DC Council 56: Wizards at Pistons — The Oscar For Pretending To Be A Good NBA Team Goes To… | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

DC Council 56: Wizards at Pistons — The Oscar For Pretending To Be A Good NBA Team Goes To…

Updated: February 23, 2015

Truth About It.net’s D.C. Council:
Grading Wizards players from Game No. 56: Wizards versus Pistons in Detroit.
Contributor: Chris “Thompson” from Old Virginny.


Sunday afternoon’s loss to the Pistons in Detroit was a handy microcosm of the entire Wizards season to date: hot shooting and opportunistic play in the first half made up for hardwired deficiencies in Washington’s version of basketball. In the second half, the team with its head screwed on straight played aggressive, efficient basketball, and, because it almost never is, that team was not the Wizards, and that team pulled away. Looking at the standings, and … yep, that about sums it up.

Let’s get to it.


Washington Wizards



Box Score

Detroit Pistons


Nene Hilario, PF

21 MIN | 2-10 FG | 0-2 FT | 5 REB | 4 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 4 TO | 4 PTS | -9

Because it is the philosophy of the Wizards to revert to outdated, inefficient methods when confronted with hardships, Nene spent much of Sunday afternoon taking the air out of the ball in the post before ramming himself hopelessly into the teeth of Detroit’s interior defense. Whether because he’s tired or dealing with the lingering after-effects of whatever injury (or cramp) he suffered Friday against the Cavs, nothing good came of this mode of attack. Nene finished 2-for-7 on attempts at the rim, and several of his heroic, doomed drives into the paint resulted in the kinds of desperate, disastrous live-ball turnovers Wizards fans have come to associate with early-career John Wall over-penetrating.

It’s hard to fault the big Brazilian for the failure of this approach, though, because its very implementation signals the ongoing dunderheadedness of Washington’s offensive design. Washington is currently without Bradley Beal, who, blessed with a brilliant perimeter jumper and smooth athleticism, has been stuck playing miscast facilitator and midrange specialist his entire career. To cover for this sudden dearth of “playmaking” (a term that is used with a degree of generosity here that frankly makes Mother Teresa look like Ebenezer Scrooge), the Wizards have decided to run a higher percentage of their half-court offense through Nene in the post. If there’s one thing all non-math-denialists have learned definitively over the last few years, as the newfangled field of mathematics (gasp!) has swept over the land, it’s that the offensive area to rival the midrange for sheer inefficiency is the low post, especially when attacked via a player who cannot consistently force help. And Randy Wittman, bless his grumpy, stubborn heart, loves nothing so much as thumbing his nose at such controversial fields of pseudoscience as adding one number to another number and understanding the result.

Nene gamely hurled himself headlong into the service of this hopeless design, as he has before and always reliably will. It didn’t work, because of course it didn’t.

Beyond that, Nene’s early foul trouble was a minor problem. Steve Buckhantz credited it with changing the “whole complexity” of the game. Maybe everyone overslept. Who the hell knows.

Paul Pierce, SF

24 MIN | 2-5 FG | 2-2 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 8 PTS | -19

The part of Paul Pierce’s career when he could play regular minutes as a starter at a wing spot for an entire NBA season has ended. In fact, it ended before last season. That should not be understood to mean Pierce can’t play on the perimeter, or that he can’t have flashes of productivity, but, look: he’s no longer a plus shooter, he’s lost his ability to drive against a defender or even attack a close-out, and while he’s not generally a disastrous perimeter defender, he’s no longer capable of making the kinds of defensive plays that help the Wizards play in transition. That matters, because Washington’s half-court offense is hot, steaming garbage.

Having said all that, a matchup against the equally worn down Caron Butler should present Pierce with an opportunity to do some things, which makes Pierce’s Sunday disappearing act all the more disappointing. All five of his shots came from beyond the arc on catch-and-shoot looks, his defense was appallingly flat and sloppy, and he finished a disappointing minus-19 in 24 minutes.

