DC Council 75: Wizards vs 76ers — Teaching Young Whippersnappers A Valuable Lesson | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

DC Council 75: Wizards vs 76ers — Teaching Young Whippersnappers A Valuable Lesson

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Updated: April 2, 2015

Truth About It.net’s D.C. Council:
Grading Wizards players from Game No. 75: Wizards versus Sixers in DC.
Contributor: Chris Thompson from Verizon Center.

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The Sixers made a late surge Wednesday night, against Washington’s reserves, to lend a dominant blowout the look of a semi-competitive NBA game. Afterward, Sixers coach Brett Brown spoke optimistically, maybe even ecstatically, about the learning opportunity this game presented his players, as if traveling down I-95 to get knocked around and undressed by a swooning underachiever is something to feel real great about. Still, as a Wizards fan, there was something appealing, even inspiring, about Brown’s assessment of the contest. According to his logic, the Wizards are still good enough to represent an important trial for his young team, whereas, by my logic, they are a reason to drink heavily a couple of nights per week until the pain recedes.

He’s probably right, though: when the Wizards play like they are capable of playing—when they’re not busy shooting themselves in their own feet, which are bound together via their own shoelaces, and encased in cement boots of their own making, and at the bottom of a lake made of their own tears—they can still overwhelm lesser NBA teams, as they did Wednesday night.

I was glad to be there for it. Let’s enjoy thinking about it, shall we?


Philadelphia 76ers

93

Final

Box Score

Washington Wizards

106

Nene, PF

13 MIN | 2-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 4 PTS | +12 

The Big Brazilian got what seemed like a token start, playing just six minutes in the first half and just seven minutes in the second half. He was stuck bailing out a Wizards opening possession that had every soul in Verizon Center reflexively dry-heaving at the looming prospect of another godawful offensive slog, but the game opened up within a few minutes. With the Wizards comfortably on the front foot for most of the way, Nene pumped up a few midrange jumpers (including one lightly-contested and bizarrely short air-ball) and otherwise spent most of the night chilling comfortably and safely on the bench.


Otto Porter Jr., SF

38 MIN | 5-12 FG | 1-4 3FG | 4-4 FT| 7 REB | 1 AST | 2 STL | 3 TO | 15 PTS | +15 

Otto played well! The raw stats will demonstrate, if nothing else, that Yung Limbs can put up respectable NBA numbers across a stat sheet if given the right opportunity. But his performance was encouraging for reasons that go beyond the 15 points he provided in a game the Wizards probably would have won if they’d started the Aflac duck at small forward: the Wizards enjoyed offensive spacing that they struggle wildly to create on most nights. And it’s important to note that, as bad as the Sixers are, they’ve been a fairly disciplined, top-10 defense for much of the season. During the part of Wednesday’s game that mattered, the Wizards offense looked like a buzzsaw.

This doesn’t all come down to Otto—after the game Sixers coach Brett Brown spoke admirably of Washington’s physicality, and how the size, strength, and aggression of Washington’s players really underscored the relative youth and inexperience of his own players. Otto, bless his heart, is built like a tuning fork, and vibrates upon contact like one, too. Is he a tuning fork?

Is Otto Porter an animated tuning fork?

The part of this that he did affect, though, he did so by hustling ahead of the ball in transition with the kind of speed and consistency that Paul Pierce probably hasn’t had in his legs in a couple years, now, and, even more importantly, by being a pesky wunderkind of an off-ball cutter.

Otto is hilariously present in Marcin Gortat’s highlight reel: stealing a ball in transition before tossing an ace entry pass to a fronted Nene, who subsequently assisted Gortat’s first bucket; sprinting ahead of the ball just moments later and luring Ish Smith out of the lane to free up Gortat for a clean rim run; occupying the weakside help in the corner to create space for Gortat’s third basket; pushing the ball ahead in transition before passing to Wall and sprinting to the corner to occupy a defender, who might otherwise have collapsed on a wide-open Gortat in the paint; and a weakside cut in the third quarter that pulled the Sixers defense towards the baseline, giving Gortat room to roll directly to the hoop.

Most of this stuff is just about a player being where he’s supposed to be when he’s supposed to be there, and it might seem foolish to give a third overall draft pick credit for something so minor, except that some part of Washington’s persistent offensive futility is directly attributable to Washington’s players not being in position to contort opposing defenses. Otto, simply by virtue of being young and active and smart about where to go, provided spacing that simply hanging around beyond the arc will not reliably accomplish.

