And the Blatche Played On: Buying Into the Lottery Revisited
Apologies in advance if anything I say here is totally wrong. I've spent the last two weeks in Italy, where the closest I came to pro basketball was being emailed a schedule of Luke Jackson's games in town. I did, however, manage to catch wind of an exciting development, years in the making, that causes my heart to swoon: Andray Blatche has arrived.
Now, I'm writing this as someone who has yet to witness one of the Big Bad Blatche's statistical outbursts since the Wizards made him the path to the future. But having monitored that team closely for some time, done my due YouTube diligence, and seen Blatche throw up statement games when Antawn Jamison used to go down, I feel confident in saying the following: Meet the new Blatche, same as the old Blatche.
What's more, there's nothing transformative about this, which makes Blatche's emergence all the more encouraging. He's playing the same game that, over the last five seasons flitting around in the Wizards rotation, has been seen in flashes. Impossibly long and agile, not quite as explosive as you'd think, surprisingly refined jumper, and sneaky with his limbs around the hoop.
Blatche also, as befits all tall, skinny dudes with "potential" written 'cross their brows like in Bum Fight, can put the ball on the floor and make a pass or two. He's no defensive mastermind, but Blatche is active and picks up blocks and steals. Similarly, he'll never be a double-double machine, but rest assured, he could pull down 20 boards some night and only the away announcer would split a nerve.
Talking with a friend last night, I sought to pin Blatche down as a mixture of -- no disrespect meant to either here -- mid-period Kevin Garnett and any-year Antawn Jamison. This part is important so, listen: What he lacks in KG's intensity, he makes up for in Jamison's head-scratching ingenuity.
On top of all this, no NBA player's name lends itself as well to goofy nicknames, mostly pop song-based, than Blatche. I said while on vacation that Tyreke Evans was named with headlines in mind. Blatche was born to rock: "Blatche is Blatche"; "Back in Blatche"; "Say It Loud, I'm Blatche and I'm Proud"; "'Till Blatche Do Us Part." The Blatche Keys, which might also be a sly commentary on his career arc. You can even go hip-hop -- maybe Blatche Moon, or Blatche After Blatche ... or what about Blatche Metal Night at the Verizon Center, complete with make-up for everyone. Maybe even the man himself.
But I digress. In addition to Blatche's magical name and beguiling game, what's really got me all jiggly under the collar is the revival a long-lost meme: Buying into the lottery. Check the record books, I didn't make this one up. Almost three years ago, when last I tromped about these parts, I did a post on this phenomenon, one which never really got off the ground.
The thinking was something like this: At the time, Blatche and the Pistons' once-promising big man Amir Johnson were secound-rounders up for free agency. At the time they were drafted, both had been too raw, and undefined, to even crack the first round on a gamble. Here's the paradox: Blatche and Johnson were too tantalizing to pass up on, but -- and here's where the D-League entered the picture, at least for Johnson -- badly needed seasoning. Even more so than the usual "upside" picks we've grown accustomed to seeing. That both were out of high school certainly didn't make things easier.
Both had landed on teams that figured, why not, let's see what happens for two years and go from there? Remember, this was pre-age limit, and before nabbing respectable bench guys in the second became its own kind of GM pissing contest. Johnson and Blatche were, in effect, gigantic question marks whom the team tried to bring along to the point where they would have passed muster as lottery picks. And at the time, it was hard to argue with the logic. Paying the two high first money would give them security and some cash, while, in effect, starting their career clocks back at year zero.
The problem was, Johnson never really came into his own, due in part to some coaching/front office clashes over PT. As recently as last summer, Blatche was looking like a virtual bust -- because, of course, when you create a simulated lottery pick, he's now subject to the same terms of scrutiny as Tyrus Thomas and Randy Foye. Which, we can all agree, is more harsh than if these were simply young players signed to fit into the future somehow. Teams extended them a rare opportunity, and in return, they got to experience the blank slate stress of the lottery pick all over again.
So, did it work? I'm not sure whether this was the master plan all along, or if the Wizards have stumbled back into it out of necessity and struck gold. Jamison and the very underrated Brendan Haywood had the PF/C on lock, and while Blatche doesn't exactly create for himself like a young Andrew Toney, he needs his touches to be fully engaged. Some players catch praise for working in the flow of the game; Blatche only comes to life when he's inserted into it. I was among the many who had given up on Blatche recently, when it looked like he'd never find his stride or a role on the vet-laden (more after this summer) Wiz. But the way things all worked out, Washington now seems to have a pretty sizable talent ready to factor into their rebuilding process.
To be sure, it was a long-term investment: Taking Blatche in the second, then waiting around for him to mature and the situation to change. When all's said and done, though, who exactly from the Class of 2007 looks better than Andray Blatche right now?
Slightly scary, possibly revealing, epilogue to all this: Word came down while I was gone that Seattle University's Charles Garcia plans to hire an agent and enter the NBA draft this summer. Garcia has been all over the place, creeping into the first round of early mocks at one point, then dropping abruptly after a run of sub-par performances that somehow seemed to make his team better. Garcia is in no way ready for the pros and wasn't even able to figure out how to assert his considerable abilities at newly re-D1-ed SU.
For the not knowing, Garcia is a ridiculous prospect, roughly 6'10" and very much in the Blatche mold but already with a smoother jumper, shoulders that say he should be able to take it inside hard and some guard-like skills that suggest Anthony Randolph. He's also an abysmal defender, and as one friend put it, is the rare player whose versatility is his greatest strength but who looks worse in actual five-on-five action.
Former JUCO dude Garcia was expected to return for a second year, especially after the draft talk cooled off. But this latest announcement suggests that buying into the lottery may be due for a revival after all. No matter how fecund GM's like to pretend the second round is, someone is going to watch Garcia up close and, while no one's spending a lottery pick on him (this isn't 2001), why not reach, or make an high school-like investment, early in the second? Suppose that, age aside, Garcia's going pro with the mentality and NBA life skills of a rising college sophomore -- one who has gotten by on ability alone, and maybe had planned to go one-and-done before a disappointing freshman campaign.
The name DeAndre Jordan springs to mind, but Garcia's no mere physical attribute on wobbly wheels. He can play, albeit often with the same languid, zoned-out quality that, like Blatche, makes you think he needs someone else to kick him into the action. But seriously, if the forward/guard/undersized center can take some coaching, toughen up as a pro, and get the right opportunity in three years, the team that spends a second-rounder on him will be laughing all the way to the Blatche. After all, lots of franchises snatch up these picks as cost-cutting measures.
Buying into the lottery may only work out once in a blue moon, and it's not a foolproof proposition. Then again, you can ask the Wizards faithful whether they'd rather have cap space or Blatche right now, as their lousy team faces a long climb back to respectability.