DC Council 51: Wizards at Hornets — Things Fall Apart | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

DC Council 51: Wizards at Hornets — Things Fall Apart

Updated: February 6, 2015

Truth About It.net’s D.C. Council:
Grading Wizards players from Game No. 51: Wizards versus Hornets in Charlotte.
Contributor: Chris “Thompson” from somewhere in Virginia.


There’s really no way around it: this should have been a Wizards win. The Hornets are limited enough even before you remove Kemba Walker, their most dynamic player. A Wizards team with its head screwed on straight should have no trouble utterly stomping on Charlotte’s cramped, handicapped offense, and generating enough good shots through and around and over Charlotte’s unspectacular individual defenders to beat the Hornets comfortably.

This current Wizards team? The one that collapses completely the very instant John Wall goes to the bench? The one that has no apparent use for a $60 million center beyond a starving handful of pick-and-rolls? The one giving crunch-time minutes to DeJuan Blair? This current Wizards team very obviously does not have its head screwed on straight, and so this current Wizards team lost in ugly fashion, as much to themselves and their persistent bad ideas and bad habits as to the Hornets, who were mostly just willing to accept a victory.

Let’s get this over with.


Washington Wizards



Box Score

Charlotte Hornets


Nene Hilario, PF

28 MIN | 5-10 FG | 1-2 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 3 TO | 11 PTS | -3

Nene made an effort to bully his way into the paint, taking six of his 10 attempts from around the restricted area. That’s generally a positive, except when it means challenging a triple-team with two open teammates standing at the arc, as Nene did in the second quarter. His two offensive fouls hurt, and the Wizards got murdered on the glass. He did play his usual terrific defense, of course, and his third turnover was a right-idea interior pass that ricocheted off the block hands of DeJuan Blair.

Paul Pierce, SF

30 MIN | 7-13 FG | 3-4 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 19 PTS | -10

Pierce shot the ball well, knocked down a couple of 3s, and generally did his thing on the scoresheet against capable wing defenders like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Lance Stephenson. On the other hand, I’ve started to notice a significant weakness in Pierce’s offensive skill set, and I have no doubt whatsoever that it’s an age-related development: he simply cannot attack a closeout, even a reckless one.

Wizards fans (all NBA fans, really) are thinking more and more about spacing, and the importance of spacing to the function of a competent offense. Don’t get caught up in the idea, though, that spacing is just stationing a few guys who can shoot around the perimeter. A crucial component of spacing is the tough decisions and contortions it inflicts upon the opposing defense, and those are caused by the defense’s essential need to protect the paint and limit chances at the rim. So, when the Hawks put five capable shooters on the floor (for example), they don’t just pass it around the horn until a defender falls asleep. The action starts with a player forcing help by attacking off the dribble, and then the ball pings around to players who are in threatening positions until the defense is, finally, a step slow somewhere, leading to a quality shot.

Last night, there were several instances of Paul Pierce catching the ball on the perimeter with enough room to either shoot or force a closeout, and even with an exaggerated pump fake he was unable to drive the ball in any direction or cause even the slightest shiver in Charlotte’s defense. When John Wall kicks it to Pierce with room to shoot, if Pierce doesn’t do something to cause some chaos, by the time it gets back to Wall the defense will be reset and ready. So, when Randy Wittman talks about the ball sticking and a lack of pace, he might want to take a look at the fact that he’s playing a person on the wing who no longer has the athleticism to force help. This is why Paul Pierce was playing at the 4 so much in Brooklyn—he’s not always up to defending athletic wings, and he doesn’t bother the defense enough as a perimeter player.

He finished the night minus-10 in part because of those two dynamics.

Marcin Gortat, C

30 MIN | 2-10 FG | 4-4 FT | 7 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 1 TO | 8 PTS | +2

It’s astonishing to me that the Wizards are running out of ideas for how to use a player for whom they traded a first-round pick and who they’ve now signed to a $60 million contract. It should be unacceptable to all Wizards fans that Randy Wittman was giving fourth-quarter minutes in a tight, crucial road game to DeJuan Blair instead of Marcin Gortat.

Yes, he shot the ball poorly. Yes, he’s been in a prolonged funk. It seems like the Wizards think the best way to get him out of this rut is by feeding him the ball in the post. Newsflash! Gortat is not an especially good post player! This is driving me insane.

He had a brutal night at the offensive end, missing a number of bunnies and finishing 1-for-5 from inside the restricted area. That’s hard to do for a 7-footer, and it’s starting to seem like Gortat’s confidence is bottoming out.