Pierce has slowed down over the course of the season, visibly and alarmingly. Randy Wittman has generally shied away, for reasons passing understanding, from playing Pierce as a small-ball 4, electing instead to stay big on the interior and weather Pierce’s dramatically spotty play on the wing. Sunday, to his credit, Wittman did roll out a small-ball lineup, with Pierce at power forward. It was a disaster. It’s hard to know how much of that to pin on Pierce, but it was distressing. The degree to which he has declined from stable veteran playmaker to two-way albatross is a problem.

Marcin Gortat, C

31 MIN | 12-18 FG | 0-0 FT | 10 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 24 PTS | -8

Gortat had a fairly good game. It’s hideous and unfair that what might otherwise have been described as a needed bounce-back performance came in a game in which the general and persistent helplessness of Washington’s adorably plodding offense was so thoroughly exposed. That’s just how it goes. Washington hasn’t been able to engineer quality performances from more than one or two guys at a time in weeks, so maybe it was just Gortat’s turn in the rotation.

It was encouraging, though, to see Washington’s recently-missing pick-and-roll game rev back to life, and Gortat’s finishing around the basket was as good as it’s been in a long, long time. We will just have to agree to forget about the dunk attempt that Andre Drummond turned into the wrong kind of highlight. And, while Gortat was getting his at the offensive end, he was having a hell of a time keeping Drummond from gaining advantageous position at the other end (even with double-team help), which accounts hugely for Drummond’s spectacular box score. Gortat’s performance wasn’t perfect, but it was close enough to an encouraging return to form to feel genuinely bummed that it was wasted on such a lousy, dispiriting loss.

John Wall, PG

34 MIN | 5-16 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 12 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 10 PTS | -8

Shooting numbers aside, Johnny played a perfectly respectable game at the offensive end, generally staying under control and displaying a welcome assertiveness and sense of purpose with the ball. He struggled to score in the paint, finishing 2-for-7 from point-blank range, but also didn’t get any help from the refs, who declined to reward him for attacking the basket and playing through contact. Wall hit 3-of-6 shots in the decisive third quarter, while his teammates were shooting 5-of-20, but he shares in the blame for the way the defense came completely unglued when it became apparent that Detroit had discovered the 3-point arc. Detroit’s guards went nuts in the quarter, and the rest is history.

There came a point, in the second half, when the best description of Washington’s roster was “John Wall and a bunch of stiffs.” It becomes damn near impossible to heap a lot of blame on Wall—even when he misses more than two-thirds of his shots and lets Reggie Jackson get loose for 12 second-half points—when so goddamn much of the action that leads to points in the Wizards’ attack must by necessity start and end with John Wall pulling a rabbit out of a hat. If it seems like I’m going easy on him, that’s why.

Garrett Temple, SG

30 MIN | 4-7 FG | 1-2 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 12 PTS | -27

On the one hand, Temple’s three 3-pointers were an encouraging and much needed development from Washington’s perimeter rotation. On the other hand, Temple’s eye-popping minus-27 in 30 minutes of action illustrates just how comprehensively better the Pistons were when Temple was on the floor. In the second half, Coach Wittman experimented with three-guard lineups featuring Wall, Temple, and Ramon Sessions, but no matter where Temple went, Detroit success followed. He was as guilty as anyone of turning Kentavious Caldwell-Pope into a superstar in the second half, inexplicably and indefensibly losing track of the sweet-shooting sophomore guard over and over again, helping where help wasn’t needed, and then being just nowhere near dangerous enough at the other end to make up for the defensive lapses.

Temple’s usefulness as an NBA rotation player is predicated upon a couple of simple things: the ability to reliably float to open spots on the floor, the crucial ability to knock down a respectable percentage of the resulting catch-and-shoot opportunities, and the absolutely vital prerequisite that he play steady, sharp, committed defense. The effort is virtually always there, but Sunday afternoon, his lapses on the defensive end were just deadly.

Kris Humphries, PF

18 MIN | 5-6 FG | 1-2 FT | 7 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 11 PTS | +7

Kris Humphries played a crucial role in helping the Wizards build a first-half lead that stretched as high as 11 points. He had the stroke going on his regular diet of catch-and-shoot 20-footers, he hit the glass hard, and he stepped in front of an entry pass for a steal that led immediately to a Rasual Butler and-one transition dunk. During Humphries’ 11 first-half minutes, the Wizards outscored the Pistons by 18 points.

