LAS VEGAS -- If there was one defining type of play from the Washington Wizards' last two years, it was the one-man fast break of John Wall. All those mad dashes to the rim, many of which ended spectacularly, provided the dose of excitement for Wizards fans during many losses. And, to be clear, the Wizards still plan on taking full advantage of Wall's speed and agility on the break.
"John is the fastest man on the ballclub," Sam Cassell reminded the media. "We want John to have the ball. There's nobody on our team that can push the ball up the court as fast as John Wall."
But there's also been a slightly newer philosophy at play in the first couple Summer League games, one that could help unlock the full potential of the Wizards on the fast break. No longer are the Wizards being asked to always find the point guard to kick-start the break. Now, they have more freedom to do it themselves, at least if they're any guard or any wing.
This could, of course, be simply a Summer League kind of thing. ("That one I haven't heard," was Trevor Booker's response when I asked him at halftime about this slight change in philosophy). Nevertheless, with Beal now in the fold, Trevor Ariza coming via trade and Chris Singleton getting more freedom to rebound and go, there are far more players that can make sound decisions with the ball in the open floor. For the Wizards to best take advantage of their athleticism, maybe the head of their fast break doesn't have to be so predictable.
"I just want Chris to understand that when he does get a rebound, he can push the ball. When Bradley gets a rebound, he can push the ball. When Shelvin [Mack] gets the ball, he better push the ball," Cassell said.
We saw the upside to this approach in the 76-70 win over the Houston Rockets on Saturday night. The Rockets could never pinpoint which guy was leading the break, and it made it very difficult for them to match up. Sometimes, it would be Beal charging up the sidelines. Sometimes, it was a wing -- either Singleton or Jeff Brooks -- who would take it down the middle. Sometimes, of course, it was a point guard like Mack or Tomas Satoransky. Transition defense is all about adjusting your matchups to stop the most dangerous threat, and that's difficult to do when, in that moment of confusion, you don't know which guy is supposed to stop ball and which guy is supposed to stop the wings.
Take Satoransky's vicious left-handed dunk. The only reason that lane was open was because Jeremy Lamb didn't know whether he was the one who was supposed to stop ball. Lamb drifted towards the corner to pick up Beal running up the right wing, all the while leaving the basket open for Satoransky to posterize him.
To a certain extent, this is an extension of Beal's value. None of the Wizards' shooting guards could be trusted to lead the break, but Beal's passing instincts are so good that it works out well. He can look away to find the big man down the lane, as he did with Garrett Siler in the third quarter, or he can find the corner three-point shooter. Nick Young and Jordan Crawford just don't really have that in their games.
But really, if this is indeed a change in philosophy, it's probably far simpler than that. While Wall is the focal point, you can often waste precious seconds looking for him. Instead of doing that, why not force the action and try to make a play?
"That's what coach [Cassell] tells us to do," Beal said. "If you get the rebound, push it, especially for the guards and Chris as well."
Of course, there is one exception.
"Jan [Vesely], he can take a limit of three dribbles," Beal joked.