There are so many problems with the Washington Wizards' offense right now, but the one that grinds my gears the most is just how inept it is at attacking closeouts. No matter what kind of offense you have, there will always be a large percentage of plays that feature a perimeter player that has the ball swung to them off a double-team or ball rotation that must make a play. The teams that score well are the teams that convert a high percentage of those opportunities.
The Wizards, to put it bluntly, did not score on a vast majority of those opportunities in last night's 92-76 loss to the Charlotte Bobcats. How bad was it? I tracked every single one of those and decided to log them throughout the game. The end result of that note-taking is below.
12:00 1ST: A.J. Price curls into the lane and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist comes to help off Ariza on the right wing. Ariza catches it, drives into open space and gets stonewalled by two Bobcats big men. He finds Trevor Booker cutting to the middle, but Booker doesn't shoot it. No score is generated 0-1, 0 points.
11:45 1ST: Later on that possession, Bradley Beal cuts left to get by a closing out defender and throws a diagonal pass to Price for an open three at the top of the key. It missed. 0-2, 0 points.
11:38 1ST: After a dead-ball rebound, Price penetrates past Kemba Walker and kicks it to an open Ariza in the right corner. Ariza hits the three. 1-3, 3 points.
10:50 1ST: Booker gets cut off in the lane and delivers a slow bounce pass to Beal in the right corner. Rather than attack the off-balanced Jeff Taylor, Beal tries to shoot over him. He misses badly. 1-4, 3 points.
7:56 1ST: Booker has his man in the post with three seconds left, but chooses to fire a cross-court pass in the left corner to Ariza. Ariza misses the hurried three. 1-5, 3 points.
7:39 1ST: Okafor is cut off on the left block, so he throws a diagonal pass to Beal. Beal swings it into the right corner to Price. Brendan Haywood closes out on Price, so this should be an easy elude. Price shot-fakes him, takes a minute to actually make his move, then finally goes to his left. Taylor moves to cut him off and Price has a drop-off pass to Booker for a layup. Instead, he shoots over Taylor and misses. 1-6, 3 points.
5:12 1ST: Ariza drives on the right baseline, draws Taylor and makes a smart pass to Beal cutting into the right corner for an open three. Swish. This was Beal's only hoop of the game. 2-7, 6 points.
3:58 1ST: Beal misses a runner in the lane, but gets his own rebound. In one motion, he grabs it and throws it back to Ariza on the left wing. Ariza is open, but he's standing upright and isn't ready to shoot. Clank. 2-8, 6 points.
3:45 1ST: Booker throws a diagonal pass to a wide-open Ariza in the corner. It's a low pass, but look how much space Ariza has to shoot here.
Naturally, Ariza tries to drive left. He gets Kidd-GIlchrist in the air and slips by him, but then gets stuck doing nothing. He could kick to Price at the top of the key. He could challenge the rim. He could draw Haywood and dump it off to Okafor for a layup. Instead, he gets stuck, drops it off to Booker in a tough spot in the lane and Booker badly misses a floater. 2-9, 6 points.
3:12 1ST: Pretty much the same scenario, and once again, Ariza drifts into the lane aimlessly instead of attacking the basket. 2-10, 6 points
3:10 1ST: Ariza feeds Price 30 feet from the hoop with the shot clock running down, and Price bails the Wizards out with an impossible three. Not how you'd draw it up, but it counts. 3-11, 9 points.
2:18 1ST: Price finds Ariza going left off a pick and roll, and Ariza drills the left-corner three despite Kidd-Gilchrist being right in his face. 4-12, 12 points.
1:48 1ST: This is how much the Bobcats respect Ariza's jump-shooting.
Price throws the crosscourt pass, but Ariza missed this shot. Obviously. 4-13, 12 points.
17.7 seconds, 1ST: Kevin Seraphin finds Booker wide open at the top of the key. Booker obviously wants to drive, so the closeout is weak. Booker doesn't shoot. Instead, he shuffles his feet and travels. 4-13, 12 points, 1 turnover.
11:24 2ND: Jordan Crawford dribbles aimlessly for a while until finally beating his man going right. As the defense sinks in, he kicks it out to Martell Webster. It's not a clean pass, though, so Webster's only move is to swing it to Jannero Pargo in the left corner. Problem is, Ramon Sessions is right there to contest Pargo's missed three. 4-14, 12 points, 1 turnover.
