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Wizards beat Mavericks in regular-season opener: Final wrap

It's late, and there's already been so much written about last night's win that there isn't a whole lot to add.  I have nobody to blame but myself for the tardiness.  NBA League Pass is pretty damn addicting, what can I say?

So this extended recap isn't going to be so extended or deep.  Fair warning:

Four Factors: (italics=very bad. bold=very good)

Team Pace Off Eff eFG% FT/FG OREB% ToR
Washington 90 113.3 48.8 23.8 22.5 10
Dallas 101.1 42.1 35.5 22.9 10


Lineup details, via Popcorn Machine:

  • Highest individual plus/minus, total: Randy Foye (+16 in 30:18)
  • Highest individual plus/minus, rate: Fabricio Oberto (+15 in 17:24
  • Lowest individual plus/minus, total: DeShawn Stevenson (-1 in 17:54)
  • Lowest individual plus/minus, rate: Dominic McGuire (-6 in 2:24)
  • Best lineup (one stretch): Gilbert Arenas, Randy Foye, Mike Miller, Andray Blatche, Brendan Haywood (+8 for a stretch in the second quarter)
  • Worst lineup (one stretch): Gilbert Arenas, DeShawn Stevenson, Caron Butler, Andray Blatche, Brendan Haywood (-5 to close the third quarter)

The one thing that struck me about Tuesday's performance was how much we actually resembled a professional team. 

I'm sure that's going to ruffle some feathers, particularly those who are fans of Eddie Jordan.  I don't come here to suggest that Jordan is not a good coach.  Far from it. 

But what always struck me about watching an Eddie Jordan-coached team was how the players would alternate between overly robotic and overly free-flowing play.  Either they used none of their brains, which happened when they'd take quick contested jumpers and miss a defensive rotation, or they thought too much, mostly when they ran the same three-man weave into the same cut, with the same players settling for the same shots too often.  I didn't see enough moments where they achieved that happy medium of playing instinctively while also playing smart.  To be frank, they were too inconsistent. 

While some of that is our personnel, a lot of that was Eddie Jordan's style.  One game in, and I'm starting to see where Gilbert Arenas was coming from when he dubbed Jordan's style as being suitable only for very experienced teams.  Jordan's entire offense was reactive rather than proactive.  He jammed a zillion different reads and counters into his players' heads, hoping to prepare them for every situation.  Jordan also threw out several different defensive "plays" of sorts, also in an attempt to confuse the defense.  This meant that Jordan and the Wizards were  impossible to plan for, but also were not well-prepared, if that makes any sense.  Many of the Wizards tried to pick it all up, but ultimately played too antsy to make a consistent impact.

Flip Saunders' gameplan, on the other hand, is far simpler, and I think it showed tonight.  The Wizards came down every possession and ran their offense.  If it resulted in an open shot, great.  They ran the play and got the shot off it.  If that didn't work, the players all knew that the ball was to go one of three places -- Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler, or whoever possessed the hot hand.  Simple, simple simple.  And on defense, the rules were consistent -- contest shots, let Dirk Nowitzki get his, shut down everyone else, deny dribble penetration and seal off the weakside rebounding.  No zone defense, no zone traps, no matchup zone, even.  Just one philosophy that the players needed to execute.

The Wizards didn't execute Saunders' gameplan perfectly.  Too many possessions ended with Butler forcing things.  On defense, there were a number of blowbys, particularly from Jason Terry and JJ Barea.  But there were also no major defensive breakdowns with guys in the wrong place, at least not the type that seemingly happened every other possession in the past.  There were also very few offensive possessions wasted by an unnecessarily quick shot.  Finally, nobody was pump-faking, dribbling aimlessly or making passes without a purpose.  When a guy was open, he shot in rhythm and without dribbling much.

This is where Flip Saunders has made a dent on this team.  Against Dallas, the Wizards did everything efficiently.  Every dribble.  Every pass.  Every defensive slide.  Every defensive rotation.  Every contest.  Every open shot.  Things might not have always worked out, but there were very few wasted moments.  That's what I mean when I say they resembled a real professional team.

Other quick thoughts:

  • Score one for the Gilbert Arenas/Randy Foye backcourt.  The Wizards outscored the Mavericks by 14 points when the two of them played together. 
  • I thought Flip Saunders displayed some masterful psychology in the post-game press conference when he went out of his way to say Caron Butler was "Mr. Steady."  This was not a particularly strong game for Butler.  He shot just 6/17 and he allowed Shawn Marion to have a solid game against him, a game that, if Dallas gave Marion more touches, would have been better.  More importantly, he didn't play in crunch time when the Wizards really extended their lead, which I'm sure wasn't exactly what Butler had in mind (or anyone else).  Butler certainly didn't play like a "Mr. Steady" tonight.  But Saunders knows it's a long season, and he has to keep one of his stars in good spirits.  By praising him, Saunders is indirectly saying, "Yes, I went away from you in crunch time, but it wasn't because of anything you did wrong.  It was because the combination we had out there was playing great.  I didn't bench you because you made any mistakes."  That's great management by Saunders.  It eliminates any possibility of Butler getting annoyed for not playing in crunch time, because his contributions were recognized, and it allows Saunders the luxury of not playing the starting five if they aren't the most effective lineup.
  • The one guy who didn't play particularly well was DeShawn Stevenson.  The offense died when he was out there, and while he tried on defense, I counted him being beat by Terry at least four times in the second quarter.  I think he'll probably end up being a utility guy that's useful only against certain teams.  Atlanta, with Joe Johnson, is one of those teams, so Stevenson could very well play much better tomorrow.
  • I thought Oberto played pretty poorly until the fourth quarter.  Then, he played great.
  • Brendan Haywood turned in 39 minutes of solid basketball, clogging up the middle, displaying offense when needed and playing great help defense.  The most significant number, though, is the 39 minutes.  Saunders believes in Haywood, and that's very, very refreshing. 
  • For all the great things Andray Blatche did, I was most impressed with how quickly he moved his feet to cover for guards on pick and roll defense.  He consistently was able to slow down the ballhandler and then recover quickly back to his own man.