I've been throwing this one around in my head a while, and therefore don't have a ton of stats or historical context to back it up. But it's August, the perfect time for these theoretical ideas.
Anyway, I've been thinking a lot about the makeup of the roster, especially since Summer League, when the Wizards played at a breathneck pace. When I do, the same thought comes back to my head every single time.
Why not roll out a pressing second unit for a few minutes every game?
There are obvious problems to this, the first of which is that pressing in the NBA rarely works. The ball-handlers are too good, for one. Not only are most point guards capable of dribbling through any sort of defensive pressure, but the NBA also features bigger players that can handle the ball themselves if the point guard can't. In college, if you force a bigger player to bring the ball up the floor, it can turn into a disaster. In the NBA, though, that's less often the case.
In addition, there's also the issue of the 24-second shot clock. In college, teams often break the press and then pull it out to run their half-court offense because they can. There's less of a risk that a team will beat your press and then score an easy layup. But in the NBA, there's less incentive to pull it out because you don't get very much time to get a better shot. Combine that fact with the fact that there are better ball-handlers in the NBA, and teams that press often just give up easy shot after easy shot.
That said, I think the Wizards might be different. There have been some teams historically that have used a press before. Two that come to mind off the top of my head are the Rick Pitino-era Knicks of the late 80s and the first three-peat Bulls teams of the early 90s. Flip Saunders also throws out a zone press from time to time that he used to use back in Minnesota, so the infrastructure is there.
More importantly, the personnel is there. The Wizards suddenly have athletes on their roster, as opposed to before when they had strong half-court offensive players. They have the personnel to make an NBA game a full-court game, at least for short stretches. In general, they also have personnel better suited to an up-tempo game than a half-court game. What better way to speed the tempo up than to whip out a full-court press for a short stretch?
With that in mind, here's the unit I'd like to see out there for this purpose.
PG: John Wall
This goes without saying. Wall is long, athletic and has great defensive instincts. He's also a demon in the open floor, and from Day 1, he'll ensure that the game doesn't get too chaotic when the Wizards do press. Few in the entire league have the potential to be as unstoppable in transition as Wall, so it only makes sense to have him out there when the tempo gets sped up.
SG: Nick Young
This was probably the toughest call for me, because Kirk Hinrich wouldn't be a bad choice here either. You also have to worry about Young's ability to concentrate and perform in a somewhat complicated full-court pressing scheme. But Young is also the most athletic player on the team, and last year, he started to realize that he can use those gifts to help him on the defensive end of the floor. While Hinrich is the superior half-court defender, Young has the advantage in terms of his ability to cover ground in the open floor, and his length will make it difficult for the point guard to see when he's trapped in the corner.
Also, Young's a pretty good finisher in transition.
SF: Al Thornton
Thornton's half-court defensive intelligence leaves a lot to be desired sometimes, but there's no denying that he has outstanding athletic gifts. In a pressing scenario, Thornton, like Young, is fully capable of trapping and then recovering to his man very quickly. He also has long arms that would be essential any time he was trapping the ballhandler. In general, playing Thornton on a pressing unit accentuates his strengths (athleticism, speed) while downplaying his weaknesses (defensive IQ).
PF: Trevor Booker
We've talked a lot about where "Grown Ass Man" will fit in next year, and have had trouble figuring it out. But if the Wizards do decide to go to a pressing unit, Booker suddenly has himself a well-defined role. In college, Booker was the lynchpin of Clemson's devastating full-court press. Sure, it was a team effort, but one of the major reasons it worked so well was because of Booker's ability to run all over the court.
Any coach will tell you that the power forward is the key to a successful press. That player has to have the ability to run and trap the ball-handler and then later recover to pick up their own man. If a key to a press is getting the ball out of the point guard's hands and into the hands of a lesser ball-handler, then the power forward carries a ton of significance. It does little good if the trap comes from a perimeter player, because that merely forces the ball into the hands of another perimeter player. If the trap comes from the power forward, however, that's significant, because the power forward is rarely used to handling the ball. That means your power forward has to be faster than the opponents' power forward to make it all work. He has to be able to force the ball out of the point guard's hands and then recover to his man as soon as possible. Considering Booker is arguably faster than even John Wall, the Wizards are in good shape.
Booker's played this role in college and played it well. Why not let him play that role in the pros?
C: JaVale McGee
McGee's the center because he's the only real shot-blocker on the roster. Whenever the press is broken, it helps to have a center who can erase shots at the rim. Those plays are not only demoralizing for your opponent, but they also lead to fast breaks coming back the other way. McGee may have a lot to learn about defensive positioning, but there's no denying he's the only player who can bring that affect to the Wizards.
So there you have it. I wouldn't use this lineup all the time, but for five minutes a game, I think it can be a real game-changer, altering the tempo of the game and bringing it closer to the Wizards' liking. Thoughts?