The NBA's most influential: Gilbert Arenas, #10

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Greetings and welcome to the “NBA’s most influential,” a list of the 10 players who will/could have the greatest impact on the league next season. To be clear: this is not a list of projected MVP candidates, or who this author thinks will be the 10 best players in the league next season. It is simply a list of the 10 players who, based on their game, their importance to their team, and their importance to the rest of the league, will have the greatest impact on the league next season whether they succeed or fail. Without further ado, here’s Gilbert Arenas.
From the beginning of the 04-05 season to the end of the 06-07 season, Gilbert Arenas was one of the best guards/pure scorers in the league. He averaged 25.5, 29.3, and 28.4 points per game during those three seasons, and missed a total of 12 games over that three-year stretch. Few, if any, players could match Gilbert’s combination of three-point range, an explosive first step, passing ability, and the strength to finish at the rim any time he got his shoulder inside of his defender.
Allen Iverson succeeded by putting his defender on a string, fooling his defender into giving him a lane to the rim, and hitting a quick-release mid-range jumper whenever he was given room; Gilbert was Iverson 2.0, a combo guard with the athleticism and raw strength to bully his way to the rim or the free throw line and the ability to rain threes on any defense that sagged off of him. (And Gilbert, of course, had the swagger to match his skills.)
That was then; this is now. Thanks to injuries and a firearm suspension, Arenas has only played 47 total games in the past three seasons, and his combined FG% in those three seasons is only 40%. 
Here’s the thing: Arenas still has more than enough talent to be an impact player. The arrival of John Wall will likely force Arenas to play the two next season, but Agent Zero has the ability to make an Arenas/Wall backcourt absolutely deadly. Flip Saunders has said that Arenas will spot up more this season, and he has the ability to punish any team that leaves him alone beyond the three-point arc. His knee injuries have taken a good bit of his explosiveness from him, but Arenas was never an above-the-rim player; his greatest talent as a driver was always his strength and ability to keep any defender on his shoulder once he got by him, forcing him to either concede the layup or give a foul — even if Arenas’ first step isn’t what it once was, he can still burn any team that gives him anything resembling a lane to drive through. 
Make no mistake: if Arenas can deal with the fact that he isn’t a 28 PPG scorer anymore and if his knees aren’t completely destroyed, he could absolutely turn himself into one of the best offensive two-guards in the league. Whether Arenas can accept his new role or not will be a key factor in Washington’s success or failure next season.
The Wizards could be very, very good next season. They could also be very, very bad. I don’t want to make a hard-and-fast prediction about that team, because they really have no floor or ceiling; it’s hard to name a team with more extremely talented and extremely flawed players. 
John Wall may be the best perimeter prospect to enter the league since LeBron; he’s also a rookie with limited three-point range, questions surrounding his ability to be a pure point guard, and an aversion to driving to his right. JaVale McGee is a true 7+ foot center with crazy athleticism, a Mr. Fantastic wingspan, and surprising skills for a man his size — seriously, he’s just as comfortable stepping around the help-side defender and converting a Giant Gervin finger roll as he is putting home an easy alley-oop. He’s also a center who’s never shot 51% from the field and has always seemed all to content to let his man get by him for an easy layup. 
Andray Blatche has true power forward size, small forward skills, and put up absolute monster numbers after Antawn Jamison was traded away last season, but he does tend to float in and out of games, especially on defense. Josh Howard and Al Thornton are talented scorers with superb mid-range games who have all but been given up on at this point in their careers. Kirk Hinrich was thought of as one of the most complete two-way combo guards in the league before he mysteriously became “Zombie Hinrich” and averaged less PPG in his last three seasons than he did in any of his first four seasons. Heck, even Nick Young and Yi Jianlian have shown flashes of greatness throughout their disappointing careers, and the latter has supposedly found his game this summer while working with renowned coach David Thorpe. In short, this is an extremely talented team with exactly 0 sure things on its roster.
Exactly how good or bad the Wizards will be next season may hinge on the John Wall effect. The Wizards have a roster filled with extremely talented players with glaring weaknesses; great point guards highlight the strengths of their teammates whilst hiding their weaknesses. Wall hasn’t played a minute of NBA basketball yet, but from what I saw in Las Vegas, the kid is for real. He gets into the paint at will, can hit the mid-range jumper if he’s given space, and, most importantly, knows how to set up his teammates when the defenses collapse on him. 
