Photo by Reggie Hildred for The Sports Capitol
Ways Wizards might keep up with the warriors
BY BEN STANDIG | OCT. 24, 2018
TSC HEADQUARTERS — The Wizards opened their five-game road trip with that wild overtime-win against Portland. Wednesday night means facing the Golden State Warriors (3-1). Good luck there, fellas. Anyway, some thoughts as Washington seeks to even its record at 2-2:
*Washington actually had the champs on the ropes last season on the road, leading by 18 points at one stretch. Then Bradley Beal was ejected following a tussle with the pugnacious Draymond Green, and the Warriors began to Warrior, eventually escaping with a 120-117 victory.
One aspect from that game, the high score, is likely set for a repeat. NBA offenses are flammable early this season. Golden State led the NBA in scoring last season with 113.5 points per game. This campaign, the Warriors are at 113.3 — and rank 13th.
Defensive players have been slow to adjust to game officials emphasizing freedom of movement on the perimeter and on the blocks. Free throws are up accordingly. More teams, including the Wizards, are putting a greater emphasis on 3-point tries and pushing the pace.
Perhaps most notable, there are simply more shot attempts from all angles thanks in large part to the new rule where the shot clock resets to 14 on offensive rebounds. The Bulls led the NBA in field goal attempts last season with 88.8. That figure would rank 23rd this season.
The Wizards have jumped from 85.6 to 93.3, 10th overall behind the league-leading Pistons (100.3) and Lakers (100). The Warriors are a tick above last season’s pace at 87.3.
*For the Wizards, these factors play into a desire for more small-ball lineups, meaning Markieff Morris or Jeff Green at the 5 rather than a traditional center. Of course, Scott Brooks didn’t have much choice against Portland after Ian Mahinmi exited quickly with back spasms. Dwight Howard (sore buttocks) remains sidelined and did not make the trip. Jason Smith offers some stretch-5 help, but is overall limited. Second-year center Thomas Bryant has yet to play in a game this season.
Going with Morris or Green in the middle moves Washington closer to putting out its five best players on the court. That sounds like an obvious goal, but not always a reality considering the need for rebounding and rim-protecting bigs. Morris and Green can spread the floor and run when the Wizards are pushing the pace, but often far less help in those other areas. Washington is last in rebounding margin at -15.3. Golden State sits in the middle of the pack at +1.5.
While Portland hammered Washington on the boards, the Wizards took advantage of lumbering center Jusef Nurkic defending Morris in pick-and-roll action. Morris is the player opponents typically want shooting 3-pointers, at least compared to Beal and Otto Porter. In this case, the Wizards helped create opportunities knowing a slower defender would struggle on the perimeter.
Going small also meant more minutes for Kelly Oubre Jr., who delivered with the best all-around game of his NBA career. The Wall-Beal-Porter-Oubre-Morris may end up as Washington’s go-to lineup against the Warriors, who often go without an impact center. This look with its versatility and agility perhaps offers the best hope of slowing down Golden State even a tad, or more accurate, keeping pace with the offensive juggernaut.
There are still numerous flaws in Oubre’s game, namely defensive lapses and limited basketball instincts. The young forward’s does offer two things in great abundance: Energy and athleticism. It’s why he should be on the court more with the speedy Wall. No, this doesn’t mean start Oubre. We’re talking about manipulating minutes and rotations.
Brooks reflexively going with all-bench lineups remains baffling for this reason, though the coach shook things up Monday by using Porter to start the second quarter with four reserves. Putting players in the best position to succeed and maximizing their skills is part of the job. Ideally having one of your top players on the court at all time also seems like common sense.
Oubre isn’t a halfcourt player at this stage of his career. He is a runner and Brooks wants such players on the court with the fast-breaking Wall. Porter can handle open-court duties, but going with the second unit at times also opens up potential scoring opportunities he otherwise lacks when playing with Wall and Beal.
*Friend of the site and TruthAboutIt.net writer Adam Rubin pointed out that Otto Porter brought the ball into the frontcourt with 1:23 remaining in overtime and the scored tied 117-117. This is notable because the play wasn’t in the flow of the game, but coming out of a timeout. Vegas oddsmakers wouldn’t post odds on anyone other than Wall handling the ball in this scenario.
Washington had Porter and Bradley Beal initiate the offense at times during the preseason. The reasons often cited involved putting Wall in the low post more often, taking some workload off the All-Star point guard and having certain rebounders simply handle the dribble up-the-court duties to help speed up the pace rather than seek a passing target. There is another: Take the ball out of Wall’s hands at times.
Only James Harden, the 2017-18 NBA Most Valuable Player, held the ball longer per touch than Wall last season. Washington’s best stretch of last season arguably occurred during the “Everybody eats” stretch when assist numbers were collectively high.
Again, note the use of “at times” two paragraphs up. As constituted, this roster needs Wall’s court vision, speed, and talent to win. There are times, however, where Wall’s on-court plans don’t mesh with current reality, like perhaps in a game where he finishes 5 of 19 from the floor yet others are knocking down shots.
Before the timeout, Wall called for a two-man action with Oubre, sending Morris, Porter and Beal to the opposite side of the court, and then drove for a challenged layup that missed the mark.
On the play with Porter handling the ball, his first pass went to Morris on the low block. The power forward isn’t usually the go-to guy, but Morris was rolling against the Blazers (28 points in 25 minutes). Brooks seemingly wanted the ball in Morris’s hot hands and called for a play to ensure that would happen. Morris delivered with a series of moves leading to an And-1 after hitting a lefty layup.
Ben Standig is a host, writer and co-founder of The Sports Capitol. This D.C. area native grew up rooting for all the local squads and dabbled in the professional media world after college before making a full shift to sports writing in 2005. Since, Ben has covered every team and big event in town for several outlets including the Associated Press, NBCWashington.com and Scout.com.