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The Big Twenty: The rise and fall of Gilbert Arenas

The Big Twenty: The rise and fall of Gilbert Arenas

For the next two weeks, NBC Sports Washington will be rolling out the 20 biggest stories in DMV sports in the past 20 years. Here is No. 14.

When asked to point out when Gilbert Arenas' downfall began, most would cite his infamous decision to bring guns into the Wizards locker room in Dec. 21, 2009. But those who followed his career closely know the turning point was actually on April 4, 2007.
 
That night the Wizards were playing the Charlotte Bobcats when forward Gerald Wallace missed a layup in traffic and fell into Arenas' left knee, tearing his medial collateral ligament (MCL). Even at the time, the injury did not seem as daunting as a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) or Achilles tendon, yet little did we know Arenas would never be the same.
 
That moment was the beginning of the end of one of the most promising careers in the NBA at the time. Arenas rose to stardom quickly, but he crashed just as fast, leaving many to this day wondering what could have been.
 
Arenas' ascension began with the Golden State Warriors, where he went from a second-round draft pick to the NBA's most improved player in 2002-03 to free agency, all in a span of two years. Due to a loophole in the league's collective bargaining agreement that has since been changed, Arenas was able to bolt from the Warriors and sign for more money with the Wizards.
 
By his second year in Washington, Arenas was an NBA All-Star. And by his third year he was competing for scoring titles, averaging 29.3 points per game, second in franchise history only to Walt Bellamy's 31.6 in 1961-62.
 
The Wizards had been to the playoffs just once in 16 years before 2005 when Arenas helped lead them to three straight postseason runs. He made All-NBA three times, the first Wizards/Bullets player to do so since Elvin Hayes in the 1970s. The only other Wizards player to make All-NBA this century was John Wall and he's done it once.
 
Arenas wasn't simply an NBA star, either. He was a showman with a knack for coming through in big moments. He made a series of buzzer-beaters during the brief time he was at his peak powers, including one to win a playoff game against the Chicago Bulls in 2005.
 
Arenas had many other clutch shots during the regular season, including one against the Milwaukee Bucks on Jan. 3, 2007 when he turned and casually walked away, as if he knew it was going in. He made fans who showed up to the arena always feel like they could see something special that night.
 
Arenas holds the franchise record for points in a single game with 60, set on Dec. 17, 2006 on a night the late Kobe Bryant famously said Arenas had "no conscience." That game fell within a 30-day stretch where Arenas scored 50 points or more three times. Just six days later, after dropping 60 at Staples Center, he scored 54 against the Steve Nash-led Phoenix Suns, one of the best NBA teams of that decade.
 
To understand just how special Arenas was as a scorer, just look at this list. Here are the only players since 2000 to score 50 points or more three times within a single season: Bryant, LeBron James, Stephen Curry, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Dwyane Wade and Allen Iverson. Arenas is the only one who won't end up in the Hall of Fame. That's how good of an offensive player he was. 
 
Arenas’ size and strength for a point guard, 6-foot-4 with broad shoulders, was a major match-up problem. He was before his time in that regard, a bully at the position years before big point guards like Wall and Westbrook became commonplace.
 
Arenas combined that strength with a cat-quick first step and deep shooting range that pushed the boundaries of what was possible. He could pull up from 35 feet and sink a jump shot or put the ball on the floor and muscle his way to the rim. That combination led to him being one of the best in the game at getting to the free-throw line, where he shot 80.3 percent for his career. He averaged as many as 10 free throws per game back in 2005-06.
 
All those factors made Arenas one of the most gifted scorers of his generation. Several years ago, former teammate Caron Butler compared his game to Harden's and it's easy to see why. A lot of what we see today from Harden and other elite deep shooters like Curry and Atlanta’s Trae Young has roots in Arenas’ days in Washington.
 
There was also Arenas’ personality which, though quirky and with a dark side that would later reveal itself in full, helped make him a larger-than-life superstar. He would light up opposing teams, then deliver front-page quotes afterward. Lines like “my swag was phenomenal” and “hibachi” were part of his legend.
 
Unfortunately, Arenas' career can't be explained without including a wide variety of negative storylines. His knee injury was followed by a frustrating saga between him and the Wizards’ medical staff. His post-playing career has been marred by controversial statements and a disconnect with the Wizards franchise. And, of course, there is the gun incident in the locker room at Capital One Arena, among the most ill-advised off-court decisions in league history.
 
Arenas lived an eventful, yet incomplete NBA life. His career was over at age 30. If he had only stayed healthy, and out of his own way, maybe he would have ended up in the Hall of Fame. Maybe he would have led the Wizards to places they haven’t been in decades. We’ll never know. All we can do is continue to marvel at his extraordinary rise-and-fall, even all these years later.

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Report: Steph Curry will return from hand surgery against Wizards

Report: Steph Curry will return from hand surgery against Wizards

Steph Curry will return to game action when the Golden State Warriors host the Wizards on Sunday night, The Athletic reported Tuesday. The game will come almost four months to the day after Curry broke his left hand during a collision with Phoenix Suns center Aron Baynes on Oct. 30.

