One of the nice things about Ed Tapscott era is that, like Eddie Jordan, Ed is pretty vocal about what he expects from the team. He doesn't sugercoat with his soundbytes, he's nuianced and he seems to treat reporters well. That's good for them, but it's also good for us because we can clearly tell what he's trying to do with this team.
I've now had a chance to watch two games and read tons of Tapscott soundbytes, so here's my read on each of his plans.
The 8-man +2 rotation.
One of the immediate things Tapscott did was to turn to what he called the "eight plus two plan." The idea is that there are eight guys who will play solid minutes every game no matter the circumstance, with about two of the remaining four guys on the team playing based on "matchups." The question of whether a coach should play only the same guys every game or base his substitution patterns on "feel" is a continuous debate among coaches. Eddie Jordan, as we know, veered more toward the "feel" way of thinking, which drew a lot of ire among all of us.
It seems Tapscott is trying to compromise. On the one hand, there will be some guys who play every game. But since eight players over the course of the entire season is a pretty tight rotation, he'll give two other guys a chance every game. This serves two purposes. One, it keeps the end of the bench guys active and ready in practice. Two, it allows Ed to do some coaching instead of becoming predictable. In my mind, it's a pretty good plan.
The tricky part, though, is figuring out who makes up both of these groups. Eddie's problem this year was never playing his bench, it was treating all his bench players the same in terms of minutes. It was that inconsistency that bugged me in particular, because it's hard to expect players to adjust to situations like the coach can. This was a big deal with Andray Blatche, but he was hardly the only one. Darius Songaila, for example, was asked to play center, which didn't suit his strengths. Ditto for Nick Young and Juan Dixon at the point. Part of this is the roster imbalance, but part of it was poor deployment of subs.
Based on two games, it seems that the three bench guys part of the eight-man rotation are Nick Young, Andray Blatche and Darius Songaila. After that, though, it gets murky. Dominic McGuire has played pretty consistent minutes both games, and Tapscott is clearly trying to use him more, so one has to wonder if he's jumped into the top eight. Since he's been healthy, the same goes for Antonio Daniels. That's ten guys who play decent minutes already. Then, there's Etan Thomas and Juan Dixon, who play situational minutes. They're clearly part of the +2, but who is joining them?
The concept of "eight plus two" is solid, but there's still work to be done to establish that.
Turning Dominic McGuire into a defensive stopper
It seems like that's a big-time goal for Tapscott. Here's what he said about Taser:
"I'm asking him to fold himself into that role. Every team is role-defined and if you can find a niche within the team, you can find him some playing time. If he'll embrace that and go at it that way, he'll always find some time on the floor. We always need a 6-foot-8 inch athletic guy who can defend on the perimeter and can go back and get us rebounding.
The nice thing about what Dom does is Dom also has a knack for getting offensive rebounds and offensive rebounds lead to extra possessions. If he can do those things for us, he knows that he'll get a chance to play."
This doesn't surprise me in the slightest. You know Tapscott is going to try to improve the defense, and McGuire has the tools to be a good defender. I assume Eddie didn't play McGuire because of McGuire's shooting and dribbling deficiencies, which kind of annoyed me, to be honest. Taser can be horrendous offensively, but like Tapscott said, he grabs offensive rebounds and showed a knack for passing in the Summer League.
I like this move. McGuire will embrace it and hopefully give Caron Butler more rest. McGuire as a ninth man is better than Etan or Pech.
Speaking of Butler...
Running the offense exclusively through Caron and Antawn
Heard about this from David Aldridge on TNT. Apparently, Tapscott called those two into his office, told them they will be the offensive focal points so long as they become leaders and left it at that. It's clear Caron is upset by the loss of Eddie Jordan, so this was definitely a necessary thing to do on his end. Ditto for Jamison, to be honest.
