Dispatches to Poland: Wizards on the Brink at the Break | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Dispatches to Poland: Wizards on the Brink at the Break

Updated: February 15, 2016

TAI’s Polish correspondent, Bartosz Bielecki (@bart__92), was kind enough to recently have me answer a couple questions for a Polish outlet where he contributes. The translation of the 11-question Q&A can be found on szostygracz.pl (@SzostyGracz), a Polish-language site that covers the NBA with original content. My answers in native English can be found below. A few are obviously Marcin Gortat-centric, but some responses speak to the state of the Washington Wizards at the 2016 All-Star break.

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#1) What has been your favorite Marcin Gortat moment as a Wizard so far?

So many favorite moments that it’s hard to pinpoint just one, especially with a guy so quotable and candid like Gortat (although, I do feel like he’s reserved himself a bit since early-season team struggles, often opting to duck the media altogether after home games). Back to my favorite Gortat-Wizards moment — and really the first one that just popped into my head: When he ripped that towel in anger in Toronto in November 2013. (Of course, the time I interviewed Gortat for ESPN will also always stick out in my mind.)

#2) Where would you rank Gortat among the NBA centers?

Last year I would’ve said top 10; this year that’s been bumped down a bit to top 15 (so, he’s in the 11-15 range). Gortat had a tough time adjusting on defense at the beginning of this season without his defensive security blanket, Nene, on the court with him as much. The Wizards as a team also had some issues adjusting to their new pace-and-space offense and did not do a good enough job in the early-going establishing Gortat on the offensive end in the paint with pick-and-roll action. To satisfy curiosity, here are the 10 centers, assuming full health, I’d ‘probably’ put on the Wizards before Gortat (also in consideration of the next three seasons): DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Drummond, Ruby Gobert, Al Horford, DeAndre Jordan, Dwight Howard, Nikola Jokic, Kelly Olynyk, Marc Gasol, and Karl-Anthony Towns—a couple here would be very close arguments. It’s tough.

#3) I think it’s quite safe to say, it’s been Marcin Gortat’s best season with the Wizards so far individually, but at the same time, it’s been the Wizards’ worst season since they traded for him. Do you think the correlation between Gortat’s stats going up, and the team’s record going down is coincidental?

Eh… looking at the stats, Gortat’s been pretty consistent over his three years with the Wizards, so I’m not sure we can definitely say this is his ‘best’ season. I will note that Gortat is taking less shots outside of 16 feet (in fact, the second-lowest rate of his career), which is a good thing. That said, as I mentioned above, Gortat’s individual defense either hasn’t been as good this season or hasn’t meshed well with less defensive-minded 4s. But otherwise, I don’t really see a correlation between Gortat doing well this season (with perhaps more spacing due to no longer playing next to Nene so much), and the Wizards being five games under .500.

#4) The Wizards are last in the league in rebounding and defending threes. What are the reasons?

Rebounding-wise, there’s a lack of physically intimidating forces on the roster. Gortat is super-athletic for a center but has never had the lower body strength to move bodies in the paint. Nene has brute force but he’s always been better at boxing out than actually chasing the ball. Humphries sort of lost an ability to be a rebounding force as his offensive game has converted to floor-spacing (and as he’s been injured). Dudley has the smarts to get the position, but not really the lift to beat out all the athletes in league. Porter still lacks a lot of strength. And DeJuan Blair is a good rebounder but still can’t jump well and has been virtually worthless in every other aspect of the game of basketball. The Wizards are starting to realize that they need more rebounding out of the backcourt, and John Wall has made more of an effort lately, but it hasn’t really made a dent in the issue.

#5) Randy Wittman went back to pairing up Nene with The Polish Hammer in the starting lineup for a few games, explaining that it would improve the team’s defense and rebounding. Last year, the Wizards were one of the best defensive teams in the league with that lineup, however, this time, going with two traditional bigs didn’t seem to improve the defense. Why?

I actually—and I’m reaching a bit here—think this was a ploy/motivational tactic by Wittman to get his team to start playing better, tougher, etc.; or maybe it was a threat. In any case, after the Wizards’ players-only meeting, they went right back to the small ball starting lineup featuring Jared Dudley at the 4 spot. I will note that the ‘ideal’ starting lineup of Wall, Beal, Porter, Dudley, and Gortat is plus-25 over 53 minutes since Beal returned from his annual leg stress reaction deal on Jan. 13. Otherwise, however, the Wizards seem like a mess with a variety of issues, each one increasingly pointing in the direction of a coach who just doesn’t have the ears of the locker room anymore.

#6) What should the Wizards’ play style be in the remainder of the season, for them to be successful? Should they stick to the small-ball, go back to playing big or come up with something new?