The Warriors (12-14) enter play Tuesday with the worst record in the NBA having played most of the season without Curry or shooting guard Klay Thompson, who tore his ACL during the NBA Finals last summer.

Curry was cleared for contact Saturday and told reporters that March 1 had been his target date for a while.

"It's always been March 1," Curry said, per ESPN's Nick Friedell. "But that for me mostly is just to give you a target. You have to have something to work towards in the rehab process because that gives you a barometer for each week, what you're building towards."

The Wizards are hoping for the healthy returns of Davis Bertans (sore right knee) and Thomas Bryant (right foot) to the lineup against the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday and will presumably go into Sunday’s contest with a clean injury report outside John Wall.

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Bradley Beal is doing Gilbert Arenas things; where's the hype of Agent Zero?

Bradley Beal is doing Gilbert Arenas things; where's the hype of Agent Zero?

Whenever a player goes off like Bradley Beal has in recent days with his back-to-back 50-plus point games, it can be a joy to research where things place within the context of history. When categorizing a particular feat in terms of Wizards/Bullets franchise history, the same names usually come up.

Elvin Hayes, Walt Bellamy, Bernard King and John Wall are often in the search results. Michael Jordan, though he was in his late 30s and only played two years in Washington, pops up far more frequently than you might think, yet another testament to his greatness. But one name from this century stands out above all, and when it comes to scoring, shines brighter than maybe any other in the 59 years of Wizards/Bullets lore.

That would be Gilbert Arenas, the man who captivated this town for a brief, but electric few years and was affectionately known as 'Agent Zero.' Usually, you find that whatever a recent Wizards player has done, it's the best since Arenas.

Well, with what Beal has been doing this season, Arenas' name is coming up far less often. That's because Beal is doing things Arenas never did.

Wizards fans, it's time to have a conversation, the conversation about whether Beal is equaling, if not surpassing Arenas, who has long remained the most popular player to ever don a Wizards uniform. 

It may not be an easy discussion for some, but the numbers have simply become impossible to ignore. With his 53 points against the Bulls on Sunday and his 55 vs. the Bucks on Monday, Beal now has three career 50-point games this season, which ties Arenas for the most in franchise history. Beal, though, is the only player to score 50 in consecutive games.

In fact, Beal is now just the third player in NBA history to have 53 or more in two straight games. It's him, Wilt Chamberlain and James Harden.

Consider the fact Beal this season is averaging 30.1 points (most in the East, second in the NBA) with a .516 effective field goal percentage. Arenas' best season in Washington, in 2005-06, topped out at 29.3 points and a .507 eFG%.

When the points are adjusted to per minute or per possession, they tell an even better story for Beal. He is averaging an absurd 39.2 points per 100 possessions. Arenas' best number with the Wizards, in 2006-07, was 36.5. Beal is averaging 30.3 points per-36 minutes, while Arenas' career-high was 25.8 (2006-07).

Sure, the game has changed with more possessions and more scoring. But the hand-checking rules changed before the 2004-05 season, so they don't apply.

This is by no means to diminish what Arenas did in Washington. It is worth noting simply because though the numbers are similar, the hype for Beal seems nowhere close to what it was for Arenas during those days.

When Arenas was at his peak, there was a palpable buzz, both locally and nationally. It was one of the highest points for the Wizards' popularity, perhaps only surpassed by Jordan's years when looking back several decades.

Though attendance numbers aren't a perfect measuring stick, they back that up. The Wizards in 2007 saw 18,372 fans per game on average, which remains their highest since Jordan left in 2003.

The most obvious reason for why this could be the Wizards were playoff contenders while Arenas was in the middle of his run. They never won more than 45 games with Arenas, and they only advanced out of the first round of the playoffs once during his tenure, but they were still a lot better than the Wizards are now. This year the Wizards are on pace for 29 wins. Fans can only get so excited about that.

But Arenas can't compare to Beal in terms of winning if you take their entire careers into account. The current era led by Beal and Wall has produced three playoff series wins compared to Arenas' one.

Still, if the Wizards were on track to win 45 games this season, it's fair to question whether Beal would be reaching the level of attention Arenas got back in those days because Arenas was much more than a basketball star. He was an enigmatic personality who had a blog back when other players didn't and did fun things like (falsely) predict his point totals. He had clever nicknames and great quotes like "my swag was phenomenal" and "hibachi."

Beal, meanwhile, has scaled back media appearances this season. Though Arenas ironically was once fined $25,000 for not talking to reporters, he was a media favorite and his colorful persona became a major part of his appeal.

But Beal, one could argue, should be helped by those same factors in a different way. While Arenas' personality ultimately revealed a dark side, Beal has been a perfect face of the Wizards franchise. He is a model citizen and even won the league's Community Assist award for his charity work last year.

Those elements are subjective and difficult to define. But the numbers aren't and the bottom-line is Beal is scoring more points and more efficiently than Arenas ever did. Maybe the hype will start to follow soon.

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