He had a couple of rough turnovers, got away with an egregious push-off on his second basket, and failed to convert on John Wall’s dazzling drive-and-dish. It wasn’t a perfect game, but it was an encouraging one, and one that should make plain that Yung Limbs has value as an offensive player that goes beyond the degree to which he can hide and not screw things up during a handful of minutes per game.


Marcin Gortat, C

31 MIN | 10-11 FG | 3-4 FT | 14 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 1 TO | 23 PTS | +26 

After the game, Gortat attributed his dominant performance to nothing more than finally being passed the ball in spots where he’d previously been ignored. Before we get to that, let’s state the obvious: whatever the reason, Gortat played a fantastic game and looked like the best player on the floor for whole long stretches of the action. He scattered Philadelphia’s interior defense like a bowling ball does to bowling pins, drawing enthusiastic oohs and ahs from the Verizon Center crowd and, evidently, Sixers coach Brett Brown, who, in his praising of Washington’s size and physicality, may as well have pulled out a glamor shot of the Polish Hammer and drawn a giant heart in red lipstick around the man’s face. Gortat was wonderful.

There’s a way to look at Gortat’s comments and be, I don’t know, annoyed? The game can almost never be reduced simply to man-with-ball-did-not-pass-to-me-not-fair, and, by articulating such a reduction, Gortat paints an incomplete picture of Washington’s offense in a way that happens to implicitly indict his point guard, who—oh by the way—has been propping up the entire team on his shoulders for weeks and weeks now.

Having said all that, though, if you grant Gortat a little benefit of the doubt, he’s probably right. Everyone who watches the Wizards has been frustrated by the inexplicable absence of the once-dominant Wall-to-Gortat pick-and-roll, and Gortat’s comments don’t necessarily exclude recognition of the fact that he’s been the biggest victim of Washington’s terrible spacing. Put simply, Gortat’s greatest offensive strength, by far, is as the roll man in a pick-and-roll, but running that play successfully from just about any angle—as the Wizards should be doing multiple times on each offensive possession until the defense cracks and yields a high value shot—requires an unclogged paint area, occupied defenders, and, most importantly, the prioritization of attacking certain valuable areas of the floor, a concept as foreign to Randy Wittman as the Klingon language.

Several circumstances came together Wednesday night to provide wonderful space for Gortat to do his thing: longer minutes for Drew Gooden, whose stretch abilities have been crucial for Washington lately; Yung Jack Skellington buzzing around distracting everyone; Bradley Beal being a hair more aggressive with the ball; and Washington’s defense continually allowing the Wizards to get into their offense off of turnovers and missed shots. When the floor is aligned properly and all things come together, a Wall-to-Gortat pick-and-roll should be the deadliest weapon in Washington’s half-court arsenal. When that happens, yes, Gortat will have the ball passed to him more, and it will make sense to pass him the ball more.

Nerlens Noel spoke (incredibly quietly) about Gortat’s activity and strength after the game. Noel is a good player with great potential and a long, successful career in front of him, but Gortat made him look like a scrawny, overmatched kid for stretches of the game. It was fun to watch.


John Wall, PG

30 MIN | 6-11 FG | 1-2 3FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 15 AST | 1 STL | 6 TO | 13 PTS | +30

This was one of those games when John Wall was observably a little less dialed in than perhaps he could be. Offensive highlights aside, Wall spent a good portion of Wednesday night’s game letting Sixers guards drive by him like a traffic cone, and his six turnovers reflect that he was being maybe a little too ambitious with the ball at times.

Can you criticize him much for that stuff? The Wizards held the Sixers to 62 points through three quarters of basketball and led by as many as 34 points. It was during Wall’s extended time on the bench in the fourth quarter that the Sixers managed to make the game seem competitive, and it was upon his re-entry into the game and via a pair of his jumpers that Philadelphia’s late run was put on ice. His game-high plus-30 in plus/minus differential over 30 minutes of action indicates he wasn’t hurting his team much, no matter how many times he kneed or kicked the ball out from under his own dribble in a crowded lane. He’s one of the few players in the NBA and certainly the only Wizard who can be dominant while cruising, and we got to see some of that against the Sixers. It should be celebrated!


