Full Court Press: Wizards Training Camp Questions Part 1 | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Full Court Press: Wizards Training Camp Questions Part 1

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Updated: September 30, 2014

Training camp 2014 is here and there are questions about the Wizards — new, unfamiliar, you are actually telling me there are ‘expectations’ type of questions. The TAI staff is here to answer. Read on for Part 1… (and check Part 2 here).

[Nene, Wall, Beal, and Pierce -- photo via A. McGinnis]

[Nene, Wall, Beal, and Pierce — photo via A. McGinnis]

Q: What does the next step for Bradley Beal look like?

—Rashad Mobley, @Rashad20

A: A Tribe Called Quest is one of my favorite groups ever, and “Midnight Marauders”—their third release—is my favorite album by a landslide. In their first release, “People’s Instinctive Travels and Paths of Rhythm,” they introduced themselves to the world and flashed loads of potential. “Low End Theory” was the group’s second release—ATCQ unveiled their secret weapon, Phife Dawg, who was the perfect compliment to Q-Tip, the lead rapper. “Low End Theory” was a classic. But Tribe maximized their talents with the release of “Midnight Marauders,” as Phife perfected the skills he flashed on “Low End Theory” and the potential the group demonstrated on the first album was realized.  

Bradley Beal’s rookie year was cut short by injury, but he flashed enough potential to build anticipation for his second year. Beal played 73 games last year, averaged 17.1 points during the regular season, and then led the Wizards with 19.2 points per game in the playoffs. Every one, from Kenny Smith to Doug Collins, was smitten with Beal’s potential as John Wall’s backcourt mate, and the Ray Allen comparisons that were so prevalent during his rookie year seemed even more justified. But Beal can do better.

Beal averaged just 2.6 free throws per game last season, down from 2.8 in his rookie year, and failed to register a single free throw attempt in 19 of the 73 games he played in last season. Dwyane Wade averaged 4.7 attempts, rookie Michael Carter-Williams averaged 5.2, and DeMar DeRozan (who was one of the players who made Team USA over Beal) averaged 8.2. Beal is younger than Wade, a better scorer than Carter-Williams, and more polished offensively than DeRozan, which means he should be visiting the free throw line as often, if not more. A slight bump in free throw attempts and makes would bump his scoring average over that 20-point threshold.

If John Wall can find that elusive shooting touch, and if Paul Pierce/Otto Porter combine to be Trevor Ariza (or better), Beal should have even more room to operate and 23-25 points per game is attainable. But as NBA.com’s David Aldridge said on Monday, any conversation about Bradley Beal (and John Wall for that matter) begins and ends with health. He can’t take any next steps unless he continues to stay healthy and available.

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Q: How thin is the backcourt? (Backup guards include Andre Miller, Garrett Temple, Glen Rice, and, when healthy, Martell Webster.)

—John Converse Townsend, @JohnCTownsend

A: The Phone Booth is dead. Long live the House of Guards, the new nickname for the Verizon Center. It says so right there on that ugly T-shirt in the Wizards pro shop.

(Note: @joemande really wants you to know that he came up with the title.)

House of Guards: it’s a catchy title, for sure. It hints at power — unfiltered like a gripping story told in a rich, southern drawl — and a history of producing big-time stars in the backcourt. But before acquiring Andre Miller this past FEBRUARY, the Wizards had tried and failed and failed and failed and failed and failed and failed and failed and failed and failed to find (much less develop) a trustworthy backup point guard.

John Wall and Bradley Beal make up one of the better NBA backcourts, no question, but they’re not yet elite. The duo has just one All-Star appearance between them. Sure, Wall, who led the NBA in assists last season, finished in the top 10 in PER among point guards for the second straight year, but Beal has yet to check in at a spot higher than 24.

Also, consider this: Last season, three Los Angeles Clippers guards — Chris Paul, Jamal Crawford and J.J. Redick — finished in the top 10 in PER (at their respective positions). The Phoenix Suns unleashed a basketballing Cerberus of their own, represented by Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic and Gerald Green. The Toronto Raptors had two players in the top 10: Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. And San Antonio, while only having one PER rep in Manu Ginobili, came close: Tony Parker and Patty Mills finished 10th and 11th, respectively. That’s three and a half teams that have more productive and efficient guards in their house than the Wizards do.

House of Guards: it’s perfect, dripping in irony. A house of cards, as Meriam-Webster reminds us, is “a structure, situation, or institution that is insubstantial, shaky, or in constant danger of collapse.” Wizards fans haven’t yet forgotten the 5-28 record the team posted in 2012-13 with John Wall sidelined. Or how the offense seems to struggle without Bradley Beal in the lineup. Beal, a frequent victim of “stress injuries” and other bumps and bangs, is a key player in the Wizards scheme and the team has put up a 12-23 record without the shoot-first guard in the rotation.

Behind the two playmaking youngsters is a replacement unit made up of Miller, 38, whose best years are behind him, and Garrett Temple, who’s best known for looking like Otto Porter. If one of Wall or Beal go down, the Wiz will be in trouble. It only takes 10 seconds to crush a basketball team’s ambitions, warns Francis Joseph “Frank” Underwood. (I think that’s what he says.)

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Q: What does a small Wizards lineup look like and how often/when is it used?

