For two quarters the Washington Wizards played some of their best basketball of the preseason. The ball was moving, players were communicating, and the team had forced the Bucks into playing a wide open, up and down style which doesn't suit their personnel. For three glorious minutes of the first half Gilbert Arenas was at the center of the mayhem, more active on both ends of the floor than we have seen all preseason, until fate or karma struck him down with a groin strain.
The second half was a different story altogether. Where there had once been ball movement, there was none. Instead of flying up and down the court, the Wizards were trapped into playing the slog it down half court game which Milwaukee prefers and broke down on offense completely. There were vivid flashbacks to last year, with the shot clock winding down and many a Wizards player forced to take a long two or three with only a couple tics left. Things ground so utterly to a halt that John Wall was forced into doing his best Earl Boykins impression, pounding the ball at the top of the key and hoping that someone/anyone would get around to moving on offense.
So yeah, the second half left a little bit to be desired. But what exactly went wrong?
The Bigs Played Small
The most notable failing last night was the Wizards big man roster, which was completely dominated by the combination of Brian Skinner and Drew Gooden. Yi Jianlian had perhaps his worst game as a Wizard last night, settling for long jump shots, lost his assignment on defense, and had one of the worst "revenge" games I have ever seen against a former franchise. JaVale McGee was markedly better than Yi and noticeably more committed on the defensive end. However, McGee's time on the court proved to be erratic and he had definite trouble guarding the more fundamentally sound Gooden. Of all the centers to play last night, the one who had the best showing was Hilton Armstrong. Yes, Armstrong managed to foul out in a little over twelve minutes of play, but during his time on the court he was extremely active and involved, doing a lot of the little things that get unnoticed in the boxscore.
Perhaps the most concerning aspect of the night was the play of Andray Blatche, who was the main offender in manifesting the "selfish" play which Flip derided following the game. First, I want to point you to this article by Kyle over at Truth About It about Blatche's performance. Blatche's play over the last two preseason games has to raise alarm bells with Wizards fans. First, Blatche has several times over the past few games refused to pass out the double team out the post and will instead try a complicated up and under move to get to the basket. Secondly, Blatche has once again fallen in love with his jumper, going 0-3 on three point attempts for the game. The problem is not whether Andray can make the shot or not, it's whether the Wizards need their PF/C sitting at the top of the key looking to play Dirk Nowitzki. But don't take it from me, let's hear from Flip:
"Dray’s the low post scorer. As a four, he’s about as good a low post scorer as there is if you look at fours around the league. We just got to get his big butt down there more often more often, and not having to keep popping out there all the time. Because that’s were he’s most effective, is down there on the block."
Look, this has to be quite an adjustment for Blatche. He went from being buried on the bench, to the de facto star, and is now the second or third option on a young team. But by playing on the perimeter Blatche is hurting the team in several ways: first by limiting the time that Saunders can play McGee who can't patrol the middle and rebound by himself, and secondly by becoming a ball stopper who limits the involvement of his teammates.
The other concerning aspect of last night's tilt were the rotations that were employed throughout the second half as the Wizards fell further and further behind. Both Cartier Martin and Lester Hudson, both extremely effective in the first half, were used only sparingly in the second. Instead, Saunders rolled out Yi and Adam Morrison for extended minutes, which proved to be disastrous. Morrison, in particular, looks like a player who doesn't know what his role is on the team. He repeatedly turned down open perimeter shots, and in one telling sequence passed up an open three to attempt an ill-fated drive to the basket. CJ has already told this joke, but I think AdMo spent his off season in Mike Miller remedial school.
Also glued to the bench were Seraphin and N'Diaye, two players who might have been effective against a Bucks team missing three of it's four stars. If preseason is supposed to be about development, I am confused as to why Seraphin, Booker and N'Diaye are glued to the bench and Adam Morrison is getting nearly twenty minutes of playing time. I am even more concerned that John Wall is averaging 38 minutes a game during the preseason, if Brandon Jennings is pointing out that Wall is playing too much, it might be time to pull back on the reins a bit before he drops from exhaustion in January.
Overall, the loss to the Bucks brought to light the weaknesses that the Wizards will be facing all year. They will continue to have trouble playing disciplined veteran teams that do not allow the Wizards to run and jump all over the place. After the game, John Wall noted that all games are a learning process, and that this loss is one for the Wizards to build upon. Hopefully, the entire team takes that to heart and we won't be seeing Drew Gooden spring for 25 again anytime in the near future.