Summoning the Defensive Genie at Will – Wizards defeat Bucks | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Summoning the Defensive Genie at Will – Wizards defeat Bucks

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Updated: December 12, 2016
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Let’s not get too excited.

One of the most fascinating dynamics to come out of the Washington Wizards’ win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday was not the fact that they won or even the breakthrough performance of Kelly Oubre, but instead the reserved reaction in the locker room. This appeared at odds with the relieved reporters and raucous crowd that had (strangely) shown up to Verizon Center and proceeded to lose their collective minds over the course of the latter two quarters—perhaps hopped up on too much pre-game eggnog and without a free chicken sandwich in sight.

Marcin Gortat, who seems to have assumed the mantle of team curmudgeon, was rather blunt with his assessment of Washington’s recent fortunes. “It’s just two games”, stated Gortat when asked about the Wizards back-to-back home wins. He returned to this theme later when asked about their play going forward: “C’mon, it’s two games. I’m not getting excited yet.”

The Polish Hammer’s excitement level aside, he (along with several other teammates) were quick to point to why the Wizards won and perhaps indicated why the front office shouldn’t be printing playoff tickets just yet.

I think it was the defensive effort,” said Gortat. “I do not know if we won the rebounds or not, but it was a team effort. We all won. They are long and big, but I think we are more physical.”

John Wall (also notably reserved) attributed the win to newfound defensive effort as well. However, he too was cagey in his remarks as to the team’s commitment to its identity: “I think we’re getting to the point where if we’re not making shots, we’re still competing and keeping our edge on the defensive end and competing—making people feel us—and I think that’s helping us.”

Consistent defensive effort from the Wizards has befuddled the team throughout the early part of the 2016-17 season. When they summon the requisite energy and effort, they can jam up most opponents with athleticism and length. Such was the case versus Milwaukee, where Kelly Oubre’s coming party should be noted more for his ability to stop Giannis Antetokounmpo and less due to his career high three 3-pointers. Antetokounmpo, who spent the majority of the third quarter roasting Otto Porter on slices to the basket, became increasingly frustrated by Oubre’s ability to seal him at the point and stop him from exploding from the line. When  Antetokounmpo did manage to get by Oubre, it was only through a series of 3-4 steps, resulting in three traveling calls and seven total turnovers from the Greek Freak.

The Wizards forced 20 total turnovers, mostly through active hands and a team-wide commitment to sealing off driving lanes. Wall, whose defense was lackluster at best through the first half, ratcheted up the intensity throughout the backend, securing three steals and relying less on his athletic ability to ballhawk and instead playing within his team’s defensive system to force bad shots.

So why so glum and reserved on the parts of Gortat and Wall? Perhaps because a total defensive effort from the Wizards is as rare as a phoenix rising from the ashes once per millennium. Gortat turned to the favored argument of statheads everywhere: “small sample size”—until the Wizards show the level of defensive effort over the course of 10-plus games, instances like versus Milwaukee will be seen as a blip on the radar. It also has yet to become a truly “collective” effort. The only player who put in a full defensive effort for the entirety of the game was Oubre (and to a lesser degree Porter) while Wall and Morris both took possessions off. Other players (Beal, Thornton) still appear allergic to putting in the minimum of effort required defensively, which effectively hamstrings the Wizards to playing 4 on 5 during many possessions. What exists then is a locker room that can effectively identify who is pulling their requisite weight without being able to “name names” about players who are out to pad their stats.

So what reporters and viewers see as the Wizards (perhaps) turning the corner is actually the level of effort expected of the team all year. So we can applaud the professionalism of Wall and Gortat in curbing their excitement while understanding that this level of effort is considered a baseline.

Other Wizards Notes:

  • Coach Scott Brooks was slightly disingenuous when praising the play of Bradley Beal on the evening. Beal finished with six assists, but had none through the first half. In fact, Beal’s play was so myopic throughout the first two quarters as he looked to get his own shot off that he left the rest of the offense standing around. When the Bucks decided to blitz screen-and-rolls in the second half, Beal was forced to engage in the playmaking side of his personality, directly leading to his six assists. Beal’s game was for the most part empty calories—he is looking to get his shots, but not necessarily to get teammates involved unless forced by a double team. Even worse was Beal’s defensive effort, as he frequently lost his man both on transition and in screens, leaving either Markieff Morris or Gortat to cover his mistakes. However, as long as Beal continues to score at a proficient rate, it makes the possibility of trading him all the more intriguing for a player who appears more in simpatico with John Wall.
  • An addendum to the previous point is that Wall and Beal are playing out a poor man’s version of “my turn/your turn” in regards to offensive possessions. Wall appears to be looking to either get the rest of the team involved on the offensive end, or looking to drive to the basket to create contact or kick it out to the open shooter. Beal, for his part, is working within his own offensive paradigm—rarely getting the ball back into Wall’s hands if his movement is cut off. Scott Brooks is used to this type of division of labor from his time in OKC, but Wall and Beal are not Durant and Westbrook in their ability to manufacture shots. Brooks needs to continue to work at attempting to get the two on the same page, or continue to “showcase” Beal in hopes of recouping someone who is better able to work with Wall. Because right now, Wall freezing Beal out is only reinforcing the worst of Beal’s poor habits as he slowly morphs into a richer man’s Rudy Gay.
  • About John Wall…he was more than just a little bit “demonstrative” on Saturday – both for good and ill. In the opening moments of the game Wall was in just about everyone’s ear – barking incessantly as player’s let balls whiz by their heads or were not in position. The same passion was on display in the 4th quarter to a more positive end – after Wall threw down a dunk to put the Wizards ahead – he let out a primal scream directed at Marcin Gortat and kept hyping himself up to Gortat on the walk back to center court.
  • Finally, a shout out to the much maligned Wizards bench, which managed to erase an eight point lead by the Bucks in the second quarter. During a six minute segment, basketball plays that would have been unfathomable a week ago took place: Marcus Thornton and Andrew Nicholson passed the ball, Trey Burke looked to run the offense rather than get his own shot off, and Kelly Oubre of course was a force on defense and the boards. It may have been a once-in-a-blue moon performance, but one that should be called out nonetheless considering the criticism the unit has endured over the course of the season.
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Godspeed.

 

Sean Fagan on FacebookSean Fagan on Twitter
Sean Fagan
Reporter / Writer/Gadfly at TAI
Based in Brooklyn, NY, Sean has contributed to TAI since the the dawn of Jan Vesely and has been on the Wizards beat since 2008. His work has been featured on ESPN, Yahoo and SI.com. He still believes that Mike Miller never got a fair shot.