John Wall, PG

38 MIN | 6-13 FG | 3-4 FT | 3 REB | 13 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 4 TO | 15 PTS | +10

It’s gone from fun and impressive to downright alarming: when John Wall isn’t on the floor, the Wizards are a disastrously bad basketball team.

Hot midrange shooting kept the Hornets within two points of the Wizards before Wall first left the floor at the 4:23 mark of the first quarter. He returned just over four minutes later after the Hornets went on a 15-7 run to take a six-point lead. Wall stayed in for the rest of the half and the Wizards went into halftime up five.

Wittman replaced Wall with Garrett Temple at the 2:15 mark of the third quarter, with the Wizards up nine points. When Wall returned, with 8:43 left in the fourth quarter, the game was tied, after the Hornets reeled off a 15-6 run in about five and a half minutes of game clock.

To the extent that momentum is a real thing in the context of a basketball game, the Hornets had seized all of it, and this is a thing that happens virtually every time Wall comes out of a game. We tend to get caught up in the poor play of the bench as a whole, but the truth is this: almost no combination of Wizards players is currently worth a damn unless Wall is among them. His numbers don’t leap off the page, but he finished last night with a Net Rating of 8.5 (one of only two Wizards players to finish in the plus) and with the team’s best Defensive Rating by far (86.9). In other words, John Wall played well enough to win. That is nearly always the case.

And to those who cry “But he only scored two points in the second half,” well, he still scored more than anyone but Paul Pierce, while assisting his teammates 13 times.

Bradley Beal, SG

11 MIN | 0-5 FG | 1-2 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 1 PTS | -7

Apparently Beal hurt a toe against Atlanta and aggravated it against the Hornets, and so his night was cut short. For what it’s worth, Gerald Henderson was giving him fits during his 11 minutes of action, just as he did on Monday.

Kris Humphries, PF

22 MIN | 2-9 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 4 PTS | -7

I suppose we’ve been spoiled by relatively consistent performances from Kris Humphries, of late. Last night was hopefully something of a fluke. He’s been less-than-great defensively pretty much all season, but he’s mostly made up for it with a reliable midrange shot and solid (if greedy) rebounding. Against the Hornets he struggled to hit his usual shots and showed, embarrassingly, why he really shouldn’t be using possessions in pretty much any other way, with not one, not two, but three air-balled shots from inside the restricted area in the first half. Yikes.

Otto Porter Jr., SF

18 MIN | 3-5 FG | 0-1 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 7 PTS | +4

That other Wizards player who finished with a positive Net Rating? Yung Limbs, over here doing his bespectacled Pumpkin King thing. He scored on a put-back; through contact on a smart baseline cut (missed the free throw, dammit); and on a wide-, wide-open 3 pointer, which two Hornets defenders observably declined to defend. It will be interesting to contrast Otto’s 18 minutes of action to Temple’s, but keep this in mind: Otto finished plus-4 on the night.

Rasual Butler, SF

29 MIN | 5-9 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 11 PTS | -2

If there’s one tiny, barely detectable sliver of a silver lining to this horrible game, it’s that Rasual Butler seemed to rediscover his scoring touch. He scored efficiently, banged home a 3, and, for a change, was not a calamity as a perimeter defender. It would be absolutely huge if Butler can manage to regain his early-season offensive rhythm. Nothing definitive happened against the Hornets, but, if you’re looking for something encouraging, start here.

DeJuan Blair, C

15 MIN | 2-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 4 PTS | -3

Every time Steve Buckhantz told viewers that DeJuan Blair had given the Wizards “quality minutes” against the Hornets, a unicorn in Narnia coughed suddenly and dropped dead. There are no stats to describe Blair’s basic uselessness as an NBA player, but there is abundant visual evidence. He destroys Washington’s spacing like no other player on the team, because he has no offensive value of any sort. And he cannot defend any position. Washington’s already humble team athleticism goes straight into the toilet the moment he takes the floor—DeJuan Blair would need a spacesuit, an oxygen tank, a trip to the moon, and a trampoline to jump higher than my 4-year-old nephew.

Against the Hornets he compounded his glaring unsuitability as an NBA rotation player by snapping outrageously at Kris Humphries when the two of them arrived under a defensive rebound simultaneously and the ball ricocheted out of bounds. Repeated viewings of the play will not make plain why Humphries was any more to blame for the blooper than Blair, but any observer will be forced to note that, whoever was responsible, only one of those two players belongs in a uniform on an NBA floor.

