Once, when asked about what his team would look like in the coming season, whether it would be more offensively minded, and how it would keep up the intensity on the defensive end, Flip Saunders said:
Well, defensively, the team always takes the personality of their players. The players we have here … are very defensive oriented. The strength of this team from a defensive aspect – how hard they play and how aggressively they play won’t change. What will change is the changing defenses we’ll use, being able to change the tempo of the game will full-court pressure, half-court traps and defenses. Offensively, like our defense, we will always stay aggressive. I always want my teams to attack, and so we will look to push the ball more and score more out of our fast break.
And on whether he would try to evolve a player into a superstar or continue with the teamwork mentality:
In Minnesota, even though we had a great player in Garnett, the team was built on team play. I look for this team to continue that. This team will move the basketball, become a high-assist, low-turnover team playing a very aggressive style.
This was in the summer of 2005, before Saunders’ Detroit Pistons finished with the best record in the NBA at 64-18, and before they lost to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals.
This offseason strongly suggests that Flip is returning to his trusted formula.
Flip Saunders can coach a defense? Google?
Google … always a skeptic.
In 14 seasons as an NBA head coach, Saunders’ teams have ranked in the top 15 defensively nine times, four of which have ranked in the top seven (this according to the points allowed per 100 possessions defensive rating on Basketball-Reference.com). In fact, Saunders wrote the book (a book) on match-up zone defense.
If defensively, teams always takes the personality of their players, there will be defensive performances to write home about in the Wizards’ future. Overnight, they have transformed into a team that’s committed to stifling opposing offenses. In time, the Wizards could become a dominant defensive squad instead of a team that only pays defense a courtesy call.
Player Profiles via Draft Express:
- Trevor Booker: He continues to assert himself defensively and work hard whether he is playing inside or outside. … He brings a level of physicality to the game that NBA teams crave these days, on the defensive end in particularly, and despite his tendency to force the issue from time to time offensively, the reckless abandon he shows wins you over eventually. … Booker uses his length and agility to make a lot of plays, as evidenced by his high steal and block numbers. In the post, Booker plays a very physical game with a decent fundamental base, bodying up the opposition early to try and negate his height disadvantage. On the perimeter, Booker is often matched up with wings and even small guards, and while he doesn’t show the lateral quickness to keep up with them, he does a respectable job, clearly having excellent mobility for his position.
- Hamady N’Diaye: N’Diaye is a raw, 23-year-old center with average hands and conditioning who is known primarily as a shot blocking specialist, but may be able to find himself a spot on the end of a team’s bench as an energy guy and defensive presence. … On the defensive end, he has solid lateral quickness and timing, which coupled with his explosiveness and aggressiveness, allows him to be a good shot blocker and a solid overall defender at this level. … N’Diaye has the ability to be a solid presence as a team defender thanks to his mobility hedging screens on the perimeter and his ability to rotate from the weak-side, things that are in short supply these days when considering the crop of 6-11 players available on the free agent market.
- Kevin Seraphin: Defensively, Seraphin is much more useful at this point. He shows a much greater comfort level on the defensive end, where he’s a terrific presence inside the paint with his superb combination of length, strength and athleticism. He displays nice timing when rotating from the weak side and is especially effective at hedging pick-and-rolls, while still having the mobility to recover back onto his man thanks to his nimble feet and nice lateral quickness. He’s difficult to post up due to his wide frame, and he puts in a good effort on top of that. This puts him in a pretty rare class of prospects when considering his physical tools.
- Kirk Hinrich: Really a throwback in terms of defensive intensity. Gets in a good stance and does his best to hawk the ball all game long. Will get a steal every now and again by reaching at the right time, but isn’t overly aggressive. Doesn’t always get the best of his individual matchup, but it is never because it isn’t trying. Has good enough quickness and speed to keep up with most starting point guards. Lack of muscle can hurt him from time to time.
- John Wall: Another area in which Wall has been better than advertised is with his play on the defensive end. Not only does he have the physical attributes required to be a lockdown defender—with his terrific size, wingspan and lateral quickness—but (unlike Derrick Rose) he also shows the type of aggressiveness and intensity to take advantage of his tools … The huge number of blocks and steals he generates immediately jumps off the page at you, but seeing the way he absolutely smothers his opponents on the perimeter with his length and his ability to cover ground and contest countless shots around the basket each game is far more impressive. … Defensively, the point guard has every tool you could ask for both physically and mentally ….
[Slow down, Pardner! - flickr/Voxphoto]
The only starter listed above is Wall. Indeed. And just last year, Kyle Weidie wrote Truth About It’s ’09-10 season preview:
Defense: With really only three suitable defensive players (using “suitable” loosely) — Brendan Haywood, DeShawn Stevenson, and Dominic McGuire with Haywood being the best by far — this team needs huge commitments from its main stars on the defensive end. Even more importantly, the squad needs to learn how to play with more defensive focus/communication as a cohesive unit. With defense unquestionably being the biggest question mark surrounding this team (yes, even more than health, which is something you really can’t control anyway), the Wizards have a looooong way to go before they can prove themselves worthy.
