Opening Statements: Wizards vs Nuggets, Game 18 | Wizards Blog Truth About

Opening Statements: Wizards vs Nuggets, Game 18

Updated: December 5, 2014

Washington Wizards vs. Denver Nuggets

In the “take what the defense give you” debate, as it applies to the midrange shot—ever accused of inefficiency—I probably fall on the side of the numbers. For the Wizards, however, it seems to be a mantra. Randy Wittman spewed such before the Lakers game on Wednesday and Bradley Beal could be heard regurgitating the sentiment afterward.

Of course, what the numbers reveal today about efficiencies could change tomorrow with further use of player tracking through video technology. But taking a step back, is it really all that bad to ‘take what the defense gives you’?

It’s not like the defense has taped markers, stage left or stage right, for where the offense should stand. That is, there’s more to a defensive game plan than providing a red carpet to a bean bag chair in no-man’s land. It’s more cause and effect than intent. Defenses first aim to stop teams from getting to the rim—as close to the basket as possible—and then, in the evolving 3-point age, run opponents off the 3-point line (usually, depends on the individual shooter). The middle—midrange—of the court is thus were opportunity exists. The defense isn’t “giving” it, but rather the defense is allowing for a loophole of opportunity.

Yes, that vulnerability will have the least effect on offensive economy in the long run. But the decision to operate in the midrange goes into much further, and less understandable, depths than mere strategy. Everyone has an issue with Randy Wittman’s offense but few have a true resolution because it’s all unclear. We can only see the tangible results, not the instruction that led to such.

Maybe sometimes the defense “gives you” the midrange. Maybe sometimes it’s a mismatch after a switch. Maybe sometimes it’s overplaying a backcut. Maybe sometimes the defense is attracted too much to penetration, “giving” a kick-out opportunity. Taking what the defense gives you doesn’t always mean that you are packing up the kids, oxen, and wooden spoon and hitting the trail looking to settle.

Sometimes the Wizards have problems taking what the defense gives them—Ronnie Price got switched on Marcin Gorat in the Lakers game and John Wall’s Wizards almost over-stayed their welcome before recognizing the mismatch; they ultimately did not optimally take advantage (Gortat did draw a foul on a re-post, though). Against New Orleans the defense gave the Wizards a switch that led to Luke Babbitt guarding John Wall on the perimeter. Wall, with the jump shot not being his strength, settled for one nonetheless after a series of dribbles. He missed. Defenses may “give up” certain looks over the first half of games and then switch that strategy at halftime. Sports, plus human instinct, divided by statistics does not yield a black and white answer.

If Paul Pierce comes off a curl screen that’s intended to get him an open shot at the free throw line area (which brings the question, is that “midrange” or “close midrange”?), do you want him, or a shooter like Bradley Beal, thinking twice? No, of course not. And many who dive into the trenches of advanced stats understand that there should be a barrier between how much information players are being given, versus what’s subtly put into strategy to ensure that the players are in the right places to take efficient shots. This easily moves the target of blame back in Wittman’s direction, and rightly so. But sometimes both the coach and critics of his offense have to understand that part of current inefficiencies (i.e., so many midrange shots) derive from a team led by two very young guards in Beal and Wall.

The debate is far from a conclusion despite empirical evidence that says, ‘Yes, in the long run this type of shot and the percentage at which it is generally made will result in less points than other shots.’ But on a game-by-game, possession-by-possession basis it’s much more complicated. The issues with Washington’s offense (which TAI quadrupled-down on with posts critiquing it over the past several days—via Sean Fagan, Chris Thompson, Conor Dirks, and myself), might not be so much in the strategy realm as they are in the instructional realm. Who knows? With SportVU cameras existing in all NBA arenas for just the second season, perhaps the midrange area of the court will become less of a focus in light of data on proximity of the defender when one shoots the ball.

The magnifying glass, nonetheless, is squarely on Wittman.

Facts Only: Washington’s 103.6 points scored per 100 possession ranks 18th in the NBA. Will the coach and his staff show that they can adjust, leading players to settle for less midrange shots, and thus increasing the overall efficiency of the offense? It’s possible, if patience while the Wizards are finding success now via a stout defense is allowed, and the numbers will bear that out.

Joining TAI today to discuss tonight’s opponent, the Denver Nuggets, is Charlie Yao (@skitalicious) of the ESPN TrueHoop Denver Nuggets blog, Roundball Mining Company (@RoundballMining). Let’s parley…

Teams: Wizards vs Nuggets
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
Venue: Verizon Center, Washington, D.C.
Television: CSN
Radio: WFED-AM 1500/WTEM-FM 99.1
Spread: Wizards favored by 4.5 points.

Q #1: Since Kevin Arnovitz’s scathing but well-written Woj-esque takedown of the Nuggets on, Denver is tied with the Toronto Raptors for the sixth-best winning percentage in the NBA (.778, 7-2), bringing their record to an even .500 and tied with two other teams for ninth in the West.

What did you think of Arnovitz’s article in general and what has changed for the Nuggets since?

