What a difference a couple of days makes. Following a week in which the team struggled to hold onto the ball and score points in losing two of three games to end November, the Wizards looked like a veritable offensive juggernaut in its three wins at home to start December. It culminated in the Wizards highest scoring game of the season as the team ran the Denver Nuggets off the court 119-89 Friday night at the Verizon Center.
Because so many things went right offensively for the Wizards this week, it's hard to tell where to start. First, there's Bradley Beal, hitting three pointers in transition and on set plays like the Wizards' hawk set, and Marcin Gortat attacking the basket instead of settling for jump shots. Rasual Butler has also been outstanding, averaging almost 18 points a game this on nearly 60% shooting, and Kris Humprhries has been dominant alternately on the boards and making defenses pay for sagging off of him at mid-range. In this week's games, the Wizards have averaged 112 points per outing along with 32 assists on 43 field goals. What sparked the Wizards offensive breakout?
Paul Pierce remarked after the Nuggets game:
"We're starting to put them both together (offense and defense), we are starting to score the ball really well, and we are playing well defensively.You all have seen what are identity is, we are a team that moves the ball, we make the extra passes, there's a reason we are one of the best passing teams in the league."
The numbers bear out the Wizards' adeptness at sharing the ball as the rank 4th in total assists and 3rd in assists per game in the NBA. More than sharing the ball, however, they are forcing teams to adapt to their speed in the open court by creating opportunities with their defense.
"Our defense was sparking our offense," Randy Wittman said when asked why the offense had so dramatically improved. "Our offense looks better because we are able to turn them over 19 times, when John [Wall] is able to get out into the open floor, a lot of good things happen."
Rasual Butler reiterated Wittman's sentiments regarding the Wizards offensive revival:
"It's starting with our defense, our defense is turning into offense for us. We are getting stops, we are getting deflections, we're getting steals, we're blocking shots, we're able to get down the floor quick, getting some easy baskets, getting shots before the defense is set. Guys are pushing the pace and in the halfcourt guys are just doing a better job of moving the ball. In the last couple of games we had 30+ assists. So that shows we are doing a great job of being unselfish."
Butler played a key role in driving the Wizards' revival on Friday. In the pivotal second quarter, which turned a close game into a Wizards rout, Butler took control of the game on the offensive end of the floor. Whether hitting the open corner three, posting up Denver's smaller guards, or attacking the basket, Butler made sure the Nuggets defense was getting no rest even when Paul Pierce was off the floor.
Then, of course, there is the maestro of this offensive orchestra: John Wall. Wall managed 40 assists in the three games he has been on the court. Wall has controlled the game on both ends, initiating the pressure on defense and leading the break on the offense. As former teammate and current Nugget Alonzo Gee stated, "[y]ou go on the floor and you should know what to do at all times, and John Wall knows where his players are at all times and he makes the right play. That's pretty much it."
It's the kind of play that has Wizards teammate Marcin Gortat throwing down the gauntlet on social media in declaring Wall among the best point guards in the league.
When I asked Rasual Butler to compare Wall's play to another former teammate of his, Chris Paul, said, "The way they read the game, they both read the game really well. They know how the defense is playing and their teammates. They're both really cerebral basketball players...most point guards are...but those two are really special in the way that they read the game, get themselves shots and play defense."
For the Wizards, that defense has been a strength that has overcome the inconsistency of the offense. Though this week's opponents defenses won't be mistaken for the mid 00's Pistons by anyone, the Wizards don't need to be as offensively elite as they have been this week to be effective. But if they can build an above average offense to go with their already tough defense, then the sky is the limit for what this team can achieve.