As important as it is to win games, a rebuilding team needs to discover an identity. What I see, is a group of young guys trying to become the likes of the Showtime Lakers, lacking the talent and discipline. In general, I agree with this vision; there is no other style of basketball that would better suit John. Having Wall as the anchor, we are well in progress to become the Showtime of the nation’s capital. The coaching staff and front office need to move towards this direction, if they are not yet doing so.
So why emulate the 80’s Lakers? First and foremost, that style of basketball sells tickets. Second, we have THE point guard to potentially grow into the perfect floor general for this style of play. Last but not least, it keeps our young players interested, which can in turn give them incentive to do the full stuff, like playing defense.
To be more specific, I envision an offense that relies on rebounding and transition and a defense that is invasive and risky on the perimeter, but tight and disciplined in the interior. In time, with developing chemistry and discipline, this style of basketball is both entertaining and dangerous. This style of play requires a floor general with superb floor vision and IQ, and relentless aggression across the roster to run the floor. The latter condition needs to be addressed.
The immediate difficulty in establishing this identity is the heterogeneity of character in our roster. Skill and toughness coexists in only a handful of players on our current roster. Most of our players fall into one but not both categories (and in some cases, none). Management and coaching staff needs figure out which players will likely posses both qualities in the near future. Do not waste effort on the hopeless (Yi). Take Rashard Lewis for example. He has great skills, but has no intensity to hope for. The coaching staff should then limit his role on the team. Dray is dangerously close to my characterization of Rashard, so he should be warned accordingly. On the other end of the spectrum, we have guys like Jeffers. As much as I like him, if the Coaching staff feels that he is already at his ceiling skill-wise, then he should also play a reduced role on the team. But in general, I prefer toughness over skills (look at them Bulls).
We have plenty of perimeter players that posses both qualities. But our frontline severely lacks consistent toughness, with the exception of Trevor Brooker. This needs to be addressed immediately, whether through trade, draft, or soul searching (I’m talking to you, Dray and JaVale). When our frontline catches up with our perimeter, our roster character will be more homogeneous. Only then, can guys put aside their minor differences and hold each other accountable to that proposed identity. A team without an established superstar requires collective voice, and it begins with a single vision.
The Coaching staff also needs to adjust. I do not know their individual strength and weakness, but I think the group is a bit too large to converge to a unified style of play. With my limited insight, all I can say is that there are too many assistant coaches. One could argue that our roster has many prospects that require one-on-one tutorship. But to me, that’s an issue in itself; we simply don’t have resources to waste on every youngster on our team. The coaching staff needs to shrink and foster a more competitive learning environment.
In addition, we may need to fine-tune our coaching philosophy. In particular, Flip needs to be less stubborn about playing zone defense. With youth and energy, we need to take more risks defensively so that our offense can get into transition. Our Bigs need to help and our guards need to crash the boards. We have fast guards; have them initiate the fast break. We currently do not have the frontline to play this type of defense, nor do we have the coaching staff to enforce it. Unfortunately, there is no way around it. If our current players and staff cannot learn to play this style, send them packing. A point guard like John Wall is much harder to come by than a big like Javale or Dray, or a coach like Flip Saunders.
What we can take away from last season is that the asset of this team lies in the resilience and talent of our back court: John and Jordan. Whoever plays the 2 may be undersized, but they more than make up for it with their toughness. Let’s set our priorities straight and build around them. We should not be afraid to part with pieces that don’t necessarily fit with the style of play that caters to our back court. Continue to give Trevor Brooker a chance and make sure that at the end of the day, our front court can display the same intensity. We can be a fun and dangerous team if we put together a group of guys that look to grow into the Showtime Lakers.
What I wish to accomplish in this post, is to initiate an organized and realistic discussion amongst the educated fans. Those with more insight on the politics of the Wizards organization may have a better idea on how to implement our suggestion. Those with coaching experience may better evaluate our staff. Those with more creativity and insight may come up with a better plan altogether. Collectively, we can let management understand the importance of an identity and articulate the fan’s desired style of play. This will be much more valuable to the organization than individual trade proposals. The way I see it, we should provide the big picture; front office then works the details. Afterall, we are paying their bills, aren’t we?