You Play. To Win. The Game. One of the great football quotes of all-time, but one that also relates to every sport once you get past the Little League level. In the NBA, there are some players whose existence revolves around winning. They “get it.” They are the ones — Tim Duncan, Michael Jordan, Bill Russell, etc. — who end up with fistfuls of championship rings, and never seem to play on bad teams, even at their career low-points. On the flip side, there are those who never seem to win anything substantial. Talented, yes. Highly-paid, yes. But even if they play 15 years in the League, they won’t grasp what it’s really all about: Winning. Maybe it’s bad luck. Maybe it’s a character flaw. Maybe they just aren’t as good as we think they are.
Who are those players that perpetually find themselves catching more significant L’s than W’s? For the next couple weeks we’ll be calling them out one at a time:
Numbers: 26 years old, 7 NBA seasons, 22.8 points per game, 4.2 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.8 steals.
Highest high: In the 2001 NCAA Final Four, Arenas scored 18 of his team-high 21 points in the first half and recorded four steals to help lead Arizona to the national championship game in a win over Illinois.
Lowest low: Arenas arguably hurt his Washington Wizards in the ’08 NBA playoffs more than he helped. Still rusty from a knee injury that limited him to 13 games in the regular season, Gil averaged 10.8 points in four games and was eventually shut down for Games 5 and 6 before his team was eliminated.
History of losing
Some call Arenas the ultimate winner — a man who’s constantly beat the odds and fought the doubters on his way to becoming one of the NBA’s best all-around players. Others call him a self-involved gunner who succeeds statistically at the expense of his team. The fact that the Wizards maintained a level of play high enough to earn a Top-5 playoff seed after Arenas went down this past season led many to say that if Washington wasn’t flat-out better without him, they at least proved they didn’t need their leading scorer to win ballgames. Throughout his career, “Agent Zero” has put up big numbers on mediocre to above-average teams: When he finished 4th in the League in scoring in ’05-06, the Wizards finished just two games over .500 and lost in the first round of the playoffs; When he finished 3rd in scoring the following season, Washington was an even .500 and lost in the first round again (Arenas missed the playoffs with a knee injury). He’s a regular among League leaders in turnovers, and despite high numbers in the steals department, Arenas clearly doesn’t lets his defense suffer in favor of being an offensive weapon. And even then, as good as he is scoring the ball, Arenas is notorious for jacking shots. Despite having All-Star talents Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison flanking him, Arenas led the NBA in three-pointers attempted in ’06-07 (his last full season), and finished #2 in back-to-back seasons preceding that. He’s also a safe bet to finish in the Top-5 for field goals attempted. Arenas has hit memorable game-winners along the way, but he also forces a lot of unnecessary shots when his team would benefit more from him being more patient and/or unselfish. Gilbert’s teams have only been out of the first round once, and the one time they made it out (’05), they were swept in the second round. FYI, after getting Arizona to that national championship game in ’01, Arenas went 4-for-17 on the big day in a loss to Duke.
Will he ever be a winner?
You’d always rather have a guy on your team who relishes the opportunity to take big shots rather than one who shies away from the ball in crunch time, but Arenas often OD’s on thinking he has to take the big shot every time; even Michael Jordan passed it up to the open teammate sometimes and used himself as a decoy at others. Arenas has come up big in clutch situations, like when he stuck a game-winner in the ’05 playoffs against Chicago, and put up 36 points and 11 assists in a close elimination game loss to Cleveland in ’06, but he’s also prone to get the blinders going in a big game. He needs other proven clutch scorers/shooters around him so he’ll be more willing to pass. The man can obviously score, but to truly lead a winning team he needs to be more of a passing point guard (just a little more) or move over to the two while someone else plays the point.
The Loser List archives
7/18 — Vince Carter