You see the improved Orlando stat line of Gilbert Arenas: 14 points, 6-14 on field-goals, nine assists, three turnovers, six rebounds and one steal in 29 minutes off the bench. But do you know the circumstances that created it? That's in comparison to 12 points on 3-17 shooting with seven assists, four turnovers and three rebounds in 44 total minutes over his first two games with the Magic. By the way, Orlando looked like the youthful contender taking down the fading dynasty last night, running a San Antonio Spurs team with the best winning percentage in the NBA out the gym 123-101.
And then all was calm in the Magic Kingdom, quelling for the moment festering Dwight Howard future free-agency concerns. Arenas and his newcomer cohorts, Hedo Turkoglu and Jason Richardson, combined for 40 points. Understandable that Gilbert would hate the cold weather of Washington, D.C. and relish the warmth of the Sunshine State on his aging joints and surgically repaired knee, but he didn’t have to make it so obvious with a newfound crispness in his game that barely glimmered as a Wizard this season. Arenas’ plus/minus of plus-21 was second to Turkoglu’s plus-24, but the ex-gun slinger was the protagonist of Orlando’s scoring boon and the ultimate win.
“I haven’t run in two years,” Arenas told TNT’s David Aldridge in his post game television interview. At the same time, not only could you tell he missed the days of yore, running alongside of Larry Hughes or DeShawn Stevenson in Eddie Jordan’s uptempo pro-style Princeton offense, but also that he appreciates the ability to do so more now because of one thing he’s never had. A Dwight Howard.
But it’s not always all about surface statistics, or even advanced statistics, or the feel-good story about how Arenas is now removed from his own Beltway Mentality. It’s also about the circumstance provided for him to boost his confidence and excel … thanks to the San Antonio Spurs, his teammates and the Stan Van Gundy charm.
Now, after all that, I’ll stop for a brief introduction. My name is Kyle Weidie. Normally you’ll find me covering the Washington Wizards as part of the TrueHoop Network at TruthAboutIt.net (name origin unrelated, yet all truth somehow is related, I suppose), but today I’m manning the controls of the mother ship. Hence, the discussion of Gilbert Arenas you’ve found yourself in. Don’t worry, it won’t be about current or ex-Wizards all day.
Arenas and Turkoglu first checked in with 2:24 remaining in the first quarter, Orlando was down 24-18 to San Antonio. With JJ Redick, Brandon Bass and Ryan Anderson, they out-scored the Spurs 10-2 to close out the period. Arenas ran the point, already picking up his first assist by the time his offensive number was initially called. Coming off a double screen, he nailed a wide open jumper just beyond the free-throw line. Antonio McDyess laid back and dared Arenas to shoot. Gilbert did. Almost 30 seconds later, Chris Quinn made the mistake of going behind the screen against Arenas. Three-pointer, 2-2 from the field. Was it really Gregg Popovich’s game plan to tempt the Hibachi flame?
Then, Arenas almost did the amazing. Orlando got the ball back at the far end with 0.8 seconds left in the first. He caught the inbounds pass ready to move and got a one-step running start to launch a 59-footer, not a two-handed chuck or a baseball throw, but in the form of a running jumper. It just rattled off the rim.
Arenas continued to run the point to start the second quarter, getting Magic off to a solid 12-8 start in the first 4:22. He patiently waited for teammates to get in the right places -- zipping a pass to Anderson for three, hitting Redick with a bounce pass on a back-door cut, seeing Dwight Howard for a lob dunk -- Arenas picked up his fourth assist in less than six total minutes of game action.
Jameer Nelson checked back in at the 7:38 mark and Arenas slid to the two. He found similar success, albeit against the mousy/spritely Quinn. Arenas bullied him with size to the block and rose above him to kiss a jumper off the glass as Howard cleared space. Another trip, Arenas posted Quinn on the left block and attracted defensive attention that great ball movement will exploit every time. He passed out of the post to Nelson, who swung the ball around the horn to Turkoglu, then to Jason Richardson, who drove the gap from the opposite baseline and lobbed it to Howard for a dunk. Just about as perfect as you can get for a bunch guys trying to get used to playing with each other, but we forget Gilbert and Hedo are talented passers as well.
Along with the friendly circumstance of Quinn’s defense and the cursory attention the Spurs tempted Arenas with when the ball in his hands, the circumstance of Nelson also played to Arenas’ favor. He’s much more apt to be a creating 2-guard next to a point guard who can shoot, and one who doesn’t always command a high usage percentage, as with Nelson under Van Gundy. John Wall wasn’t that. He and Arenas would have never truly worked.
Arenas got in trouble against San Antonio when he forced shots in precarious, off-balanced situations coming off screens. The whistles of referees have not favored him this season, so he’s not going draw those bump calls he used to get. He also might not have it in him anymore to hit jumpers without his legs under him. Arenas didn’t drive to the basket much in the first half either, looking more interested in creating for his teammates and hitting jumpers. The results are inarguable though, he finished with a plus/minus of plus-11 to go with 12 points, five assists, two turnovers and four rebounds after two quarters.
Arenas was called back into duty an early 67 seconds into the third when Nelson picked up his fourth foul. He immediately came off a double screen and hit another free-throw line jumper, San Antonio still intent on daring Arenas to hit dead-on, 15-footers for some reason. After that, he kept it simple -- fed his big man, got Anderson a trip to the free-throw line by skipping a pin-point bounce pass to him on a cut out of a 2-man game -- Arenas dropped his ninth dime on a swing pass softly into Brandon Bass’ hands for a jumper at the end of the period.
By the start of the fourth quarter, Orlando had built a 97-76 lead and Arenas provided a plus-21 in his time on the court. He showed some fatigue before checking out for good at the 8:34 mark, stumbling through some drives to the basket. Understandable since Arenas still isn’t in top shape, or more likely because he simply doesn’t have the legs for 29 fast-paced minutes. But by then, Orlando had the game in hand, holding off one push from San Antonio when they got within 14 with 6:32 left.
Arenas made a strong impression on the game. And as much as the new guys were able to find free-flowing offense together, it was Arenas’ handing of the point duties that went to further bury notions that he kills teams by jacking shots. But it was also the surrounding circumstances for Arenas -- the compatibility with Nelson, the embracing of finally playing with a true big man with the ball in his hands, the fleeting defense of the Spurs, the boosts of confidence from his coach's play-calling.
The jury is still out on the circumstance created by Otis Smith, he still needs to find that backup big man. Now Van Gundy is the primary manipulator of the circumstances, at least those he can control. At one moment he’s said to be leaving notes on Arenas locker room chair -- no, it didn’t say “Pick one.” Rather, “Go out there and play your game.” It’s Van Gundy who might have to pick one, as some have started stirring the controversy of Arenas versus Nelson in the starting lineup. Arenas actually may be better suited expending his energy with a change of pace and scoring punch off the bench, but know that he and Nelson can work together with Howard behind them to defend.
The circumstances beyond grasp won’t always be the same as the blowout of the Spurs anomaly. What happens when Orlando faces a bruising Boston team with more size? Cue why, despite grumblings from players and coaches, Christmas Day games are so fun. Sure, there's the glamour matchup of the Miami Heat and the Los Angeles Lakers. But the prelude of Boston at Orlando could be just as intriguing, especially if the circumstance calls for breaking out the Hibachi on a warm Florida December 25 afternoon.