As we close out the year there are some things I'd like to see in the last twenty games or so. As I said a couple weeks ago, at this point I've given up on wins and losses as our main barometer for success. We've shown in the first sixty games pretty much who we are and who we're not, and in the absence of a 20-game winning streak (which isn't happening) that's not going to change much. The upside is, I'm actually pretty satisfied with what we've done, at least in terms of winning more, playing more consistently and cohesively, and not getting slaughtered the same way we did last year. We're a better team, still not a good team. What more can you ask or expect right now?
So I'm not asking for 30 wins or 33 or 35. If you don't make the playoffs that doesn't matter too much. Here are some of the things I would like to see though:
- I want to see Martell Webster put together back-to-back...no wait, THREE games in a row...15-point efforts. He's only had fourteen games of 10 points or more all year. He has more in the tank than that. I'm not asking for much...just some sign of a pulse. The truth is, we need this guy. Without him our distance shooting continues to be woeful and teams will be free to pack it in on us all night long. Plus unless some of our non-rookie youngsters come through the brutal reality is we're still a long ways away. The rookies are great and Zach is a player but even keeping all four of those guys that's still not enough talent or bodies to make a good team. If we have to re-tool completely at the positions Travis, Martell, and Jarrett fill (even if those are only critical back-up positions) we could be years away yet. Martell has the single most clearly-developed skill of that group (his shot) and I'd love to see even a small sign that he's willing and able to use it at an NBA level. I'm not expecting miracles, just some reassurance for all of us, including him.
- I want to see some more consistent defense from our backcourt, especially our starting guards. Three-quarters of the way through the season you should have the rudiments of dealing with a pick, especially when teams are slicing you up with it day and night. Again, I don't expect mastery, just some sign that we aren't back at square one. I realize the big men are part of this too but the big men's offenses are usually of the "being tardy" variety. The younger, smaller guys it's more like "being clueless". Opposing guards have had enormous games against us all year. That won't stop, but I want to see a sign that our guards are throwing energy into that part of the game.
- I want to see Joel Przybilla come back and have five dominating games to end the season. Much like Martell he's fallen into the Mystery Vortex this year. He's better than that. In the absence of a semi-glorious return he's going to look back on this season as an enormous disappointment. A little positive momentum, even the smallest bit, heading into next year would work wonders. By the way, lest we forget, several other coaches had this same problem with Joel. Somehow Mo Cheeks found the way to get the best out of him. Nate needs to find that way, even if it involves calling Mo up and saying, "How did you do this?" Before Mo Joel was considered a large bust. That's why we got him for next to nothing. Right now he's looking more like the old Joel than the new one.
- I want to see Lamarcus Aldridge get a chance to take some repeated, focused shots in a game situation. I like what he's done so far but we really haven't seen enough of him for as high as he was drafted. I don't mean just giving him the ball and watching him do anything he wants. I mean run specific plays for him to get a certain kind of shot in a certain place--low block left and straight on jumper would be the two prime candidates--and see what he can do. If he proves he can hit a couple of those shots I'd also like to see him pass effectively from those positions a little. In short I want to see the beginnings of a transfer from rookie expectations to sophomore expectations.
- I want to see us, as a team, make a concerted effort to become effective at defensive rebounding. We've improved overall in rebounding this year but a lot of that has been offensive. We still run a deficit at the defensive end and that hurts. As far as I can see, there's only one reason why you wouldn't want to be a great defensive rebounding team, that being so you can take chances leaking out on the break. (Even then you need the ball but you understand why some people aren't getting boards.) But we're the worst fast break team in the league. So if we're not rebounding the ball and we're not running out, what exactly are we doing? Since the basis of our game is still going to be ball control, let's gang rebound and control that ball.