There's four different sets of pick-and-rolls wrapped up in one play, but what's better is that it all comes organically. Everything flows. From Dudley receiving the initial pass in the lane to him sparking a side pick and roll between John Wall and Marcin Gortat, to Bradley Beal sprinting into a dribble-pitch, even Dudley's impromptu pick and roll with Gortat to finish it off. It all works because everyone is operating with a purpose and reacting to the defense. If you wanted to show someone what Washington wants to accomplish with their read-and-react system, this would be exhibit A.
Unfortunately, those brief stretches of brilliance have come few and far between, with the offense ravaged by unforced turnovers, stagnant possessions, and general lifelessness from their core players. This was supposed to be the true coming-out party for their three foundational pieces, but instead they've mostly floundered in the early going. Let's take a deep-dive into their play.
It's one thing for Wall to find himself in this new offense, but it's another to look as detached and listless as he's looked for the better part of this season. The Wizards are pushing the ball off makes and misses, drawing cross-matches all over the floor, even running him off drag screens to get him switched onto a big man early in the clock. Yet, he's doing nothing about it, oddly passing it off and not bothering to call for the ball back when he knows that he's their best source of offense.
And sure, part of his struggles are mounted in the fact that he isn't shooting the ball well. The past two games did push him past the career low marks he was setting for himself, but he's still taking a glaring number of bad pull-up shots -- 7.8 per game to be exact -- and he's nailing just 31 percent of those looks, one of the worst figures in the league for a player with that high of a volume. Off pick and rolls, he's scoring just 0.70 points per possession, just outside the bottom-five tier of players to have at least 80 such possessions under their belts.
So he's not making defenders pay for sagging off him when he's away from the ball, and he's not making them pay when they go way under his screens. The former is paramount in this offense, Randy Wittman preaches "equal opportunity" and players insist that "anyone can lead the team in scoring on a given night" but what happens when your best player is an obvious detriment to your floor spacing when he doesn't have the ball in his hands?
Well, you'll get a lot of plays like the one at the end of the Raptors game, with Wall spacing out while the Wizards run a play headed nowhere.
In the past, the majority of the concern had always spotlighted the players around Wall generating enough floor spacing, not vice-versa. That reality has started to settle in for the Wizards, and they've done their due diligence in exploring ways for him to attack without the traditional bring-the-ball-up-court set-up. They'll run him off early cross-screens that gets him an isolation post-up on a smaller defender. If he spins baseline, he has a layup as he's done to both Matthew Dellavedova and D'Angelo Russell this past week, and if he spins middle, he'll collapse the defense. Watch Jared Dudley sneak behind this well-placed Otto Porter back-screen that nets him an open corner three:
70 percent of the battle for Wall is exerting maximum effort, the rest is simply a matter of him making smart decisions.
The same afflictions that have haunted Beal in the past are still present today. He's currently sporting a minus 7.2 net-rating to go with a sky-high turnover rate and just middling returns on his vows to become a more efficient shooter. The midrange pull-up out of the pick and roll remains an obstacle for him, he's yet to shake that bad habit of firing early as opposed to simply swinging the ball and kickstarting a drive-and-kick on the weakside.
On a very similar play later in that quarter, Beal takes the same pull-up off a pick and roll from that location, but this time passes it off at the last second, resulting in a turnover. It's as if he knows he made the mistake of taking one too many midrange pull-ups, which he's spoken at great length about this offseason.
That balancing act is always tough, and in this offense, there's no escaping it. Wall's touches per game are down primarily because the offense is funneling some of those possessions into Beal's hands. It'll be easy to just scrap it and have Wall run the show, but that runs counter to their plans. Instead, it seems like they need to get more creative with how they deploy Beal as a primary ball handler. It often seems like they'll run their same pet-play for him -- a two-man game between him and a big man, until one of two options emerge: a dive-lane for his big or enough space to dribble into a jumper. There has to be more sophistication to get him cleaner looks and it starts with more off-ball movement.
The most startling stat of them all: Otto Porter is averaging 3.6 three-point attempts per game, all of which have come with the closest defender 4-6 feet away from him, and he's canning just 26 percent of them. The Wizards are 6-4 when he makes at least one three, 1-5 when he doesn't.
He too has been mired by poor turnovers and an inability to puncture the defense. The Wizards are putting him in secondary and tertiary pick and rolls following a drive-and-kick, and he's mostly stumbled. He doesn't possess a tight handle on the ball and will get knocked off-balance at the slightest bit of contact in the lane.
When things are rolling, the offense hums right along. Otto has the ability to slither into tight spaces, and generally does a good job of attacking when his man lunges slightly into help position. Watch this beautiful sequence end with Otto taking a running start the second Richard Jefferson takes a step into the Beal's driving lane.
Again, this is what the Wizards envision, but too often their guards and Porter are settling for midrange jumpers when the swing pass is open. Good offenses know they can get that pull-up anytime they want, so they wait and work for a better shot to emerge. The Wizards have yet to grasp that concept, and it's been the crux of their struggles this season.