10:36 2ND: Pargo comes off a pick and roll going right and throws a lazy crosscourt pass to Crawford that is nearly intercepted. This leaves a wide-open driving lane for Crawford to exploit. (This is blurry, but look at the far side)
Obviously, Crawford shoots the three instead. It misses. 4-15, 12 points, 1 turnover.
9:54 2ND: Pargo is cut off in the lane and passes to Webster on the right wing. Webster doesn't have a driving lane, really, but he manufactures something by driving left, spinning right, shot-faking and drawing a foul. He hits 1-2 from the line. 4-15, 13 points, 1 turnover.
8:16 2ND: Crawford and Chris Singleton try a dribble hand-off, but Crawford gets denied and the play fails. Singleton finds Pargo in the corner, and Pargo misses a desperation three. 4-16, 13 points, 1 turnover.
7:36 2ND: Crawford pitches it ahead nicely to Webster on the right wing. Webster shot fakes his man into the air, throws a quick bounce pass to the post, then cuts to the baseline. He gets it back open, but misses the layup as Tyrus Thomas comes over to contest. 4-17, 13 points, 1 turnover.
7:10 2ND: Crawford gets by his man, sinks the defense in and kicks to Singleton in the right corner. Kidd-Gilchrist has already left his feet, so there's a lane for Singleton to shot-fake, drive to the right and create an easier shot. He instead misses the three. 4-18, 13 points, 1 turnover.
5:38 2ND: Crawford slows down nicely on the right wing, and Price finds him in stride for an open three. This is a good shot. It doesn't go in. 4-19, 13 points, 1 turnover.
2:32 2ND: Beal comes open off a down screen, and Kemba Walker leaves Price to help. Beal recognizes that and swings it to an open Price at the top of the key. Price's shot doesn't go in. 4-20, 13 points, 1 turnover.
1:24 2ND: Beal drives and kicks to Booker in the right corner. Booker doesn't have a shot, so he drives and kicks back to Beal drifting to the left wing. Taylor is in good closeout position, and there's 14 on the clock, so Beal doesn't need to take this three. He does, though, and he misses. 4-21, 13 points, 1 turnover.
18.0 2ND: Ariza gets the ball swung to him at the top of the key. Sessions closes out, and Ariza fakes right to drive left to keep him off-balanced. He gets by Sessions, as he should, but he's off-balanced. As he tries to avoid the shot-blocker, he throws up a wild layup that misses the rim. 4-22, 13 points, 1 turnover.
10:33 3RD: Booker grabs an offensive rebound and kicks to Price on the right wing. Price attacks the closing-out defender, then throws a cross-court pass to an open Beal in the left corner. This is a really good look. It doesn't go in. 4-23, 13 points, 1 turnover.
9:58 3RD: The ball gets swung around to Ariza in the right corner, and he has Haywood trying to close out on him. But rather than fake the three and drive around the slower big man, he takes the shot. It misses. 4-24, 13 points, 1 turnover.
9:34 3RD: Ariza sees Kidd-Gilchrist out of position on a closeout and drives right on him. Problem is, Ariza isn't strong enough to completely elude Kidd-Gilchrist, so no opening is really established. Haywood also steps up to cut off Ariza's drive, leaving Ariza in a pickle. He eventually has to dribble all the way back out, and Price eventually launches a desperation shot that misses. You do have to credit Kidd-Gilchrist for a great recovery here, but a better spot-up player finds an opening. 4-25, 13 points, 1 turnover.
9:01 3RD: Price swings it to Ariza in the left corner, and this time, Ariza seizes the baseline opening and eludes Haywood for a tough, twisting layup. If only this play was more common. 5-26, 15 points, 1 turnover.
8:02 3RD: Booker finds Beal in the left corner. Beal sees Taylor flying out at him and prepares to drive by. Problem is, he stepped out of bounds. 5-26, 15 points, 2 turnovers.
6:48 3RD: Okafor swings it to Ariza in the left corner, and Ariza has a prime opportunity to attack. Instead, he fakes baseline, heads to the middle and dribbles on a diagonal line away from the hoop. Eventually, though, he does turn on the jets to go to the rim and draws a foul on Kidd-Gilchrist. He hits 1-2 from the line. 5-26, 16 points, 2 turnovers.