The three “defensive” players listed above purchased one-way tickets out of D.C. So who is going to step up?
Andray Blatche perchance? [via Draft Express]
He did a decent job staying in front of his man down low, showing nice lateral quickness and even giving offensive players some problems by going straight up when they looked to shoot. He may get backed down by stronger players and doesn’t always do an ideal job of keeping himself between his man and the basket, but he shows a knack for getting his hand near the ball when shots go up down low. The development of his fundamentals under Flip Saunders will be key to his ability to get his defensive skills up to the same level as his defensive tools.
JaVale McGee maybe? [via Kyle Weidie, Truth About It.net]
[H]e’s likely conditioned himself to sprint to the other end on offense, which is a good thing, but not before your team has the ball. It sort of goes with that whole running uphill on transition defense and downhill on transition offense thing McGee has been accused of before. Or, him just needing to be more aware and focused.
Yi Jianlian? [via John Townsend, Truth About It.net]
Yi really is lost on defense. His footwork is terrible, he gives jump shooters way too much room, gets beat off the dribble by jump shooters anyway, is schematically clueless, and gets scored on by everyone.
And Gilbert Arenas? ESPN TrueHoop’s Henry Abbot claims that, “Arenas is one of the NBA’s worst defenders.” And Synergy Sports Technology supports that sentiment. Although, Saunders continues to insist that people shouldn’t be so quick to discount Arenas’ defense. Yea, riiiiiight.
To paraphrase Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, Japanese Naval Commander in Chief, the fate of the Wizards Empire rests on a complete effort from every player – all must devote themselves totally to the task in hand. The task, of course, is winning basketball games. Every good empire needs a Caesar, a Kaisar, a Czar. Every successful team has a floor general: the heart of the team. Wall is that natural born leader this squad has been lacking. Assistant coach Sam Cassell’s comments reinforce this point:
He’s a leader. That’s what we’re searching for, leadership, and he’s our guy.
To project the 2010 season, I turned to the time-tested, military treatise of Sun Tzu. According to Tzu, good leaders must inspire their men’s devotion:
People must be willing to do the unpleasant parts of the job as well as the fun parts. We must honor our agreements scrupulously. People must be able to depend on us. If we are not reliable, no one will support us for long.
For the defense-averse players listed above, contesting shots, tracking back, and playing within the team concept are most unpleasant. Flip Saunders doesn’t agree with this mentality. (See ‘The Play That Got Andray Blatche Benched’.) And fortunately, neither does John Wall, who can make playing team defense an expectation, a requisite, rather than an afterthought.
Flipping to the offensive side of the ball, Saunders wants to be aggressive, to attack, and push the ball to score out of the fast break. Last season, Flip told the media:
We haven’t had as much of a thrust with the ball. We want [Arenas] to be aggressive with the ball, whether it’s scoring or distributing, but we cannot walk the ball up the court. That’s something we’ve really been trying to work on, from the beginning of training camp. If there is a miss, we shouldn’t be in any sort of set play. We haven’t done as a good a job as we need to.
Saunders will not have to wave his arms, begging John Wall (The Catalyst) to push the ball in transition. (Although in summer league, Cassell had to remind the young point to get used to the NBA’s 8-second count and to not play around with the ball in the backcourt.) Scoring in transition is what Wall is best known for. Full-court Flash. And this Wizards team has the weapons to keep up with him. Trevor Booker, Gilbert Arenas, Josh Howard, Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee can run. Kirk Hinrich is most efficient in transition, and the new-look Yi Jianlian has been “dunking everything, and beating guards down the floor, and stripping guards, and making plays full-court in transition with the ball in his hands” this summer.
TrueHoop’s Abbott wrote that given Wall’s tools, he could easily put himself on a path to try to lead the league in scoring. But not so fast – Bullets Forever’s Mike Prada says that John Wall’s scoring numbers may be lower than you expect next season. Abbott has also noticed that Wall’s thought process is all about the team. He thinks pass first. ESPN’s David Thorpe, after analyzing Wall’s game in detail, said, “He doesn’t just think pass first, but he also has the court vision to see all kinds of things.”
Wall’s assists will be there. He is surrounded by shooters, scorers, and bucket-makers. If he can keep his turnovers down and if the team buy into Flip’s Formula on both ends, especially the defensive, the sky is the limit. The Washington Wizards just might (a mighty might) sneak into the playoffs this year.
[Flip Saunders, Washington General Basketball Alchemist]