Nuggets Expose Key Weakness For Wizards: Bigs on the Perimeter | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Nuggets Expose Key Weakness For Wizards: Bigs on the Perimeter

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Updated: March 24, 2018

[Credit: instagram.com/nuggets]

On a night where the Wizards celebrated one of their greatest players and representatives of the organization, Phil Chenier, Nuggets center Nikola Jokic stole the show on the court with a dazzling display. The “Joker,” as he is affectionately called, put on a modern NBA big man clinic, finishing with 25 points, eight rebounds, and five assists on 10-21 shooting from the field, including 3-for-6 from 3-point range. In the process, Jokic further exposed one of the Wizards’ biggest weaknesses heading into the postseason: their inability to defend perimeter-playing big men.

This would not be the first time in recent weeks that a mobile big man has given the Wizards trouble—LaMarcus Aldridge and Karl-Anthony Towns both had their way with the Wizards in the not-so-distant past— and defending such players should definitely be a point of emphasis for the team going forward. The more alarming part of this scenario is that it does not seem to be on the radar of head coach Scott Brooks at this moment.

“He’s a good player. He’s playing at a high, high, high level,” Brooks said postgame, before pointing to the wings as the No. 1 problem.“Bottom line is: [Jamal] Murray had 20 [points] in the first half and then [Will] Barton had 18 [points]. That was a big part of their win. Those two guys had two great halves and we couldn’t stop either one of them.”

Maybe Brooks was content with allowing Jokic to get his if it allowed for the Wizards to slow down lesser players such as Murray and Barton. Even if that were the case, the Wizards did not follow the gameplan of blitzing the Nuggets ball-handlers. They were supposed to go over the screens rather than under them to force the Nuggets off the 3-point line.

Ramon Sessions was very specific with how the Wizards had game planned for the Jokic/Murray, high screen-and-roll:

“It’s more effort. We were talking about it all day. [Jamal Murray] was the one guy that we wanted to blow up, as in going over the screen to start the game. It was a lot of off the ball that he was playing with [Nikola] Jokic at the point. It was one of those things that we got to play with the effort and knowing who guys are coming into the game. We knew he was hot coming into the game. We just got to for 48 minutes, bring that urgency.”

To make matter worse, Gortat’s $16 million a year backup, Ian Mahinmi, was brought on board to defend more athletic big men, but it does not appear Brooks is ready to completely trust his Frenchman in that critical situation. Maybe he shouldn’t given the fact that Gortat actually has a better Defensive Real Plus/Minus than Mahinmi (1.98 for Marc compared to 1.25 for Ian). Mahinmi only logged 13 minutes of game action, as opposed to the 27 minutes logged by Gortat. The other eight minutes of Wizards’ center action was logged by Markieff Morris, who did his best job to try and keep Jokic off of the block, but his efforts proved to be futile. Joker is too strong and skilled to be guarded by Morris in the post and had his way on Keef for a few late buckets that sealed the 108-100 victory.

It is unclear if Scott Brooks is saving his version of the Wizards “Death Lineup” for the playoffs, which will include more looks with Keef at center to give the Wizards the opportunity to cater their defensive scheme around stopping a mobile big. One of the Wizards’ more played lineups that seems to be effective has been with Morris at the 5, with Oubre and Porter as forwards, and Beal and Satoransky in the backcourt. That lineup has yielded a plus/minus of plus-3.2 in 14.6 minutes per game over the course of 31 games this season. By that metric, it’s also the team’s third best 5-man unit and the 26th best across the NBA.

That sample size is large enough to prove that Morris can handle his own as a center, even if he struggled against Jokic, and that Brooks should look into playing similar lineups more frequently as the season progresses. Two of the Wizards’ potential first-round matchups include big men who fit the bill as perimeter bigs who could potentially give the Wizards trouble: Joel Embiid for Philadelphia and Indiana’s Myles Turner. Time to get in some real-game run with new 5-man units is running out with the playoffs quickly approaching.

Friday night was not only a missed opportunity for the Wizards to gain ground on the teams in front of them in the standings, it was also a missed opportunity for the team to show they have the sense of urgency and resiliency needed to compete with teams that have even the slightest advantages over them. Nikola Jokic is a good player and his exceptional play exposed a weakness in the Wizards defensive scheme and personnel. There are 10 games left for the Wizards to be able to figure out how they want to defend the big men that represent the modern NBA. And from the looks of it, this is a strategy that will be needed if they want to advance in this years playoffs.

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.