He had the misfortune of being on the floor for about three minutes of Caldwell-Pope’s third-quarter 3-point barrage, and attempted an ill-advised pull-up baseline jumper with the Wizards down eight points and the Pistons off to the races. That was his only attempt in seven minutes of second-half burn. There’s really no good explanation.

Otto Porter Jr., SF

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

The sad, miserable decline of Otto Porter continues unabated. Otto’s confidence is very clearly in the toilet, as would be expected of any young player without a clear offensive role whose chances come sporadically and seem tethered, moment to moment, on whether he has made or missed his previous attempt, or whether a player with whom he’s competing for minutes has made or missed his previous attempt.

An easy thing to say of Otto will be that he doesn’t shoot enough, but this will ignore that he is used almost exclusively as a decoy during his minutes, that the overwhelming majority of his touches come in positions where shooting is not the first, second, third, fourth, or even fifth option, and that the chances he’s given in this offense do not bear even a passing resemblance to the ways in which he earned his draft position. Otto does not help himself, in this regard, by being generally unable to generate offense for himself off the dribble, and his lack of strength makes it difficult for the team to use him as a facilitator inside the 3-point arc. None of that changes the fact that the Wizards presumably did some homework and had some sense of who they were drafting, and therefore ought to have had some plan for how they intended to wring some offensive value out of a player selected with the third overall pick in the 2013 draft. Astonishingly, there is no evidence to support any such notion. (He went to school just down the road at Georgetown, though, and played home games in the Verizon Center.)

Otto scored his only bucket on a nice dive to the basket off the ball. He came up with a steal in the first half. Like virtually everyone else in this offense, he was otherwise deployed in a theatrical routine of earnestly running through a series of wasted motions in service of nothing worth working for in the first place.

Martell Webster, SF

2 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 0 PTS | 0

Webster saw two minutes of fourth-quarter burn, by which time the game was pretty much decided.

Rasual Butler, SF

22 MIN | 2-6 FG | 3-3 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 7 PTS | +1

Rasual Butler was part of the bench unit that raced out to a lead in the second quarter. He threw down a pair of angry dunks in transition, served up by John Wall, and knocked down a midrange jumper in the flow of the offense. He couldn’t get uncorked from beyond the arc, continuing a recent and discouraging trend of cool shooting from the man who’d come to represent pretty much all of Washington’s 3-point firepower. When the wheels came off in the second half, Butler was incapable of mustering up any of the kinds of timely plays that defined his early season and which might have counteracted the shifting momentum. Ah well.

Kevin Seraphin, C

15 MIN | 2-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 4 PTS | -11

Seraphin dropped in a pair of rather typical Kevin Seraphin buckets in the first half, and impressed with a pair of sweet assists. It was strange to see him get the call as first man off the bench with Nene in early foul trouble. A Seraphin-Gortat interior pairing would seem to muck up Washington’s spacing to a degree that Humphries-Gortat or Nene-Gortat pairings generally do not, but attempting to make sense of Coach Wittman’s substitution patterns is a fool’s errand. Nene had to go to the bench, something happened, before anyone knew why or how Seraphin was in the game. Perhaps witchcraft was involved. Washington survived his first-half minutes, but, as with the rest of the roster, nothing good came of his second-half minutes.

DeJuan Blair, C

1 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 0 PTS | -5 

DeJuan Blair followed up his nauseatingly floater-laden performance against the Cavs with a single minute of forgettable run Sunday afternoon. That is the appropriate use of a nominal “big” who shoots 15-foot floaters in an NBA game.

Ramon Sessions, PG

19 MIN | 2-6 FG | 2-3 FT | 1 REB | 5 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 7 PTS | -9

Sessions’ iffy finishing at the rim, a trait that comes precariously close to offsetting whatever nebulous benefit arises from his ability to get there in the first place, reared its ugly head against the Pistons. He did complete a lovely, acrobatic and-one layup and knocked down an open 3 from the wing, and his five assists certainly didn’t hurt. On the other hand, the three-guard lineup featuring him alongside Wall and Temple was catastrophically bad at both ends, and his deficiencies as a pick-and-roll ball-handler rendered any part of any possession shared with Wall in which Sessions ran the offense an exercise in willful and reckless misallocation of player personnel.

