Shortly after he arrived in Washington via a trade with Phoenix, Trevor Ariza had his first sit-down meeting with Wizards Coach Scott Brooks. With his team decimated by injury and playing an uninspiring brand of basketball through the first six weeks of the season, Brooks bluntly told the 33-year-old Ariza what he needed.
“I expect more from you than just being a spot-up shooter. We have to expand,” Brooks told Ariza, and that expansion of the 14-year veteran’s game reached a new boundary in Monday afternoon’s 101-87 win over the Detroit Pistons. It began in the opening minutes at half-court, with Ariza fighting for a loose ball between two Pistons defenders, then muscling his way to the basket for a score after nearly losing his dribble. Aesthetically, it might have been his ugliest basket in a Wizards uniform.
But these are the kind of plays Brooks wanted out of the veteran when he joined a roster that had been criticized for subpar effort through the first two months of the season. Ariza not only has helped the Wizards elevate their defensive play in January, but he also has helped shoulder the offensive load in the wake of John Wall’s season-ending surgery and has established himself as one of the team’s most effective rebounders. He finished with a team-high 20 points and matched a team-high with 12 rebounds in the win over the Pistons, which marked his first double-double in points and rebounds with Washington this season and helped the Wizards pull into a tie for ninth place in the Eastern Conference.
“He’s a guy who can do it all,” forward Jeff Green said of Ariza. “He’s a smart basketball player. He makes the right reads, and we try to get open for him. That’s what it’s been all about.”
It also has been about Ariza adjusting to his new role and working through shooting struggles in the first 12 games after he joined the Wizards in mid-December. He shot 34 percent from the field during that stretch, including 27.5 percent from three-point range. But he’s taken 54 shots over the past four games, hitting 25 of those field goals, and gone 14 for 35 from three-point range.
That uptick continued with a 7-for-13 shooting performance against the Pistons, in which he hit two corner three-pointers in transition and created his own offense with a double-clutch jumper over Detroit guard Jose Calderon during the second half. He high-fived a random fan after that play, finally looking like he had found an offensive groove on his new team. With Wall out and Bradley Beal drawing more attention each night, Ariza has been forced to do much more than spot up on the perimeter, somewhat of a departure from his role with the Houston Rockets and Phoenix Suns over his previous five seasons. He continued to show an ability to penetrate the lane off the dribble Monday, including on a nifty up-and-under finish that beat the halftime buzzer.
“Trevor, I knew he was a good spot-up shooter,” Brooks said. “I didn’t know he was a good all-around player like he is. You don’t know really until you coach a guy, night in and night out. ”
Brooks has lauded Ariza’s veteran presence for helping turn around the Wizards’ defensive efforts, which were paltry at best earlier in the season. In January, Washington has been one of the most improved defensive teams in the league: It entered this week with a 106.9 defensive rating over its previous nine games and touted an 89.6 fourth-quarter defensive rating, the best in the league over that stretch. Ariza’s length and approach have been considered major reasons for the turnaround.
“Trev is Trev. He’s going to play hard every game. Defensively we need his length. He guards the toughest guys. He takes on that assignment with Brad [Beal],” Otto Porter Jr. said. “He just brings that defensive mind to the team, and that’s what we need.”
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