I’ve seen JaVale McGee hang out on the perimeter and try to be a 7-2 shooting guard during both NBA and Summer League play for who knows how long; in Vegas, when McGee was working off of Wall’s penetration, he was throwing down Alley-oops and catch-and-dunk opportunities with reckless abandon, and looked like a completely different player. Wall’s summer-league teammates were also the recipients of countless open looks from beyond the arc and open lanes to drive through thanks to Wall’s penetration and savvy dimes. It was only Summer League, but Wall showed that he wants to be far more than an athlete/scorer; he wants to be the next great point guard in this league.
All of this brings us back to Arenas. If Arenas accepts that Wall is going to be the one making everything go in Washington, he could absolutely experience a career renaissance — getting easy looks from beyond the arc, working drives on defenses tilted towards Wall’s side of the floor, or setting Wall and everybody else up with passes for easy finishes. If Arenas reverts to his old habits and (as he is occasionally wont to do) stops the ball and tries to relive his 28 PPG glory days on a bad knee, he may become an albatross for Washington, tempt his talented teammates to try and get theirs instead of playing a team game, and ultimately end up holding the New Wizards back instead of getting them back into contention. 
There’s also the matter of Gilbert’s off-court persona to consider. Before Twitter caught on and players regularly blogged, Arenas gained attention for his blog on NBA.com (ghostwritten for him by former NBA.com and current ESPN Los Angeles employee Dave McMenamin), which was funny, revealing, honest, and often charmingly insane. 
The blog was influential enough for former Deadspin.com editor Will Leitch to write an essay about Arenas entitled “Why Gilbert Arenas Matters More
Than LeBron James” in his excellent 2008 book, God Save the Fan
In the essay, Leitch praises Arenas’ accessibility; when approached by a fan at a bowling alley, Arenas invited the fan to join his game, hung out with him for hours, and then played video games with said fan all night. He also sponsored a professional Halo team, tried to vote himself into the All-Star game, talked about taking a shower in his full uniform, embraced the “Agent Zero” given to him by Wizznutzz.com, and admitted to dropping his daughter, “butt-first,” on his blog. By being so down-to-Earth and accessible, Leitch argued, not incorrectly, that Arenas was a new model of athlete, one who made LeBron’s reliance on corporate-friendly and team-first platitudes seem outdated and insincere. (Stop me if any of this sounds familiar to you.) 
Since 2008, Gilbert’s relationship with the media has changed. When twitter exploded, Arenas was no longer the athlete darling of Web 2.0; an Arenas blog post would probably be the 10th-craziest NBA player admission/statement of the day if it happened today. (Arenas briefly flirted with Twitter, saying he’d start tweeting when he got 1,000,000 followers; he never came close to getting that many followers.) 
Then, of course, there was the gun thing. An NBA player who developed a cult of personality for acting goofy and occasionally stupid got suspended for a full season for acting goofy and extremely stupid. It was one of those events that makes you consider just how athletes should be covered in 2010. 
The sports media (which I am, of course, a member of) will always try to separate athletes into Good Guys and Bad Guys, and Web 2.0 has often helped them do that. But an endearing web presence like Arenas getting suspended for a full season for bringing guns into a locker room highlights the fact that as athletes gain more and more control over their public image, they become less and less like characters in a narrative and more like human beings. The same Gilbert Arenas that invited a bowling buddy to play video games with him all night brought guns into the locker room because of a gambling dispute. 
In his Arenas essay, Leitch says the following about the contrast between Arenas and LeBron/Michael Jordan:
[An athlete] just has to be himself, an original thinker, someone who we feel is being straight with us. Michael Jordan never was this, and LeBron James never will be. We see through it now. We don’t believe him.
So, should we believe Arenas? Are we willing to accept his flaws, which are serious, and embrace the man that’s entertained us both on the court and off as a performer, Kanye-twitter style? Should we all go see Catfish and realize (spoiler alert, kinda) that being “you” on the internet is often just a way to market yourself rather than a true window into the soul? Or should we just worry about whether Gilbert will embrace playing off the ball alongside John Wall next season? 
All of these are valid questions Arenas raises, and ones we’re still looking for answers to in the thick of the Web 2.0 phenomenon and the dawn of the John Wall era.

