There were rumors about the Lakers and Wizards discussing a Kobe for Gil deal and the Wiz legitimately saying no. And that was before Kobe's fourth and fifth championships. Gilbert was amazing that season and for the three that preceded it. He was instantly my favorite player (sorry B Wood) and I still love the signed gold jersey I have hanging in my closet with the "Agent Zero" personalization. Gil's the only Wizard other than John Wall and Michael Jordan to be voted as a starter in the All-Star Game and he's the only one to be named to an All-NBA team three times, or at all really. That knee injury...

1. John Wall (2010-Present)
NBA All-Defensive Second Team (2015); 4x All-Star (2014-2017); NBA Slam Dunk Contest Winner (2014); NBA All-Rookie First Team (2011); Franchise Leader 1st in Assists / 1st in Steals; Two Postseason Appearances.

As good as Gilbert Arenas was in a Wizards uniform and as many All-NBA teams as he made, he's still not John Wall. John has more All-Star appearances than Gil, he's a more complete player than Gil, he's a better leader than Gil and I can't tell you how many passes that he's thrown down at the east end of Verizon Center that have taken my breath away from my seats in Section 109. And this season has been the best of all; the leap he's made this year whether it's due to his health or Scott Brooks or just natural maturity is astounding. He's a better player than I could have hoped for this year. He's definitely for me in the top 10 discussion of players in the NBA.

On top of all that, John openly wants to be here in D.C. There is no question that this team is his and he wants as many fans in the building cheering for the entire team (not just him) as he can possibly get. He's already the franchise leader in assists and steals and he's likely to be second in scoring if he plays out his current contract with the team and remains healthy. All this from a guy who rival team executives say can't pass and who most everyone in the media says can't shoot. I don't see any competition for John Wall as the greatest Wizard. Just don't.

So that's my list. Call me crazy for some of these picks but that's what I believe. I took a hard look at (in no particular order) Otto Porter, Paul Pierce, Rod Strickland, Chris Whitney and DeShawn Stevenson but ultimately I went with the ten above. I expect some guys to move up the board quickly if I ever do this again. Wizards back in action on Friday in Philly. Let's go Wizards!

No comments:

Post a Comment