“Know your roll!”
Former Washington Bullet Ledell Eackles, as relayed in :07 Seconds Or Less by Jack McCallum, once wrote, “Know your roll!” on a chalkboard as a member of the Miami Heat, in an attempt to inspire the team. Yes, “roll” and not “role” — the irony easily realized if you know Eackles’ issues with rotundness during his playing days.
But in terms of NBA players “knowing their roles” on the court… What, exactly does that mean? No, really. Because I’ve never quite understood it past being pseudo-code for: ‘Some guys are trying to do things they are not supposed to be doing, nor are capable of doing.’ And maybe that’s enough, although all the talk about knowing roles can still be confusing.
A player knowing his role in basketball makes sense, at one level, as all positions in the game are free-flowing. Sure, you have point guards and centers, but even the lines between those have blurred over time. Basketball is not like baseball where action is often solely focused on one person throwing the ball to a sole person responsible for hitting it; there’s sharing in basketball. Have you been to Lob City yet? (And to a lesser extent, John to JaVale Township?) Nor is basketball like football, where assignments on both offense and defense are specifically outlined. Or even hockey, where one guy’s role is to mind the net, others are more specifically geared toward defense or offense.
Basketball, with its diluted assignments, can thus be confusing when it comes to roles. Positions 1-5 can all score within the offense, or at the drop of a hat with a sudden change in possession. Players do need to know some sort of role for team structure, but even saying that seems overly robotic, and counterintuitive to how fluidly equal the game of basketball is meant to be.
Whatever it all means, it’s no surprise that the young Washington Wizards have a lack of understanding when “role” talk makes its way to the airwaves, i.e., who should be following the offense more rigidly, who is able to improvise and ad lib, and at which point of the game, quarter, or shot clock all these players should be performing within their capabilities.
“We’re still trying to figure out what each others’ roles is, who’s going to be the main scorer, who is going to be the secondary scorer,” said John Wall after practice on Wednesday (via the Washington Examiner).
“I don’t think guys really know their roles yet, who’s going to be the first, second or third scorer,” said Blatche after practice on Thursday. ”I don’t think that’s on anybody’s mind yet. I think that’s something we really have to do, though. I think once we get to that point, then our offense will start clicking,” he said, also reiterating that the Wizards have mostly been working on defense since they convened on short notice.
And rightly so. Planning to be a young, running, statistically high-paced team (Washington was ranked 9th in the NBA last season with an estimated 93.8 possessions per 48 minutes, via basketball-reference.com), the Wizards will need to create turnovers. This season, their offense starts with their defense; look for the Flip Saunders to run traps and presses at opponents. Defense first, offense second is simply the smartest way for Saunders to maneuver the current situation for which he once said that he didn’t sign up.
“They determine what I determine. They determine how well they play, what they do,” said Saunders regarding sifting through the ambiguitiy of deciding a basketball team’s roles. “Most of these guys coming out know their roles,” countered Saunders, prescribing players like Chris Singleton on defense, and players returing to continue doing what’s been defined for them in the past. But in terms of scoring options?
“We’ll know who the scoring options are. Guys that can’t shoot, you don’t shoot. That’s a pretty easy role,” said Saunders, also indicating that the small sample size, varied lineups, and amount of players played thus far makes defining roles harder to decipher.
“I think Jordan [Crawford] knows what his role is, the guy got up 21 shots in a game,” said the coach, making it clear that Crawford was to shoot the rock, but leaving his ability to do so successfully rather, well, unclear.
“More than anything else, it’s not defining the role, it’s the discipline of how we play as a team,” concluded Saunders.
Discipline will take time for the Wizards, and the ugly side will manifest itself in many ways early in this season. But Saunders believes that repetition with enhance the growth of his team in time. He said that young squads often become good “drill teams” in that they are good in the controlled environment of practice when coaching can correct mistakes, but with the increased surroundings of a NBA game production, not so much. “Our biggest thing now, as I told our players, is we got to carry over what we do into game situations,” said Saunders.
The Wizards are a young team, but as some will point out, their starting lineup isn’t that young compared to some other NBA stating fives. So maybe knowing a role has less to do with youth and inexprience, but rather selflessness on the court (although, these conceps often go hand-and-hand). Perhaps Blatche ultimately put it best, “If every guy thinks they’re the first option, every guy is going to take the first option type of shots.”
Roll on, Wizards, roll on.