Washington operated one of the NBA's more maddening offenses last season. The Wizards took a lot of shots they didn't make (midrange jumpers) and not enough of the ones they did (threes): Despite finishing ninth in three-point percentage, they ranked just 27th in attempts. Now the off-season departure of 37-year-old Paul Pierce to the Clippers, coupled with the postseason surge of third-year forward Otto Porter, has created an opportunity for coach Randy Wittman to play smarter and faster. And, he hopes, more efficiently.
With John Wall and Bradley Beal, Wittman has one of the league's most athletic backcourts. Yet the pace was often deliberate; the Wizards were 18th in the NBA in possessions per game last season. And the presence of two paint-clogging bigs (Nenê and Marcin Gortat) limited the lanes for dribble penetration. In training camp Washington introduced a faster system with a greater emphasis on spacing. That will most likely mean higher usage for Porter, who averaged 10.0 points in the playoffs, and more situations where a smaller wing plays alongside Nenê or Gortat. A goal, says Wall, is to finish in the top five in possessions. Gortat, who thrived in an up-tempo style for 2½ seasons in Phoenix, has publicly embraced the change.
Evolving won't be without issues. A commitment to small ball will cut into the minutes of Nenê and Gortat, two known grumblers. But to improve offensively, Washington has to make pace a priority.
A rival scout sizes up Washington
Washington has the second-best backcourt in the NBA, behind Golden State's. John Wall is an All-Star, and Bradley Beal is a budding All-Star. Now, the thing about them is that one or the other was always injured. Whenever they were together, they won.... Beal just needs to stay healthy to take that next step; he's got everything else. When Beal is on the floor, he's your prototype catch-and-shoot two guard.... A really big asset they have is that if they need a bucket at the end of the game, they can put the ball in Wall's hands up top. Nobody can stay in front of him.... They have an adequate frontcourt. They've got bigs who can score. Marcin Gortat is a double-double guy. Nenê has had injury issues, but he's a big body who can guard bigs as well as Gortat can. Both of them can step out and shoot 17-footers, too, which gives the Wizards a little diversity other than playing inside.... The most important thing defensively is to be able to keep people on the perimeter in front of you. Washington has Wall, who's extremely quick, along with Beal and Otto Porter, who are quick in their own right. Then, when teams do get dribble penetration, the Wizards have two physical, big guys in the way.... Obviously the loss of Paul Pierce and his leadership and his ability to play well in the playoffs will hurt. But with their new wings [Alan Anderson, Jared Dudley and Gary Neal] I think they replaced Pierce's shooting. Dudley's a knockdown three-point shooter—not a very good athlete, but when he squares, he's deadly.... Porter really played well in the playoffs. If he keeps that up, they'll be tough.
COACH RANDY WITTMAN
(5th season with Wizards)
2014--15 RECORD 46--36
(2nd in Southeast)
PG JOHN WALL
17.6 PPG; 10.0 APG; 44.5 FG%; 30.0 3FG%
SG BRADLEY BEAL
15.3 PPG; 3.8 RPG; 42.7 FG%; 40.9% 3FG%
SF OTTO PORTER
6.0 PPG; 3.0 RPG; 45.0 FG%; 33.7 3FG%
11.0 PPG; 5.1 RPG; 1.8 APG; 51.1 FG%
C MARCIN GORTAT
12.2 PPG; 8.7 RPG; 1.3 BPG; 56.6 FG%
PG RAMON SESSIONS*
6.3 PPG; 2.8 APG; 37.4 FG%; 31.7 3fg%
PF KRIS HUMPHRIES
8.0 PPG; 6.5 RPG; 0.4 BPG; 47.3 FG%
SG JARED DUDLEY*
7.2 PPG; 3.1 RPG; 46.8 FG%; 38.5 3FG%
Scoring average of Bradley Beal in his 10 postseason games—a 52.9% increase over his regular-season production.
NED DISHMAN/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (WALL)
WALL BALL The Wiz point guard became the second player in franchise history to average at least 10 assists (joining Rod Strickland).
BILL FRAKES FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (BEAL)