The NBA is in an era of an up-tempo style of basketball known as "pace and space." This style was popularized by Mike D’Antoni during his time coaching Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns and has continued to prove its effectiveness through the Golden State Warriors 67 win regular season. Whether it ‘s the "pace" or the "space", every recently successful NBA team has adopted this style to some extent. While there are many different variations used by many different teams, the constant among them is having at least one post player who provides playmaking and/or shooting ability.
If you’re a part of the Memphis Grizzlies grit and grind movement or a Tom Thibodeau supporter, you probably stand by the importance of having two conventional big men. Look no further than the four remaining playoff teams to show you how wrong you are.
Paul Millsap and Al Horford of the Atlanta Hawks gave the Wizards a great showing of how versatile they are. The Warriors' starting power forward Draymond Green is averaging over five assists per game during the postseason while also stretching the floor as a formidable three-point shooter. The Rockets can attribute a lot of their postseason success to the mid-season acquisition of power forward Josh Smith, who has proven to be both a capable passer and shooter. Smith had a nine assist game and is shooting 37 percent from deep in the playoffs. And while the Cavaliers lost their stretch four for the season to injury (Kevin Love), they still have the best passing forward in NBA history in LeBron James.
The Wizards front line this year consisted of Nene and Marcin Gortat. Both are proven and capable low-post scorers in the NBA, but neither brings the floor spacing ability needed having a point guard who’s as gifted a passer as John Wall.
During the postseason, the Wizards starting lineup of John Wall, Bradley Beal, Paul Pierce, Nene, and Marcin Gortat had a disappointing 91.5 offensive rating. Sub in Otto Porter for Nene and move Pierce up to power forward, and the Wizards offensive rating jumped to a mind-boggling 125.2. These numbers show how effective the Wizards can be if Wittman stands by his recent comments that the Wizards will be smaller and faster next season. While you would probably classify Randy Wittman as an "old-school" coach, you’d think the success his small-ball lineup had in the postseason would finally convince him a change needs to be made.
The Wizards do not have to sign an All-Star caliber stretch four to be competitive next season, and speaking honestly, they have a minimal chance at best to do so. The Wizards owe Nene $13 Million next year and don’t have the cap room to make any splash in free agency until 2016. The Wizards will need to find their floor spacing big for next season through the draft, trade, or a less expensive free agent they could bring off the bench. Paul Pierce performed admirably as their stretch four during the postseason, but the 37-year-old has one year left on his contract before probably retiring. That coupled with the fact that he showed weakness as a post defender and rebounder against Paul Millsap, and it is difficult to see him staying in that role consistently through an 82 game season.
I like Nene’s skill set -- and he could still be a valuable contributor for the Wizards -- but it is time the Wizards move out of the stone age and recognize playing two back to the basket big men together limits their offense too much. During the regular season, you rarely saw John Wall drive if he wasn’t on the break and Bradley Beal almost never attacked the basket. Nene and Gortat took up too much room down low and closed up driving lanes for their explosive backcourt. During the postseason when the Wizards went small with Pierce at power forward (or even Gooden), Wall was a lot more aggressive going to the basket and Bradley Beal looked like a young Dwyane Wade the way he fearlessly attacked the hoop. Having an extra shooter on the floor spreads out the defense and opens up creases for Wall and Beal to penetrate through.
Nene is skilled enough as to where he could really develop a decent jumper this offseason and it’s been reported that Kris Humphries has been working a lot on his three point shot. But neither one of these players can provide the floor spacing top NBA teams have. If the Wizards are serious about finally taking the next step and making a Conference Final, they need a versatile post player who can stretch the floor.