Yes, it's only been two preseason games. Demanding any sort of major overhaul at this point in the 2013-14 campaign would be an overreaction, the kind of thing this organization doesn't need after years of disorder.
But after a pair of preseason contests, I can't help but be worried about these Washington Wizards. The results of the exhibitions against Brooklyn and Chicago weren't terrible -- close losses to possible title contenders are nothing to be ashamed of. But did anyone watch those games and think this team took some big step forward between the end of last season and right now?
This team misses Emeka Okafor more than anyone wants to admit. Earning $13 million might make him overpaid, but compared to his replacements, he's not far off from deserving that salary right now. In players like Jan Vesely and Kevin Seraphin, the Wizards seemingly can't expect much more than replacement-level performance, the kind of stuff you can find in the D-League or Europe.
This is a big problem. I know it's something I've harped on since the news broke, but Okafor's injury can't be understated. As John Wall has saaid repeatedly, he's this team's anchor, the guy who excels in areas (rebounding, rim protection) that enable his teammates to fill their own roles.
The Wizards don't have anyone else who can do that. Seraphin, Vesely and Trevor Booker have given roughly zero reasons to believe they're deserving of splitting up Okafor's 30 minutes per game. However, I'm not even suggesting they try.
Rather, I think Randy Wittman needs to try something different. The status quo was a system built around Okafor's talent as a defensive anchor, something this roster probably won't have for a while. Why not try something different that might be better tailored to the guys who will actually be filling his minutes?
Specifically, it's time to expand Al Harrington's role on this team. Already a veteran leader who multiple Wizards pointed out at media day as an early influence, Harrington could be the difference-maker this team needs to weather the Okafor injury. Here's what I'm thinking.
With a backcourt of Wall and Bradley Beal, plus athletic wings in Martell Webster, Trevor Ariza and Otto Porter, we all know the Wizards have some guys ready to run. That was never necessarily the team's plan, partly because of Wittman's focus on defense, but also because the team's big guys didn't really fit that idea. This is where Harrington could bridge that gap and let this team do some new things.
As Mike pointed out when I initially suggested the idea of the Wizards running more, defensive rebounding would be one of the first issues to address. However, we can point to the 2010-12 Nuggets, which often boasted a Nene-Harrington pairing, as reason for hope. Lineups that included both Nene and Harrington on the floor grabbed 79.8 percent of available defensive rebounds in 2010-11 and 79.5 percent in limited minutes in 2011-12, according to NBA.com's stats page. Harrington, despite being a perimeter player in many ways, can be a decent defensive rebounder, grabbing over 20 percent of his opportunities in his last healthy season.
Additionally, there are other areas where the Wizards can solve the rebounding issue. In college, Beal grabbed 18 percent of his defensive rebound opportunities, but that figure dropped to 10 percent in his rookie season. Even finding some middle ground between those two numbers would give the team a major boost, and it could give Beal some opportunities to jump start the fastbreak on his own.
And really, that's what this is about: getting Beal, Wall and the wings out in transition, where they can really attack defenses. Because otherwise, I'm worried we'll be watching too many games like the first two, full of situations where the offense completely stalls and the floor gets cramped because John's shot isn't falling.
This doesn't need to be a complete overhaul. After all, Harrington can only play so many minutes, Nene probably doesn't want to bang with centers all the time and Wittman isn't going to go full Mike D'Antoni on us. But trying out some new things seems prudent if not necessary, and that could start with changing the pace at times.
If it gets the team even one or two more wins between now and Okafor's return, that's worthwhile, especially in a crowded East. And if it doesn't work at all, then they can scrap it after a few games and say they tried.
So, I'd like to see this get a shot. Whether Harrington is starting or not, find 20-to-25 minutes a night for a Wall-Beal-Harrington-Nene foursome, kick up the tempo and see what happens. With Beal, Webster and Harrington flanking Wall on the break, we could get some Warriors-like transition three-pointers.
We haven't even played one game yet this season, but this is where I'm at, suggesting the Wizards already think outside the box. I'm wondering, though, are you guys there, too? What do you guys think about upping the tempo? I'm just not sure this team can keep the course and reach expectations.
More from Bullets Forever:
- Wizards vs Heat preview: Can Washington bounce back against the champs?
- John Wall's keeping track of doubters, says he nearly broke his kneecap
- Magical Pixels, Wizards vs. Bulls: Brazil is not very nice to Nene
- Nene receives chilly reception in Brazil
- Bulls vs. Wizards final score: Washington loses Nene's homecoming, 83-81