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Flip Saunders deserves blame for the on-court selfishness, but the GM deserves more

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There's been a lot of talk recently about the Wizards' on-court selfishness.  As John Hollinger noted in his midseason disappointments column, the Wizards are currently 29th in the league in assist rate.  Less than half of our baskets are assisted, which is a pretty staggering statistic.  These screenshots from Truth About It also give you a pretty good idea.

The unofficial midway point of the season offers us a good chance to cast blame on the authority figures that are responsible for this mess.  Blaming the players kind of goes without saying.  Blaming the coach, Flip Saunders, is also somewhat appropriate, as Truth About It has done.  

But here's another party to blame: management.  Sure, the coach sets the tone and creates the parameters for what qualities earn playing time. Indeed, Saunders took the wrong approach in initially giving players rope, only to reign them in when they showed they didn't deserve this.  He probably expected things to click as harmoniously as they did for the Pistons when he first took them over, but this mix needed more reeling in at the start after being in the trigger-happy Princeton offense for several years.  Clearly, that's a way Saunders has erred.

However, can you blame him for trying to do things the same way that worked in Detroit?  A little, I guess, but not so much.  No, the real problem is that this roster was not designed with sharing in mind, and that falls on management.

Here are the career usage rates of the top nine minute-getters on the Wizards' roster.  As a reminder, usage rate measures the percentage of his team's possessions a player ends while he's in the game, either via a shot attempt, a turnover or a personal foul.  As a general rule of thumb, if you're ending more than 20% of your team's possessions, you're either an above-average shot creator or you think you are.

Player Career USG%
Gilbert Arenas 27.9
Caron Butler 22.6
Antawn Jamison 24.6
Mike Miller 19.5
Brendan Haywood 14.6
Andray Blatche 20.4
Randy Foye 22
Nick Young 23.3
Earl Boykins 21.8
TOTAL 196.7


This is obviously an unscientific exercise -- nobody combines usage rates -- but it illustrates a larger point.  Our roster is made up of guys used to being finishers.  It's hard to ask someone who has spent their entire career finishing plays to suddenly stop finishing plays. 

Let's contrast that total - 196.7 - with the total added career usage rates of the top nine minute-getters of the ten teams at the top of the offensive efficiency rankings.

Team Usage
Toronto 170.1
Utah 177.7
Portland 179.1
Atlanta 180.1
Denver 180.3
Cleveland 187.9
Phoenix 188.7
LA Lakers 190.8
Memphis 191.2
San Antonio 196.7


See that? The only team in range of Washington is San Antonio, and that's inflated because of Antonio McDyess, who was a featured player early in his career, before all his injuries, and isn't anymore.  Even Memphis, who supposedly was a team full of too many selfish players, has a combined top-nine usage total lower than the Wizards'.

Again, this is obviously an unscientific exercise, but I can't think of a better way to make this point.  Put yourself in Flip Saunders' shoes.  Say you want to make a point to a veteran or a rookie that's taking too many shots.  Who can you put in that can be an effective player without shooting much, thereby getting your message across most effectively?  There's Haywood, but he starts.  There's Miller, but he's just one guy.  Otherwise, you have to go all the way down to DeShawn Stevenson, Fabricio Oberto and Dominic McGuire to really get to low-usage guys, and no good, but high-usage player will learn anything from those guys because they all stink.  (And yes, I'm including McGuire in here, because he, sadly, has not made any progress on his ball-handing or his shooting).

We, including myself, kind of all assumed Flip could bring his magic winning pedigree to the table and fix some very bad habits from our players.  It's clear, though, that he can't, because the roster hasn't been stocked with enough effective low- to mid-usage players.  All the reserves are high-usage guys themselves.  This means that nobody learns anything when they are benched, because there are no good examples to look to among their teammates. 

That's a roster construction problem, and it falls at Ernie Grunfeld's feet.  He's failed to provide Saunders with enough solid role players to properly allow Saunders to implement his system.

(Cheers to Basketball Reference for all the stats).