Like any team lacking in an elite scorer, the Wizards offensive philosophy was simple: share the ball and get out in transition as much as possible. They had the shooters to make it work and the type of point guard that raises his teammates' shooting percentages just with his style of play. And yet, they couldn't net a league-average offensive rating.
It stands to reason that they should improve with their new offseason additions. Paul Pierce brings an entirely new dynamic to the frontcourt -- a player still capable of exploiting mismatches -- while Kris Humphries and DeJuan Blair round out a big man rotation that was in flux for much of last season.
The talent on this roster has unquestionably been upgraded. Now, it's a matter of putting all the pieces together.
That requires some obvious tweaking to the playbook from Randy Wittman such as less standing around on the perimeter from the wings, but that should have been the case already. The more dire concerns have been in front of him the whole time. Can the Wizards field an above-average offense while maintaining their identity as a drive-and-kick team?
This sort of fell through the cracks since the playoffs ended. John Wall took the brunt of the blame after the second round, but it's worth questioning just how much of his failings could have been avoided in a more free-flowing system. Everything the Wizards did out of the pick and roll was geared towards Wall wreaking havoc in the lane, and it certainly took its toll. No player touched the ball more than him last season and no one held the ball longer each game.
Some of these problems will be rectified on it's own. Pierce is a considerably better ball-handler than Trevor Ariza, and Bradley Beal will be looking to build on a strong postseason. They'll take some of the weight off Wall's shoulders. But how effective they'll be hinges on how creative Wittman gets with the offense.
That might mean getting the wings more into the flow of the offense directly instead of just having them spot up. For Pierce, this would be right up his alley from his Boston days.
This was one of Doc Rivers' pet plays in Boston. All it takes is Pierce curling off a down screen set by the off guard and reacting to the defense. He can flare out and knock down the three if his defender goes under the screen or curl to the middle with some real estate in front of him.
This was the genesis of a lot of his scoring opportunities. Like many go-to scorers, the key is to get him the ball in his sweet spot -- the elbows -- and allowing him the freedom to create. Pierce started many of his plays off in this action with a big or guard setting the screen adjacent to the sideline and him dictating his next move. Over 15 percent of his plays ending in a field goal attempt, free throw attempt, or turnover came off screens in his final year as a Celtic, per Synergy Sports Technology. That's higher than any Wizards player last season and significantly higher than Ariza, who was at a meager three percent last season.
And it led to a ton of midrange shots. He was second to just Byron Mullens of all people in midrange jumpers attempted per game among forwards before the All Star break in 2013, which was right around the time Rajon Rondo tore his ACL. Washington now employs three midrange-heavy players in Pierce, Beal, and Wall, but it's the type of shots Pierce generates that can breath new life into the Wizards offense.
It's no secret that their style of play caught up to them in the playoffs. It was entirely too dependent on the defense making mistakes and wasn't nearly as proactive as you would hope. Indiana swallowed up their dribble penetration using just Roy Hibbert's presence alone. That allowed Indiana's wings to stay home on shooters and refrain from helping in the lane.
Look how helpless Wall is once he turns the corner.
There's exactly two things that transpires when Wall can get the ball to his shooters. 1) an open look from three, or 2) an attempt to attack a closeout.
The problem is, those shooters more often than not were Ariza or Martell Webster. Asking them to attack closeouts was always hit or miss. There was no continuity in these sets, which is why the Wizards often sat through long scoring droughts.
Wittman has to devise a more sound half court offense, and he now has the tools to get it done. Pierce, Beal and Otto Porter can be used off screens, and with more motion to tilt the defense, Wall has more options out of the pick and roll. They have four veteran big men that know how to free up shooters and move around the court. All bring something new to the table offensively.
Not all of it is the coaching staff, just like not all of it was on them in the playoffs. Wall has to figure out a way to stay engaged when the ball isn't in his hands and he can't afford to level-off as a shooter. And much of Pierce's success with the team will hinge on him being able to defend wing players. There's no hiding him in this defensive system, and if he puts more of the strain on Wall and Beal, they'll be back to square one.
Nevertheless, the tools for a better offense are in place. They just need to be used properly.