The Wizards half-court offense is a train wreck

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The Wizards' half-court offense has struggled throughout the year, but in Wednesday night's defeat at the hands of the Boston Celtics, it fell to new lows. What exactly went wrong?

Everything was in line for the Wizards to finally get over the hump and reach that plus-.500 plateau. The Boston Celtics were without their starting backcourt of Avery Bradley and Rajon Rondo, on the tail end of a back-to-back and at home against what was thought to be a determined Washington Wizards team.

After shipping both Jordan Crawford and MarShon Brooks to Golden State and losing Jerryd Bayless to a big toe injury, an undermanned Celtics squad relied on key contributions from Phil Pressey and Jeff Green. Pressey, an undrafted free agent out of Missouri, completely caught everyone off-guard as he dropped in a cool 20 points on 7-10 shooting. But more notably, he went 566 from deep after connecting on just six in the 39 games leading up to Wednesday.

"Every player in this league can play. They're in the NBA. And if you don't give them the respect, this is what happens," a furious Randy Wittman said following the loss.

More on the game

But it wasn't so much playing defense as it was executing offensively, according to Wittman. His team has repeatedly fallen behind in games when there's no reason to, and the coach thinks he knows why.

"Nobody would pass the ball," he said. "They dribbled the ball all over the place, and then when they did pass it, it was to a guy with two seconds left on the shot clock."

But how many times have we heard these exact sentiments from the coach following losses similar to this one? No matter the outcome or the events leading up to the final buzzer, the answers rarely waver. It's as if he's had a pre-written script running through his head following each tortuous defeat. Does it really have merit?

The Wizards are not a team that isolates its players often. They had 10 such plays against the Celtics on Wednesday, one of which resulted in a turnover, three that earned John Wall trips to the charity stripe and six that resulted in shot attempts. This is a team built on John Wall's dribble penetration; it's the reason why he's second in the association in touches per game and fifth in points created by assists, per the new SportsVU tracking data. It goes without saying that when shooters aren't making their shots, the offense sputters.

And that's exactly what occurred in the first half of Wednesday's meltdown. As a team, the Wizards shot just 37 percent from the floor. They missed shots they would normally make, failed to make the most out of their transition opportunities, and most of all, got the majority of their looks out of the flow of the offense.

Ariza_3

Beal_miss

Beal_miss_2

Some nights, it can be as simple as "not making your shots." Maybe that was the case here to some degree.

But it's also about the kind of looks being generated. These are all jumpers, not layups. There's no reason to believe, after two years under the same offense that fails to generate shots at the basket, that the Wizards could have garnered better looks on the floor. From the coaching staff on down to the players, they have not merited that benefit of the doubt.

The worst of our fears regarding Wittman's long-two centric offense came to fruition last night. Wall had no business taking the amount of jumpers he did, and he admitted it afterwards.

"Twenty-nine shots is way too many for me as a point guard" Wall said. "I feel like they were good shots and easy shots, but just too many to not get my teammates a chance to get in a rhythm and give those guys a chance to make plays."

Yes, that is too many shots. Yes, many of them did come early in the shot clock, which may have been the source of Wittman's frustrations over the lack of ball movement. But how is that any different from Bradley Beal supposedly being encouraged to take the exact same shots? Hasn't this coaching staff preached to Wall the importance of being able to hit the pull-up jumper? Those instructions will lead to attempts like this:

Wall_miss

Here, Wall comes off a drag screen in semi-transition and see's daylight. He knows he'll have enough room to take a step or two in the arc before firing away. It's early in the clock, and Wall could have probed his way into the middle of the lane to buy Beal enough time to sneak behind Nene and into the corner. But alas, that long-two is taken.

Again, these are looks the Wizards have seen all year long, and Wall admitted as much.

"I think it was the same shots I took in other games," he said. "I just missed a couple of easy ones."

At some point, it's on the coaching staff. If these shots are bad ones, as Wittman surmised after this game, why have Wall and Beal taken them all year?

That's why the selfishness critique rings hollow. One or both of these things happened instead:

  1. The Wizards moved the ball, but missed open long jumpers.
  2. They often settled for semi-open jumpers, which has been encouraged all year even though it might run counter to moving the ball.

It's all a shame. After all these trades with the playoffs in mind, and one of the best floor generals in the league today, we're sitting here discussing an offense barely treading water against a league-average defense at best. Either selfishness isn't the problem or the coach hasn't gotten his message through to the players. Neither reflects well on Wittman.

Quotes via Amin.

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