Team Defense Starts With the Leading Wizards in the Mirror | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Team Defense Starts With the Leading Wizards in the Mirror

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Updated: November 21, 2016

John Wall, Selfie, Washington, WIzards, Washington Wizards, Media Day, Adam McGinnis, Truth About It

Everyone needs a little help, sometimes, but the Wizards rely too heavily on help defense, and it caught up with them in a devastating loss to the Miami Heat on Saturday night. One could say that the loss against the Heat was just as (if not worse than) last Wednesday’s loss to the 76ers. At least the Sixers game was on the road and the Wizards were missing Bradley Beal, while also limiting John Wall’s minutes. The Wizards came into Saturday night’s matchup against a fellow NBA “Cellar Dweller” Miami team, which also sported a 3-8 record, and allowed them to somehow walk out of the Verizon Center feeling like Chef Curry with the shot.

On the season the Heat only shoot 35 percent from behind the arc, but against the Wizards’ haphazard defense of 3s, they were able to shoot a staggering 13-for-27 (48%) from deep. It wasn’t as if the Heat were just nailing highly contested jumpers that very skilled NBA players are sometimes capable of making; they were much easier than that. Practice level easy, according to Wall:

“They have some guys that usually don’t make shots, but they made shots because they basically were like workout shots: There was nobody there to contest them.”

The reason why the Heat were able to get pretty much any shot they wanted stems from a complete lack of communication among the perimeter defenders. Another reason the Wizards got worked on the perimeter: guys have a problem staying in front of their man one-on-one. When I specifically asked Beal if he felt that the team was on the same page when it came to help defense he did not hold back his feelings:

“We’re not on the same page defensively at all. We can’t just guard our guys individually, just keep them in front of us. We got to work with that first. I think we rely too much on our help. We’re putting too much pressure on our other teammates when we’re just letting our guy go by us. We’re just not having that effort or we’re slow on some of the rotations.”

I asked John Wall the same exact question about whether or not the team was on the same page and got a “slightly” different answer:

“Yeah I think we are, but at the end if the day, when you’re playing a team like that with an athletic big and guys that’s knocking down shots you try to prevent and just guard your man one-on-one and prevent. Every time Marc (Gortat) would come over they would kick it for three, or Whiteside would get a put back.”

There are fundamental similarities in what both Wall and Beal said regarding the team defense. It is very interesting to hear the players all say that it starts with everyone guarding their man, but there is very rarely in accountability by any particular player saying that they personally need to do better with man-to-man defense. It is all well and good to know that people have to do better, but it would behoove the leaders of this team to start with the men in the mirror.

Wall my have answered the question like a seasoned D.C. politician, he completely understands that guys can’t put too much pressure on Marcin Gortat to always be there for help, especially when he has Hassan Whiteside, the league leader in rebounds, climbing the ladder on him all night. Whiteside was a true star in his role as a defensive protector and rebounding maven, finishing the game with 18 boards, including nine offensive that led to numerous heartbreaking second-chance points in the second half. The even more amazing aspect about Whiteside’s game was that he didn’t even grab his first rebound until there were fewer than five minutes left in the first half.

One of the more ancillary things that happened in the game, which may have had an impact on the outcome, was when Heat center Willie Reed went down with a hyper-extended knee in the second quarter. Reed is the primary backup to Whiteside, and the only other legitimate center on the Heat roster. This forced Heat coach Erik Spoelstra to trot Whiteside out there for damn near the whole second half, terrorizing Gortat.

Spoelstra credited Whiteside for drawing so much attention on offense, which allowed Miami to get the ball to their open shooters:

“We try to get to the paint and attack but team’s have really been loading up on that so we’re trying to develop some more trust, some more ball movement to make team’s pay for that. I really don’t remember the last time we’ve gotten a clean alley-oop dunk to Hassan and that’s for a reason. He’s commanding that type of attention and that type of respect.

“Well, now we have to develop deeper layers to the offense and a lot of that is trust and finding open shooters. If that’s what they’re giving you, you have to take what the game gives you. There are a lot of wide open looks that we do have to capitalize on.”

It certainly does not help that Gortat did not have his front court running mate Markieff Morris to help him fend off Heat players from the glass. Morris left the game in the second quarter with a rolled ankle and was not able to play at all in the second half—Scott Brooks said he was holding him out to as a precaution.

When asked about his ankle after the game, Morris, briefly, assured that everything was all good:

“It’s cool. I could have continued playing.”

Brooks turned to Jason Smith to start the second half at power forward, and while I give Smith credit for bringing the effort, he was severely over matched when Spoelstra countered by going small with James Johnson at the 4. Johnson finished the game with 17 points off the bench and was just too quick for Smith.

The Wizards find themselves slipping into a sinkhole, and the water is draining out of it fast. It’s not good enough to know what problems need to be fixed (say: better head-to-head defense, smarter help) if players aren’t going to maximize every single possession as if the season depended on it. It’s a sad truth to be 12 games into the season and having to fight to keep season-long goals on life-support. Mental lapses have ultimately cost this team games, and enough of them could ultimately end this season before it really gets started.


Stat Bonus: ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus (RPM) stat was recently updated and released for the 2016-17 season to-date. John Wall is ranked 11th overall among point guards and 14th for Defensive RPM—those numbers should be better.

Among shooting guards, Beal is ranked 40th overall and 37th on defense.

Across all positions, Wall is ranked 73rd in overall RPM and Beal is ranked 221st.


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Troy Haliburton on Twitter
Troy Haliburton
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Troy Haliburton is a native Washingtonian, and graduate of Gonzaga College High School and Morehouse College. He is going into his second season writing for Truth About It, and also writes for sports analytics website numberfire.com. You can find him in a district bike lane in the Northwest neighborhood of Bloomingdale.