5:45 3RD: Beal dumps the ball to Okafor in the post. Okafor holds it doing nothing until Beal pops out at the top of the key. Okafor delivers him the ball and Beal shoots from 19 feet despite being contested well. He misses. 5-27, 16 points, 2 turnovers.
5:13 3RD: Crawford catches it on the left wing, fakes Walker out a bit to drive left, but he can't shake Walker enough to get a clean driving lane. With Walker sitting on his right hip, Crawford throws up a wild floater that air-balls. 5-28, 16 points, 2 turnovers.
4:21 3RD: Price and Jan Vesely run a pick and roll, and Price's pocket bounce pass leads Vesely nicely in stride. However, for some reason, Vesely doesn't go up strong against other defenders, choosing instead to throw an awkward pass to an open Ariza on the left wing. Ariza's rhythm is thrown off and he misses the open three. 5-29, 16 points, 2 turnovers.
2:43 3RD: The Wizards get a free-throw rebound, and with 22 on the shot clock, Price takes this shot.
It misses, as you'd expect. 5-30, 16 points, 2 turnovers.
1:59 3RD: Vesely catches the ball in the paint and throws a touch pass to Ariza that leaves him wide open on the right wing. Ariza misses the shot. 5-31, 16 points, 2 turnovers.
33.9 3RD: Webster sneaks away after setting a cross-screen and is left alone for some reason. He nails the three. 6-32, 19 points, 2 turnovers.
10:34 4TH: Webster catches the ball on the left wing off a press, and rather than take the three, he shot fakes, attacks the rim and hits two free throws. This is the kind of thing that has to happen more often. 6-33, 21 points, 2 turnovers.
9:43 4TH: Crawford gets around Walker on the left wing nicely, but Byron Mullens leaves Seraphin cuts off the driving lane. The simple play is a pocket bounce pass to Seraphin at the elbow. Crawford instead shoots a baseline fadeaway that misses. 6-34, 21 points, 2 turnovers.
8:48 4TH: Webster pops wide open off a screen at the top of the key. Just missed it. 6-35, 21 points, 2 turnovers.
8:18 4TH: Cartier Martin makes an instinctual cut to the top of the key, and Booker finds him out of the post. He just missed it. 6-36, 21 points, 2 turnovers.
7:17 4TH: Okafor passes out of the post to Martin coming off a screen from the hoop to the top of the key. Martin is sort of open, but given how the game has gone, a shot-fake and drive might have been better. Instead, he misses a three. 6-37, 21 points, 2 turnovers.
6:11 4TH: Crawford does one of his crazy spinning drives and attacks Haywood, but Haywood stays straight up. At the last minute, Crawford weakly bounces it sorta towards Ariza in the right corner. Ariza drifts inside the three-point line, and with 11 seconds left on the shot clock, he shot-fakes one guy out of the way, dribbles left and takes this shot instead.
Reminder: there are 11 seconds left on the shot clock. The shot air-balls, by the way. 6-38, 21 points, 2 turnovers.
5:36 4TH: Beal comes off a screen, throws to Ariza on the right wing, but there's no place for him to go. He tries a low-percentage bounce pass to Okafor cutting down the lane and it gets stolen. 6-38, 21 points, 3 turnovers.
4:14 4TH: Beal gets a decent look in the right corner and misses it. He couldn't really drive because Okafor is posting up on the strong-side block. 6-39, 21 points, 3 turnovers.
3:52 4TH: Same spot, similar circumstances, missed shot. 6-40, 21 points, 3 turnovers.
2:04 4TH: An open converted spot-up three by Martin is ruined by an illegal screen from Earl Barron. 6-40, 21 points, 4 turnovers.
That's a total of 46 plays where the Wizards either had an open three off a kickout/ball rotation or the opportunity to attack a closing-out defender off the dribble. Five of those 46 plays ended in a made open three. Just one (!) of those plays ended with someone driving for a layup or two-point shot. Two of those 46 plays ended with someone generating free throws. In total 8 of 46 potential spot-up opportunities were converted into points.
That's why I sort of contest the idea that the Wizards are playing selfishly. Spot-up opportunities like those are created through good ball movement. The bigger problem is that the Wizards don't have players that can make a play when the ball is swung to them. All the ball movement in the world isn't going to fix that.
In today's NBA in particular, you have to convert a good percentage of plays where you are either open for three or can attack a closing-out defender. That the Wizards can't right now is an indictment on how this roster has been constructed.