Culture of Hoops

Andray Blatche: Hanging in the Balance

Andray Blatche came to the Brooklyn Nets with an obvious reputation of having an attitude problema and not following team rules, can he turn it around

The book on Andray Blatche is tattered and traveled: man possesses the size of a center, but the ability of a much smaller player. Its pages have produced studs (see: Durant, Kevin), but just as many duds (Thomas, Tim). ‘Tis the mind, not the body, that fails these dudes in their attempts to succeed at the highest level of basketball.

The logic behind uncertainty for the future careers of such individuals stands as such: the size of the talent pool for young athletes who hope to become NBA players has an indirect relationship to the size of the players themselves. So, for every 6’3” nut-bar with a 44-inch vertical leap that can’t make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich without getting into a fight with it, there are 10 guys the same size with maybe a 42-inch vertical that are very kind to their food.

But a 6’11” guy with a few screws loose and ability out the butt is much more difficult to come by. Any NBA team must take a flier.

From a skills standpoint, Blatche leaves little to desire; he owns an array of post moves described as anywhere from “traditional” to “creative,” a solid jumper out to 20 feet, and—for a man his size—ballhandling as smooth as a Sade B-side.

Yet, so far, “dud” wouldn’t even begin to describe his young career.

High points? For sure. The 2010-11 season saw Blatche post career highs of 16.8/8.2/2.3; but his advanced statistics have never measured close to the league average, particularly that year (.053 Win Shares/48 minutes; league average is generally around .100). Add to that numerous arrests for solicitation and driving with a suspended license, and having to be sent home by the Washington Wizards due to a lack of conditioning, and suddenly the great young talent doesn’t seem so appealing.

This season acts as a pendulum both for the career of Blatche and for the franchise trajectory of the Brooklyn Nets. And these arcs are extremely connected.

Where it gets really interesting is how Blatche reacts to his new environment and grows in his role with the team. This will have more of an influence on the team’s success than any player on the roster not named Deron, Joe, or Brook. If Blatche approaches his potential? The Nets would possess one of the more well-rounded frontline rotations a coach could roll out for 48 minutes. If he breaks down and peters out? They’d be equipped solely with a scoring, soft seven-footer and a pair of below-the-rim bangers (I’m not taking Mirza Teletovic into account until we’ve seen more of him—as much as I love his highlight videos). For a one-year minimum contract, it’s a worthy risk.

The shooting numbers haven’t been pretty through the season’s first five games (32.4% from the field), but he’s shown he can rebound off the bench and operate on the low block, sometimes overmatching second-unit counterparts. And with Williams and Johnson’s bad starts, Blatche isn’t alone in the weak shooting department.

Has Blatche been humbled by his experience in Washington? Will the move to a seriously talented team with an organizational commitment to winning keep him focused? If his contract is any indication, this could be one of his dwindling opportunities, at the age of 26, to prove himself to the league.

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