‘Gotta Win’ vs. Weary Legs: What Choice Does Randy Wittman Have?
“We’ve had some good nights and not some good nights. As I tell those guys, I’m searching right now. This is their opportunity to audition, alright, show me you deserve to be out there. Because I’m using just about everybody in the minutes that I can. But I can’t wait around. The bottom line is we’ve put ourselves in position to win and I’m not going to lose a game just to … I’m trying to do the best that I can from the standpoint of getting smarter with a sub before the time, and letting them get the timeout, and everything else. I think I was pleased… John had 38 minutes. I’m still reaching some of these guys in the 40-plus [minutes], which I don’t like to do. But, you know what? If we gotta go out and win a game, we’re going to go out and win a game.”
Wittman needs to win. He needs to tax his starters with big minutes to win.
Why? Because the starters are damn good. But also because his bench is terrible.
Embedded below is a chart (also linked here if embed not visible) of the top-30 five-man units in the NBA in terms of minutes played through Saturday’s games. The Wizards have three of their five-man units on this list. The Philadelphia 76ers are the only other team with multiple lineups on this list and they have two.
Fifteen of the 30 lineups field a positive plus/minus per 48 minutes (highlighted in green). Twelve lineups field a negative plus/minus per 48, and three lineups are an even zero. The chart also includes Net Rating for each team (points produced per 100 possessions minus points allowed per 100 possessions).
All three of Washington’s lineups are in the positive in plus/minus per 48 and amongst those, the Wizards are ranked second-, sixth- and seventh-best on the list. [Worth noting that as of Dec. 1, Washington has played the fifth easiest schedule in the NBA, via BBR.]
- John Wall, Bradley Beal, Trevor Ariza, Nene, and Marcin Gortat have started five games together, field a plus-18.4 per 48 minutes (ranked 2nd), and sport a 2-3 win-loss record.
- Wall, Beal, Webster, Nene, and Gortat have started five games together, field a plus-14.3 per 48 (ranked 6th), and sport a 3-2 record.
- Wall, Webster, Ariza, Nene, and Gortat have started three games together, field a plus-14 per 48 (ranked 7th), and sport a 3-0 record.
- On four occasions, the Wizards have had to start either Trevor Booker or Jan Vesely and have lost all four of those games.
If you further review the chart, you might notice some interesting instances in the sample:
- Primary lineups in Oklahoma City and San Antonio don’t field a positive plus/minus per 48 minutes, which is an indication of a strong bench and other five-man lineup combinations that work with their anchoring players.
- Teams like the Wizards, Knicks and Timberwolves—and to some extent, the Pelicans, Celtics and Grizzlies—can field solid five-man units, but lose games with other lineups.
For the Wizards, after their top six players, the drop-off is significant and could mean the difference between playoffs or no playoffs, no matter how hard the starters work and no matter how healthy they continue to be (which is not always an encouraging proposition).
Washington’s starters saw 29 minutes of action on Saturday against the Hawks. Normally their time together as a five-man unit doesn’t approach the 30-minute mark but rather hovers around the low-20s. Over the past eight games, six of them wins for the Wizards, the two main starting lineups—Wall, Beal, Webster, Nene, and Gortat with Ariza injured; Wall, Webster, Ariza, Nene, and Gortat with Beal injured—are responsible for 43 percent of all Wizards minutes (90 and 78 total minutes respectively).
What’s a coach to do? Lean on his starters for victories and hope for the best when he does have to play the bench. As Wittman said after the Atlanta game, he’s not only searching for creative combinations, but he’s also trying to find creative ways to get his starters rest during games.
But this isn’t sustainable. This workload will wear down the starters, which could also affect Wittman’s ability to “go out and win a game.” They have sometimes looked tired late in games. Either someone starts to play drastically better, or Ernie Grunfeld finds a way to better equip his coach before limbs, and/or feelings, get hurt.
John Wall on Washington’s bench:
“The main thing is we trust in those guys. And once in a blue moon they have a good game. But I think they just gotta be comfortable, they just got to be very comfortable and just find a good rotation.”
[stats via NBA.com/stats]