Looking back at the state of the bench last year, it's almost unthinkable that Ernie Grunfeld managed to revamp the second unit in one fell swoop. By shipping out Eric Maynor and Jan Vesely in a three-team deal at the trade deadline, they not only found relief for John Wall, but netted an open roster spot that would eventually turn into Drew Gooden. And with Al Harrington rounding into form, they suddenly went from a group of miscasts to a unit that had a real identity.
Fast forward one year, and nearly everything is in disarray once again. Harrington is gone, Kris Humphries has taken over for Gooden, and Andre Miller is hanging onto dear life. Yet with the exception of Miller, every one of those decisions were praised in the offseason. Bringing in two younger, more productive big men made sense on the surface, and while the overlap between Blair and Humphries was tangible to begin with, it was all negligible in the grand scheme of things, or so we thought.
This is why cohesion matters as much as talent. Gooden and Harrington aren't more talented than Blair and Humphries, and they probably aren't lasting a full season. But if you're slated to have the oldest player in the league running your second unit, there better be plenty of space for him to operate, and you better cater to his strengths.
That hasn't been afforded to him this year for a number of reasons. Let's go through them:
1. Kevin Seraphin has been promoted this year, and to no one's surprise, has taken up residence down low. In fact, only seven players are posting up more frequently than Snakey this season, and among his teammates, is using up the third highest amount of possessions while he's on the floor, behind only Wall and Beal.
There isn't enough room for the both of them. What made the AARP unit so successful last year was in their ability to invert the floor and force their opposition to defend in spots they weren't comfortable in. Not only were they dragging big men out to the perimeter, but Andre Miller almost always had a clean lane to set-up shop:
Forget the fact that Miller is one of the best back-down players of all time at his position. It's far more valuable to post-up a guard, who has no earthly idea how to defend on the block, than it is to post-up a big man who's been trained to defend that exact play his entire career. Beat your man, and the defense is bound to collapse, and few are as good as Miller in delivering that kick-out pass. The AARP unit blew the top off defenses for that exact reason, scoring 116 points per 100 possessions, by far the best rate among Washington's most commonly used 5-man lineups last season.
2. Bradley Beal is no longer staggered in with the second unit, and his replacements have been an assortment of non-shooters and non-threatening ball handlers. Remember, last year this was Beal's personal laboratory to run pick and rolls and showcase his ball handling, all of which permitted Miller to work off-ball. It says more about Otto Porter, Garrett Temple, and Martell Webster, but it also highlights the amount in which Randy Wittman had to go to in order to mask some of Miller's flaws. He isn't a full-time ball handler now, and he wasn't last year either.
3. Kris Humphries is spotting up below the three point line. This may not seem as big of a deal when you take into account the amount of midrange shots Gooden takes, and if you really want to get technical, he has taken more threes this year than he had all of last year.
This has more to do with their collective shift in philosophy. The personnel is vastly different, and thus, so is their outlook on offense. Gooden may not have taken many threes, but he consistently found himself around the perimeter. But there isn't much of a need to space out the floor when the idea is to pound the ball inside, and by stationing the four around the midrange area, they double as a secondary entry passer in case the defender fronts the post.
Unless Dre manages to sneak in behind the defense on a weak-side cut, he's relegated to spotting up. Defenses still dare him to shoot, and he still passes up those same looks.
And that's why things have gone wrong for him. He was a steady contributor early on in the season, but it's clear some of that had to do with a favorable schedule and fresh legs. It's not that he's aged terribly, it's that Wittman can't go to to those same lengths to mask his shortcomings, and thus, we begin to notice everything else. His sluggish defense and lack of command of the offense is that much more glaring now because in a way, he is out of position.
The blame falls on the front office. They picked up his $4.6 million option this offseason thinking they could squeeze another year out of him, and it backfired. Moreover, they doubled-down on two midrange-heavy players in free agency -- both of whom can't shoot threes and can't properly space out the floor for Miller -- only to see Seraphin come out and further complicate matters. There wasn't much of a plan for Andre Miller this season, just hope.
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