Mr. Pitiful at the Alamo — Wizards at Spurs, DC Council 24 | Wizards Blog Truth About

Mr. Pitiful at the Alamo — Wizards at Spurs, DC Council 24

Updated: December 17, 2015

The D.C. Council… TAI’s highlights, seen and heard, from each Washington Wizards game. Now: Wizards at Spurs, Game 24, Dec. 16, 2015, via Kyle Weidie (@Truth_About_It).


The System, and the San Antonio Spurs Way.

Check out the new-fangled player tracking data. The computers, cameras and robots measure “touches” (each time a player possess the ball) and “passes” (enough said). The Spurs are at the top of the NBA per game in both categories (1). Now, moving the ball doesn’t necessarily correlate to winning. The 76ers, Jazz, Knicks, and Mavs round out the top 5 in both categories. Good teams like the Warriors, Hawks, Celtics, and Bulls hover in the top third of the league, however. The Wizards currently rank 16th in touches per game, and 16th in passes. About average, which simply cannot be the case considering Washington’s high need for offensive balance without any scoring superstars (and with the closest thing, Bradley Beal, in and out of the lineup).

As far as San Antonio, they operated unimpeded versus the Wizards, and it’s always a sight to see. We’ll probably never see any team match the consistency and selfless dominance the Spurs demonstrated in throttling the Miami Heat to win the 2014 NBA Finals. But every time they play the Wizards, particularly in the cavernous confines of the AT&T Center, you’re able to bear witness to amazing ball movement that’s also excruciating to watch as an intense follower of the opponent.

The Spurs had 443 touches on Wednesday versus Washington, about 10.7 percent more touches than the Wizards’ total of 400. And the passing? The Spurs pounded that rock 325 times, an even healthier 18.2 percent more than the Wizards’ total of 275.

The ultimate result: Washington’s game DefRtg versus the Spurs was 121.1, the second-worst rate of the season after the 125.2 points per 100 possessions given up to the OKC Thunder in D.C. on Nov. 10. The Wizards also had a DefRtg of 121.0 when they lost to the Spurs last season. So if anything, they are consistently unready to defend against the Spurs machine.


All of the Wizards, except for Kelly Oubre.

Washington led 31-26 after one quarter in San Antonio. It was, sadly, their best scoring first quarter of the season (tying two other times the Wizards achieved 31 points). But it was a deceptive margin, even if Randy Wittman’s team started with aspirational intentions. John Wall was engaged early, sliding at a proper angle past a screen on the game’s first possession to keep up with Tony Parker—the Wizards ultimately thwarted San Antonio’s scoring chance—and then Wall attacked Parker for a layup on the other end.

Yes, Kawhi Leonard also hit a 3 on Otto Porter within the first 40 seconds of the game; disrespected Otto’s length a couple times from deep later, too. But rain from deep didn’t matter so much in that opening stanza—Washington was 1-for-2 from deep, San Antonio was 2-for-7. Washington held on to the departing San Antonio train on a variety of successful feather-like projections toward the rim by Marcin Gortat and Kris Humphries. None of it was really sustainable, not with the Spurs making 7-0 runs after a timeout as they pleased.

Alas, if we must designate a “least” valuable player, it would be Gary Neal. In a return to his former team, you’d think Neal, replacing Beal, would come out firing and ready. But he didn’t attempt a single shot in the first quarter—didn’t make any additions to the box score aside from picking up two early fouls, forcing Wittman to insert Ramon Sessions (who performed well). Neal went 3-for-10 from the field over the remaining three quarters and did not attempt a single 3-pointer (he’s shooting .426 on three attempts per game, by the way). And sure, Neal’s primarily a scorer, but his Adjusted Assist-to-Pass Percentage (passes that lead to a regular assist, secondary/hockey assist, or free throw assist) of 8.2 ranks below Nene (9.2) and Otto Porter (10.3). Not terrible, but not ideal, especially when Beal’s percentage on the season is 10.5.


Washington’s foremost problem has been defense in a new small ball system. And the main problem has been Marcin Gortat. A lot of pressure is on him. He’s been left on an island. In a recent interview with a Polish outlet, translated here on TAI, Gortat had this to say about Washington’s current defensive scheme: “It’s extremely difficult to stand on your own on defense against bigger and stronger opponents. In situations where I have to guard my matchup and remember to help every time, when, for example, the opponent lobs the pass behind Jared’s [Dudley] back, I end up getting stuck between two players. Often it’s too late to do anything about it, and we lose points. That’s frustrating.”

To that one might counter: Tough shit. All this really proves thus far this season is that Gortat is barely a starting-quality defensive center, if at all. In ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus-Minus, Gortat’s 1.84 ranks 28th amongst NBA centers.

Nene, in his heyday, would’ve been a great small ball 5 man. Strong yet nimble, at one point in his career—his heyday was actually his last two seasons in Denver (2009 to 2011), before he signed a five-year, $67 million contract, after which he became accused of being a malingerer, after which Denver soon traded him to the Wizards. In three full seasons in Washington since, Nene has appeared in 61, 53, and 67 regular season games. He’s missed over half of his season’s games already and is currently nursing a sore calf / on his winter break / doesn’t travel with the team / has an indefinite return date. Nene is always injured, and managing the psychology of those injuries is a pain point for the Wizards. Still, in his limited time, Nene has been the best Wizards defender this season, making even more glaring the failure by the front office to secure an adequate third-string defensive-minded 5 man this past offseason. The recently signed Ryan Hollins is a Band-Aid made for a finger instead desperately applied to a gash in the side.

Until Randy Wittman finds a scheme, and motivation tactic, that allows his wings to better rotate and defend, interior defense at the rim is going to be Washington’s x-factor on most nights.

That game was …

… A mid-’60s Otis Redding song titled in response to a disc jockey nicknaming Redding “Mr. Pitiful” because of how he sounded when singing his sweet soul ballads.

Really, the Wizards were once again absolutely pitiful in Texas. I think we hear Randy Wittman regurgitate the “no one’s going to feel sorry for us” line so much to the media because it’s a sentiment constantly exhausted by his main players. It’s mostly noticeable in the body language of John Wall and Marcin Gortat when things—bunnies, referee calls, the crusts of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich—don’t go their way. Bradley Beal, whom Wizards brass bragged about as having a relatively neutral demeanor upon drafting him, is better at obscuring his poutiness in the open, but that could mean that his game is affected more. And so however these leaders lead, others follow.

The pitiful feeling against the Spurs can probably best be conveyed in a statistic: rebounding chances versus actual rebounding.

Per, the Spurs grab 57.6 percent of their rebound chances. And you guessed it: this leads the league. The beleaguered Wizards? They grab 51.6 percent, tied with the Kings and Pacers for seventh-worst in the NBA.

So on the 16th in San Antonio, the Wizards had 77 total rebound chances; grabbed 38 of them (49%). The Spurs had 65 total rebound changes; grabbed 43 of them (66%). Pitiful.

  1. They are now barely ranked second, after the Knicks, but were ranked first at the time of facing the Wizards.
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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 currently lives in Brooklyn, NY with his wife, loves basketball, and has no pets.