The Washington Wizards offense the past two season can be compared to as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde sort of thing. In 2014-15, they were mainly half-court based even though they had arguably the fastest player in the league at point guard in John Wall. Head coach Randy Wittman was known for utilizing mid-range shots within the sets of his offense.
By this time, the league was in the transition where teams were launching three’s more often. After the Miami Heat experimented with the small-ball lineup during their championship runs, other teams attempted to duplicate it with playing more athletic small forwards at the four.
As a result, they would end up shooting more threes and getting out in transition every time they could. The Wizards, however, would get out in the open floor from time to time, but not anywhere near enough considering Wall is almost impossible to guard in those situations.
As the season progressed, and they entered the first-round of the playoffs matched up against the Toronto Raptors, Wittman put Paul Pierce at power forward and played Otto Porter at small forward. This move resulted in the Wizards sweeping the Raptors with ease.
The next round against the Atlanta Hawks would be more of a challenge, but the Wizards still handled the higher-seeded Hawks early on until Wall got hurt. It’s a popular opinion that if he hadn’t been hurt, the Wizards would’ve advanced to give LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers a fit in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Considering the success the team had switching to small-ball and the fact that Wittman’s job security was in question, he was forced to stick with the philosophy, even though it isn’t his preference. As a result, the defensive success took a significant hit.
Because of the time spent in practice focusing on transition and more quick-hit offensive sets, defense was less stressed. The Wizards went from ranking fifth in the NBA in defensive rating (103.0) in 2014-15 to 14th (105.8) last season.
Fast forward to now where the Wizards are under a new coaching staff led by Scott Brooks, defense will once again be this team’s strong suit. Brooks has always faced harsh criticisms over his offense not being complex enough for the NBA level. With superstars such as Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook who thrive in pick-and-roll sets, those criticisms become even louder after considering those Thunder teams never won a title.
Brooks will bring plenty of new dynamics for Washington on offense. He isn’t the only one that will be bringing new things, though. Wall spoke during media day that he has been working adding a post-up game to his arsenal.
“I looked at my old coach [Sam Cassell] he was pretty good at it. And just watching the game, man. Also watching Russ [Westbrook]; Russ posts up (all the) time and (watching that) just give me the opportunity to take a different advantage and not just have teams just load up on me all the time,” Wall said during his media day interview. “I don’t have to have the ball and just back down. I can just come down and come off a pin-down and post up, and now I have the defender at my mercy because I haven’t taken a dribble yet.”
The Thunder run something very similar to what Wall was suggesting. He doesn’t mean by posting up that he would just head to the block, seal his defender, and get an isolation opportunity with his back to the basket. He wants to get his catches in the pinch post/mid-range area and face up. That way, he has plenty of options. Here is a perfect example of Westbrook coming off an Iverson screen action to get the ball that leads to a post-up bucket (ironically against Wall).
This type of action hasn’t been a common occurrence in the Wizards offense in the past years. In fact, it’s safe to say that Wall has rarely played off the ball since entering the league.
Last season, he led the league with 98.7 touches per game. But his 0.5 post touches per game ranked 143rd in the NBA amongst guards. He also came in at 155th amongst guards for points per post touch with 0.48.
This new wrinkle will certainly have the offense taking on a different look. It also means that Bradley Beal will be expected to make plays off the dribble–something he showed early on last season, but injuries made him hesitant for most of the season.
Luckily for Beal, one way he can do so is by having two of the best big men in terms of scoring off pick-and-roll situations in Marcin Gortat and Ian Mahinmi. Both had a scoring frequency above 60 percent last season and are proven, efficient finishers around the rim.
Wall will demand plenty of attention where ever he is on the floor, leaving room to operate for his surrounding cast.
Wall shot 39.7 percent from 10-14 feet and 36 percent from 15-19 feet last season. If he can get both of those numbers around the mid-40s, it’ll force his defender to respect his mid-range game, which will supply him with ample opportunities to take his man off the dribble to the rim.
This new dynamic could make this team significantly more difficult to guard than year’s past. Not only will Wall look to score off his touches, but remember, he is one of the top assisters every year as well. Guys like Beal, Otto Porter, and Kelly Oubre should be shot-ready out on the perimeter for kick-out three’s.
Wall is still on the road to recovery from his two procedures he had on his knees this summer. But he is progressing well and is already playing short stints in 5-on-5 drills. He’ll likely miss some of the preseason, but all indications point to him being ready by the opener. Only then will we be able to evaluate how far his post game has come.