The Wizards' new offense is working. Why didn't we see it earlier?

If you've watched the Wizards' offensive sets in recent games closely, you might notice that they look, well, a little different.  That's because Flip Saunders put in what he's calling a "new offense."  No mark Hawk plays or Hawk cuts.  No more of the point guard controlling the ball 80 percent of the time, or whatnot. 

Instead, the team is doing everything they can to run their offense through the post, in particular through Andray Blatche.  The standard play has the point guard giving the ball up early to the shooting guard and cutting away.  While this is happening, the small forward comes curling off a down screen to catch a pass on the wing.  Once that happens, the center sets a cross screen for the power forward to catch the ball in a good spot in the post.  Everything that happens occurs from there.

Saunders said he did it primarily give Blatche more options in the post.

"Because of the way the offense works, people should have a tougher time loading up on Dray, like they do.   He understands more where people are going to be as far as cutting, to be able to have some quick outlets and get some quick assists."

It worked against New Jersey, and frankly, it's worked relatively well in recent games.  The Wizards' offensive efficiency was 114.7 last night, and it was 110.6 against New Orleans earlier in the week. Two games does not make a trend, but they're still significant because the Wizards' offense has been pretty dreadful all season.

So the question here is, why did it take so long?

The answer, of course, is logical, even if faulty.  Saunders has a system that's been highly successful everywhere he's gone.  It's been strengthened by scoring point guards, or at least point guards who function well with the ball in their hands.  Chauncey Billups.  Sam Cassell.  Terrell Brandon.  Stephon Marbury.  All of those guys have had their best seasons playing in Saunders' system.  Gilbert Arenas, as much as some of you don't want to buy it, was cut from the same cloth as those guys.  Arenas is a scoring point guard who can also pass when necessary, and is really best when he's creating.  Saunders and Arenas seemed like a perfect match.

There were two main problems though: Arenas' rustiness and his off-ball ability.  The Wizards essentially decided in training camp that they were going to throw the whole load onto Arenas right away.  Saunders talked all preseason about how Arenas was going to have the ball the majority of the time and how everyone else was going to play off him.  In theory, it made sense, but it was also asking a lot of Arenas to play in a completely new system when he hadn't played enough games recently to know for sure that he could play in any system.  The end result is that the entire team played off Arenas' disharmony.  For this, I do blame Saunders to a large degree.  He had to expect Arenas would struggle to get his rhythm back, so he should have instead relied on an offense that was less point-guard heavy in the short term.

The other thing is Arenas does have some off-ball ability.  He obviously wants the ball and can do wonderful things with it when healthy, but in the Princeton offense, he was more of a combo guard than anything.  As we discussed last year, Arenas' ideal backcourt mate is someone who can both shoot and create.  Having him play point guard in a Hawk-like system only uses one of his strengths.  

In this new, refined offensive system, Arenas could have used some of that ability.  As Saunders said, one effect of this "new offense" is that it takes the ball out of the point guard's hands more. 

"We went to a two-guard offense, basically, to take pressure off our point guard and try to initiate the offense a little quicker," Saunders said.

A two-guard offense with Arenas and Caron Butler, or Arenas and Mike Miller, sounds pretty good to me.  Both those guys can pass well enough to make it work.  So why didn't we see it?

Now, the one thing that I can't really argue about here is the inside-out aspect of this new offense.  Unless the Wizards did the unthinkable and elevated Andray Blatche into the starting lineup ahead of Antawn Jamison, they didn't exactly have the personnel to run a post-oriented offense.  Saunders obviously would have had to include more modifications, like maybe putting Arenas and Butler in the post like he sometimes now puts Shaun Livingston.   But the other thing that's striking about this new "system" is the way it emphasized player movement.  As Blatche said after Sunday's game.       

"My teammates did what the coach wanted them to do.  They cut and stay moving when I had the ball instead of standing still, [which is] what they usually do.   That usually messes me up, but [tonight], they were cutting, kept motion going on and I was just dropping the ball off."

This as opposed to the old offense, which often broke down into everyone watching Arenas try to do something.  There wasn't much fluidity, particularly on the weakside.  That would have been nice to have no matter who was in the post.

If this sounds like sour grapes, it probably is.  I realize how difficult it is to ask a coach to deviate from his system, and I don't think it's fair to say we should have scrapped all our Hawk sets altogether.  But in light of how things are "working" a bit better now with these new plays, it makes you wonder why we didn't see them sooner, before our season completely fell apart.  Surely they were worth trying out, right?

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