Opening Statements: Wizards vs Hornets, Game 73 | Wizards Blog Truth About

Opening Statements: Wizards vs Hornets, Game 73

Updated: March 27, 2015

I’m going to talk about the Washington Wizards
offense, because the head coach won’t. Because the offense is a GREAT BIG PROBLEM, even if it’s not the only problem with the team.

I will, however, spare you the details: the handoffs 17 feet from the basket, the long 2s (so many long 2s), the blind faith in force-feeding the post (when neither star big man sniffs 1.0 point per possession on those plays), and the all-too-necessary John Wall HeroBall possessions.

The Wizards, on the season, average 98.2 points per game. It’s possible that the head coach sees that total and, despite it being ranked 20th, says, ‘Hey, that’s good enough. It’s not easy to win games in the NBA, but we can win games scoring 98 points.’

However, 98.2 points per game is not 100 points per game. The Wizards are 24-7 when scoring 100 or more points per game and, last season, these very similar Wiz Kids averaged 100.7 points per game.

This, of course, is just surface level analysis. And looking at any team’s points per game averages for the season offers nothing more than an incomplete picture.

Currently, the Wizards’ per game total is inflated by their pre-All-Star Break average of 99.7 points per contest, good for 18th in the NBA. Since the All-Star Break, the Wizards offense has died an unspeakable death, in large part due to negligence, and is putting up just 93.8 points per game (28th).

To the advanced stats!

Since the All-Star Break in mid-February, the Wizards have the fourth-worst offense—97.8 Offensive Rating (points per 100 possessions)—and have a NetRtg(1) of minus-3.8 (24th). Meanwhile, their defense remains a top 10 unit—it ranks sixth, to be specific, allowing 100.4 points per 100 possessions.

What does that mean, in simple terms? It means that since the All-Star Break, Washington’s defense has performed better than half of NBA teams, but the offense is better than just three teams:

  1. New York Knicks (14-58)
  2. Philadelphia 76ers (18-54)
  3. Milwaukee Bucks (36-36)

What’s also interesting is that, despite the team’s 8-4 record in games decided by three points or fewer, the Wizards are absolutely horrendous in cluch-time situations(2). On the season, they have a minus-11.9 NetRtg in the clutch, which ranks in the bottom six. Their OffRtg is 97.2 and their DefRtg is 109.0.

Since the All-Star Break, a break the pundits said the Wizards needed bad, their performance in the clutch has dipped even further … at least in terms of NetRtg: minus-20.6. That said, they’ve actually moved up in the clutch-time rankings, now just seventh-worst, with an OffRtg of 97.9 and a DefRtg of 118.5.

The contenders are clearly separating themselves from the pretenders—and the Wizards are certainly not part of the former group. (And I have to agree with Grantland’s Andrew Sharp, who said that clutch numbers speak to Wittman’s on-court impact better than any other: “win or lose, final minutes are always a disaster.”)

Even though the Wizards still, somehow, have a positive NetRtg on the season (1.7), the team is in bad, bad shape. And Wittman’s refusal to admit that any part of his offense is to blame isn’t doing his players, who are all frustrated, any favors.

He’s not a stupid guy! I truly believe that.

When he was the starting shooting guard for the Hawks in the 1980s, Atlanta was scoring well over 100 points per game. And even though they were giving up more than 100 points per game, they were winning, like, a lot. Wittman enjoyed four 50-win seasons during his stint in the ATL. The Wizards have zero 50-win seasons during his tenure as head coach in D.C. and will not reach that mark this year, unless they win out (not happening).

“You should go in there and get a locker, alright. You should go in there and get a locker. Because that’s our problem. We’re [censored] talking about who’s getting shots instead of worrying about getting stops,” he told the media after a loss to the Sacramento Kings. “It has nothing do with offense. I don’t even know why you would bring that up, alright. It’s all about our focus from a defensive standpoint.”

OK. He’s half right. The Wizards did give up 109 points to the Kings, but they only scored 86 themselves!

“We’re undisciplined,” he said after a loss to the Pacers in the Phone Booth. “It was, what, 90-80 with six minutes and change left? We blew that lead because of our gambling and giving no effort defensively. We just quit playing defensively.”

Again, half right. The Pacers did outscore the Wizards 19-10 in the final five minutes. But Wittman’s team scored just one (ONE!) field goal in the last five minutes of the game … and it was John Wall’s game-tying 3-pointer with 11 ticks left on the clock, despite the head coach calling three timeouts in the final three minutes.

Another Wizards field goal wins that game.

Other NBA coaches, like Steve Kerr, remind their players to trust the offense and trust their teammates. It’s easy to execute that vision when the offensive game plan is valid and well-defined. For his part, Wittman insists that effort and mental physicality and discipline are the ONLY things that are keeping the Wizards from winning the Eastern Conference title. And he routinely calls his players out for not executing the game plan (of which very little is known, if it exists at all), for failing the franchise and its expectations.

