The biggest cliffhanger for the Washington Wizards coming into this season is just how committed they are to applying analytics to their approach after reaping the benefits of a more-statistical friendly approach in the playoffs.
At times, it appears like the change we saw in the playoffs last season is here to stay. All of the team's moves over the summer were focused on adapting the team to play a more modern style, just about everyone who can play power forward next season appears to be committed to improving their outside shot to improve the flow of the offense.
But at the same time, there are those moments of panic where you start to worry if maybe there's a chance the Wizards could revert back to the offense that sent them into a downward spiral in the second-half of last season. The latest moment of panic came from this interesting discussion Bradley Beal had with Coach Nick for BBallBreakdown (Side note: There's also good piece about Beal on their site):
The interesting part of the conversation starts at around the 1:30 mark:
Coach Nick: When you're running your offense, how much freedom do you feel like you have on your cuts to get to the spots you want to get to, as opposed to where those lines and arrows are drawn to?
Beal: A lot of freedom, because there's more spacing than drawn on the board. It depends on what play it is, if I'm coming off screens or coming off pin downs, or whatever I have to try, I have to be able to trust my bigs that they're going to get me open. At the same time, I have to be able to use my hands, use my body as best as I can to get open as well.
Coach Nick: Are the coaches using analytics to know he's great on the left side on pin downs versus the right side, you know, corner shots. Do you have a sense of what that's like and are they trying to tailor the offense for you?
Beal: Uh, not really because we can run plays both ways. It's just a matter of our comfort level and who has the hot hand at the moment. It can be anywhere on the floor. We're not robotic and too mechanical with everything we do.
Now, if you're a big fan of analytics, you're probably not excited by these quotes, but this interview probably isn't as bad as it sounds. First, you have to keep in mind the use of the word "analytics" has different meanings and context depending on who you ask. For instance, a deep dive into the tendencies of Rockets' offensive tendencies and outcomes of different playtypes could boil down to Randy Wittman telling Beal "Hey, don't let James Harden go right." Just because Beal may not be seeing the analytic process at work doesn't mean it isn't there.
And yes, for as cold and calculated as we try to make things look in statistics, there is still room to let players trust their instincts. While that may get them into trouble at times, we've also seen players struggle because it's clear they're overthinking certain situations when they should just go play basketball.
Clearly, there's still room for Wizards to grow when it comes to identifying what parts of the offense and defense are ineffective and could use tweaking, but the same can be said for every team. The ultimate test of how the Wizards employ analytics in their day-to-day approach will bear itself out in how they perform this season.