Garrett Temple, SG

18 MIN | 3-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 7 PTS | -19

Before I say anything else, let me say that I think Garrett Temple is a useful NBA player with identifiable strengths, and that even the Wizards, with their clumsy, incoherent offense, can get value from having him on the floor.

Now, against Charlotte, Temple was an absolute disaster. He and Otto each played 18 minutes, they each made three of five shots, they each made a 3-pointer. Otto finished plus-4, Temple finished minus-19. Temple’s Offensive Rating on the night was a laughable, mind-boggling 72.8. Compounding that atrocity, of all non-injured (Bradley Beal) Wizards players, Temple finished with the worst Defensive Rating (118). Put simply, Garrett Temple cannot be used as the primary backup to John Wall. He is wildly, amazingly ill-suited to the task.

The biggest problem is this: there’s no area of the floor where Temple threatens a defense enough to cause contortion. When he’s playing as a fill-in for Beal, as he likely will if Beal misses time with the toe injury, it’s less of a problem, because he’s surrounded by capable offensive players, so he can focus just on defending on the perimeter and lurking beyond the arc for catch-and-shoot opportunities and attacking closeouts. As a ball-handler in lineups that struggle to generate offense, his deficiencies as a creative force are deadly.

He was thrust wholly into the role of creator in Charlotte, with Beal out and Andre Miller apparently benched indefinitely, and the team crashed and burned during his minutes. It was a bloodbath.

Randy Wittman 

Where to start…? Wittman’s persistent tinkering with lineups has now reached the point of absurdity. Players throughout Washington’s rotation are noticeably out-of-rhythm, and, for all the tinkering, it’s the ridiculous and nonsensical substitution patterns that have somehow stuck. For example: It was assumed that Kevin Seraphin’s heavy burden of fourth quarter minutes was based upon some combination of something he was doing right and something Gortat was doing wrong. Last night, with Seraphin unavailable, Wittman gave crucial, crucial crunch-time minutes to (of all people) DeJuan Blair, who has, to this point in the season, been stuffed at the end of the bench behind even Drew Gooden. Was this just blind, willful deference to an ill-conceived substitution pattern? Or is Gortat really so off his game that even the victory cigar is more qualified to play those vital minutes? Either way, the team’s offense seems to be confused about how to use Gortat, which is a frustrating, nigh-unbelievable failure.

Then there’s the refusal to play Paul Pierce at power forward for significant minutes, even when he is obviously incapable of operating in a dynamic way as a wing player. No one is ready to suggest that the Wizards should go small all the time, or even often, but, in games like this one, when the Wizards are desperately struggling to generate points and are having no success whatsoever at creating 3-point opportunities, shifting Pierce down a spot would seem to be an obvious chance to open up spacing and unstick Washington’s offense. Instead, Wittman gave a hearty helping of interior minutes to Blair, who cannot help Washington’s offense at all.

And then there’s this, and I hate to return to it for the thousandth time: whatever NBA Wittman played in, whatever NBA he coached in during other chapters of his career, in the current NBA, it is completely unacceptable for a team to take just ten 3-pointers in a game, especially when that team has a well-demonstrated aptitude for shooting from deep. No excuse will do, here. While the Wizards are stupidly and self-defeatingly running through a bunch of scripted movements to generate “open” midrange jumpers and ill-advised post-ups, other teams are gleefully bombing away from beyond the arc. And those teams are winning. The top eight teams in 3-point attempts per game are all ahead of Washington in wins and win percentage. It’s not because those teams have an abundance of 3-point shooters—many of them do not (the Blazers never have more than three players on the floor who are genuine 3-point threats, and their best player has made fewer than 50 3-pointers in his career). No, those teams emphasize the 3-point shot because basic math, a basic comprehension of numbers, the basic ability to look at your hands and recognize how many fingers you have, will tell you that three is more than two. A shot worth three points is worth 50 percent more than a shot worth two points. And if the other team is scoring in bunches of 3s, a Wizards team plodding along two by two by two will eventually, inevitably, fail to keep up.

It is Coach Wittman’s job to see his team’s offensive futility, see that they’re not generating nearly enough high-value shots, gather his players, and say, “Look, I need you guys to start shooting 3s. Do not hesitate. Don’t worry if the shot’s not wide-open. If you’ve got some space, fire away. We need to spread the floor and we need some high-value shots.”

It does not appear that Wittman is doing that, and the offense is bottoming out. He will blame his players in ways that are alternately direct and subtle, but the simple fact is this: ultimately it is Coach Wittman’s responsibility to give his players a better chance at success, and he’s preaching the opposite. That stubbornness is undermining the team’s success. Period.


Chris Thompson