The worst part? His players believe every word of the CoachSpeak, or are at least professional enough to act like they do. The team says the SAME EXACT THINGS during post-game interviews. Bradley Beal has said the Wizards don’t always play hard, or don’t give 110 percent, or play selfish defensively. John Wall has talked at length about their lack of focus and their inability to commit to defense, even after timeouts. Guess what? They don’t score after timeouts either.

It’s not easy to win games in the NBA, as Randy Wittman always reminds us (something he should probably save for the playoffs). It’s even more difficult to win games when you have one of the worst offenses in the NBA—and refuse to acknowledge that fact.

Enough about that. Below, Ben Swanson (@CardboardGerald), former managing editor of the Hornets blog At The Hive, joins us to offer perspective from the other side.

Teams: Wizards vs Hornets
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
Venue: Verizon Center, Washington, District of Columbia
Television: CSN
Radio: WFED-AM 1500/WNEW-FM 99.1
Spread: Wizards fav’d by 4 points.

#1) Steve Clifford and Randy Wittman don’t seem THAT different. Both took teams with piss-poor defenses and turned them into top 10 units. Both guys made the playoffs last season, too.

How does Clifford’s team analysis, and CoachSpeak, differ?

@CardboardGerald: Well, I haven’t been keeping up with what he says a whole lot, but he’s always been a more forward-thinking coach than what I’ve heard from Wittman. In terms of speaking to media, he’s always been pretty open and never combative with press about what the team’s problems have been. He has been blaming some of the team’s struggles on being “discombobulated” for stretches and not being together, but that’s been a fair point as the team’s been battling injuries with two of their best players (Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist).

This year’s team and last year’s have very similar schematic problems in lack of outside shooting, but last year’s had a) better wing role players who could shoot and b) they played together pretty much from January on after early injuries to Al Jefferson before falling apart in the playoffs after an injury to Jefferson. So roster composition might be as big a part of Clifford’s issues if not more. Lately their offense looks like it gets stuck in unproductive ruts of ineffective ball movement and wasting the shot clock. Maybe some of that is that this team as it is now hasn’t played a whole lot together or that it just doesn’t have the shooters necessary to space the floor, but it certainly hasn’t been effective.

#2) The Wizards take a lot of midrange jumpers: 17.2 Js from 15-19 feet per game (3rd-most). But not as many as the Charlotte Hornets (a league-leading 18.6). Is that a coaching strategy, or a result of 90s-style personnel?

And what’s the reaction from team brass and coaches on analytics?

@CardboardGerald: Hah, yeah, just like last year with both of these teams. It hurts on this team because while last year they had a great help from Josh McRoberts in moving the ball and spacing the floor with shooting, and this year they really miss him. I mentioned this in the last question, but yes, some is due to the roster. Between Gerald Henderson and Kidd-Gilchrist on the wings, you’re missing a lot there.

I think Clifford sees the value of the 3-pointer and the front office has placed a considerable amount of value in analytics, but I’m just not sure that they have the pieces to do that. Either way, their offense is based pretty heavily in either dumping the ball down to Al Jefferson or driving with a guard and kicking out to a player who’s open inside the line. There’s a lot of work there to be done to make that offense fluid and it doesn’t happen consistently in the stretches when they get clicking.

#3) Gimme the scoop on MKG. He recently said he wants to be the best defender the NBA has ever seen. “It’s baby steps. But when it’s all said and done, I want people to say, ‘That guy right there was the dog!’ That’s all I want.”

Also, it seems like he’s taken a big step forward with his offense, including that midrange jumper—he’s hitting around 40 percent (right around where Wall is).

@CardboardGerald: MKG is a very special player. His defense is his calling card: quick feet, strong, good hands, good ball instincts. But above all, he’s extremely aware. He can cheat off his player from the nail if he needs to but can always return back if the ball moves, and be extremely under control doing so, cutting off a drive or preventing an opponent from shooting.

Offensively, the proof is in the pudding with MKG. His confidence is way up and a lot of times he doesn’t hesitate on open jump shots. The form is still a work in progress, but the groundwork has been laid and he’s in a great spot moving forward, and at such a young age. It really stinks as a Hornets fan to see Mark Price moving on to coach at UNC-Charlotte after unlocking a large chunk of Kidd-Gilchrist’s offensive potential. There’s more to his offense. His awareness lends well on offense, too, as he’ll notice spots to pick cuts when defenders losing their eye on him; he can handle the ball fairly well for a forward (though don’t expect him to take anyone one on one off the dribble); and he’s easily their best rebounder in the starting five (especially on offense).

  1. Offensive Rating – Defensive Rating = Net Rating
  2. Which the NBA defines as the final five minutes of quarter or overtime, with no team leading by more than five points
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John Converse Townsend
Reporter / Writer / Co-Editor at TAI
John has been part of the editorial team at TAI since 2010. He likes: pocket passes, chase-down blocks, 3-pointers. He dislikes: typos, turnovers, midrange jump shots.