Bradley Beal, SG

32 MIN | 9-18 FG | 0-3 3FG | 2-4 FT | 5 REB | 5 AST | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 20 PTS | +29 

Beal’s big highlight moment against the Sixers came in the second quarter, when he cleanly and emphatically swatted a Luc Mbah a Moute jumper near the top of the key, chased down the loose ball, and soared in for a typically lovely one-handed stuff. It’s possible to forget sometimes—because the Wizards have such a rigid offensive style that so seldom plays to Beal’s strengths—that the dude is a big-time athlete, and this was a terrific reminder.

Beal’s most encouraging play, though, came later, in the second quarter, when he came around a high Kris Humphries screen, dribbled by Nerlens Noel, flew right into Furkan Aldemir, absorbed the contact, and finished a tough and-1 layup. Beal doesn’t always get calls around the basket, even when he’s basically leveled by a defender, and I have a hunch it’s for a couple of simple reasons: in trying to stay squared to the basket to score through contact, Beal doesn’t really demonstrate the contact the way, say, James Harden does, with head jerks and flailing arms and horrible screaming; and he never, never, never drives to the basket. The refs are so stunned to see him with the ball inside of 15 feet that they literally, literally (OK, not literally) swallow their whistles.

Wizards fans will recall, though, a playoffs version of Bradley Beal who could hardly be deterred from knifing into the teeth of Chicago’s defense, and maybe the relative assertiveness he showed against the Sixers signals the beginning of a return to form. There were still plenty of midrange jumpers, of course—six of Beal’s nine made baskets came on pull-up midrange Js—but the strong drive into Aldemir was one of three successful Beal drives all the way to the cup, and one of two and-1 finishes.

Afterward, he was asked by Comcast SportsNet’s J. Michael to comment on only having taken three 3-pointers on the night—and yes, that’s too few for a shooter of Beal’s caliber, but Washington’s offense desperately needs drives to the hoop, especially from someone tasked with as much ball-handling in the half-court as Beal. If he’s trading 3s for drives, that beats the hell out of trading them for pull-up jumpers.


Drew Gooden, PF

21 MIN | 4-6 FG | 2-2 3FG | 4 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 10 PTS | +7

Crafty old Drew Gooden knocked down a pair of open 3-pointers against the Sixers. His other two makes should have been 3s as well, but, as if actively seeking to antagonize Washington’s suffering fans, he seemed to carefully and deliberately set up inches inside the 3-point arc on both of them, which was hilarious in a blowout win. In a blowout loss, I might have stormed the court with a pitchfork.

There’s no clean way to comprehensively assess Gooden’s value as a floor spacer for the Wizards. For long chunks of the season he was stuck playing on a Wizards bench unit that was scuttling disastrously, and the Wizards haven’t always necessarily had good ideas of how to use the space afforded by his willingness to bomb away from deep. On the other hand, the Wizards took just 12 3s Wednesday night, and made just four of them. Whether or not his teammates benefited moment-to-moment from Gooden’s perimeter orientation, he made half the team’s 3-pointers—those shots weren’t going to come from Nene or Kris Humphries, that much is certain. It’ll be interesting to see how Coach Wittman divides up minutes among Gooden, Humphries and Kevin Seraphin from this point forward.


Rasual Butler, SF

22 MIN | 0-2 FG | 0-1 3FG | 2-4 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 TO | 2 PTS | -8

Rasual Butler’s minutes have gotten almost spookily quiet of late. In 22 minutes of action he failed to make a shot and attempted just a single 3-pointer. He appeared, on several occasions, to pass up opportunities to catch and shoot, perhaps reflecting a reaction to a shooting slump that has seemingly covered the entire second half of the season. Coach Wittman still trusted him with significant minutes against the Sixers, which is generally a low-risk gamble, all things considered. Still, if Butler is going to see 20-plus minutes of action in an NBA game, it’s got to come with at least a willingness to convert slivers of space into 3-point attempts. Perimeter shooting constitutes basically all of Butler’s major discernible value as an NBA rotation player. His post All-Star Offensive Rating (86.7) suggests his coach’s continued confidence is perhaps misplaced, and nothing he showed Wednesday night suggested any impending turnaround.


