Steering Clear of the Dark Side: Wizards Edge Toward Mediocrity in Win Over Bucks | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Steering Clear of the Dark Side: Wizards Edge Toward Mediocrity in Win Over Bucks

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Updated: December 11, 2016

Saturday night at the Verizon Center was Star Wars Night, but considering how unclear that was for most of the evening, this post won’t be riddled with sci-fi wordplay. Instead, it will focus on several uplifting aspects from the Wizards’ 110-105 win against Giannis Antetokounmpo, Mirza Teletovic, and the other nine Milwaukee Bucks who appeared at various stages.

Kelly Oubre & the Starting Squad

For the final 10 minutes or so of Thursday’s win against the Denver Nuggets, Scott Brooks opted to roll with Kelly Oubre Jr. (1) in place of Markieff Morris. The group that finished the game that night was the same group that finished Saturday’s win: John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Marcin Gortat, and Oubre.

Before the Bucks game, that lineup had played 34 minutes together, per NBA.com. In those 34 minutes, it had a remarkably low DefRtg of 61.1 and an astounding NetRtg of 58.9. A small sample size, sure, but add in the success of Saturday and it’s getting more and more difficult to ignore that unit’s proficiency. Morris, for his part against Milwaukee, played 34 minutes and chipped in 15 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals, and a block.

Oubre, playing a hair more than 29 minutes in the contest, scored a career-high 19 points thanks in part to a trio of 3-pointers, also a career mark.

He went 7-for-11 from the field in total, and he added nine rebounds and three steals (another career best) without committing a turnover. It was perhaps the best full game of his career, with the pièce de résistance coming via a steal at the top of the key and a 2-on-none breakaway dunk.


Over the past seven games, Oubre has averaged 9.4 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 1.3 steals, and he has at least 8/5/1 in five of those seven games.

So what’s changed recently for Oubre, who had just four 8/5/1 games all of last season? Several others around the locker room say Oubre, who just turned 21 on Friday, has learned to slow the game down, take fewer chances, and play his game. Oubre has a different theory.

“Just my focus. Just focusing more on the game plan, focusing more on what I need to do, focusing more on what I can do and what I can’t do out there on the court. That’s definitely the biggest difference, and just listening to the coaches, doing all the little things they tell me to do.”

It’s great that Oubre has changed for the better, but it’s admittedly not ideal that the biggest thing he needed to fix, in his own eyes, was focusing on the game plan and listening to the coaches. That seems like something that he should have figured out long ago.

The Containment of Giannis

Giannis Antetokounmpo cannot be contained, he just doesn’t know it yet. He needs to improve his ball-handling and outside shot, and he could stand to put on 15 pounds of muscle, but whenever he comes to the inevitable realization that just about nobody can guard him when he’s in attack mode, he could be one of the deadliest offensive weapons in the sport.

He was on his way to taking another step in that journey of realization Saturday when he drove on four straight possessions (excluding a Matthew Dellavedova turnover) early in the third quarter. Those drives led to, in order, a Giannis layup, a Giannis dunk, a John Henson jumper via a Giannis assist, and another Giannis layup.

Less than four minutes into the second half, a tie game had turned into a six-point Bucks lead, and a potential significant Wizards meltdown lingered. But Antetokounmpo took his foot off the gas and the Wizards adjusted. They forced back-to-back turnovers, followed by a Tony Snell layup, which was followed by another smattering of turnovers and missed shots. Snell’s layup represented the only Milwaukee points for nearly four minutes, by which point Washington had found its footing and gotten back into the game.

Antetokounmpo played more than 41 minutes, including the entire second half—after halftime, he put up 18 points, 8 boards, and 5 assists while going 7-for-10 from the field. But the Wizards isolated Giannis and Teletovic from the rest of the team, forcing that pair to beat them. They coaxed seven turnovers out of Antetokounmpo, and they held Jabari Parker to just eight points on eight shots.

Scott Brooks on Antetokounmpo: “That guy, I wasn’t in the league last year, but he has improved a lot. He’s a handful. We could throw everything at him. He has the longest stride, the length and the athleticism, and his jump shot has improved, and his passing and his rebounding. We tried to make it crowded for him and he did turn the ball over a few times. Probably too many than he would like but that was our plan, just to crowd the paint and make it tough on him.”

The Bench Wasn’t Terrible

You know this old tune, right? The starters play well, take a nice lead, then the bench comes in and sets it on fire, forcing the starters back into action sooner than one would hope. It’s a big part of why Wall this season has played “more minutes than [he] thought [he] would coming off surgery.” And it’s a big part of why Beal has played nearly 35 minutes per game this season, despite, well, y’know. (Wall played 39 minutes against the Bucks while Beal played 37.)

