Webster entered training camp in a battle for the starting small forward spot, but Coach Randy Wittman elected to go with the defensive presence of veteran Trevor Ariza to provide balance with Wall and Beal, the team's primary scorers.
"We need to have a guy that can knock shots down with that second group," Wittman said of his decision to put Webster in a reserve role. "We talked. He's fine. It's all about winning, and he knows that. Doing what's right for our team, and right now I think that's more important for us to have that punch there."
The idea is that Ariza's defense complements John Wall and Bradley Beal, whereas Webster is being asked to expand his game to become a bit more of an initiator for the second unit that is currently struggling when Eric Maynor is playing.
I'm not a fan, though.
This seems like overthinking the issue. When Webster played with Wall and Beal last year, no matter the other two players on the court, the Wizards outscored teams by 18.7 points per 100 possessions in 303 minutes, per NBA.com. Eighteen point seven points per 100 possessions. They had an offensive efficiency of 110.6 and a defensive efficiency of 91.9. Both marks would have led the league if they somehow kept the rate up over 48 minutes the entire season.
The Wall/Bea/Ariza trio, on the other hand, scored 102.5 points per 100 possessions and gave up 99.3 in 211 minutes together last year. That's not bad, but it's not eighteen point seven points per 100 possessions better. Wittman seems concerned about defense, but Wall/Beal/Webster was a significantly better defensive trio than Wall/Beal/Ariza last year, no matter which big men were on the floor.
Obviously, those numbers aren't likely to repeat themselves, and the absence of Emeka Okafor changes the calculus everywhere. None of us have been at training camp or in practices either, and that's surely a big reason why Wittman made the decision he did.
But I still don't understand the desire to go away from something that worked so well last year. Webster will surely play with Beal and Wall at times, but by removing him from the starting lineup, you're removing a huge bucket of minutes the three of them would have shared. There was so much offensive symmetry with Wall's penetration and Beal and Webster's shooting, and the numbers strongly suggest that defense isn't nearly as big an issue as Wittman makes it sound.
That's why I think the issue is being overthought. Wittman's logic suggests he wants to strengthen the second unit, but the better play would be to ensure the strength of the first unit, because they play more minutes. Webster would have to change his game to really help the second unit anyway; while I'm always in favor of someone adding new tools to their arsenal, you still want players to stay true to themselves. Webster was paid because he was one of the league's best spot-up shooters, an essential attribute when your franchise player is John Wall. Why take away from that strength?
I'm glad Webster is being such a pro about coming off the bench, but I still don't think it's a very good idea.
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