One of the storylines that emerged after Randy Wittman was fired at the end of last season was inconsistent accountability. As J. Michael of CSN Mid-Atlantic detailed at the time, there were a lot of complaints that veterans were getting passes on things that the young players were not:
As some players saw it, Wittman's refusal to be fair in this regard contributed to his loss of credibility in the locker room. In Wittman's defense, he was in a classic Catch-22. He berated Marcin Gortat for not being Nene on the defensive end every chance he had. Nene plays more physical, angry and reads the floor so well on both ends that he almost always connects with the right pass or make the right rotation. He needed Nene.
Tensions were raised when the team would study game film and Wittman always was quick to call out the likes of Wall and Bradley Beal while Nene routinely received a free pass. While Nene was vital, he wasn't flawless. He had five turnovers in 17 minutes in their game at Golden State, stripped from behind on double-teams by Stephen Curry that he should've seen coming. Then by Leandro Barbosa. What could've been a major upset turned into a 102-94 loss. Nene commanded double-teams because Golden State had no one to handle him in the low post without Andrew Bogut on the floor, which forced them to take a chance and compromise their defense. That's a good thing. His reaction time was just too slow vs. a cat-quick team. That's a bad thing.
A lot has changed since that report came out back in April. The Wizards have a new head coach, Nene is gone, and so are most of the other veterans from last season. So how would Brooks tackle the team’s inconsistent accountability issues? Apparently, by going right at the head of the snake, as Ric Bucher detailed in a piece for Bleacher Report:
Wall's willingness to stake his value upon his defense already has been tested. In the team's first film session after its home-opening loss to the Raptors, Brooks pointed out several times where Wall either didn't sprint back on defense or failed to sit down in a defensive stance. He underscored it all by calling Wall the worst defender on the team "by far."
"I'm like, ‘Damn, I do look like the worst defender. I can't say nothing back.' It's going to make me a better player and a better person."
It’s good to see that Scott Brooks hasn’t been afraid to challenge the team’s sacred cows. If the Wizards are ever going to turn the corner, Brooks has to break the team out of some of the bad habits they were able to overcome during the Randy Wittman era. So really, this isn’t so much about trying to shame Wall as it is to remind him, and the rest of the team, not to rest on their laurels.
I mean, let’s be real, even if you don’t think Wall’s steals and blocks are worth much, he’s still much better than other players on the team, even on his worst nights. That’s why Brooks focused his message on Wall’s hustle and focus, a message that can resonate with every player on the squad. If Wall is willing to accept that criticism, it makes it easier for the rest of the team to fall in line.
Unfortunately, it hasn’t yet translated to better defense on the floor as a whole. The Wizards are currently 25th in Defensive Efficiency after finishing 14th last season. However, a big part of that is because of the bench’s inability to slow people down. When you focus just on the mainstays from last season, you can identify some improvement. The Wall, Beal, Porter, Morris, Gortat lineup that gave up 101.6 points per 100 possessions last season against a fairly soft end of their schedule, is only allowing 98.9 points per 100 possessions against stiffer competition this season.
Perhaps once the Wizards can get in some more players who can better execute what Scott Brooks wants on the defensive end, there will be more significant improvement. In the meantime, it’s encouraging to see that his coaching style might be starting to have an effect on the team, even if it hasn’t translated to more wins just yet.