But on Saturday, we saw something a bit different. For seemingly the first time all season, the Wizards bench held its own. Hell, you could say it even played well. Oubre and Morris essentially acted as co-sixth men, with each of them spending much of their time with reserves, but that’s fine. That’s how the Wizards are best able to mitigate their many, many bench deficiencies, by staggering playmakers to help ease the burden on the likes of Trey Burke, Marcus Thornton, and Andrew Nicholson.

Excluding Oubre, the Washington bench played 33 minutes and combined for 13 points (6-for-13 shooting), 3 rebounds, 5 assists, and a turnover. Fine. That group was a combined minus-3. Also fine. It mostly held its own against the Milwaukee bench, which got 25 points (8-for-12 shooting, 5-for-6 from 3-point range) in 26 minutes from Teletovic and 11 points in 20 minutes from rookie Malcolm Brogdon. “Mostly held its own” goes down as a good day in 2016 Wizards Bench History, especially when three of five Milwaukee starters were held below 10 points.

A Bit Noisy In Here, Innit?

Not only was the bench good, but toward the end of the close game on a Saturday night, the Verizon Center crowd (announced at 14,816, and that’s probably not far from the truth) was actually making noise. Not just for chicken sandwiches, mind you, but for basketball. And yes, some of that noise was pro-Bucks, including a surprisingly large faction of Teletovic supporters, but the considerable majority supported the home team.

Wall on the crowd late in the game: “It was great. Whenever we play with that intensity and edge, and it’s a close game in the last three or four minutes, the crowd gets into it. But when we aren’t playing with that intensity and showing we want to fight, and grit, and play hard, they kind of shy away from it.”

And Brooks: “I thought the fans were great, we just have to keep playing hard and playing together. Our fans, that’s what they want, they want a team that’s gonna compete and leave everything on the floor, and I think we’ve done that. We’re not happy with being 9-13, but we’re competing, we’re battling, and guys are playing good basketball. Our backcourt is on a nice run right now, and we have to keep that the case.”

Not Great Pixels

The night was ultimately a positive one for the Wizarding Children, but no day in 2016 goes by without some collar-tugging.

Saturday was no different, thanks to a weird dynamic between Wall and Beal early. Beal was something of a disaster in the first half, equally disinterested in passing the ball and feigning effort on the defensive end.

Wall seemed unwilling to pass his backcourt mate the ball unless it was all but necessary, though he was finding everybody else on the court with ease, so the effect was minimized.

While he made some dazzling plays with the ball in his hands, there was plenty to gripe about when it came to Wall’s game early on. He didn’t grab his first rebound until the fourth quarter—Wall, Beal, and Porter had one combined rebound through the first three quarters, which Porter pulled down 68 seconds into the game. Wall also went just 3-for-10 in the first half thanks to a number of questionable shots.

Porter, meanwhile, had a quiet 10 points in 33 minutes and struggled mightily to guard Antetokounmpo. He contributed just 1 rebound, 1 assist, 2 steals, and a block while shooting 4-for-9 from the field. The Wizards had much more success matching Oubre and, for a brief time, Morris with the Greek Freak; Oubre is quicker, longer, and more aggressive than Porter on defense, while Morris is stronger and didn’t let Antetokounmpo overpower him. Porter simply looked too physically average to match up against the pinnacle of human athleticism.

Elsewhere, Gortat finally spoke to the media again, but suffice to say, it didn’t seem like it was his idea to do so. Maybe it was, I don’t know for sure, but he certainly didn’t give off a vibe of wanting to speak to reporters. Most of his answers lasted just several seconds, and he offered little aside from Oubre was good, the team played better defense, and he’s happy he’s playing in the fourth quarter.

#babies

The Wizards held a baby race during one timeout. It was a colossal failure and awkward for all both involved and uninvolved. None of the three babies knew what the hell was going on, and the first baby only crossed the starting line when a woman—perhaps the mother, but who knows—picked up the infant and placed it on the ground in crawling position.

What racing babies have to do with Star Wars I cannot say, but I can say with great certainty that it was among the worst in-game entertainment attempts I’ve ever witnessed.

At least one person enjoyed the #babies. That person: #glennconsor.

  1. Oubre made sure to correct one of the Wizards PR people who introduced him to the media scrum on Saturday after the game as “Kelly Oubre,” by shouting “Junior!” in response.
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Bryan Frantz
Reporter / Writer at TAI
Bryan is a D.C. native with a degree in something or other from UNC. He has important, interesting hobbies, but mostly he just weeps over D.C. sports teams. You can find him on the Metro, inevitably complaining about Red Line delays.