Why Randy Wittman is the Right Seed for Washington’s Soil
Randy Wittman will return to coach John Wall’s Wizards… or Ernie Grunfeld’s Wizards… or Ted Leonsis’ Wizards. And that’s OK. In fact, it’s a good thing.
Don’t worry. I know the talking points.
Previous NBA head coaching record.
Previously never been to the playoffs as a coach before this season.
Is not, and has never been, George Karl.
Currently has an offense that reeks of paint-by-numbers … and the smiley-faced midrange area of the court bleeds red with the blood of Ron Burgundy.
As far as we know, keeping Wittman brings the same level of risk as a transition to a new coach, a new staff, a new system, a new familiarity—even with someone like Karl, who has been to a conference finals four times, the NBA Finals once (lost to Jordan and the Bulls), and won his first Coach of the Year award last season before being subsequently fired.
The points I make won’t change your mind, but you may find yourself relenting to the return of Randy anyway.
Coaching is of the utmost importance, else we would not be so entertained by Gregg Popovich (or #WittmanFace). But, Randy Wittman’s offense is no more of a presumed liability than Karl’s ability to coach defense. Or maybe it’s the experience you’re looking for in someone who is, however, inexperienced with the players on this Wizards roster.
Any vote of no-confidence against Wittman works under the assumption that someone else could’ve gotten equal or better results from the same players. It also removes some of the culpability from the hands of the players. Does Wittman’s offense make John Wall and Bradley Beal take all those midrange shots? Perhaps one’s your chicken and the other’s your egg.
Keep in mind that most offensive set don’t end at “midrange.” Doubt that Randy Wittman’s does, either. There are always extra passes to make or deeper gaps in the defense to find. The Wizards don’t consistently make the extra pass, but as the numbers have shown, they do move the ball better than 25 other NBA teams. It now continues to be on Wittman, and his players, to better balance the desire to be confidence-driven athletes versus the need to be rational cogs in a team offense.
Wall averaged 5.5 shots from 16-to-24 feet per game last season, seventh most in the NBA, and shot 36.7 percent on them. If he, on his own cognizance, gets more shots within eight feet (5.3 attempts per game, 60%) on the levels of Dwyane Wade (6.9/g, 65.8%) or Tony Parker (6.7/g, 56.1), for example, then Washington’s offense will change.
Beal averaged 5.7 shots per game from the same 16-to-24 feet range, fifth-most in the NBA, and he shot 37.4 percent on those attempts. If Beal could get his contested midrange attempts down and attempts within eight feet of the rim (3.2/g, 60%) up to near Dion Waiters-levels (4.9/g, 47.4%), then Wittman’s offense will change for the better.
Between just those two lead guards, the Wizards could conceivably decrease attempts from 16-to-24 feet per game by 3.5 while adding 3.0 attempts per game closer to the rim, and 0.5 more attempts per game from beyond 24 feet (that’s 3-point range) for good measure. This would put their range of attempts closer to a team like the Spurs. So, 32.7 attempts per game within eight feet for Washington to 36.1 for San Antonio; 18.6 from 16-to-24 feet to 15.1 for the Spurs; and 20.6 attempts per game from beyond 24 feet for Washington to 21.3 per game for Gregg Popovich’s squad.
No, the Wizards won’t magically become the Spurs just because Wall and Beal—and others—show a little more discretion and self-control. They still have to make the shots. Wall is also apparently consulting with his own stats guy who has advised him of the obvious: drive more and stop jumping to pass. “I agree. I think I need to be more aggressive attacking the basket,” texted Wall to the consultant according to the New York Times article.
Neither Popovich nor Wittman rests their laurels on militantly moving pieces around on a chessboard. No, they provide free-thinking troops plans for basketball battle. So as important as coaching is to success, it’s a team, not a dictatorship. Decisions are made on the court and real-time, and it’s coach’s job to put them in position to succeed.
You don’t think Randy Wittman and his staff know that their players need to get more drives to the basket and less pull-ups (as Wall and Beal break in their training pants)? It’s not like Wittman didn’t hire a man, Don Newman, onto his staff prior to the 2013-14 season who’d been an assistant with the Spurs for seven seasons.
Considering Wittman’s return to coach the Wizards is saying that he earned a shot to continue building on the tear-inducing effort he’s put in already—he’s a hardass who has cried in front of his players; I think they can respect such passion. Hell, Wittman might have earned a shot to continue turning around Washington’s culture when he benched JaVale McGee (Can’t say I do!), and later signaled that the franchise would no longer put up with Andray Blatche’s bullshit via a string of tenure-ending “DNP-Conditioning” designations.
Considering Wittman’s return is considering the avoidance of sending signs of distrust to players. You know that Ted Leonsis asked Wall, Beal, Nene, and whomever else about the return of Wittman. The owner did so two years ago when Wittman was extended because that’s Ted’s style. The Wizards likely aren’t preening for Wall’s approval on each personnel move, but they are certainly keeping their max contract player in the loop. So if Wall endorses Witt like last time, do you just go in a different direction anyway?
Considering Wittman (and his staffers, such as the Sam Cassell of utmost importance), is saying that the Wizards don’t have to clean house on the player development that got Wall and Beal this far. Between stress fractures and significant amount of missed time for both players, along with Wall being initiated into the league with a toxic locker room and a lockout-shortened sophomore season, you wonder what coach could have done better. Of course, we could debate the NBA-readiness of no-brainer draft picks like Wall and Beal versus the other youthful ingredients in Grunfeld and Wittman’s cupboard—the Veselys, Singletons, Seraphins (and McGees, Blatches, Youngs if you want to back it up to draftees prior to Wittman’s tenure). Who do you blame more for sour player development meals: the cook or the one supplying the raw goods?
Wittman isn’t perfect. … We don’t know what he is. Maybe he’s the safe choice. Maybe he’s the economic choice—cheaper to keep ‘em is surely in Ted’s corporate playbook. Maybe the 54-year-old can grow up together with Wall and Beal. When Popovich was 47, he, as GM and VP of basketball operations for the Spurs*, fired Bob Hill, and made himself coach; Tim Duncan landed in his lap a year later. When Wittman was 47, he was handed the full-time keys to a crumbling Minnesota franchise that was in the process of trading Kevin Garnett to Boston.
If the insistence is on someone with more experience, someone whose path has been a bit more defined than Wittman’s, then the grass will just have to appear greener. Meanwhile, Randy is ready to continue getting dirt under his nails while trying to make more seeds sprout in Washington’s soil. He’s planted seedlings that led to unexpected results (the second round) while still leaving the franchise unsatisfied and yearning for more (via lackluster spells against the Pacers). Not a bad start.
Now let’s see how the coach cultivates his land.
[stats via NBA.com/stats]
* The caveat here is that Popovich cut his teeth with the Spurs organization as an assistant coach for six years, was fired by the previous owner in 1992, and was brought back into the organization as GM and VP of basketball ops in 1994 after Peter Holt purchased the team. Safe to say that Wittman has never made the type of impression where someone would hand him the keys to fully run a team. Also worth noting that Popovich was never a good enough basketball player to play in the NBA like Wittman did for nine seasons. This is all for whatever it is worth to you.
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