Opening Statements: Rd. 2, Gm. 1 — Sever Your Memory | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Opening Statements: Rd. 2, Gm. 1 — Sever Your Memory

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Updated: May 3, 2015

[via @angelresto28]

[via @angelresto28]

As the Wizards’ playoff intermission comes to a close after the briefest of first acts, and with too much time to watch the Atlanta Hawks struggle with, and eventually handily dispatch, the Brooklyn Nets, that human desire to see pattern in chaos convinces us that things are not so different than they were last season. Even despite the difference in opponent, we do this.

The Pacers were a superstar-helmed banger of a defensive juggernaut that, at times, showed the ability to completely eradicate even John Wall’s ability to create fast break opportunities, a team that also couldn’t get out of its own collective head, sloshing around in the bile of game-day consciousness like they were making wine. The Hawks are far from this. They’re better than the Pacers were last year, they’re less reliant on big-time performances by any one player, and their struggle with the Nets was as much about adjusting to life without Thabo Sefolosha and dealing with a plucky Brooklyn team that was 10-5 over the last 15 games of the regular season as it was about any real foibles.

Any connection we draw between dominant teams that display unanticipated weakness late in the season is pure apophenia, but maybe it helps us understand a core truth: it’s hard to recognize change until it is upon you. Consider the Wizards. For three years, John Wall and Bradley Beal have started alongside each other with Randy Wittman on the sideline. Other players have departed and arrived. Assistant coaches have departed and arrived. Injuries to Wall, Beal, Webster, Nene, and others have required responsive lineup changes. The defense has improved, and improved, and improved. Through it all, Washington’s offense was recognizable, and even if within the prison of its own making it managed to house a few deceptions, it was ultimately predictable. Ball movement has always been a feature, though it looks a bit more inspired when Bradley Beal wraps around a screen and receives the ball behind the 3-point line, rather than in the no-mans land between the arc and the free throw line.

Then while the world was lamenting two John Wall isolation plays to end regulation of an ugly Game 1 against Toronto, something happened. It must have, right? How else can you explain a team that was among the least willing to evolve for three whole years all of a sudden breaking bad? And boy, was it a welcome change.

Nylon Calculus’ Matt D’Anna had an interesting piece regarding the usage of space, and how much more of the floor the Wizards used during the playoffs than they did during the regular season. Here’s how much better their most-used lineup (which notably was not the small ball lineup responsible for a good amount of spacing on its own) used the hardwood under their feet.

TEAMSPACE_Round1_Wizards

During the series, the Wizards experienced a bit of an offensive renaissance. The starting five jumped in court usage from a paltry 4.46% three times over, to nearly 13%. As you can see, a lot of precise midrange activity was ditched for more in the paint and behind the arc activity. Seemingly, the Wizards ditched the “open shot” mentality and went for targeted, high-value scoring opportunities. While the midrange scoring still exists, it looks more balanced – not a Houstonian extreme, but certainly a more contemporary look. Nene and John Wall remain basically the same, specifically at the elbows. Marcin Gortat expanded in the paint, as his rolls to the rim on Wall dimes went largely unabated. The biggest increases – and shifts – were from Playoff Bradley Beal and Small Ball Four Paul Pierce.

Gortat, who at times during the foul stretch of games that sandwiched the All-Star break looked likely to snap after another loss, or another fourth-quarter absence, was emphatic in his support for this newfangled method. And why wouldn’t he be pleased? With Pierce or Gooden at the 4, or merely with a greater threat of 3-point shots, Gortat becomes the mayor of the paint, free to use that space like he often did with Nash in Phoenix, rolling to the basket while defenders are leashed to the perimeter.

And Gortat has been so, so good as the roll man in the pick-and-roll in the playoffs. Good as in the best in the league, ranking as the top player in points per possession as the roll man. He’s also atop the playoffs in field goal percentage at 74.4 percent.

So, playing possum? Give me a fucking break. All the unexpired credit at this late date goes to Wittman for finally doing what needed doing, but miss me with the excuses (egos, rosters, minutes, please miss me with all that mess). A portion of the success is moving Pierce to the 4 and playing Otto at the 3, but just as much of the change comes from a basic decision: spread the floor and run plays to get 3-point shooters 3-point shots, and unclog the paint as a happy result. It’s been entertaining, though! Watching D.C. tie itself in excruciating knots to rationalize the temporal propriety of the philosophy shift helped accelerate the downtime between the Wizards sweep of the Raptors and the commencement of the next series. Good radio, good times.

Washington’s unfamiliar butterfly of an offense will most likely wish it had a bit more game-time practice against Atlanta. The Hawks are a far better defensive team than Toronto, who surrendered uncontested 3 after uncontested 3, with two incredibly versatile big men in Millsap and Horford. Both players can run out to guard the 3-point line as well as stay down low. Horford especially is a defensive Proteus, as skillful defending near the basket (players shot 4.4% worse than their average against Horford within five feet this season) as he is at bothering shooters as they shade towards the perimeter.

Watch, today, for how Wall and Beal play Teague and Korver on defense. The Hawks aren’t nearly as reliant on their guards as Toronto, but the basic tenet of Washington’s strategy will still be useful. Disrupt plays before they begin, break the metronome to prevent the chronothermalization of rhythm ball movement. The Hawks, however, are far more skilled and experienced at turning what looks to be an island into a mirage, quickly passing out of ball pressure until the defense misses a transition.

The Wizards have a shot, here. If they don’t revert to their regular season style, a good shot. What’s it gonna be? Wizards in 6.

 

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Conor Dirks
Reporter / Writer / Co-Editor at TAI
Conor has been with TAI since 2012, and aids in the seamless editorial process that brings you the kind of high-octane blogging you have come to expect from this rad website. The Wizards have been an assiduous companion throughout his years on the cosmic waiver wire. He lives in D.C. and is day-to-day.