You know what I can't stand? When conventional wisdom proves to be correct.
For example, conventional wisdom suggests that the Wizards can't play defense (and thus should be referred to as the Wizar*s). Actually, conventional wisdom suggests that not only can't the Wizard play defense, but that it's downright laughable to watch them try.
Conventional wisdom also suggests that the Wizards won't go anywhere until they improve defensively, because, after all, defense wins championships.
Damn, I hate it when everyone else is right.
At the end of last year, we identified improving the defense as the number one goal for this offseason. As we mentioned there, the defensive efficiency has gotten worse every year since 2004/2005, going from 19th that year, to 23rd in 05/06, and finally to 28th last year. It's true that the "defense wins championships" moniker is problematic, but you can't win anything meaningful when your defense is historically bad. Using last year, Utah and Golden State were the only teams to advance past the first round with defensive efficiencies below the league average.
The implication from that conclusion we made last year is that the only thing that's preventing the Wizards from making the next step is their defense. Yes, bench scoring was an issue, and yes, it would be nice if we had a better offensive big man, but the offense was more than fine last year as is. If the offense stayed exactly the same, while the defense improved by 8-9 spots, that's an improvement of at least ten wins in my book.
But let's move past theory. How can the defense improve, and more importantly, is there any reason to believe that things will be different this year?
Last year, we identified three areas that have to get better for the Wizards to improve defensively: defending scoring guards, improving the interior defense, and compensating for the smallish nature of the forwards. Seeing as how the defense was historically bad last year, those three reasons invariably covered everything. Now that the offseason is finished, it's unclear whether any upgrades have been made in those departments. Michael Ruffin, Jarvis Hayes, and Calvin Booth have been replaced by Dominic McGuire, Nick Young, and Oleksiy Pecherov. Of the latter three, only McGuire is seen as a good defender. Rather than personnel upgrades, which seemed to be what we were calling for, Ernie's hoping that new assistant coach Randy Ayers can instill the commitment himself, which obviously isn't an easy task.
So now, put yourself in Randy Ayers' shoes. We can all agree that the mindset needs to change, but that's simply not going to be enough. There needs to be a scheme change, as well as an emphasis of one aspect of the defense as a point of emphasis that will simultaneously improve the others. The question is, where is that point of emphasis?
Is it defending point guards? If that's the case, Ayers has to convince Gilbert Arenas to commit more to his defense, and he needs to improve the defense of the pick and roll.
Is it with the forwards? If so, perhaps playing Andray Blatche and McGuire more is the answer. Additionally, perhaps Caron Butler should be focusing more on defense rather than on his scoring, but is that really a good idea?
If you're Randy Ayers, what would you do? Below the jump, a few ideas.
1. Play Brendan Haywood 30 minutes a game.
Offense be damned! Inconsistency be damned! For the sake of the defense, Haywood has to play more than Etan Thomas. Those plus/minus numbers simply don't lie; when Haywood is in the game, the Wizards' defense is significantly better. Put it this way: with Haywood in the game, the Wizards' defense was as good as the 16th-best defense in the league last year according to efficiency. When Haywood was out of the game, the Wizards' defense was equivalent to the worst. Playing Haywood more, in turn, will help Thomas, because he can focus on going all out for a shorter amount of time. If Etan plays fewer minutes, he's less likely to get injured. It's a win-win, if you ask me.
2. Start trapping pick and rolls.
Gilbert Arenas is a very bad defender, and he should be held accountable, but so should the big men that are not helping him get over screens. The Wizards' defense works best if they create turnovers, and trapping more pick and rolls will do that. Perhaps this means we need to see more of Andray Blatche, or perhaps this means we need Antawn Jamison and Haywood to be held accountable. No matter what, though, only good can result.
3. In general, play the bench more.
The less time starters play, the more energy they have for both ends. Additionally, it's easier to tell a bench guy to go all out defensively, so that will definitely improve things.
Any more ideas? Shout 'em out in the comments section. And please, can we make them more substantial than "Gilbert's gotta get committed" or "We need to want to play defense more."