They should stick for the system that best suits John Wall, which is the system they’ve been gearing up for since last post-season: use Wall’s speed to create efficient open shots from beyond the arc, and run to get opposing defenses on their heels. Maybe at some point over the last 30 or so games the Wizards can figure out their turnover, rebounding, and defensive issues, but likely not. So perhaps the best course would be to go balls-to-the-wall, try to outscore the other team, and maybe have some fun. Maybe.

#7) Should Randy Wittman be fired before the end of the season or should the Wizards wait for his contract to expire?

At this point, I’m not sure it matters. The Wizards, some have said, have one of the weaker assistant coaching staffs in the league … and I believe it. Don Newman is No. 2 after Wittman but I’m not sure he has the presence; Howard Eisley, Roy Rogers, and Pat Sullivan are way too inexperienced; and Don Zierden’s last job was as head coach of a WNBA team. The L.A. Clippers, in contrast, for example, have two ex-NBA head coaches in Mike Woodson and Lawrence Frank on Doc Rivers’ staff, as well as our old friend Sam Cassell. So if you fire Wittman, who do you promote to interim head coach? And at this point in the season, I’m not sure new blood or a retread would be interested in jumping into Washington’s lifeboat. They are better off playing this season out under Wittman and starting with clean slate. Hopefully this time Ted Leonsis won’t go the cheap or convenient route when it comes to coaching.

#8) With the trade deadline approaching, should the Wizards make any moves? If so, can you name players they should, or they’re likely to go after?

P.J. Tucker, Ryan Anderson, and Trevor Booker (ex-Wizard!) have been mentioned as targets by Basketball Insiders, and all would make sense to a certain degree—quality players who fit a need. I don’t think the Wizards should be sellers—why not play out the season and ‘see’ if they could make it as an 8-seed to maybe-possibly upset Cleveland (it could be fun!). But I also expect the Wizards to be conservative and not add salary to blow a chance at signing Durant this summer. So, they likely won’t make any moves aside from maybe waiving Jarrel Eddie at some point and filling his spot with another journeyman, has-been, or retread. Of course, Nene’s big expiring contract could have been valuable in past years, but matters less in 2016, and it’s unclear which, if any, teams would value Nene as a rental for this season’s playoffs. All of that said, never underestimate Ernie Grunfeld’s ability to pull a trick or two out of his sleeves

#9) Will the Wizards make the Playoffs in your opinion?

Safe bet: No. The Knicks are fading from the picture and I’m not sure Milwaukee will find the “it” they need (although the Bucks did just beat the Wizards before the All-Star break). That essentially leaves Detroit, Orlando, Charlotte, and Washington competing for the eighth seed. Orlando may be too inexperienced, Charlotte may be too injured, and Detroit just may be better. I really, really don’t want to count the Wizards out, especially if they get ‘healthy’—but being unhealthy is about the only consistent thing that they have going for them, and they’ve yet to look the part, even when winning.

#10) If Kevin Durant re-signs with the Thunder for one more year (which seems likely), do the Wizards patiently repeat their 2015 offseason strategy, and wait for KD one more year, or do they move on and look to sign a star player this summer?

Yes, I also have the sinking feeling that Durant will sign a 1+1 contract to remain with the Thunder. And in that case, I’d wager that the Wizards keep their young core (i.e., matching whatever offer Beal gets this summer) and sort of kick the can down the road, keeping their flexibility for another rainy day (even if such runs the risk of disenchanting their franchise player, John Wall).

#11) If you were the GM of the Wizards, who would be your Plan B Free Agent target this offseason? (With Plan A being Kevin Durant)

Al Horford has long been my designated Plan B—he’s a tough rebounder, can stretch the floor, would be a great replacement for Nene, and could even play a lot of small ball 5. Otherwise, I’d say there are several mid-level Plan C’s the Wizards could target at affordable rates (even though the contract money to be thrown around this summer will be ridiculous, giving some of said mid-level plays huge paydays). Names might include: Nic Batum (3&D), Ryan Anderson (3-point shooting), Festus Ezeli (defensive big off the bench; RFA), Terrence Jones/Donatas Montiejunas (3-point shooting 4s; both are RFAs), Mirza Teletovic (same), Marvin Williams (stretch 4), Dwight Powell (Wizards were actually targeting him in the 2014 second round until he was taken and they sold the pick (Jordan Clarkson); but Powell is a RFA), maybe Jeff Green (but I’m not a big fan of his, especially with Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre on the roster). The Wizards could always try to bring back Trevor Booker or Kevin Seraphin. Crazier things have happened and this summer will probably get nutty. (Also would not mind if the Wizards found a way to keep Ramon Sessions, Garrett Temple, and Jared Dudley on the roster.)

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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.