But there are concerns. Number one, Caron is starting to shot-jack a bit. He had a wonderful game yesterday, but he broke the offense way too much to do it. His passing has fallen off a bit, as his assist percentage has dropped from 21.7% to 18.3%. He had six assists, but also had four turnovers in addition to his 18 shots. Part of that is the lack of options around him, but either way, Tapscott needs to remind Caron that it's on him to get people involved as well as score.
With Jamison, the shots that Tapscott references must come inside rather than outside. I hope Jamison doesn't take this to mean that he has free reign to take quick threes.
But either way, it's necessary. You have to worry about the young guys on the team becoming jealous, but they should be encouraged to grow into their roles before they do more.
Tapscott's been experimenting with more lineups that include Caron Butler playing shooting guard. It's probably a necessity with the number of bigs we need to develop, so Eddie Jordan certainly shouldn't have been so stubborn about keeping Butler at small forward. That said, I've said many times that Andray Blatche looks very uncomforable playing power forward. Putting him there more often doesn't strike me as a way to get the most out of him.
However, I'll live with them because we need to get more out of our young bigs. There also isn't exactly a ton of talent in that backcourt.
I love what I'm hearing from Tapscott with Blatche. The thing is, whenever I've defended the dude, it's not because I don't realize how badly he's played. He had a big opportunity to take that center job and didn't do it. On the other hand, the Blatche package is incredibly complex. It's never as simple as the "he doesn't get it, so sit him until he does" approach that Eddie Jordan took. In his three-plus years in D.C., Blatche has been shot, been handed inconsistent minutes and has played the three, four and five positions at different points. He's been asked to be both a wing man and an inside player. He's been forced to defend everyone from Carmelo Anthony to Yao Ming. For a young guy whose head isn't exactly screwed on perfectly straight, that's a lot to ask.
That's why this quote in particular stood out to me.
I think often times that 'Dre has had some experiences of a 22-year old guy. Not that it's making that an excuse, it's just a reality. And so, that's the process we are in: trying to keep focus and concentration on the marathon of a season and that is a learning process. I'm sure if you talk to Antawn Jamison about that, he'll tell you it took years for him to get to the point where he is now as a professional where I can almost put in ink what he's going to be able to give me on any given night. That's the process any young player goes through.
In the same sentence, Tapscott is referencing the difficult things Blatche went through while also making it very clear what Blatche needs to do. One could read this as Tapscott treating Blatche too softly, but remember, these are professional athletes with five-year contracts. You have to treat them all differently, which is something Eddie Jordan struggled to do by the end of his tenure. We'll see what kind of effect Tapscott has on Blatche, but my feeling is that it'll be positive.
More than anything, Tapscott's communication skills stand out to me. It's still early, so there's plenty of time for the players to get sick of his act, but I love that he seems to treat them all as individuals. He seems a little more patient, which is a big thing since we shouldn't exactly be thinking playoffs right now.
It's early, but I'm a fan of Ed. He strikes me as the perfect interm coach for this roster right now. He'll ride his two stars while publicly conveying specific roles for the young guys. While it's true that the young guys somewhat unfairly tuned out Eddie Jordan, it is what it is. Tapscott seems like a different voice for them and that'll help trememdously. It also seems like Tapscott won't alienate the veterans, though obviously that group is more fragile at this point.
The key to me is Tapscott's communication skills. Like Ivan, I think that's a huge plus. Ivan wrote that either Tapscott knows his hoops or knows how to talk about hoops. I suspect it's mostly the latter, but that's what this team needs anyway. For all his strengths, I've always questioned how well Eddie communicated with many of his players (see Haywood, Brendan). I don't see that being a problem with Tapscott.
In the short term, I think we'll keep losing a lot, because without Haywood, we'll never play the type of defense Ed wants us to play. There will be games where we just don't compete as well. But Ed strikes me as patient and strikes me as someone who will develop the young talent on this team. That'll serve the next coach of this team well, whether it's Ed or someone else.