—Conor Dirks, @ConorDDirks

A: A small Wizards lineup ideally features John Wall, Bradley Beal, Martell Webster (or Otto Porter!) at the 3, Paul Pierce at the 4, and Marcin Gortat manning the 5. Last season, Randy Wittman mostly shied away from using small lineups and stayed the course with Washington’s traditional two-big system. While Washington’s starting lineup (Wall, Beal, Ariza, Nene, and Gortat) played a total of 487 minutes together, a small-ball lineup that featured Ariza at the 4 and Webster at the 3 played just 59 minutes together. In those minutes, the Wizards found a measure of success, scoring 107.5 points per 48 minutes, and ending the season at a total of plus-30 in plus/minus differential.

What’s interesting about that small-ball lineup is that while it featured an additional 3-point shooter, that five-man squad took fewer 3-point attempts per 48, and shot much worse on 3-pointers overall: 34.2 percent compared to the starters (with Nene instead of Webster) at 41.6 percent. So, the Wizards have yet to perfect the around-the-horn passing and deep bombardment that characterizes small lineups elsewhere. The concept may need some teaching; one has to think Wittman has been a-ponderin’ as much since Pierce joined the team.

And Pierce may be able to help Wittman with the implementation. In early 2014, due to an injury to Brooklyn’s starting center, Brook Lopez, rookie coach Jason Kidd used Pierce extensively and successfully as a small-ball 4. With Pierce at power forward, the team rebounded from a 10-21 start to the season. Brooklyn eventually passed Washington in the standings (and then ceded the 5-seed back to the Wizards on the last day of the season).

Washington may not be as eager to play the double point guard sets that Brooklyn ran last year in their version of small ball, but the development of a small ball lineup could be a tool to combat the death by inflexibility that the Wizards suffered in blowout losses to the defensive-minded Pacers in last year’s playoffs.

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Q: Can Nene or Gortat work better on the court together? What’s the rotation behind them?

—Kyle Weidie, @Truth_About_It

A: Work better? What do you mean? Nene and Marcin Gortat formed a great 4-5 duo last season, starting with how tickled Nene was when a seven-foot Pole bumped him out of the brutish center position. The yet-to-be-coined combo of Nene and Marcin finished a stout plus-10.5 per 48 minutes when on the court together last regular season. But there’s a catch.

Always one of those. In an ever-morphing league with the latest trend being a particular brand of stretch-4s, Nene is going to find himself guarding guys like Boris Diaw, whose quickness he can’t handle. On offense, if it weren’t for the unselfish play of both bigs, their ability to get in each other’s way (and in John Wall’s way) would be glaring. Instead, Randy Wittman made it work. That said, there were times, such as in the playoffs, when both seemed to fare better paired next to Trevor Booker instead of each other.

Gone is Booker and in is DeJuan Blair, Kris Humphries, and whispers of small ball lineups. These are nice problems to have. The Wizards got bigger this offseason to better compete with size like Chicago and Indiana, and to give a LeBron James-involved team featuring 4s like Kevin Love (formerly Chris Bosh) trouble in the paint. The added depth also presumably helps preserve Nene for the long run. The end game isn’t necessarily the inner workings of a Nene-Gortat duo; they might see less and less of each other. Rather it’s about how effective they are as token starters to the first and third quarters before Wittman can get creative with lineups, given the situation and opponent, leading up to who he’s comfortable with to close out a contest. We’ve seen before where Wittman has left Nene or Gortat or whomever on the bench for the duration of the fourth.

The coach has proven he can manage the situation, and at this point, predicting the frontcourt rotation after Nene and Gortat is a coin flip. With Drew Gooden and Kevin Seraphin returning on top of the other additions, Wittman will have more than enough options. How will he handle them?

Q: Will the 15th spot be filled for the regular season? If so, by whom?

—Adam Rubin, LedellsPlace

A: Before training camp invites were announced, I assumed Washington was going to try to fill that hole with Otto Porter and, to a lesser extent, Glen Rice, Jr. But veteran Rasual Butler and Damion James’ inclusion on the training camp roster could be viewed as a sign that the coaching staff is not completely comfortable handing over major minutes to two unproven quantities. I say “could” because neither is likely to make the team and the most likely season-opening depth chart will have Otto Porter penciled in as the backup small forward.

The other position of need that could be filled with the 15th roster spot is a speedy point guard or instant offense combo guard. Vander Blue and Xavier Silas are the training camp invites that most closely fill those roles but, again, I think it is most likely that neither makes the team.

Now, if you are asking what I would have done with the 15th roster spot, that’s a much easier question: sign Kent Bazemore (but that ship has sailed). If my summer league evaluation of Otto proves correct — and it is a lot less rosy than most — Otto will quickly prove to be not quite ready to defend stronger and quicker NBA small forwards. With a defensive wing being the team’s biggest need, I think that is the hole Grunfeld and Co. will eventually plug with the final roster spot. Anyone have Othyus Jeffers number?

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Kyle Weidie
Founder / Editor / Reporter / Writer at TAI
Kyle founded TAI in 2007 and has been weaving in and out the world of Wizards ever since, ducking WittmanFaces, jumping over G-Wiz, and avoiding stints on the DNP-Conditioning list. He has covered the Washington pro basketball team as a member of the media since 2009. Kyle currently lives in Brooklyn, NY with his wife, loves basketball, and has no pets.