New Look, Same Explosive Arenas
The explosiveness has returned.
The 28-29-point scoring average may be fading into history, along with the Agent Zero and the Hibachi personas, but a more valuable, more productive 20-point, 10-assist guy could be brewing inside him.
It's what the Washington Wizards need.
Arenas missed 149 games combined in the last two seasons because of multiple left knee problems, but during a brief third quarter stretch Friday against the Dallas Mavericks, he looked as potent as he ever did.
Yes, he was rusty -- as expected. He committed five turnovers, mostly from trying to pass too much, but he also dominated the third quarter when he hit all six of his shots from an assortment of angles, bringing alive an otherwise bored home crowd.
He exploded past Jason Kidd on one drive. He tangled up Drew Gooden's legs when he swept past on another. He hit mid-range jumpers with mid-season confidence. He was teasing the Mavericks, just like he teased the home crowd in the first period with his passivity.
This comeback will come on his terms.
"I think he put to rest the notion that he couldn't score now,'' said Wizards coach Flip Saunders. "After being away for 15 months, it doesn't happen overnight. Every time he goes out there, he's more confident. I think you saw that in the second half.''
Arenas had 12 points and five assists in 11 third-quarter minutes when he flipped the switch to his aggressiveness. He played nine minutes in the first quarter, but he looked bored by the game, like a role player too content to move the ball to his teammates.
He didn't take a shot in the first nine minutes. He didn't even look at the basket, although he had four assists, setting up Brendan Haywood for one easy score and Caron Butler for another.
The Mavs won, 123-115, but Arenas was the biggest topic.
"He looks good. He looks explosive again, getting wherever he wants on the floor,'' said Haywood, who left early with a slight ankle sprain. "He seems like a more willing passer now, a distributor as well as a scorer. I think at this point of his career, he really wants to put his stamp, his mark, on the game.''
In two exhibition games, Arenas has combined for 17 points and 19 assists in 45 minutes. As part of his return this season, he has repeatedly told Butler and Antawn Jamison and other teammates that he wants to spend more time setting up their scores instead of looking for his own.
Saunders, since being named head coach of the Wizards this summer, has stroked Arenas constantly, emphasizing the importance of keeping his teammates involved while maintaining his aggressiveness.
Arenas declined again Friday after the game to answer any questions or discuss his comeback. He has not spoken with the media since the day training camp opened last month, telling reporters he would let his play do the talking for him.
"He's been everything you could ask for,'' Saunders said. "And the irony is that he has to be careful not to go overboard (distributing the ball). He has the unique ability to be a multi-dimensional point guard. There are points who can really score, and those who can really distribute it. There aren't many who can do both like he can.''
Arenas, 27, averaged 27.8 points combined during his three All-Star seasons (2004-2007), which led to the five-year, $111 million contract he signed before last season. During that stretch, he scored 40 points or more 26 times. He scored 50 points or more three times during the 2006-07 season, the last before his knee first buckled.
He spent this summer working with acclaimed trainer Tim Grover in Chicago, where he worked harder than he ever has. It's also where he decided that it was time to change his reputation as a too-selfish gunner. Even in his best seasons, the Wizards never won more than 45 games.
"He's still the key around here,'' said teammate DeShawn Stevenson. "He's back. He can score so easily whenever he wants, but he wants to be more of a team player now. When we find the right balance, everything will be all right.''