@skitalicious: The article and the subsequent Nuggets turnaround have become the talking points of the season so far, but I’m not convinced one is directly connected to the other. The Nuggets finally winning is due to to better coaching and more consistent player performances. Brian Shaw and his team struggled with an identity crisis early on, and it was not until Shaw settled on a slower pace and a shorter bench rotation that they began to play better. Ultimately, it should have been a surprise that the Nuggets were so terrible and some correction to that seems normal to me.

As far as the Kevin Arnovitz feature goes, what I found most interesting was the insight into how the Nuggets’ leadership is viewed by the rest of the league. A few seasons ago, Wizards fans might have been baffled as to why Ernie Grunfeld still had a job. But he’s been around forever and is well-respected among agents and other executives. The flip side to that is having Tim Connelly run your franchise, a first-timer who is being described as naive and too timid for the job. Like Arnovitz said, it’s a high stakes poker game among NBA general managers. If you become known as a novice and the marked man at the table, then it becomes really difficult for your franchise to succeed.

Q #2: I promised myself that I would not ask about JaVale McGee, but now that we’re here….

What’s with that dude? He’s averaging the third-lowest minutes on the team (11.5) but has the third-highest PER (18.7). I know that he started the season slow, trying to come back from injury, and that he is questionable forFriday’s game with a bruised tibia, having missed the last five games.

Otherwise, he’s getting paid this year ($11.25 M) and is slated to make $12 million next year. Does the “future of the NBA” have a future in Denver?

@skitalicious: Ah, JaVale. What’s there to say about “Pierre” that hasn’t already been said? The man is an enigma, wrapped in a paradox, shrouded in a conundrum.

JaVale’s still in the early stages of returning from a repaired tibia, but he’s been benched for the past two games despite being healthy enough to play. Even in a best-case scenario, I’m not sure how much he can help a middling Nuggets team this season. It’s extremely unlikely he supersedes Timofey Mozgov as the starter, so what are the Nuggets to do with his huge salary and slow-developing game? I generally avoid this question because it’s depressing to think about, and I really don’t know the answer. Ideally, he’s be traded for someone who makes more sense, which seems unlikely.

Q #3: Tell me about your Manimal.

He helped saved Team USA with his physical skills this summer, yet, per Arnovitz’s piece, there seems to be debate in Denver on his value. His monetary value, however, is more set, with the Nuggets giving him a four-year, $50 million extension in October that will kick in next season.

This season, Denver is a net minus-2.4 points per 48 minutes when Kenneth Faried plays. Only Alonzo Gee (-3.5), JaVale McGee (-5.1), and Nate Robinson (-7.0) are worse. Does Denver’s problems, therefore, generally result from the crew of characters in the previous sentence with the brightest spotlight on that very same Manimal?

(There was also once talk of trading Faried to the Knicks for Iman Shumpert … Would you prefer that, or… ?)

@skitalicious: The Manimal is off to a slow start. Brian Shaw has decided the Nuggets will no longer be a team desperately trying to force tempo each night, and Faried has struggled with that adjustment. Faried has most of his success crashing the boards and beating opposing bigs up and down the floor, so playing at a controlled pace will limit his effectiveness in those areas.

This is a cold spell for Faried, and I’m holding off judgement until he has more than a few weeks to get adjusted. I still believe he’ll be a minus defender and a productive numbers machine. As of now, I’m still OK with the Nuggets holding off on Shumpert, extending Faried and seeing if a better trade develops down the road.

Q #4: Denver’s third-most used lineup, by a minute, is an interesting one: Nate Robinson, Gary Harris, Danilo Gallinari, Darrell Arthur, and J.J. Hickson (26 minutes, plus-15 per 48).

Is this a crew that Brian Shaw should turn to more? What is your most ideal Nuggets lineup?

And what do you make of Denver’s “interesting” big man situation — Darrell Arthur’s shooting 3s, Gallinari is still trying to find health, Mozgov, Hickson, etc.

@skitalicious: In short, yes. The Nuggets’ third most used lineup playing just 26 minutes tells you a lot, and some bench continuity would be nice. Ideally, Shaw should mix in Hickson and Nate Rob for energy, but also give consistent minutes to defenders like Darrell Arthur and Gary Harris. He tends to do too much of the former and not enough of the latter.

I’m still trying to evaluate player combinations in relation to a style of play that works, but my ideal small lineup is Faried at center with Gallo and Chandler up front. This is an incredibly versatile base for a bench rotation. Teams are going to struggle to match up with that length and athleticism, and you have enough spacing to really benefit Faried.

Q #5: Give me your best sentence about Ty Lawson and how he’s quietly killing again.

@skitalicious: Ty Lawson is the most overlooked point guard in the West. Right now it’s trendy to gush about the Suns trio of Dragic, Bledsoe and Thomas—but Lawson has already arrived at the point those guys are all hoping to get to.

Oh, Jan.

[Jan Vesely found some revenge last season … now he’s playing in Turkey.]

Oh, JaVale.

[When JaVale McGee returned to D.C. as a member of the Nuggets, via @AdamMcGinnis]


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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.