Report: Bucks signing Xavier Henry

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 16:  Xavier Henry #7 of the Los Angeles Lakers shoots against the Golden State Warriors at Staples Center on November 16, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.  The Warriors won 136-115.   NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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The Bucks hope Xavier Henry is just another thing Byron Scott is wrong about.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

Henry – the No. 12 pick in the 2010 draft – never found his footing in the NBA with the Memphis Grizzlies, New Orleans Hornets or Los Angeles Lakers. He made some strides with the Lakers in 2013-14, but he tore his Achilles early the following season. That compounded the knee injuries that made Scott doubt Henry could meet the expectations placed on him coming out of Kansas.

Milwaukee now has 15 players, the regular-season roster limit. If Henry’s deal is unguaranteed, he’s obviously not a lock to stick. But the Bucks could use another wing. I’m guessing they’ll add more players to compete with Henry for that final spot.

Report: Lakers signing Travis Wear

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 19: Travis Wear #6 of the New York Knicks dives for the ball against the Minnesota Timberwolves  during their game at Madison Square Garden on March 19, 2015 in New York City.    NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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Phil Jackson said he warned the Lakers they’d regret passing on Kristaps Porzingis with the No. 2 pick.

The Lakers are getting another swing at stretch big Jackson liked – though this time with far lower stakes.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Travis Wear spent 2014-15 with the Knicks and last season in Spain.

He’ll compete with recently signed Zach Auguste for a regular-season-roster opening that doesn’t exist – until the Lakers ditch Nick Young. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Lakers add more players to the mix.

Both Wear and Auguste are eligible to have their D-League rights assigned to the Lakers’ affiliate if they’re waived before the season.

The 6-foot-10 Wear went undrafted out of UCLA in 2014. He has the makings of a stretch four, but he must become more comfortable beyond the arc rather than just in the mid-range.

NBA rookies love Kris Dunn, Ben Simmons – not so much

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 23:  Kris Dunn walks on stage after being drafted fifth overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round of the 2016 NBA Draft at the Barclays Center on June 23, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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Rookie of the Year, best playmaker, best defender and funniest. Kris Dunn even received a vote for best shooter despite his jumper holding him back in pre-draft evaluations.

Dunn – the Timberwolves’ No. 5 pick – cleaned up in the NBA’s annual rookie survey.

But when it came to the most important question, Brandon Ingram – the Lakers’ No. 2 pick – claimed the top spot:

Which rookie will have the best career?

1. Brandon Ingram, L.A. Lakers — 26.7%

2. Kris Dunn, Minnesota — 16.7%

3. Buddy Hield, New Orleans — 13.3%

T-4. Dragan Bender, Phoenix — 6.7%

Jaylen Brown, Boston — 6.7%

Jamal Murray, Denver — 6.7%

Ben Simmons, Philadelphia — 6.7%

Others receiving votes: Dejounte Murray, San Antonio; Dario Saric, Philadelphia; Pascal Siakam, Toronto; Tyler Ulis, Phoenix; Denzel Valentine, Chicago

That’s a pretty poor showing for Ben Simmons, whom the 76ers drafted No. 1. Maybe it’s because Simmons didn’t make the NCAA tournament at LSU.

But that lack of exposure only barely dissuades me. I still think Simmons will have the best career and win Rookie of the Year. The 76ers will likely feature him in a major role this season while Dunn is stuck behind Ricky Rubio (for now, at least).

But that didn’t dissuade their fist-year peers:

Who will be the 2016-17 Kia Rookie of the Year?

1. Kris Dunn, Minnesota — 29.0%

2. Brandon Ingram, L.A. Lakers — 25.8%

3. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia — 19.4%

Other notable questions (click through to NBA.com full results) and my picks:

Which rookie was the biggest steal at where he was selected in the Draft?

1. Dejounte Murray (29), San Antonio — 16.1%

2. Tyler Ulis (34), Phoenix — 12.9%

My pick: Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot (24), Philadelphia

Which rookie is the most athletic?

1. Jaylen Brown, Boston — 38.7%

2. Brice Johnson, L.A. Clippers — 16.1%

My pick: Brown

Which rookie is the best shooter?

1. Buddy Hield, New Orleans — 65.7%

2. Jamal Murray, Denver — 20.0%

My pick: Hield

Which rookie is the best defender?

1. Kris Dunn, Minnesota — 23.5%

2. Gary Payton II, Houston — 20.6%

3. Malcolm Brogdon, Milwaukee — 17.6%

My pick: Payton

Which rookie is the best playmaker?

1. Kris Dunn, Minnesota — 29.4%

2. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia — 26.5%

3. Tyler Ulis, Phoenix — 20.6%

My pick: Dunn in a vacuum with the caveat that Simmons’ playmaking – not far behind Dunn’s – will be more valuable at power forward than Dunn’s will be at point guard

Jose Calderon retires from Spanish national team

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 11:  Jose Calderon #8 of Spain moves the ball against Nigeria during the Men's Basketball - Preliminary Round Group B Nigeria vs Spain on Day 6 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 1 on August 11, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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Jose Calderon has won three Olympic medals – silver in 2008 and 2012 and bronze this year.

Just three men’s basketball players have won more:

  • Carmelo Anthony (three golds and a bronze for Team USA)
  • Gennady Volnov (a gold,* two silvers and a bronze for the Soviet Union)
  • Sergey Belov (a gold* and three bronzes for the Soviet Union)

Calderon, who turns 35 next month, won’t catch them.

O. Cauchi of Sportando:

Veteran point guard Jose Calderon has officially announced his retirement from Spanish NT.

Calderon barely played in Rio. Spain is stacked at point guard with Sergio Rodriguez, Ricky Rubio and Sergio Llull.

The Lakers aren’t as deep at the position with D'Angelo Russell and Marcelo Huertas. Calderon might have a bigger impact in Los Angeles – especially if he’s not saving himself for Eurobasket 2017.