"Do you think this is the first time I've been on a one-year contract? No. It doesn't mean anything. Thirty years of being in this - and it's just about going out and doing your job and doing it the best you can, and I feel if we do that, everything else takes care of itself."
I don't think you can call any coach a "straight shooter" based on the quotes he gives to the media, but Randy Wittman is pretty close. He certainly doesn't look or act like a salesman, and he's perfected the ability to distill points of view into simple soundbites like the one above. (He also has an uncanny ability to smile and tell me "You know I can't answer that" whenever I ask a strategy question).
Inside the locker room, Wittman supposedly projects the same kind of image. Multiple Wizards have said how much they respect Wittman's bluntness, how you know exactly where you stand, good or bad. Athletes generally prefer to be addressed head on, even if they don't like what they're about to hear. This is what doomed the non-confrontational Flip Saunders in D.C.
All this is to say that I doubt Wittman's general style will change much this year. Sure, he's a "lame-duck coach." Sure, he's under a lot of pressure to win. But if you're looking for major stylistic changes or for a guy that'll panic and ditch his precepts, look again. That doesn't seem like a Randy Wittman kind of thing to do.
That's good for a lot of reasons. It's hard to judge where the head coach's impact begins and his assistants' work ends, but Wittman deserves a ton of credit for turning the Wizards' defense into a juggernaut last season. Washington's personnel isn't as talented as, say, Indiana's. The system lacked that Hibbert-like in the middle to deter dribble penetration, as well as that Georgeian lockdown wing to stifle the top perimeter options at the point of attack. Yet they finished fifth in defensive efficiency, relying on an elastic chain of help rotations that rarely broke and the versatility of the Nene/Emeka Okafor combo. In other words: the Wizards succeeded because of concepts the coaching staff drilled into the players more than the players' talents themselves.
Wittman's staff also began incorporating a few promising set plays on the other end. We've written about their Flare Set before, a great way to get corner three-point looks. They also began using a play similar to the Spurs' "Loop" to get John Wall running off baseline screens and attacking on the move, and I think they'll incorporate this more as they develop Bradley Beal's ball-handling. Washington was also pretty good after timeouts and executed some nice late-game plays.
There are still things Wittman's staff must improve. The Wizards' offense was dreadful early on and mediocre later in the year in large part because of talent, but the spacing of the players could improve. The Wizards didn't push the ball enough early in the season without Wall and they used their big men too much in the high post, exposing their weaknesses as shooters. Shifting Nene more into the high post and using Emeka Okafor in a Thaddeus Young-like role on the baseline would help cut out some of those frustrating mid-range jumpers.
Wittman also had a tendency to over-promote and then bury young players like Jan Vesely, Trevor Booker and Chris Singleton in the rotation, which could hurt their confidence. Then again, those players haven't exactly displayed the kind of consistency themselves to earn regular time.
Still, on the whole, Wittman's done better than I expected. It's tempting to look at his career won/loss record and wonder why the Wizards are wasting time with him as the head man. We really don't know for sure where Wittman's work ends and his staff's begins. Would the Wizards be just as good or even better with Don Newman in charge? Who knows.
But when I try to think of things Wittman's done that I vehemently didn't like, I struggle to come up with much. It wasn't too hard to find fault in Flip Saunders, who has a much stronger pedigree than Wittman. Wittman, though, has squeezed a lot from the collective talent of the roster. He's not perfect, of course, but he's helped more than he's hurt. At the end of the day, isn't that the job of the coach?
Like last year, Wittman will play the players he thinks give the Wizards the best chance to win the game. That won't change in his lame-duck year.