Still, it’s possible to see, already, some of what makes Sessions an appealing alternative to Temple and Andre Miller as a lead ball-handler for the second unit. By virtue of his ability to attack in any way, Washington’s John Wall-less lineups should have some ability to warp defenses, something they’ve sorely lacked for much of this season.

Randy Wittman

During Detroit’s decisive third-quarter run, one could almost see Randy Wittman struggling to make sense of a world of such profound injustice that there is one kind of shot that is worth more points than another kind of shot, and the added atrocity that the more valuable shot is one that both defies his sense of the morally right way to play the game and happened to be one the opponent was exploiting to great and wondrous effect.

Coach Wittman’s stubborn, scurrying retreat to principles of offense that died a public death years ago puts him at the head of the NBA’s version of the Flat Earth Society, but I’m sure no one wants to read any more about Washington’s organizational core of math-denialists. This is the lot we’ve been given, Wizards fans. On the one hand, let’s not savage this poor goddamn horse-corpse any more than is absolutely necessary; on the other, this is the very thing that is pinning the Wizards in this awful malaise.

What screwed the Wizards on Sunday is what has screwed them for weeks and weeks now, despite the earnest bleating of a segment of basketbloggers and reporters who’ve talked themselves into pinpointing the defense, like watching the Titanic sink and blaming it on the dinner menu, and who we should all henceforth refer to sneeringly as the Blockhead Navel Gazers: their offense is catastrophically bad. Either you see it or you don’t. Some of it is personnel, to be sure. The other 99.8 percent is a broken system that sees the team struggling mightily through a series of actions and passes, spending the first 12 seconds of the shot clock mechanically pinging the ball from one spot, 25 feet from the basket, to another spot, also 25 feet from the basket, for no greater purpose than the artificial and arbitrary shoehorning of “ball-movement” into the process, like Normal Dale’s wet dream brought horrifyingly to life, a basketball Necromorph whose first impression, before it gruesomely destroys something you love, is as an obscene affront to something beautiful.

Diagnosing this thing from afar could not be easier [a full double-bird to the It’s The Defense crowd], but fixing it in real time is, of course, the greater challenge. Holding aside the fact that the broken offense is Wittman’s own design, it falls to him now to see that it’s not working, understand why it’s not working, and do something, anything, to make it work. This has not happened. This has not remotely, remotely happened. And so, to the extent that defensive slippage has contributed to Washington’s precipitous decline, from briefly atop the Eastern Conference standings to now in full-blown tailspin, Wittman’s overall performance is that much more subject to urgent criticism.

The first half of Sunday’s game ended with the Wizards up five, having played a strong second quarter behind the hot shooting of Marcin Gortat and Kris Humphries. The game was as close as it was, despite the Wizards shooting 16 percent better from the floor and out-rebounding the Pistons, because Detroit had gotten loose for 14 mostly-clean 3-point looks. Sound reasoning and pristine hindsight tell me the second-half gameplan should have at least emphasized chasing the Pistons off the 3-point line, which makes what happened in the third and fourth quarters downright incomprehensible: Detroit got loose for 18 good, clean 3-point attempts, and buried the Wizards as a result.

This may come as a shock to as devoted a disciple of the Take What The Defense Gives You School of Basketball Self-Sabotage as Randy Wittman, but generating and taking 3-point shots is an actual priority for most other NBA offenses. In simple terms, it’s somewhat debatable (in that it is being debated, though it should be beyond debate) whether a team can survive while ignoring the 3-pointer at the offensive end, but what is absolutely clear is no team can survive while ignoring it at both ends. The Wizards somehow forgot to defend the 3-point line Sunday afternoon, and so they lost.

It falls on everyone involved, but no one more than the coach.

The end.


Chris Thompson