Opening Statements: Wizards vs Raptors, Game 14 | Wizards Blog Truth About

Opening Statements: Wizards vs Raptors, Game 14

Updated: November 28, 2015


There is more than one way to skin a cat. One way, of course, is to lift the skin from the legs over the beast’s head on the way to folding it inside out, leaving two distinct, gruesome, hope-you-never-see-such-a-thing items of organic matter on the concrete floor, accumulating dust and dirt.

You should never do this. Cats are a calmer proclamation of life’s duality (swinging between viciousness and comfort) than some sports teams, and otherwise are our friends. Adopt one! But the old saying about skinning cats, which I’ve seen in text form as far back as Twain (but certainly goes back farther than that if it made it into “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court”) applies to losing as well.

You can lose by a lot, or a little. You can turn the ball over or you can miss shots. You can let Gary Neal do his thing in tap dance shoes or you can stick a cigarette in DeJuan Blair’s mouth and have him audition for a role in “Blade 12.” You can revert in magnificent panic to taking what the defense gives you, or you can become overwhelmed by a style of play the rest of the league has mastered in less time than you. Indiana and Charlotte, teams that beat the Wizards this week, are 16th and 6th respectively this season in 3-point attempts after being 18th and 24th respectively last season. Both of these teams are in the middle of the pack in pace, while the Wizards are 4th overall. Pace, it turns out, is the most significant, and least useful (so far), “change” in Washington’s style of play.

The double-edged sword aspect of pace: The other team inevitably, and obviously, gets almost exactly the same amount of increased possessions (barring stray end-of-quarter stuff). What’s killing the Wizards is that other teams are simply better at executing their offense so far. And Washington’s defense, expert last season at keeping teams out of the paint, is an accumulation of Otto Porter ball swipes rather than an orchestrated defensive effort.

Wall, previously the head of a poisonous snake as the team’s best on-ball defender, is still defending well from midrange out to the 3-point line, but opposing players are shooting 11.2 percent above their average within six feet of the basket against Wall. There’s a lot of noise in that statistic, and the sample size is small, but you need not rely on numbers to know that Wall, too often, has been trying to catch up to an offensive player turning the corner for a layup. Some of the decline can be attributed to the absence of defensive shepherd, Nene, from both the starting lineup and, often (as will be the case tonight vs. Toronto) from the list of players healthy enough to play. But more still has to do with awareness, and adjusting to other teams running the very kind of offense Washington purports to fancy.

On offense, the Wizards have all but abandoned the pick-and-roll. It is perhaps unfair to say, but it strikes me as uniquely Wittmanesque to take away this aspects of the offense to feed the need for more 3-pointers, while still ranking 10th in the NBA in shots attempted from 15-19 feet. And then, of course, there’s the drive-and-kick, a simple play that should be featured with Wall at the helm.

It’s a loaded positive, in this writer’s opinion, that over 19 percent of Washington’s points come on the fast break (only the Warriors, who also lead the NBA in percentage of total points from 3-pointers, get a higher percentage of their total points from the fast break), considering the team ranks 25th in points in the paint. Where we see the drive-and-kick manifest is in fast break situations, rather than being manufactured out of half-court offense. Watch the Spurs (I know, unfair), and you’ll see a whirlpool of bodies in half-court sets, each player catching the ball, making penetrative progress, passing the ball, inching the opposing team ever more off balance, passing the ball, finally luring a defender off his man to help, and kicking it to the now-open man.

In any event, everything could change, but maybe it won’t! This is code I live by, and why I scam myself into purchasing lottery tickets and winning a half hour of daydreams followed by a mousy-hearted toss of crumpled paper into a trash bin without a trash bag.

Here come the Raptors, a team the Wizards thoroughly embarrassed in the halcyon days of Wizards fandom during last season’s first round playoff series. Joining me to discuss these 2015-16 dinosaur enemies is William Lou (@william_lou), of Raptors Republic fame. Let’s get it.

Teams: Wizards vs Raptors
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
Venue: Verizon Center, Chinatown, Washington, D.C.
Television: CSN
Radio: WNEW-FM 99.1
Spread: Raptors fav’d by 3.5 points.

Q #1: With all due respect to John Wall, who is beloved in D.C. (and rightfully so), Kyle Lowry has been the best point guard in the East so far in this young season.

What has changed between his no-show in the Wizards-Raptors playoff series last season and today, other than his weight?

@william_lou: Don’t overlook the weight. “Svelte” Lowry, as he’s called now, has greatly improved on account of his improved conditioning. The rotund, full-bellied Lowry that no-showed during last year’s playoffs was but a fraction of himself (metaphorically; physically… you get it). Now that his back is healed, and he’s reshaped his body into a discernible shape with sharp edges and all, Lowry is back to performing like an All-Star. His quickness is much improved, his legs look fresh, and he’s taking and finishing through contact better than ever.

It also helps that Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri brought in some defenders to surround him. The addition of Cory Joseph has given Lowry more leeway to save energy by having the lightning-quick Joseph guard the opposing team’s best guard, while Lowry chills on a shooting guard. That wasn’t tenable when Lou Williams and Greivis Vasquez—two of the worst defenders in the league—shared the backcourt with Lowry.

Q #2: Mood: under-utilized.

I know that James Johnson has long been a favorite of Raptors bloggers, but not so much of Raptors coach Dwane Casey. I assumed, as Johnson did, that when Valanciunas went down with a hand injury, he’d benefit with some additional minutes. It hasn’t happened. Is this a case of Johnson’s ability being oversold by those outside the team, or does Johnson deserve more minutes?

@william_lou: There’s no beef with Casey as some have suggested. It’s just a case of Johnson being an awkward fit. He’s something like a Swiss Army Knife in a fully-stocked household. There’s a sharper knife, a tougher file, and an actual screwdriver with a handle. Johnson is multi-talented player, but his limitations (inattentiveness on defense, lack of shooting) makes him an awkward fit in most lineups. That being said, it’s also on Casey to have a bit more imagination; Johnson’s too talented to go unused, but you can see where he’s coming from. It’s hard for a coach to play someone that he doesn’t trust.

As for the fanbase, Johnson became a cult hero after he posterized Andre Drummond. He also gave the team some good minutes last season, but that was when his lack of shooting wasn’t such a problem around Vasquez and Williams. Now that Joseph is running the backcourt, Johnson’s lack of floor-stretch really makes him a bad fit with both the starting and bench units.

Q #3: The Raptors got a big win over the Cavs this week, but like the Wizards have been incredibly inconsistent this season.

Toronto, also like the Wizards, started out incredibly strong last season before fading after the All-Star Break. New personnel (Junkyard Dog DeMarre Carroll), injuries (Valanciunas), coaching (Dwane!)… What’s keeping the Raptors from racing out to a great early-season record this time around?

@william_lou: Late-game execution. The combination of Casey’s strict adherence to isolations, and DeMar DeRozan’s ineffectiveness as a 1-on-1 player has made watching close games a thoroughly masochistic and utterly predictable practice. The Raptors squandered fourth-quarter leads in their losses to Orlando, New York, Golden State, Utah, and Sacramento. Casey lets a consistently inconsistent player in DeRozan to decide games for the team, and they’ve lost more times than they’ve won with that strategy.


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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.