Opening Statements: Wizards vs Bucks, Game 9 | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Opening Statements: Wizards vs Bucks, Game 9

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Updated: November 17, 2015

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Preseason speculation on who would start for the Wizards centered not around who would replace Paul Pierce—Otto Porter was the obvious choice by default of his own success —but who would play the well-advertised position of “stretch-4.” A numerator of the equation: would Nene actually accept a bench role at the much-maligned (by him) 5 spot?

As the offseason progressed and Washington collected wing players to jibe with a new style (or modified brand, according to Randy Wittman Theory), it was ultimately revealed in the first preseason game that Kris Humphries was the new starting 4. It made the most sense. Jared Dudley, the wing most experienced and capable of starting at 4, was announced out-of-commission for several months due to back surgery. Actually, Humphries starting didn’t make the most sense, it made the only sense. Many with the Wizards felt that Dudley (and the team) would be better served coming off the bench, anyway. He would help anchor an uncertain second unit.

After laying more groundwork for an extended floor game under Brad Stevens in Boston, Humphries furthered efforts to stretch his excellent midrange game past the 3-point line over the summer. Humphries can still be considered a “traditional big” who can rebound, run the floor, and know his role—maybe symbolizing Wittman’s reluctant comfort with the transition. Humphries certainly racked up 3-pointers versus Orlando on Saturday (5, which increased his career total by 63%), and he has displayed small doses of an improved ability to drive the ball, but an overall limited offensive repertoire still brings his utility as a starter into question.

The super early returns are not great for the Wizards’ starting five: John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Kris Humphries, and Marcin Gortat. This unit has played 98 minutes together (25% of all Wizards court minutes; 34% before Beal sat out due to injury the last two games) to the total of minus-12 in plus/minus. Not a ‘terrible’ minus in this small sample size, which is why the following numbers from that squad are slightly more revealing:

  • 43.1% FGs
  • 28.3% 3Ps
  • 90.7 OffRtg (team OffRtg is 99.6)
  • 96.6 DefRtg (team DefRtg is 104.1)
  • NetRtg of minus-5.9 (team NetRtg is minus-4.5)

For reference, last year’s starters that included Pierce at the 3 instead of Porter and Nene at the 4 instead of Humphries:

  • 596 minutes (14.9% of all team floor time)
  • 49.2% FGs
  • 39.3% 3Ps
  • 106.1 OffRtg (team OffRtg was 101.8)
  • 98.7 DefRtg (team DefRtg was 100.0)
  • NetRtg of plus-7.4 (team NetRtg was plus-1.9)

This year’s Wizards plot in the Venn Diagram cross-section of “small ball” (or pace-and-space) and simply shooting more 3-pointers. Yes, there is something to Randy Wittman’s insistence that his roster, in the past, did not always allow for such a philosophy. But, simply attempting more 3-pointers—shooting the more efficient and simply valuable shot—does not rely on roster construct. One only needs to observe Bradley Beal try a 3-pointer behind a screen that would have been a long 2-pointer last season in an offense that better allows for such. Coaching normally tries to dictate where the screen is set, right?

We should take a step back under that umbrella of it being more ideal for the Wizards to attempt more 3s, as it became a hammering point last year that the team was good at shooting 3-pointers … but they didn’t take advantage of that skill as much as they could have. Ninth in percentage, 27th in attempts, went the final stanza of the season’s disjointed poem.

Then there’s the fact that this year’s starting lineup only really includes one established 3-point shooter: Bradley Beal.

Wall’s jump shot is still very much a work in progress, or “still bears the artless mark of practice rather than natural ability,” once observed TAI’s Conor Dirks; Humphries made two 3-pointers in 691 career games before this season; and Porter is merely a cub learning the way of life, i.e., he’s still (currently) just a 30 percent shooter from deep.

Here’s how the 13-for-46 (28.2%) 3-point shooting of the starting unit when on the court together breaks down:

  • Wall is 1-for-8 (12.5%; 28.6% for the season). He made the first Wizards 3 of season, then missed his next seven attempts.
  • Porter is 3-for-12 (25%; 28.6%); all three makes were assisted by Wall.
  • Beal is 5-for-14 (35.7%; 47.1%); three were assisted by Wall, one by Porter, and one was unassisted.
  • Humphries 4-for-12 (33.3%; 38.9%); two were assisted by Wall, one by Beal, and one unassisted.

Ten other Wizards lineups have played 10 or more minutes together through eight games. We categorize the top and bottom of the class like so (according to points scored and points allowed per 100 possessions).

OFFENSE (OffRtg).

Premium #WittmanJava Offense:

  • Wall, Beal, Porter, Dudley, Gortat (131.8) – 11 minutes (3 games)
  • Wall, Beal, Porter, Humphries, Nene (118.9) – 13 minutes (3 games)

Brown, Coffee-accented Water #WittmanJava Offense:

  • Sessions, Neal, Beal, Dudley, Nene (58.2) – 11 minutes (3 games)

DEFENSE (DefRtg).

Premium #WittmanJava:

  • Sessions, Temple, Oubre, Dudley, Blair (83.0) – 14 minutes (2 games)
  • Wall, Beal, Porter, Humphries, Nene (87.5) – 13 minutes (3 games)

Low Budget #WittmanJava:

  • Wall, Neal, Porter, Gooden, Gortat (119.8) – 15 minutes (3 games)
  • Wall, Neal, Porter, Humphries, Gortat (115.9) – 15 minutes (5 games)

We go through this exercise not to point out the outlier of a Blair-anchored lineup leading the way in defensive #BasketballMath (via Garbage Time All-Star-ing), nor to highlight that the combo of Gortat and any other big on the roster (not named Nene) is keeping the Wizards from getting enough defensive stops. We are not here to say that Humphries is definitively an unideal starter at 4 (compared to anyone else on the roster and even with his limitation)—he provides a floor-spreading component while Wittman can play him limited minutes for a starter and use remaining minutes to extend his bench as the team aims to play faster.