Kevin Seraphin, C

16 MIN | 5-5 FG | 0-2 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 10 PTS | -11

Seraphin made all five of his shot attempts, including a savage one-handed stuff in the grill of Nerlens Noel. He’s another reserve who came up wildly empty during what ought to have been easy enough closing duties down the stretch of a blowout, and his alarming 130.9 Defensive Rating would have been the team’s worst by a healthy margin if not for Will Bynum’s charitable participation. This just sort of is Kevin Seraphin. He personifies the concept of taking the good with the bad.


Ramon Sessions, PG

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

This was Ramon Sessions’ 21st game as a Wizard, and just his third without a made basket. He worked his way to the line a couple of times and dished some assists, but his fourth-quarter stretch at the helm of mop-up duty was notable for how totally inept and punchless Washington’s offense became without the starters on the floor.

It’s not worth feeling too alarmed about. But Sessions is only in Washington at all because the Wizards’ bench lacked a playmaker who could create offense without all the tedious and low-reward hard work that often left previous bench groups hurling desperation shots at the sound of the shot clock buzzer. For much of the night the Wizards made Philadelphia’s solid defense look like a conveyor belt. For much of the fourth quarter, when the Wizards needed Sessions to lead a bench group through the safe motions of garbage time, the offense cratered, and he was seemingly missing in action.


Kris Humphries, PF

15 MIN | 3-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 6 PTS | -6

It was nice to see Kris Humphries not only back, but also doing Kris Humphries things on the floor, stuff that distinguishes him in subtle but important ways from each of Washington’s other interior players. He ran the floor ahead of the ball to throw down a transition dunk for his first basket, banged home both of his long catch-and-shoot midrange attempts, and his active hands on defense led to a pair of live-ball turnovers. His rebounding numbers were un-Humphries-ish, but it’s unlikely he forgot how to rebound during his 17-game absence. He also shot just 1-of-4 from inside the restricted arc, continuing his upside-down habit of being somewhat more reliable as a jump shooter than as an interior offensive presence, but much of his value as a reserve big is, after all, in providing an outlet and valuable spacing.


Martell Webster, SF

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

Martell Webster saw a minute of first-half run, and 1:25 of the second half. He struggled to bring the ball up the floor against pressure defense, something he should absolutely never be asked to do if there are other ball-handlers on the floor, but he was otherwise not a factor in the game.


Will Bynum, PG

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

I thought long and hard about giving Bynum an “F” for this game. He played less than three minutes against the Sixers, and nothing he did was particularly calamitous—his pair of turnovers were basically meaningless, and though the Wizards were somehow outscored by 11 points during his brief burn, they won handily.

The Wizards failed to score any points during Bynum’s minutes, and his Defensive Rating of 183.3 isn’t exactly confidence-inspiring. The main thing is this: It’s hard not to see Will Bynum’s very presence on the Wizards roster as cruelly emblematic of everything that is wrong and retrograde about the organization. The Wizards held open this roster spot for 72 games, reportedly with Bynum on a short list of targeted players. They shipped off second-round pick Jordan Clarkson (now fully blossoming into a bonafide rotation piece in Los Angeles and a Rookie of the Year candidate) for cash, and they cut second-round pick and Summer League MVP Glen Rice Jr., at least in part out of a preference to keep an open roster spot available for a veteran pickup down the stretch. And this is what they got: a sub-marginal reclamation project on a bum hamstring so tenuously “healed” that the Wizards have to be careful about his minutes in their 75th game of the season, a blowout home win in which there is massive incentive to rest their star players.

I know it would be silly to hold this against Bynum—he’s just a guy working for a living—but picking him up at all, especially with the benefit of context, was such an “F” move by such an “F” organization, it’s hard not to want to hang a fat scarlet “F” around his neck every time he fails to contribute even just a couple of solid minutes.


DeJuan Blair, PF

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

That the world did not implode during Blair’s minute-plus of action meets anyone’s reasonable expectations.


Randy Wittman, Coach

The Wizards played fast and free for three quarters and ran all over the Sixers, who are bad, but who have been competent defensively for most of the season. The decision to rest Paul Pierce was a good one, if for no other reason than he hasn’t been helping much lately, and if they want him to help when it matters, they’ll need him to recover his legs a bit. Coach Wittman also made the right choice to rest his starters entering the fourth quarter of a blowout, even if it nearly came back to bite him. The Sixers were not likely to win the game under any circumstances, but Coach Wittman’s hand was forced by the time he reinserted four of his starters to finish out the night. And it worked! In short order, it did the job.


Chris Thompson