Wizards Offense Still Finding Itself Past Ball Movement and Paint Work | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Wizards Offense Still Finding Itself Past Ball Movement and Paint Work

Updated: December 1, 2014

[image via HoopDistrict.net]

[Looking up and down at Randy Wittman’s offense, image via HoopDistrict.net]

Randy Wittman’s offense can be stubborn, often per eye test, and almost always in metrics. Or rather, the grand scheme of Wittman things still fights with bayonets in trenches.

Steve Kerr recently made the simplest of observations about his new team, the Golden State Warriors; it was especially noteworthy in consideration that the Warriors—led by Splash Brothers Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson—rests its laurels on high-octane offense (the left, efficient ball). To paraphrase Kerr’s comments, he noticed last season that his new team was ranked third in defensive efficiency and 12th in offensive efficiency. Despite perception, Kerr thought his team had the most room to improve on offense, so that’s where he focused. Now Golden State is first in defensive efficiency and seventh in offensive efficiency. Perhaps offense should not always rely on good defense to create it, but rather a well-oiled scoring machine puts pressure on the other team to keep up and provokes the defense to lock in.

Wittman generally takes the opposite approach. Last season the Wizards were 10th in defensive efficiency and 18th in offensive efficiency. This season they are fifth in defensive efficiency and 19th in offensive efficiency. Wittman’s sermon to the media mass: the best way to improve and offense is through your defense. Say three Hail Marys and hope the shot goes in. Said Wittman before the Wizards lost to Dallas:

“If we can consistently get our defense to get us out (in transition) and be part of our offense. That really gets us to get in the open floor, to get in the open floor you got to get stops and turnovers. I think it’s a combination. We still haven’t shot the ball the way I think we’re capable of shooting, which is part of the game.”

So, don’t tell Wittman he can’t be proud of his team’s defensive effort versus New Orleans. The Pelicans lead the league with 48 points in the paint per game, the Wizards held them to 28.

“Well, defensively we got back to what we talked about. I thought 48 minutes, that was good. Now our offense is something to be desired,” the coach told the media afterward.

What Wittman desires might surprise observers who often complain about the aesthetics, efficiency, speed, and shot location of the sputtering offense that has come to define the Wizards this season.

“Our pace is just not very good from an offensive standpoint. We’ve got to get our wings to run with John [Wall]. John tried to push it tonight,” said Wittman after an ugly 83-80 win over the Pelicans. His team currently averages 95.48 possessions per 48 minutes, ranked 17th fastest in the NBA. “We’ve got to get our wings out, down the floor and in the corner for 3s, and spread the floor in transition. That’s what we’ve got to do a better job of. Right now we’re jogging up and down the floor rather than sprinting from an offensive standpoint.”

Randy wants to see those corner 3s fall as much as the next stat head. The Wizards are averaging just five attempted corner 3s per game, tied with Golden State for 11th-fewest in the league. The struggle with Wittman is that the coach realizes there’s a means to an end. The team simply can’t chase the most efficient shot on the court like a task-master while sacrificing everything else.

Part of a balanced consideration stems from the coach’s insistence that his team establish itself inside-out only after sharing the ball. Only the few who sat through the torturous and selfish acts of Andray Blatche, Nick Young, Jordan Crawford, and JaVale McGee truly appreciate of how far Wittman has actually advanced the offensive culture in Washington.

Ernie Grunfeld’s infusion of veteran talent has also helped. Having big men who are willing and able to share opens up the offensive game plan. The Wizards are tied for seventh in free throw assists per game, 11th in secondary assists per game, and fourth in regular assists per game (per NBA.com player tracking). In first quarters of games, 67.6 percent of Washington’s made field goals are assisted, second only to the Spurs (67.7%) and just better than the Warriors, Clippers, Cavaliers, and Mavericks in that order. Teams that strive to be great offensively try to set a tone of ball movement early.

Washington’s offensive pitfalls remain apparent, however. They attempt 19.3 pull-up* field goals per game (tied for 15th-most with two teams), and shoot a 37.9 eFG% on those shots, sixth-worst. The Wizards also average 17.6 drives per game, third fewest in the NBA.

If you look hard enough, there’s a faint silver lining in the fact that the Wizards’ 25.7 catch-and-shoot** field goal attempts per game ranks 10th-most in the league and their 50.8 percent shooting on those shots is tied with Mavericks, although that mark is only 16th-best in the league.

[* A ‘pull-up’ is any shot beyond 10 feet where a player took one or more dribble before shooting.
** A ‘catch-and-shoot’ is any shot beyond 10 feet where a player held the ball for 2 seconds or less and took no dribbles.]

Washington’s offense continues to sputter amidst overall team issues.

The clock on the continued management of Nene’s plantar fasciitis made it’s first audible tone 12 games into the season as the order of frontcourt depth attempts to find itself.

Bradley Beal is looking for sea legs, and both he and Otto Porter have mountains, not hills, to climb on defense.

Paul Pierce knows when and when not to take center stage—more of his integration comes from other Wizards adjusting to playing with a future Hall of Famer. Washington’s points per 100 possessions (102.1 – OffRtg) dips to 97.7 in Wall and Pierce’s 398 minutes as a duo to 99.0 from Beal and Pierce’s 99 minutes as a duo. (As a trio their OffRtg is 99.0.) That likely will improve.

John Wall’s overall numbers don’t convey that much improvement over last season—PER up to 19.6 from 19.5 and True Shooting Percentage down to .508 from .524—but you can see his desire to be a better point guard. Now officially making max contract money, it’s time for him to take even more responsibility.

Marcin Gortat might be the true key to the team’s success when motivated and active.

Wittman’s offense is, as always, a process. It’s probably rare, if ever, that a play is actually designed for a player to fire a long midrange two off-the-dribble instead of a catch-and-shoot chance from anywhere, preferable from behind the 3-point line. A big change can be made with subtle steps—more cutting, more productive screening action, more floor spacing with 3-point shooters in Beal and Martell Webster getting healthy, and more concerted efforts to paint the lane before any other room in the house.

Sharing, caring and stopping the other guy only goes so far. Defense—and superstar scorers (or team-balanced scoring)—wins championships. (The 2003-04 Detroit Pistons still remain the modern exception with an 18th-ranked OffRtg, 99.1, and a second ranked DefRtg, 92.5.) The Wizards team is not yet a juggernaut defensively (as they still adjust post-Trevor Ariza), and they will have hit their ceiling (second round of the playoffs) if Wittman’s rule-of-thumb offense continues to tread in murky water. But the process is always about adjustment and growth, so you can’t count the old ball coach out just yet.


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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.