Nor are we trying to convey that Dudley should definitely be starting at 4 (however, only 50% of his minutes have come next to Wall, only 40% on the court with Beal—seems like he could help both of their games with more run).

But maybe we are saying Humphries could even play the 5 more in some small lineups (he’s been the only big on the floor for the Wizards for just three of his 171 minutes on the season). But that’s —I mean, that would just be too crazy for Wittman to do on a regular basis.

The point: Player availability and matchups walk a fine line over weaknesses in defensive depth (which is odds on being Wittman’s next roster coup d’etat), and that the old ball coach might be forced to be more flexible than ever in assessing which combinations work best. Also: There’s a ton with the Wizards left to capture, despite what Wittman might have you believe about his rotation off the bench being “pretty standard.” Roster continuity is one thing, learning to play with each other is another. It’s early, we keep saying, so the Wizards still have time to lessen the effects of the NBA’s “make or miss league” mentality and to address what they’re missing. That’s what we are saying.

Tonight’s opponent: the Milwaukee Bucks again. A long, stretchy team coached by Jason Kidd. Did you know that while Randy Wittman has played 79 different lineups on the season Kidd has played 100? What does this even mean? Who knows? Mitch Vomhof (@mitchvomhof) of TrueHoop Network blog Bucksketball stops by to try to explain what’s be coming straight outta Milwaukee. Let us go…


Teams: Wizards vs Bucks
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
Venue: Verizon Center, Chinatown, Washington, D.C.
Television: CSN/NBATV
Radio: WFED-AM 1500/WNEW-FM 99.1
Spread: Wizards fav’d by 4.5 points.


Q #1: The Bucks handed the Cavs their second loss of the season since losing to the Bulls on opening night with a double-OT, 108-105 win in Milwaukee on Saturday.

What was the most thrilling part of this victory? And did Milwaukee crack some sort of code in beating one of the NBA’s top three teams?

@mitchvomhof: The thing I was most (but also least?) impressed with was that the team was able to pull out a win in overtime, especially against a team like the Cavs with a superstar like LeBron. Let me explain. Over the past several years, the Bucks have had difficulty closing out games, including those where they have a comfortable lead but somehow manage to blow it in the fourth quarter. Saturday’s game followed a similar pattern; trailing by about 10 points for a significant portion of the game, the Cavs were able to claw their way back to force overtime. So that wasn’t so thrilling.

What was exciting was the Bucks’ ability to hang with Cleveland through two overtimes, even when LeBron woke up and took over the game. Clutch steals from the returning Michael Carter-Williams and shots from the slowly emerging Greivis Vasquez helped hold off the Cavs, and if those backcourt players can continue to play well, they’ll be a huge boost to the team’s play. As far as cracking any codes—I don’t think so. You can hope to catch LeBron on an off night or you can concentrate on eliminating his teammates’ impact and making him beat you by himself, but Cleveland is going to be a tough matchup for most teams on most nights.

Q #2: Only one Bucks five-man unit has appeared in more than four games together – the Greivis Vasquez, Jerryd Bayless, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Greg Monroe lineup has played 28 total minutes over seven games. This lineup is also quite atrocious in a small sample size so far this season (minus-20 Net Rating, 86.6 OffRtg, 106.6 DefRtg).

For various reasons, Milwaukee has also started seven different units over 10 games. Which Bucks lineup is the most optimal and why? And which lineup do you hate to see Jason Kidd play?

@mitchvomhof: I think the most optimal lineup is the one that we finally saw start a game on Saturday night: Michael Carter-Williams, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker, and Greg Monroe. Sadly, we won’t see that lineup for tonight’s game due to Parker’s recent diagnosis with a talonavicular sprain in his foot; however, that lineup seems best suited to balance the team’s offensive challenges with enough rebounding prowess to mitigate issues in that area.

The lineup I least like to see is really anything involving Vasquez and Bayless being on the floor at the same time. I know that Bayless has been the team’s secret best player over the last six games or so, but it’s unfathomable that he keeps making 3-pointers and scoring at this rate. Vasquez’ early season shooting woes have also made me very sad.

Q #3: Heading into Monday’s games, the Bucks ranked:

  • 13th in OffRtg
  • 24th in DefRtg
  • 30th in DREB%
  • 30th in Pace
  • 6th in 3P%
  • 5th in Points off Turnovers

Which of these rankings so far is most encouraging, and which is most concerning (and why)?

@mitchvomhof: Considering that the team had (and still has) legitimate concerns about shooting the 3, I’d say that being 6th in 3P% is probably the most impressive statistic for this team in the early going. The most concerning ranking has to be the one in which they’re dead last: defensive rebounding percentage. The team’s prized offseason acquisition, Greg Monroe, is supposed to aid in that facet of the game, and while he’s done his share individually (over 10 rebounds per game), the team is still struggling and giving up far too many second-chances to its opponents. That’s going to have to improve if the Bucks want to continue their improvement in the East and make another playoff run.


 

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Kyle Weidie
Founder / Editor / Reporter / Writer at TAI
Kyle founded TAI in 2007 and has been weaving in and out the world of Wizards ever since, ducking WittmanFaces, jumping over G-Wiz, and avoiding stints on the DNP-Conditioning list. He has covered the Washington pro basketball team as a member of the media since 2009. Kyle lives in D.C. with his wife, loves basketball, and has no pets.