Small Ball Comes Up Short as Wizards Drop Season Opener | Wizards Blog Truth About

Small-Ball Wizards Come Up Short In Season Opener

Updated: October 19, 2018

[Photo credit to USA Today’s Geoff Burke]

Washington came into the season insisting that they would play smaller and faster to adapt to the “pace and space” style of basketball that’s swept the NBA. Although their lineups reflected such, the production did not match.

The Wizards’ hand was kind of forced to play smaller Thursday night because their prized free agent acquisition, Dwight Howard, sat out after missing three weeks of training camp. (He only had three practices under his belt.)

Throughout the preseason, Coach Brooks implored his players to take more 3s during the 2018-19 season, but in their home opener, the Wizards were incapable of living up to their pre-season edict. Washington took 26 shots from 3-point range, fewer than the 30 3-point attempts Brooks asked for, according to Markieff Morris postgame, and drastically less than the 36 treys they averaged during the preseason

Conversely, the Wizards did not do a good enough job of driving the Heat off of the 3-point line, as they allowed Miami to shoot 35 3s in the game. A few of Miami’s 3s came on second-chance opportunities—the Wizards gave up 22 offensive rebounds and were outscored 27-10 in second-chance points.

Rebounding the basketball was a problem and it wasn’t just because the team went “small.”

“Shot goes up, you put four bodies on guys that are not shooting the basketball. It’s as simple as that. If that’s confusing and then we gave up too many easy plays backdoor,” Scott Brooks lamented in the postgame press conference. “It’s the little things that we got to, the mental errors that we got to clean up.”

The team needed to be sharper on the court and Brooks needed to be sharper from the bench. The all-bench lineup, a mainstay from last season, was back on display, despite having ample opportunity to stagger his three “max” contract players. There was a seven-minute stretch from the three-minute mark in the first quarter to nearly the eight-minute mark of the second quarter when the Wizards did not have a single starter on the floor. To the surprise of no one in the arena, besides Scott Brooks, the Heat were able to go on a 13-6 run and get back in the game.

Otto Porter continues to pay the biggest price for Brooks’s lineup decisions. The swingman continues to be a tertiary option playing next to Wall and Beal when his minutes could easily be staggered to allow him to be the focal point of the offense, or at least a top option, at the beginning of the second and fourth quarters when Wall and Beal usually sit. On media day, Scott Brooks implored Otto Porter to take as many 3-pointers as he would like—and for media members to yell at him when he passes up open shots. Even so, it was all too quiet: Porter did not attempt a shot from deep for the first time since 2016.

When asked after the game how he could get Otto more 3-point looks, a perplexed John Wall cracked a smile and said, “Everyone keeps asking that question.” Then he gave a politically correct answer: “When you’re switching 1 through 4 or 1 through 5, it’s kind of hard to get those opportunities. So you come off pin-downs [and] you have to take opportunities to get those or run in transition–we try to get a lot of 3s in that aspect. Other than that, if you’re going to go iso one-on-one and shoot 3s off of that it’s kind of hard. We drive-and-kick as much as possible, but switching 1 through 4 makes it kind of tough [for Porter to get open looks].”

Wall is right to be frustrated by the media’s incessant line of questioning, as if it’s entirely his fault that Otto Porter isn’t more aggressive. While the point guard has some responsibility to get Otto the ball when they share the floor, it is also up to Coach Brooks to put Porter in the best possible positions to succeed. It also seemed as if the Miami Heat made it a point of emphasis to not allow the sharpshooting Porter to beat them this game.

“The way they played defense, everybody’s in,” Porter said postgame. “And they’re able to just move and communicate. [Miami] did a good job of clogging the paint tonight.”

On most nights, Washington may be able to get away with playing smaller. They won’t always face centers like Hassan Whiteside—who refused to let the Wizards to beat them inside (Washington could not make them pay from the outside). Morris mentioned how tough it was to go up against the behemoth Whiteside: “7-foot-1, 250 plus and you’ve got to block him out. It was a tough one tonight, but it’s the first game of the season and we’ll bounce back.”

Whiteside is one of the bigger players in the NBA, but he was not on the court for the last meaningful play of the game. Kelly Olynyk was, he was Markieff’s man, and Morris failed to box out–another mental error as mentioned by Brooks before. TAI’s Rashad Mobley has the full story on that moment.

Dwight Howard, once cleared, should help on the offensive glass and his presence was sorely missed in this game as the Wiz were out-rebounded by 15. But not even Superman can grab every rebound–it will take a concerted effort from everyone on the court to lift this team from mediocrity.

“We did a lot of good things,” Brooks said. “But we got to rebound the basketball. It’s pretty simple.”


Troy Haliburton on Twitter
Troy Haliburton
Troy Haliburton is a native Washingtonian, and graduate of Gonzaga College High School and Morehouse College. Bylines on bylines on bylines.

Will write for food.